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The Art of Forgiving - A Book Review

 The Art of Forgiving

When You Need To Forgive       

And Don’t Know How


Lewis B. Smedes

Reviewed by

Geoffrey W. Sutton


The Art of Forgiving is a modern classic work on forgiveness by Lewis B. Smedes, who has been cited by scientists like Robert Enright and Ev Worthington.

Smedes reminds us that we are forgiving people for what they have done and not for who they are. He also opines that forgiving someone does not include reunion or restoration. He locates forgiveness within one person, the forgiver. He’s using the word reunion like contemporary writers use the term, reconciliation.

           Forgiving has no strings attached.

           Reunion has several strings attached.

I appreciate his comments on restoration, which is a subject my colleagues and I have studied (e.g., Sutton & Thomas, 2005; Thomas et al., 2008). Smedes wisely advises us to avoid the confusion of forgiving with restoration. That is, we may deal with our own hurt and let that pain go but restoration of a person to their former place in society or work is a different consideration requiring “prudence and justice.”

Although the book is old compared to the cornucopia of forgiveness books, I still find Smedes work speaks to current trends because he applies the forgiveness process to forgiving oneself. In addition, he does not shy away from the spiritual challenge religious people experience when they feel God has treated them unjustly. That is, Smedes has a chapter on forgiving God. He takes a humbles stance here to help people deal with that troubling feeling.

Toward the end, Smedes offers practical wisdom on interacting with those who have offended us. He advises caution and his suggestions reflect caution so that relationships are not worsened.

Overall, I think Smedes classic work should be read by those writing about forgiveness from a Christian perspective even when relying on the popular forgiveness programs.

Smedes book is available from:  AMAZON       GOOGLE Books


Cite this Post

Sutton, G. W. (2020, November 5). The Art of Forgiving- A review. Sutton Reviews. 

 Find more books on Forgiveness and Reconciliation - CLICK HERE


Smedes, L.B. (1996). The art of forgiving: When you need to forgive and don’t know how. New York: Ballantine Books.

Sutton, G.W., & Thomas, E. K. (2005). Can derailed pastors be restored? Effects of offense and age on restoration. Pastoral Psychology, 53, 583-599.

            Academia Link    Research Gate Link

Thomas, E. K., & Sutton, G.W. (2008). Religious leadership failure: Forgiveness, apology, and restitution. Journal of Spirituality in Mental Health, 10, 308-327. Academia Link    Research Gate Link

 About the Author

Lewis B. Smedes is former professor of theology and ethics at Fuller Theological Seminary. 

    (Fuller Archive)

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