Here is what my friend James (who often comments on this blog) recently wrote (www.davedack.com/geter):

Offenders are people struggling with bleak ideas of self-worth. The j.s.(justice
system) sends them to jail where their current patterns will be reinforced
(violence is the path to self-preservation, and they're just another cog in the
system). The j.s. just erodes offenders even more.
- A better framework says justice begins with needs. The current frame work
goes like this. A law has been broken.
- what does the law require and what will the court accept? A better framework
starts by realizing that crime is a violation of relationships, not the state. We
need to work towards restoring the person, not punishing the offender.
- The better framework goes on to ask who's been harmed and what they need,
not which law's been broken and what the court might accept. Knowing their
harm is recognized gives the victim a sense of justice.
- The better framework says the debt is to the victim, not the state. Sending
people to prison does not make right the debt because it sweeps the real debt
under the carpet by detaching everyone from what really happened. The better
framework fills a debt by making the debt right. The offender has liabilities
and obligations. When these are filled, the guilt is removed.
- Through the process of meeting the liabilities and obligations the offender
works in new patterns that build him in constructive ways. He's immersed in
repairing conflict, not living and surviving in it.

I would be interested to find out how James and others out there would apply this thinking/understanding to the concept of Justification in scripture and perhaps a few other areas of scripture. Although many theological theories abound that do just this task, I think it would be interesting to work at it with just these ideas in mind without consulting these other theories until one has been constructed, after that the theories could be consulted. Let me know what you come up with everyone!


  1. This is going to be pretty cookie cutter, but it's about redemption instead of conviction and God's excellencies over our failures. It's about looking at the imperatives not as a list of our orders (obviously making them our failures) but as a description of where God is taking us.

    You know, what I don't like in a lot of the election discussions is this idea that salvation's somehow an event. And the electing or free-willing (doesn't matter which here) is about the way your set apart. Justification's about life. We're set apart, yes, but God's idea is discipling us, not saving us. You sign up for karate to learn how to do something. The mix-up just almost destines you to think about your mess ups and not God's excellence.

    It's building the offender so he can see the excellence of what's Right.

  2. James do you imply in this that the spirit birth is not instantaneous but rather inclusive of some type of gestation period or is it that re-birth and salvation are not analogous? I can readily agree that discipleship (life salvation) is need based; i.e. milk and meat, however I am unable to insinuate this upon rebirth (soul salvation). Justin I suspect this system would be excellent when applied to criminal justice but my dim wit does not allow me to perceive any justification toward God outside of faith in the redemptive Jesus. ;-)

  3. kc, I find it interesting that you create these two terms: life salvation and soul salvation. If I had to guess I would say that you would say that soul salvation is the point and beginning and that life salvation is the process after this. I find this an interesting distinction because I find no such terms in scripture. I am not saying that it is not scriptural; however, I am not endorsing it either. I just find it interesting that we seek to explain things away with new terms rather being satisfied with biblical language. (I often do this as well, so I am just as guilty many times.)

    You said the following, "my dim wit does not allow me to perceive any justification toward God outside of faith in the redemptive Jesus." I definately think our redemption is found in Jesus. However, I would say that we have to be careful how individualistic we look at this. We need to look at in from a collectivist or communal standpoint that sees God saving humanity or redeeming "us". As well, I think much of what James says here has many great implications for how we view this justification. James' idea here is not in place of justification through faith in the redemptive work of Jesus rather it is a way of looking at this justification and how we as humanity should approach the spiritual formation process and the understanding of it in new theological ways. I applaud James for these thoughts. I would hope that he will continue applying these Criminal Justice thoughts to the theological realm. I think it could lead to some good insight for all of us.

  4. Justin let me first say I appreciate this opportunity as well as your willingness to discuss these things.

    I would like to take credit for coining the phrase I used but in truth I first heard it used by a Baptist minister many years ago. These terms have been used within our community, not to explain away, but as a means of understanding the complete work of God in our salvation. Another aspect of that understanding is the redemption (salvation) of the body. For me, as an individual, this process began at conversion (better term? This really was an event for me) and will be completed when I am united in body with Jesus. I have no guilt in using these terms (though possibly a relatively new theological approach), as I consider our example used various terms to help us understand. I agree that our message is important to all humanity, however I find it equally important that the distinction be made clear between us that, have been (soul), are being (life), will be (body) redeemed and those who remain condemned because they all have each individually rejected the redemption of God seeking rather to justify themselves. When we apply the redemption offered us by God to the framework that James proposes for criminal justice we might see that the crime is against God and without Him we are not even capable of recognizing the offense, let alone making restitution. Only He can make restitution and restore that broken relationship. While restoration is made available to us all, it is not imposed on us at all.

    I honestly don’t wish to discourage any theological discourse. I only feel privileged to participate. :-)

  5. Prison does blur the distinction between justice and punishment, but here is the opinion of one who has seen much of the prison system, and I have studied it for many years, as my biological father has been a product of that society since I have been alive.

    Without the threat of incarceration, I do not believe there would be order in society. Not that I think all convicts need to serve time behind bars, because few of them will come out changed for the better, however, it is not logical to think that people would obey rules without life altering consequences as the social recourse. If you tell a child not to hit, and he does, you take away his ability to play with toys. This is their whole life, and even if it only lasts for a day they begin to understand there are consequences, and discipline can occur. With adults, you can't simply take away toys, because they have the ability to get more, the punishment will not suffice. You must show them that there will be action taken if they choose not to follow the rules.

    Secondly, think of the logistics of having to monitor a convict who is repaying the debt to the victim. If you think it takes a lot of tax dollars to pay attention to inmates inside a cell, think if all of them were put on the street with a debt to pay to the victim or the family. It is a numerical anomaly. The system does not rehabilitate, but with the understanding of right and wrong firmly implanted into everyone's mind, I don't see why the system needs to work, but simply to make these people understand the pains of living without normalcy.

  6. Pat, check out these articles on the type of justice system I wrote about. They'll address a lot of your concerns. Especially look at the article, "Transformational Law." But just a few statistical things...

    Jail time doesn't deter crime. The death penalty doesn't deter murder.

    Facing someone you stole from and having to admit it does deter crime but more importantly, it prevents the crime, and nearly all crime, from being committed again by the offender.. It truly restores the offerender and gives the victim a sense of justice - neither of which our current system do. Most offenders are completely amazed at how much terror and trauma they cause because they simply don't know because they need to be restored. That's the entire idea - resoration. Prison not only doesn't prevent crime, but it definitely doesn't restore more offenders.

    KC, I'm implying that the point we enter the room is just one of many moments in our discipleship. God's idea is to disciple us. I'm like justin though. I want to be as simple as possible in thinking about our spiritual formation because it's really the only way to think somewhat fully about it and save as much confusion as possible.

  7. I'm trying hard to follow this discussion, and find it quite interesting. The concept at its most --um-- abstract? philosophical? theological? is beyond me.

    I do have a question about the notion that offenders can be redeemed through admission of guilt, repayment of wrongs, etc. How do you structure that to achieve "justice" for the victim of murder or rape or incest or torture. The body may be healed by medicine and/or time, or it may not. But that is not, in any sense, the extent of the crime. James: "It truly restores the offerender and gives the victim a sense of justice." I'm not sure, in these kinds of cases, that I can agree. Not that I think the justice system necessarily does it any better--and in cases of petty theft, possession of controlled substances, or even grand theft auto, maybe not as well.

    But I can only see this from a practical viewpoint--how you are relating it to salvation and redemption and justication, etc. is, as I said, beyond me.

  8. Hey Leslie

    Haha, leslie, if you go to Dave's forum you'll see the marathon post I just wrote... Gosh. I'm taking a brain brake after this. haha.

    I had a class on sexual ethics (btw people, I should say I only minored in peacemaking) and even though our book was more or less about man bashing, I picked up that victims of sexual crime have all kinds of questions like "why me?" and "Did I do anything that invited this?" It's the same thing that goes on emtionally as a violent crime, just more intense. Confronting the offender does way more for the victim because any other way they'd never be able to ask these things. They lose the sense of who they are, and they're able to get it back.

    The offender isn't just off scott free after talking about the ol' memories over tea, but the confrontation does a lot for them. Genuine sexual offenders should go to prison because they're never cured, but the ones who aren't usually have no idea what they're crime really did. Then they'll work in who knows. Clinics or something. Encountered by victims all day every day instead of being congratulated and affirmed by "the guys" back in the ol' cell block.

  9. James I can appreciate your desire for simplification. My concern involves postulating the belief that we can perform restorative works toward God. This would, in effect, diminish the totally restorative work of Jesus. I find we are under condemnation while outside the room, and then fully restored upon first entering the room, that is to say our relationship with God is made right, and we then learn to become model citizens with even this being an accomplishment of God, not ourselves. The works that we do by faith are not for restoration; they are of devotion, a civic responsibility.

    Justin I hope you will forgive me this slight deviation from your request but I would like to add to the comments regarding the merits of this concept with regard to criminal justice. I totally agree with the concept in theory and honestly I think it would work well to use this to explain the process of restoration in personal relationships, especially the restoration of a brother or sister. I think it can even be applied in part to the CJ system, within reason. We should not overlook the scripture and apply the understanding given in Romans 13. We would all desire to be part of a kind and gentle nation, however the responsibilities of government to God vary greatly from our personal responsibilities

  10. KC, read through this thread: http://www.davedack.com/forum/viewtopic.php?t=4

    I think you're thinking I'm saying things that I'm not intending to, but that thread should clear you up on where I stand. Our relationship with God is fully restored. That is, we're fully justified. That doesn't mean God doesn't take his time with us thereafter.

    It should be noted that our country is one of few that uses a justice system like ours. Most countries use the restorative system and function with less crime.

    Romans 13 lets us know the government is to watch over its people. Restorative justice does this much more effectively than what we have in place now. There's simply less crime committed in countries with restorative justice systems. Countries where people have much more economic incentive to commit crime than they do here - where crime is about survival, not image. I appreciate the response so far, though.

  11. James thanks for the link and the insight on your discussion. We might quibble a bit on the intent in the first part of Romans 13 but not too much. It seems this subject is pervasive in several arenas. Here is a partial comment I offered elsewhere that seems to have some implication on our considerations here.

    Do “good” ethics equate to good morals and do either equate to godliness? Isn’t the definition of good subjective? If subjective then judgment is implied. If judgment is implied then who will judge? With respect to ethics the judgment is the collective opinion of men or government and what is moral is determined individually but God determines what is truly good. Men (should) judge men by virtue of law. We (shouldn’t) judge others when we doubt their morality or their motive and intent. We (shouldn’t) judge God when we doubt Him. God grants us the priviledge to first judge ourselves. He provides all we need to make these “self determinations”. Here is where grace abounds. If our judgment is righteous our conscience is clear and our relationship with Him remains unbroken. If there is doubt in our heart then we judge ourselves unrighteous and the fellowship is broken. This is all to say that the just shall live by faith.

    James I appreciate the discussion. I also appreciate the latitude in deviation Justin. I look forward to following your blog.

  12. This has been an excellent discussion. Even though it deviated from my original question somewhat, I think it has been very productive and helpful to all. I too can see how it relates so well on a human to human level. Because of this, I wonder if we need to rethink our theological scheme somewhat to begin incorporating these ideas (perhaps modified in some way) into our beliefs. Its just a thought. Not trying to destroy orthodoxy or anything. It just seems to me that part of the salvation process is an awareness/awakening thing, although I am hesitant to say that in fear that some will take that too far and make it the only aspect of salvation. However, I think it is good to begin exploring the specific areas that are redeemed in our lives. We know that God seeks to redeem us wholly and completely, but what is this whole made up of, both individually and corporately?