Some people like to keep their spirituality and theology neatly separated, the way someone may want to have the main dish and the salad served separately during a meal. I don’t,” concedes the author of Free of Charge: Giving and Forgiving in a Culture Stripped of Grace.
“Spirituality that’s not theological will grope in the darkness,” the author continues, “and theology that’s not spiritual will be emptied of its most important content. For me, at any rate, thinking theologically in order to write about giving and forgiving was a spiritual exercise.” Here is a reader-friendly devotional offering a contemporary Christian take on what it means to give and to forgive. We are invited to share in an exercise of spiritual nurture and theological substance. Miroslav Volf, (author of the widely praised Exclusion and Embrace, 1996, Abingdon) is Henry B. Wright Professor of Theology at Yale Divinity School. He directs the Yale Center for Faith and Culture. For Lenten reading (as the Archbishop of Canterbury Rowan Williams encourages) – this book is a breath of fresh air and will not disappoint. Volf writes of giving and forgiving with mature understanding. His lived experience with the subject allows him to write lucidly and effortlessly but not in an intimidating way. The Archbishop of Canterbury endorses both message and method in the foreword. He admits, for example, to not having read a better account of what it means to say that Jesus suffered for us “in our place.” He applauds Volf’s absorbing vision that should engage believer and unbeliever alike. To attract thoughtful, modern readers Volf draws extensively from St. Paul and Luther – writers with whom he is intimately familiar. He formulates from their writings a seamless integration of meanings associated with the classic Christian understandings of creation and redemption. The book appears in two parts, with balanced attention given to each of his major themes. Volf writes of God the giver and forgiver, asking how should we give and forgive? And how can we give and forgive? Poignant anecdotes enhance his presentation. For example – Volf reflects on the giving over of her child by the birthmother of their adopted son Nathaniel. “I shed tears over the beauty and tragedy of her love,” he says. Or, the Muslim woman, a Bosnian war victim (Volf is Croatian-American) – who gives voice to her violated, shattered self on the impossibility of forgiving her enemies. “How can anyone with such a wound forgive?” he despairs. The author writes to readers confused over the ability to give and forgive wisely. He grounds both giving and forgiving in God working through people. He uses remarkable and timely insights from both the apostle Paul and the apologist Luther and breathes new life into classic terms like atonement and the doctrine of justification by grace through faith. Whenever you feel the need for a good devotional read, perhaps during Lent, this book should refocus and revitalize your life. Wayne A. Holst facilitates adult spiritual development at St. David’s United Church, Calgary.