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Free of Charge: Giving and Forgiving in a Culture Stripped of Grace

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We are at our human best when we give and forgive. But we live in a world in which it makes little sense to do either one. In our increasingly graceless culture, where can we find the motivation to give? And how do we learn to forgive when forgiving seems counterintuitive or even futile? A deeply personal yet profoundly thoughtful book, Free of Charge explores these questions - and the further questions to which they give rise in light of God's generosity and Christ's sacrifice for us. Miroslav Volf draws from popular culture as well as from a wealth of literary and theological sources, weaving his rich reflections around the sturdy frame of Paul's vision of God's grace and Martin Luther s interpretation of that vision. Blending the best of theology and spirituality, he encourages us to echo in our own lives God's generous giving and forgiving. A fresh examination of two practices at the heart of the Christian faith - giving and forgiving - the Archbishop of Canterbury's Lenten study book for 2006 is at the same time an introduction to Christianity. Even more, it is a compelling invitation to Christian faith as a way of life. Miroslav Volf, one of the most celebrated theologians of our day, offers us a unique interweaving of intense reflection, vivid and painfully personal stories and sheer celebration of the giving God ... I cannot remember having read a better account of what it means to say that Jesus suffered for us in our place. -- Dr Rowan Williams, Archbishop of Canterbury

256 pages, Paperback

First published February 1, 2006

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About the author

Miroslav Volf

59 books249 followers
Miroslav Volf is the Henry B. Wright Professor of Theology at Yale Divinity School and the founding director of the Yale Center for Faith & Culture. “One of the most celebrated theologians of our time,” (Rowan Williams, Archbishop of Canterbury), Volf is a leading expert on religion and conflict. His recent books include Against the Tide: Love in a Time of Petty Dreams and Persisting Enmities, and Exclusion & Embrace: A Theological Exploration of Identity, Otherness, and Reconciliation—winner of the 2002 Grawmeyer Award in Religion.

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Displaying 1 - 30 of 101 reviews
Profile Image for Andrew.
451 reviews11 followers
July 7, 2007
this review first appeared on [http://intraspace.blogspot.com]

this is a book that i randomly picked up after anna brought it home from the library. looked pretty interesting and was the archbishop of canterbury's official lent 2006 book - who could resist?...

miroslav volf is apparently a fairly well-known theologian who teaches at yale. this book covers the twin themes of giving and forgiving. the thing that struck me most in the book was volf's description of the common ways that people view God. with regard to giving, people often see God as either a negotiator or santa claus. ie, they either see God as someone you can strike a deal with in order to get what you want, or they see him as someone who just gives stuff willy-nilly. with regard to forgiving, people tend to see God as either an implacable judge, or as a doting grandparent.

that's a pretty good observation i think, and volf goes on to explain what the true God is really like. bearing in mind that this is a book by a theologian, it is quite long-winded and volf likes to answer any question that might arise. but apart from the rigor of that for the casual reader, there is a lot of stuff to pick up on, and it is nicely carried by examples and illustrations, so is not too difficult to read.

here's a good quote summing up the point of book, and the argument that volf makes for a God that defies most people's perception of him:

"You can sum up where we've landed in four simple sentences. The world is sinful. That's why God doesn't affirm it indiscriminately [like santa claus or a doting grandparent]. God loves the world. That's why God doesn't punish it in justice [like a negotiator or implacable judge]. What does God do with this double bind? God forgives."
Profile Image for David .
1,223 reviews147 followers
February 16, 2017
Miroslav Volf is one of my favorite writers. His book Exclusion and Embrace might be in my top ten reads of all time, and his work comparing Christian and Muslim understandings of God (Allah: A Christian Response) is fantastic. So I came to this book expecting a lot and I won't say it disappointed, but it was different then what I expected.

Exclusion and Embrace was a heavy theological work that cut to the heart of Christian faith, with brilliant insights into Jesus' death and how we ought to live in response to it. I think Free of Charge almost works as a popular level version of Exclusion and Embrace. Here Volf offers extended reflections on giving and forgiving. God is the ultimate giver and forgiver and we do these actions in imitation of God. More, we do these actions because God is working through us. Free of Charge is by no means simplistic, but I definitely think it would be an easier read then Exclusion and Embrace for people who want an entry into Volf's work.

It is one of those books where nothing really jumped out at me, yet nearly everything was insightful. Sometimes I read a book and am wowed, the experience of reading grabs me. At times I struggled to continue reading this book. Yet often those books that wow me disappear into oblivion, I see them years later sitting on my shelf and I smile as I remember our time together. Books like Free of Charge are ones that did not wow me, but when I am working on a sermon on Bible study I suspect I will pull off the shelf and reference frequently.

Maybe that is the best thing I can say about this book - it is nothing fancy, but it is a solid work. I suspect any reader interested in Christian theology will appreciate Volf's reflections on giving and forgiving.
Profile Image for Kipi.
240 reviews
December 19, 2009
I do love to read, and I love to pass along my love of books, but there are very few books that I whole-heartedly recommend. Miraslov Volf’s Free of Charge: Giving and Forgiving in a Culture Stripped of Grace is one I would not only recommend, I would encourage every person who believes in God to read.

Volf is a professor of theology at Yale Divinity School, but this is not an intimidating read. Each of the two sections, giving and forgiving, begins with discussing how God does each. He reminds us that God is neither a negotiator nor a Santa Claus. God gives because that is His nature, and He delights in giving to us so that He can also give through us. He uses the visual of God pouring gifts out to us and makes the point that the flow of giving was never intended to stop there…it should flow through us and on to those around us, who in turn give to those around them, and all of it flows around and then back to us to begin again. He often refers to the necessity of living within a giving community of givers (the body of Christ), not only so that we encourage one another in the grace of giving but so that we pour those gifts onto others outside the body so that they, too, will come to know God through us. This picture is one that has me captivated. Certainly it is of the ideal…the one that God intended and not the one that we as sinful humans are able to create perfectly…but the ideal is the goal.

The second half of the book deals with forgiving, and for me there were ideas here that might be called transforming. I was especially impressed with his discussion of the relationship between forgiving and repentance. Does forgiveness precede repentance? I had never considered it, but his reasoning seems sound.

I can not recommend this book highly enough. It is not expensive and not so “theological” that those of us without a degree in theology can’t understand it.
Profile Image for Justin.
701 reviews11 followers
July 20, 2017
I'm confused by my own response to this one. For stretches, I found it quite dull. Then I'd be really into it for a bit. In both cases, I was highlighting more than the typical number of passages. When it was insightful, it was really so, but it wasn't an exciting read, despite being smart and often challenging.

The first half of the book, on giving, is a nice bit of Christian philosophy on giving and the gift. It both swats away the work of thinkers like Derrida and Caputo with a quick stroke and also spends considerable time developing its own idea. Some of this could have been more fleshed out to be convincing -- the ideas on Adam and Eve and Cain were novel but felt reductive.

The second half builds on that thought to consider a lifestyle of forgiveness. The heart here is wonderful and it reads better (for the most part) than the second half, even if I couldn't stay settled into it.
Profile Image for Darcy.
41 reviews1 follower
July 22, 2012
Simply put: this is an amazing work. While I may still consider Exclusion and Embrace his most important work, Volf's writing on forgiveness and giving is his most accessible and, from a pastoral perspective, critical. One will find much here that is helpful and that will provoke deep thought--and perhaps some life-change. I have referred the book to many and think it will be one of those books I have a hard time keeping on my shelf as I have already replaced it once!

So if you are wrestling with what it means to truly forgive or be forgiven, there really is no other book I could recommend more. I additionally recommend: start at the beginning. There is a reason he discusses giving before forgiving.
169 reviews8 followers
October 5, 2021
2021 reads: #43
Rating: 4 Stars

Miroslav Volf offers deep theological reflection on giving and forgiving as important aspects of the Christian life. While not in agreement with everything Volf affirms (he is optimistic about humanity's ability to give and forgive, and his understanding of the relationship between forgiveness and repentance requires biblical clarity), this treatment is often insightful. The essence of this book is that as Christians we give and forgive in imitation of God to the extent that our finitude allows. The notion that forgiveness involves condemnation gets to the heart of the matter. Volf also clearly illustrates how giving and forgiving often involve selfish motives rooted in a misunderstanding of the character of God.

This book is definitely intended for the reflective reader. Volf shows how theology and spirituality should not be separated. He colours his exposition with applicable personal stories and illustrations from history and literature which adds to the enjoyment of the book (a lot of engagement with Luther too!). Ultimately, Volf succeeds in making us long for heaven where true restoration will be experienced, and where we will be able to imitate God without the corrupting influences of sin.
Profile Image for Ryan Ward.
329 reviews10 followers
November 20, 2020
Volf writes beautifully about giving and forgiving, exploring the idea that both giving and forgiving allow us to participate in channeling God's grace and goodness in a reciprocal community of love, healing, and reconciliation. Using predominantly interpretations of the Apostle Paul and Martin Luther's writing, he explores some of the same ideas as he does in his other book Exclusion and Embrace, though in a less academic and thorough in depth way. More accessible but still full of profound insights, though not as remarkable as that earlier work.
Profile Image for Chris Collier.
145 reviews1 follower
August 29, 2022
A dense dense book on giving and forgiving. I don’t have enough words to describe how insightful this book is for the difficult task of forgiveness, including where our power, right, and ability to forgive comes from.
Profile Image for Elbie S.
134 reviews
August 21, 2022
My definition of what forgiveness is has been challenged deeply and in a healthy way. Probably THE thing that I hate the most in this broken world is relationships that have been severed for one reason or another. I hate, hate, hate that what so often keeps us from living in productive peace and harmony is pride. My default tendency is to blanketly forgive and (try) to forget offenses with the hope that we can get on with the possibilities of life. While this can seem noble, a quick and unexamined statement of forgiveness and desire to move on does not deal with the deeper issues. These parts that are left unhealed can potentially crop up in the future and cause further damage to the relationship. Also, forgiving without naming the offense and processing through the hurt with the other person/people can keep repentance from occurring. Without repentance, reconciliation isn’t really possible. It is an act of love to name the offenses and allow the offender to experience the release from their responsibility. It is challenging to admit the ways we have hurt someone because that makes us vulnerable and wonder if our reputation and credibility will be irrevocably damaged. It is easier to cast blame on the victim, minimize responsibility, and justify the offense. However, it is through overcoming these obstacles that true freedom and release of responsibility is experienced! For both the one forgiving and the one experiencing the forgiveness, the only way to possibly move towards a glorious conclusion is through God, the ultimate example of giving and forgiving. When we are in touch with how much we have been given and forgiven of by Him, there can be no other response but to refuse to hold other’s sins against them. Where the idea of being able to forget another’s hurtful actions against us seems absolutely impossible, we must remember that anything is possible through God who says He does not remember our sins against Him. I have the optimistic opinion that most of us crave this freedom from guilt and shame at our most deep level, but it is incredibly difficult to die to ourselves and our egos so that we can experience what is possible through genuine forgiveness and reconciliation. It’s really only possible when both parties are of the same mind since free will has been given to us all. Ultimately our peace has to be with God no matter how the offender responds, but we still forgive the wrongdoer because we love them. This is a book that requires more meditation on my part. Many reviews I have read say that this is not Volf’s most impressive book, so I’m looking forward to diving into the one that is!
Profile Image for Adam Shields.
1,642 reviews83 followers
January 11, 2013
Short Review: Best books I have read on forgiveness and a very good look at what giving is all about. In someways it felt like two short books tacked together. I know that in Volf's mind they are very intimately connected, but I don't think he quite showed the connection well enough.

Regardless, Volf starts with a look at who God and and what God gives to us. The first chapter really sets the stage for the sections on both giving and forgiveness. The giving sections were good, giving is a response to God's grace to us. It is not an obligation and God does not need us to give (God does not gain anything from our giving because God is complete by himself.) But God wants us to give and so we are encouraged to give out of appreciate of what God has done for us and how God will use us in the lives of others. He contrasts the way that many people thing of God, Santa Claus or Negotiator. God does not give without regard to what is good for us and God does not give in response to negotiation (because God does not need anything from us.)

In a similar way Volf looks at forgiveness as a subsection of giving. He takes a slight variation on the view of God (Judge and Doting grandparent) and says that does not demand perfect justice, nor does he turn a blind eye to the reality of our sin. The only way he can reconcile our need for forgiveness and God's own holiness is forgiveness. All forgiveness in the end is God's work, but God gives us the opportunity to participate with him in reconciling people to one another and to God.

This is not easy forgive and forget. Volf is primarily thinking about the rough restorative justice here. He is giving examples of war crimes, rape, murder and neglegence that results in death. But he connects it clearly to the smaller things that we all need forgiveness for.

I cannot think of another book that I highlighted more. This is a book that I need to read again. In spite of the fact that it get a bit dry in areas where he is trying to make sure of all of his bases, this is an important book. It took me nearly a month to work my way through with long breaks to process it, but it was well worth reading.

My full review is on my blog at http://bookwi.se/free-of-charge/
Profile Image for Jeff Borgman.
19 reviews1 follower
January 14, 2016
Theological yet accessible, Volf enters into the life and response of the Christian life in light of God's giving and forgiving character. This book is rich with context, content, and story to illustrate a life that can be beautifully lived. Volf describes the book as a spiritual journey that exercises his theology. I would agree and highly recommend.
7 reviews1 follower
February 17, 2013
His approach to the subject is very personal. He argues that in giving and forgiving we have to follow God's lead. We forgive because God forgives, we forgive without preconditions, because God does. Many of his ideas are personally challenging, and require a lot more introspection and study. A stunning book in my opinion.
65 reviews6 followers
October 15, 2018
It took me a while to get a good rhythm through this book, but it was well worth the effort. This is not just a good read, it’s an important book. Deeply convicting, especially about forgiveness. I needed these words.
23 reviews
May 13, 2022
Volf provides a helpful way of viewing biblical soteriology through the lens of giving and forgiving. That framework provides a succinct and clean way of understanding the operations of the Trinity, the shared community between the Triune God and believers, union with Christ, justification, faith, repentance, life in the Spirit etc. systematically. Volf provides this comprehensive picture without relying on certain theological terms common in Reformed circles (imputation, justification, etc.), which may provide a helpful way of bringing elements of Reformed soteriology (Volf relies heavily on Luther throughout) to those outside of the Reformed tradition.

My biggest criticism would be his wholesale dismissal of retributive justice in the civil realm on pgs. 170-171 (he does allow for some civil punishment, though mostly for the purposes of order and rehabilitation), which seems to be an outworking of his view of universal atonement and a vision of a civil society which operates out of forgiveness (including on the judicial level). While there certainly should be a premium placed on rehabilitation and forgiveness in the civil sphere (and a truly Christian nation would certainly adopt these principals), I think a complete dismissal of retribution does not do justice to the office of the state described in Romans 13:4. While individual Christians do not exercise retributive justice (Rom. 12:19-21), God can and does (hell itself is retributive and punitive). The state exercises the authority of God so that God administers His judgments through the state (Rom. 13:1, 4).
Profile Image for Stephen.
657 reviews56 followers
December 8, 2021

Excellent treatment of giving and forgiving by Volf. I found the way he addresses this challenging topic to be thorough and concise. He deals with the aspirational for how we should be while wrestling with the reality as it often is in our hearts and minds in the moment.

I especially like how he describes giving and forgiving as something we do that is derivative of God's actions, not something original within ourselves. Also his point that forgiveness is a social act, not something we do independent of another. Finally, his take on the role and place of repentance in the process of forgiving was unique, and I believe on point. Forgiving is not an event but a process of forgiving, and re-forgiving more like caring for a "tender plant" as Volf describes.

Too many quotes to call out. Here's one that resonated and to some extent summarizes what it means to be good givers and forgivers:

"To live well as a human being is to live in sync with who God is and how God acts." (Pg. 27).
Profile Image for Melanie.
593 reviews12 followers
May 27, 2018
Aan het begin vorderde ik heel langzaam in dit boek. Miroslav Volf bouwt zijn betoog langzaam, zorgvuldig en in kleine stapjes op. Iets té langzaam naar mijn zin. Ik vond het boek saai en ik had het idee dat ik weinig nieuws leerde.
Maar nadat het thema van 'Giving' overging naar 'Forgiving' begon het boek me meer te boeien. En hoe verder ik las, hoe interessanter het werd. Ik ontdekte dat de kleine stapjes die hij in het begin van zijn boek zette, zijn uiteindelijke betoog over vergeving dieper en sterker maakte.
Volf gaf me een andere blik op vergeven. Hij haalde het 'softe' randje er af dat ik ergens in mijn hoofd nog had en maakte vergeving realistischer. Bijvoorbeeld door koppeling te laten zien tussen vergeving en oordeel én ook door niet alleen naar de kant van het slachtoffer te kijken, maar ook naar de kant van de dader. Hij beschreef vergeving ook zo mooi dat je gewoon bijna zin kreeg om te vergeven of zo (al laat hij ook juist zien hoe moeilijk het is): 'Het kwade verslaan door het goede!'
Toen ik het boek een laatste keer dichtsloeg was het boek gestegen van saai naar super-interessant. Knap! 4 sterren.
111 reviews
April 19, 2021
This is one fascinating book on giving and forgiveness. I thought I was a decent enough giver, I was wrong. I don't give badly, but I could give with a greater understanding of giving, and I could give better. Thus book helps to understand what better giving is all about.
I still have much to learn about forgiving others and about God's forgiveness of me and my sin. After reading, I think I understand a bit better about how much God les me and forgives me in spite if my sin. No, I don't think I should sin without any remorse because if Gods grace. "God forbid" as Paul says. But I do sin. We all do. I don't want to, but sometimes I do. And, God forgives. He paid the price for my sin, past present and future, before I was ever born. I'm only beginning to comprehend the immensity of this gift, I do not wish to abuse or take it for granted. But I do wish to learn more. This book helps. Thank you Mitosis Volf!
Profile Image for E..
Author 1 book20 followers
April 11, 2018
Volf's Exclusion and Embrace is one of the best books on forgiveness. But it is a deeply theological and philosophical book (with a section on Hegel, for instance) meaning it is unlikely to be read by the average lay person.

This volume is accessible and not an academic book at all. While also updating Volf's deep thinking about the topic.

Volf is from the Balkans and so his ideas have been refined in the crucible of political oppression, civil war, and genocide. And yet he takes seriously the Christian commitment to nonviolence, peacemaking, and forgiving. Even forgiving when you have been the victim of horrific violence and abuse.

I am about to preach a series on forgiveness, so it was good to refresh myself with this good book, one that I will also recommend to congregants grappling with this most essential of practices.
Profile Image for Jeffrey Romine.
Author 3 books38 followers
December 24, 2021
Volf distinguishes three ways of living. Ideally, we give and forgive, freely, and with no regard to reciprocation. This is the most heavenly. A lesser way is to exchange, value for value, exhibiting and expecting honesty, and imposing justice if necessary. This is how we do live for the most part. The worst state of affairs is to take or be taken, exacting vengeance, to hell with justice - a sad state.

We see elements of the first in the Christian community. We see elements of the second in law abiding societies. We see the last in gang life, criminal behavior, and in any societies that manifests persecution, religious, racial, or other.

How shall we then live?
Profile Image for Lindsey.
59 reviews
December 8, 2017
When thinking about grace and forgiveness of others, Volf really focuses on the forgiver, not the person to be forgiven. This book is engaging, and it includes many relevant stories from Volf's life to illustrate how forgiveness can be found, even if the worst of circumstances. He also includes a postlude that answers some of the more significant arguments against the claims made in his book, as a true apologist would. His writing is accessible to all, not just philosophers or those in the world of theology or apologetics.
Profile Image for Rachel Gray.
126 reviews2 followers
July 10, 2022
This book was recommended to me by a friend I had chatted with about my past history with the church and how I’m currently working to reconcile differences in interpretation of Scripture in women’s roll in marriage and the church. Man. This book. It’s style is easy to read, but there is so much depth. MV starts with the premise of God being a giver and so we should imitate Him and be givers as well. This leads us to imitating God in forgiveness as well. “A community doesn’t have to be perfect to sustain us.”
Profile Image for Nathan.
213 reviews15 followers
May 28, 2019
Is everyone really better than our worst act? —taken from Bryan Stevenson’s “Just Mercy”

I cannot force people’s apologies to lead to changed behavior.

What I do get to determine is how long I allow someone or something that has hurt me, to [continue to] haunt me.

This is forgiveness. And more importantly this is what is meant when often people say you must forgive for yourself and not for those who have offended you.
Profile Image for Kathy.
107 reviews
October 20, 2019
I borrowed this book from my daughter - it is one of her required books for a seminary course. I am wrestling with issues of anger and forgiveness. The book is accessible and well written. My one complaint is that he seems to be saying that we need to forgive and forget, as God does. Wolf makes occasional and very brief mention of the fact that sometimes it is dangerous to forget. We cannot and should not always reconcile with those we forgive. We are not God.
65 reviews
August 17, 2020
This beautiful book begins with a story of ‘gracelessness’ and a story of 2 of the most generous gifts - a child through adoption and the forgiveness for the death of another child - both transition to the question, ‘How can we find the ability to give as well as to forgive?’
Ultimately, we give & forgive because: 1)We imitate God the giver, and 2)We are not just recipients but also channels of all the gifts God has given us.
22 reviews1 follower
December 26, 2022
Have to give Volf full marks on this one. He argued well and beautifully with excellent anecdotes and evidence. There are a few things I'm not convinced of and may dislike, but it may be even better I walk away with continuing questions. I feel very satisfied with how he wrapped up the book and am definitely very impressed. Plan to read more by him.
Profile Image for Emily.
47 reviews2 followers
June 12, 2017
I highly recommend this book- theology applied to giving and forgiving, thoughtful, spiritual, and real, and written from the voice of Eastern influenced Christianity.
Profile Image for Rocky Woolery.
123 reviews1 follower
July 7, 2017
Very honest appraisal of the human character as well as the practices of giving and forgiving. Very good thoughts on the reasons to give and forgive, mainly as a reflection of God as a giver.
Profile Image for Kathy.
199 reviews
August 27, 2017
Amazing insight, stories, and richness but got long winded and found myself skimming some.
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