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Fall 1990 · Vol. 19 No. 2 · pp. 125–26 

Book Review

A Life for a Life?

Vernon O. Redekop. Scottdale, PA: Herald, 1990. 104 pages.

Reviewed by Gary Hardaway

For Christians wrestling with the issue of capital punishment, Redekop’s modest introduction to the topic offers an invitation to a kinder, gentler justice system. The author, who serves as communications coordinator for the Church Council on Justice and Corrections in Ottawa, brings deep personal feeling to the debate—a feeling born through involvement {126} with both victims and offenders. He writes in a clear, readable style for a wide, general public.

The first half of the book addresses the emotional and Scriptural dimensions of the death penalty. Redekop is at his best when measuring the tragedy inflicted by violence. He shares stories which move the reader from abstract interest to thoughtful empathy.

His interpretations of key Scriptures, however, are unconvincing. After noting that Mosaic law lists 29 separate capital offenses, he dismisses them all by asserting, “many procedures made it virtually impossible to convict anyone” (page 48). Concerning another strong requirement for execution for idolaters, he indicates, “Perhaps it was never intended to be taken literally” (page 19). Alert readers may also question his treatment of Genesis 9:6 and Romans 13.

Part Two proposes a series of compassionate “steps for responding to violent crime.” Here the author enables us to visualize creative, redemptive alternatives to get-tough politics. Both victims and offenders are treated with respect. A spirit of reconciliation attempts to overcome the degradation of brutality.

Certain problems remain unexamined. When does love for potential victims require us to protect them from evildoers? Never? What follows when dialogue, counseling and other compassionate measures fail to reform the killer? Can all offenders be restored to “wholeness of life in the community?” The ideal is commendable only if it is achievable. Otherwise it too inflicts innocent suffering.

Relating kingdom ethics to secular society is always difficult and complex. We need this kind of discussion. Redekop has earned the right to contribute to it and, in so doing, has both advocated and modeled the spirit of Christ.

Gary Hardaway
Hillsboro, Kansas

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