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Posted by on Jan 15, 2009 in Uncategorized

Jesus on Death Row by Mark Osler

Mark Osler, Baylor University law professor and fellow Baptist blogger (Osler’s Razor) has a new book worthy of your attention.  It is titled:

Here is the description from publisher Abingdon Press:

Jesus Christ was a prisoner on death row. If that statement surprises you, consider this fact: of all the roles that Jesus played–preacher, teacher, healer, mentor, friend–none features as prominently in the gospels as this one, a criminal indicted and convicted of a capital offense. 

Now consider another fact: the arrest, trial, and execution of Jesus bear remarkable similarities to the American criminal justice system, especially in capital cases. From the use of paid informants to the conflicting testimony of witnesses to the denial of clemency, the elements in the story of Jesus’ trial mirror the most common components in capital cases today.

Finally, consider a question: How might we see capital punishment in this country differently if we realized that the system used to condemn the Son of God to death so closely resembles the system we use in capital cases today? Should the experience of Jesus’ trial, conviction, and execution  give us pause as we take similar steps to place individuals on death row today? These are the questions posed by this surprising, challenging, and enlightening book.

And here’s what Bill Leonard, Dean of the School of Divinity at Wake Forest University, had to say about Osler’s book:

“In this fascinating and troubling book Mark Osler asks not ‘what would Jesus do?’ but ‘what we might have done to Jesus had he shown up here and now?’ By linking the ‘passion of the Christ’ with contemporary (Texas) death penalty law, Mark Osler forces us to reread the Jesus story as it confronts our society and ourselves.”

You can pre-order Jesus on Death Row here.

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  1. I look forward to this. I have been a member of the National Coalition to Abolish the Death Penalty since I was 15(47 now, do the math). I have written 2 book chapters on the death penalty and numerous articles and op-eds.

    We who worship the victim of Roman execution (state sponsored murder) should always oppose the executions of others. Since we cannot give life, we have no authority to take it away!

  2. It indeed sounds like a book that would challenge me, and the subject of the book is certainly something one should wrestle with. The premise, however, that we should revisit the death penalty because Jesus was murdered, is a silly one. Jesus HAD to die in the way he did. Dying of old age wouldn’t have fulflilled God’s plan

  3. Paraphrasing the Gospel of John, Billy, Jesus may have had to die that way, but woe to those who did it. Consider: How does Jesus’ crucifixion save? Well, the NT writers say much on this because it’s a very large topic. But one dimension highlighted in Paul’s writings is that by crucifying the innocent Jesus, the Powers were unmasked and their evil was unmasked. I would say that one dimension of that unmasking is in the way government (one of the Powers) by using lethal means of “justice” (even when it doesn’t kill the innocent) violates the image of God in each human being.

    My full theological argument for this is too long for a comment box and, I imagine, so is Osler’s. But the widespread conservative Baptist belief that one need only consider divine agents in the crucifixion and not the human ones and their motives is a major problem in their entire theology.

  4. I chuckle at the conflicted thoughts of liberal Christians who want to influence culture to preserve criminals’ lives, but bad-mouth other Christians who want to influence culture to preserve innocent lives of the unborn.

    And, let’s see, Jesus was innocent, those on death row aren’t. Can we all see the difference and useless comparison?

  5. I really don’t think you know enough (anything?) about Mark Osler to conclude that he is a “liberal Christian” who is not interested in “[preserving] lives of the unborn.”

    Perhaps you could clarify, Cat’s Dad. Since you haven’t read the book, what do you know about Mark Osler and his theology?

    All you got is ASSumptions.

    As to those on death row, I have serious doubts that ALL are guilty. Texas Monthly recently profiled 37 men who spent a combined 525 years in prison for crimes that they did not commit. Theology aside, in light of our broken system here in Texas, we need a moratorium on executions.

  6. If Cat’s Dad’s remark was aimed at me, I have no problems with influencing culture to reduce abortions–they went down under Clinton and grew again under Bush II. No attempt is made by most conservatives to seek the reasons why most women who have abortions seek them. No attempt is made to seek the causes and deal with them–there’s just a holier than thou attitude toward women with problem pregnancies.

    I also think that the distinction between guilt and innocence is not a good one for Christians–since the gospel asserts that none of us are innocent–all are guilty and deserve death. The heart of the gospel is the justification of the ungodly.

    A better distinction between the issue of abortion and the death penalty is that of personhood. People on death row, whether or not guilty, whether or not deserving of death are persons in the image of God. Thus, they may not be treated as means to an end, but only as ends in themselves–regardless of how they may or may not have treated others.

    Zygotes, however, are not human persons, “just” potential persons. To treat them as fully human persons would be to make every womman’s body a murder machine since billions of zygotes (fertilized ovae) are spontaneously aborted during normal menses–often without any realization by the woman that she was pregnant.

    Now, a potential person should, in all normal circumstances, have a presumptive right to fulfill that potential, which is why I believe that most elective abortions are immoral. But one can override the right to life of a potential person in favor of that of an actual person (the mother) in extreme situations–although the further along in development (closer to birth), the greater those circumstances would have to be.

    So, in the 3rd Trimester, I would only justify abortion to save the mother’s life. Before that, the circumstances would still be extreme: rape, incest, extreme fetal deformity, threat to the health of the mother.

    I understand those who work to protect life in all circumstances, but I will never understand those whose concern for “pre-born life” outweighs the concern for the human lives we already have with us–including the condemned prisoners (innocent or guilty) that the Bible says Jesus came to set free (Luke 4).

  7. We could say we are all guilty so guilt should never matter, but wouldn’t that reasoning undermine all justice systems?

    Original sin differs from guilt/innocence as determined by social contract.

    Guilt leading to the death penalties is determined by citizens under agreed-on laws with a multi-layered system of due process: definition and elements of a crime, burden of proof, evidence (collection, chain of custody, etc.), police conduct, adequate representation, jury system, court and judge, conduct of trial, applicable law, sentencing, post-trial motions and appeals, and even prison standards and “humane” execution standards. When after that multi-year process a percentage are sentenced to death, it’s not random or arbitrary. Neither is it perfect, as shown by the Innocence Project. If society comes to believe that taking several innocent lives per year is too high a price, the death penalty will disappear, as it has in Europe.

    For now, if citizens over a certain age choose certain behavior (crime) they understand they are subject to the criminal justice system and sentencing. That is the social contract.

    It results in about 40 executions per year in the U.S.

    Life-or-death determinations for preborns — who haven’t done or agreed to anything, but were brought into existence by a biological mom and dad — lies in the hands of the mom. There is no process, no review, little concern for humane standards until recently. It’s a private decision, the most common reason for which is unpreparedness-to-parent. It’s carried out quickly and confidentially for a fee (possibly paid by insurance or the state in the future).

    It results in about 1.2 million abortions per year in the U.S.

    I do take issue with the tired assumption

  8. Woops, posted too soon.

    I take issue with the tired assumption that conservatives don’t care about the causes of abortion. But that’s not the topic here.

  9. BDW,

    I didn’t reference Osler. Michael correctly concluded he fit the category of persons I referred to.

    I appreciate his elaboration of his position, but would say he’s conflicted in his love for both civilly-criminal life and separation of church-and-state.

    The “CAPS LOCK” key is just to the left of the “A” key. I guess your left pinkie is pretty strong, leading to the embarrassing “ASS” mistake.

    I may be snarky to you, but I know you wouldn’t be intentionally demeaning or crass.

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