The Death Penalty on Trial – Taking a Life for a Life Taken, by Ron Gleason, Ph.D. offers a Biblical look at the often controversial topic of capital punishment. This is a relatively short book, with the author’s material filling only about 100 pages, with the appendix, end notes, bibliography, etc. it is only 135 pages. Gleason, who is pastor of Grace Presbyterian Church in Yorba Linda, CA, deals very graciously, but directly with a subject about which there are probably very few people who take a stance of ambivalence. My (safe) hunch is that people feel rather strongly in favor of, or opposed to the death penalty.
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.