In 2015, our family was walking the streets of Charleston when we came across police barricades surrounding a white church building. Beyond the barricades were flowers, photos, and tributes that had been laid in the previous weeks following the assassination of nine individuals of Emanuel African Methodist Episcopal Church. Little said here can capture the gravity of the situation. Having not experienced anything of that magnitude, the closest many of us can come to understanding such a tragedy is through the account of Reverend Anthony Thompson whose wife Myra was killed while leading the Bible study that night.
In his book, Called to Forgive, Reverend Thompson writes a personal account of the events from his perspective, as one on the outside with loved ones on the inside, while desiring to articulate a view of biblical forgiveness. Admittedly, this book is hard to do a book review because there are two important aspects that must be noted. First, this is a very personal book in which the author is conveying his hurt about the loss of his wife. Second, it is proven that this crime event was motivated by racism. In no way should a critique of the book take away from those points.
With those points in mind, there are several aspects of the book that are concerning. First, there are some doctrinal issues that readers will come across in the book. While not directly advocating women pastors, the author’s wife was ordained and called as such. Therefore, he certainly is accepting of it. Additionally, at one point he refers to them as being divorced. The circumstances are not revealed and would be wrong for readers to make assumptions, but his nonchalant mention of the divorces minimizes it as a casual issue. Second, the author is unnecessarily divisive at points. He is unnecessarily political and at a few points makes racial divisions when not appropriate. To reiterate an earlier point, the motivation behind the shooting was racism and that must be acknowledged, but there also must be caution about making superfluous distinctions. Finally, the author’s intended motivation for writing the book was to convey a biblical view of forgiveness, but on that point, he has not met his goal. Often times, forgiveness is conveyed as nothing more than hearing God speak and readers are left with a sense that biblical forgiveness is nothing more than “You just need to forgive.” That aspect is unhelpful for those wrestling with such an issue.
If there is one concept that repeatedly comes across in the book, it is the idea that nobody is irredeemable. Readers should be struck by the author’s concept of grace and how freely he is willing to extend that to others. Such lessons are learned from Reverend Anthony Thompson even before the discussion of extending such forgiveness and grace to the Charleston shooter. Yet, seeing him display it towards Dylan Roof adds a depth that can be learned from.
Called to Forgive is not necessarily a biblical theology on forgiveness. There are other books that are more worthwhile if one is searching for help on that topic. Yet, there is value in the story that Thompson has to tell. It brings a reality to such a tragedy and forces those of us not directly affected to consider the devastation that can follow. Thus, it is a book that can generate a level of empathy not often present following such events.
To learn more about this book or purchase a copy, click here.
Disclaimer: I received a copy of this book from the publisher at no cost to me for the purposes of review. However, my review was not influenced by the author, publisher, or anyone else associated with this book and is the result of my own reading of it.