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The Death Penalty on Trial: Taking A Life for A Life Taken Mass Market Paperback – February 1, 2009
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Gleason makes a bold and compelling case that the death penalty is the biblically mandated punishment for murder. While it is true that capital punishment was used in biblical days for a host of crimes, including Sabbath breaking, blasphemy, witchcraft, and belligerent children, Scripture teaches, he argues, that the death penalty for murder is for all time. A major point of the book is that while all murder is killing, not all killing is murder as in the case of self-defense, just wars, or the death penalty (59, 100).
Genesis 9:5–6 is “a foundational text” (24) because the covenant made with Noah was unilateral, universal, and everlasting (25–26). This text also provides the reason premeditated murder is a capital crime. “Murder is a capital crime because man is made in the image of God. Being God’s image bearer gives man a particular value that can never be eradicated” (26). Man’s divine creation provides the moral basis for the sanctity of human life. “Murder is punished with death because to kill another human being is to destroy one who is a bearer of the divine image” (27). Thus, murder is a direct assault upon God himself. Although Gleason does not address differences among theologians as to what extent God’s image remains in sinful man, Genesis 9:5–6 “direct us to the inherent value that every human being has due to the fact that he is created in the image of God” (27).
― Calvin Theological Journal
Fuzziness on ethical issues is the bane of modern thinking. Happily, there is a voice of clear reason on the scene. Dr. Ron Gleason brings genuine moral clarity to the issue of capital punishment by his illuminating survey of American History. The reader will be most appreciative of Dr. Gleason’s masterful discussion of the objections to the death penalty. This book is a must-read for all lawyers, judges, and law officers.
― Pastor Carl Robbins, Senior Minister, Woodruff Road Presbyterian Church, Greenville, SC
Dr. Ron Gleason challenges both sides of the capital-punishment debate to know and articulate their positions more definitively. He avoids simplistic answers to this serious topic, recognizing that real lives are at stake. This book assesses and provides clear guidance for establishing and maintaining a safe and righteous society. Dr. Dominic A. Aquila, President, New Geneva Theological Seminary Colorado Springs, CO In a society that wants to deny a divine absolute standard, I find Dr. Gleasons work both challenging and thought-provoking as he systematically provides the Biblical basis supporting his view on capital punishment. Brad Dacus, Esq., President, Pacific Justice Institute, Sacramento, CA Fuzziness on ethical issues is the bane of modern thinking. Happily, there is a voice of clear reason on the scene. Dr. Ron Gleason brings genuine moral clarity to the issue of capital punishment by his illuminating survey of American History. The reader will be most appreciative of Dr. Gleasons masterful discussion of the objections to the death penalty. This book is a must-read for all lawyers, judges, and law officers. Pastor Carl Robbins, Senior Minister, Woodruff Road Presbyterian Church, Greenville, SC
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Into the midst of this controversy wades Ron Gleason, pastor of Grace Presbyterian Church in Yorba Linda, California in his new book The Death Penalty on Trial. Written primarily for Christians, so they can support the death penalty and do so coherently from moral, historical and biblical perspectives, this book offers a thorough defense of the death penalty and a defense against the arguments, both secular and Christian, so often lodged against it. Gleason sets the book firmly in the context of church history, looking first to the death penalty in history and then in the history of the church, showing how through the years the majority of Christians have believed that the Bible gives license to the state to execute those guilty of murder. He looks as well to the Old and the New Testament. Though it is difficult to deny that God supports capital punishment in the Old Covenant, many Christians have argued that it should no longer apply in the New. Arguing straight from Scripture, Gleason shows convincingly that this is simply not the case--the New Testament assumes capital punishment and insists upon the right of those in authority to enforce it. The government, after all, (as we learn in Romans 13) does not bear the sword in vain, but is the servant of God, an avenger who carries out God's wrath on the wrongdoer.
Gleason dedicates a chapter to answering the objections of secularists and another to answer the objections of Christians (though, surprisingly, many of the objections are not far removed from one another). Writing as an American to a primarily American audience, he questions whether the death penalty can be considered cruel and unusual punishment and shows how the framers of the Constitution clearly believed in the capital punishment. He answers objections that the death penalty devalues human life (showing that, in fact, the opposite is the case) and that it has not been proven to be an effective deterrent (to which he responds, in part, that at the very least it is a deterrent to the one who has been executed). When looking to the arguments of Christians he answers objections that Jesus' new ethics removed the need for the death penalty, that those who are forgiven by Christ ought to be forgiven by men and that the death penalty is an affront to God's justice. In each case he answers well from Scripture or from plain reason. It bears mention here that Gleason is Presbyterian and at times his book is a little more Presbyterian-friendly than Baptist-friendly. This is to say that he would acknowledge a level of continuity between the Old Testament and the New Testament that many Baptists might deny. But though this may affect one or two of his arguments, it certainly does not detract much from the power of his arguments.
A theme that runs throughout the book is this: all murder is killing but not all killing is murder. Thus a person who murders another can be justly executed by the governing authorities without multiplying the evil. To kill a murderer is not to commit another murder. Rather, terrible though it is to have to take a life, it is an act of justice and a fitting penalty for one who would destroy a person made in God's image.
This is the first book I've read by Gleason, an old family friend and my former pastor from his years ministering here in the Toronto area. I was impressed with the logic and the fluidity of his writing as well as with the power of his arguments. The book is well-researched and well-documented, drawing from a wide range of sources. And though, as a scholar, Gleason could easily have written an academic treatise, this book is suitable for the rest of us. His argument are as easy to follow and digest as they are to read. Though it deals with a niche topic, this book deals with an important one and I commend it to you.
Gleason systematically discusses the background of the death penalty across history and cultures. He then takes a look more specifically at the death penalty in what would be considered the church age, starting in about the fourth century A.D. citing St. Augustine as a supporter of the death penalty, then noting the support for it from the Reformers, especially, Luther and Calvin. But probably the most compelling evidence comes from Gleason's pointing to the Old Testament and the verses that speak directly to God's divine law, which was not revoked by the New Testament, but in fact reiterated for the purpose of authorizing civil governments to impose punishment on murderers via their own execution.
Gleason dedicates two chapters to the most popular objections to the death penalty in our age. One chapter addresses these from the perspective of the secularists who generally cite the Eighth Amendment to the U.S. Constitution, regarding cruel and unusual punishment. The other is dedicated to the objections that are raised by Christians who oppose the death penalty because of the apparent contradiction between holding a pro-life stance with regard to abortion, all the while supporting capital punishment. In both chapters, he refutes the claims and shows the fallacy of their reasoning, pointing consistently back to scripture.
The author's stated intent was to deal constructively with this topic for both Christians and non-believers alike. I think he has done a good job in accomplishing this task. But, I am perhaps not the best person to ask, as I already held to a pro-capital punishment position.