Executing Grace: How the Death Penalty Killed Jesus and Why It's Killing Us

Executing Grace: How the Death Penalty Killed Jesus and Why It's Killing Us

by Shane Claiborne


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In this reasoned exploration of justice, retribution, and redemption, the champion of the new monastic movement, popular speaker, and author of the bestselling The Irresistible Revolution offers a powerful and persuasive appeal for the abolition of the death penalty.

The Bible says an eye for an eye. But is the state’s taking of a life true—or even practical—punishment for convicted prisoners? In this thought-provoking work, Shane Claiborne explores the issue of the death penalty and the contrast between punitive justice and restorative justice, questioning our notions of fairness, revenge, and absolution.

Using an historical lens to frame his argument, Claiborne draws on testimonials and examples from Scripture to show how the death penalty is not the ideal of justice that many believe. Not only is a life lost, so too, is the possibility of mercy and grace. In Executing Grace, he reminds us of the divine power of forgiveness, and evokes the fundamental truth of the Gospel—that no one, even a criminal, is beyond redemption.

Editorial Reviews

Publishers Weekly

★ 05/23/2016
George Junius-Stinney Jr. was so small "that his head didn't reach into the metal helmet of the electric chair." At age 14, Junius-Stinney was the youngest person ever executed in the United States. The guards brought the biggest book they could find for him to sit on: the Bible. With a characteristically engaging voice, Claiborne (The Irresistible Revolution) delves into how, as a white Southern evangelical Christian, he changed his mind about capital punishment. Through stories, interviews, history, and cogent scriptural reflection, Claiborne takes the reader on a moral journey that's often hard to undertake on one's own. He tests common beliefs, including the ideas that all murder victims favor the death penalty, prison officers feel justified in carrying out executions, and prisoners on death row have been fairly judged and are guilty of their crimes. He also looks at how the courts operate against victims who request that the death penalty not be applied in the prosecution of their loved one's killer, even denying them access to victim assistance funds. Claiborne's latest is a timely release as an increasing number of U.S. states move to more effective forms of justice and Pope Francis calls for a global moratorium on capital punishment. (June)

Ron McAndrew

Should be regarded as a warning to those becoming involved in American ceremonial killings. In the middle of the night it’s just too late to reach out and blame it on the system.

Walter Brueggemann

Claiborne will not let us off the hook about the radicality of God’s grace. Nor will he look away from the social reality of barbarism masquerading as legality. One can only hope this vigorous, inescapable book will make the difference in practice that it articulates so clearly.

David Anderson

Shane Claiborne is a gracist. In his book, Executing Grace, he demonstrates that he is powerfully and practically advocating that the red letters of Jesus’ words in the Scriptures can become reality if we live out the grace we have been given.

Jonathan Wilson-Hartgrove

Shane Claiborne may well join the ranks of Rachel Carson and John Howard Griffin—storytellers who’ve pricked the conscience of our nation and nudged us toward a more perfect union.

Bill Pelke

This book will help lead to the abolition of the death penalty. I ask any Christian who promotes the death penalty to read this book. Best book on the death penalty I have read in the 30 years I have been working to abolish it.

Otis Moss III

Shane Claiborne is a courageous spirit filled voice and living embodiment of prophetic activism in the 21st century. His latest book has echo’s Philosopher John Rawls, ethicist Reinhold Niebuhr and theologian Martin Luther King, Jr. with a dash of Woody Guthrie.

Tony Campolo

Claiborne has called us to apply the teachings of Jesus to one of the pressing issues of our time - capital punishment. In this well-written and meticulously researched book he shows, sociologically, why the death penalty is a flawed penalty and how it demeans the society that practices it.

PBS Tavis Smiley

Social justice pioneer challenges Christians and non-Christians to abandon the death penalty and adopt a plan of true justice in his thought-provoking new text.

Marian Wright Edelman

Engaging, compelling. Whether you have long worked to end the injustice of the Cradle to Prison Pipeline or are just beginning to learn about it, you will be moved and informed by Shane’s invitation to the faith-filled work of the ‘grace thing’ our God of love and justice intends.

John Perkins

I wish the whole Church would read this book. As Christians, we know we believe in grace, but we struggle with what that means when it comes to the death penalty. Read Executing Grace and consider if it might be time to live without the death penalty.

Faith Matters

If you’re looking for religious, biblical (and especially Christian) reasons on which to decide whether to support the death penalty, this is the book to read.

Ronald J. Sider

Powerful, urgent, and right. Solidly biblical and full of wrenchingly gripping stories, this book makes a highly convincing case for ending capital punishment. Every Christian, especially those deeply committed to protect the sanctity of human life, should read it.

Archbishop Desmond Tutu

Here is an invitation to build a world where we reject all forms of killing, both legal and illegal. It is a call to join a movement where grace gets the last word. Claiborne’s brilliant book reminds us that without forgiveness, there is no future.

Stu Garrard

Shane is constantly bringing a human face to the forefront of this conversation. I am left with a moral responsibility to add my voice to be an advocate for the abolition of the death penalty and for restorative justice. May the “nagging problem of Jesus” never leave my consciousness.

Brian D. McLaren

If you’ve never changed your mind, you may have lost it along the way. If you’re open to changing your mind, here’s a powerful book—intelligent, compassionate, and truly, truly important—by one of the most thoughtful moral voices alive today. Don’t miss Shane Claiborne’s Executing Grace.

Christena Cleveland

Stark and bright and hopeful and wounding all at the same time, Executing Grace is an impassioned call to all those who claim to follow the Executed One.

John Dear

The best book on the death penalty since Dead Man Walking.

Philip Yancey

This is a major contribution—a thorough, carefully researched book on an issue that should be important to all of us. Shane casts the death penalty debate in the light of grace and makes his case persuasively, creatively, and gracefully.

Jürgen Moltmann

This is a necessary book. Death penalty in a civilized state is a scandal. Death penalty is antichristian, antidemocratic, and inhuman: ‘You shall not kill!’

Bryan Stevenson

This compelling and thoughtful book is a must-read for people of faith who have in many ways been painfully silent about excessive punishment in America. Scripture, history and conviction make Shane Claiborne’s writing essential for anyone serious about grace and mercy.

Jim Wallis

The moral opposition to the death penalty has been deeply Christian, and Sojourners has been part of that. Shane Claiborne clearly and passionately argues that Christians must elevate grace over revenge. I recommend this book to all who want to follow Jesus, history’s most famous victim of state violence.

Elaine Enns and Ched Myers

This book presses ancient good news on our world of racism and mass incarceration in the evangelical hope of weaning church and nation off the spiraling politics of retribution and toward practices of restorative justice.

Catholic News Service

Shane makes a strong case, using Christian and secular reasoning, for ending the death penalty. As a substitute for the death penalty, the book proposes ‘restorative justice’…the idea certainly provides food for thought.

Michael T. McRay

Extraordinary. Shane delivers a heavy blow to the death machine. Read it at your own risk: you won’t be the same when you’re done.

Catholic Sentinel

Claiborne makes a strong case, using Christian and secular reasoning, for ending the death penalty… certainly provides food for thought.

Bob Goff

Shane’s voice is one I’ve trusted for a long time because he lives what he talks about. You’ll turn the last page of this book and you’ll not just know more, you’ll want to do more.

Sister Helen Prejean

Claiborne masterfully weaves together theology, the history of America’s death penalty, and firsthand accounts of its devastating effects. These pages are full of hope for a day when the death penalty is gone forever.

Richard Rohr

Shane Claiborne invites us to be consistently pro-life and larger than any one culture! This is whole-making at its best!

David P. Gushee

Executing Grace may be the best book on the death penalty. Shane weaves together narratives of people whose lives have demonstrated the miracle of grace amid murder and state killing. He shows that the Way of Jesus is incompatible with the death penalty. Indispensable, highly recommended.

Dale Recinella

With razor-sharp insight, Claiborne rightly divides the Word with the compelling conclusion that our waning American love for executions cannot be attributed to the God of grace and mercy that is revealed in the Christian Scriptures.

Englewood Review of Books

With his characteristic storytelling—both compelling and provocative—Shane Claiborne offers us an insightful look at the death penalty, and why it should be abolished. Executing Grace is a timely and winsome book that might just help to abolish the death penalty in our land forever.

Rev. Dr. Gabriel Salguero

Executing Grace is about remembering our humanity in the midst of a culture of death. With no shortcuts or easy answers Shane has called us to wrestle with capital punishment. An entire generation of evangelicals will find in this work the radical grip of grace.

Patheos "Unfundamentalist Christians" blog

I’m confident that Claiborne’s passionate, comprehensive, and heart-wrenching examination of capital punishment provides what is, to my mind, an irrefutable case as to why Christians simply cannot support the death penalty… it’s a call to engage with an issue that too many Christians are content to ignore.

Brenda Salter McNeil

Timely, relevant, inspiring and compelling! Executing Grace awakens our imagination to the reality of living out this powerful, grace-filled alternative to capital punishment that sees the humanity of every person. A must read for anyone who refuses to let violence and death have the last say!

Christianity Today

The author and activist puts a human face on the capital punishment debate. Executing Grace goes far in helping make Christ central to our conversation about the death penalty. As Claiborne pleads, we must ‘think and speak of Christ as one who was executed.’

Belief Net

Are we justifying murder? Author Shane Claiborne strongly believes we are as a nation and as Christians.

Karen Swallow Prior

If you believe in the sanctity of human life—whether you support capital punishment or not—you must read Shane Claiborne’s Executing Grace. Read it with an open Bible, an open mind, and an open heart: you’ll never be the same.

Kathleen Lucas

Shane’s book inspired me, brought me to tears, made me laugh out loud, but most of all, gave me hope. There IS a way out of our blood lust and he shows that we will find it together. I couldn’t put it down.

Relevant Magazine

In his straightforward and winsome style, Shane Claiborne…offers a compelling theological case against capital punishment. He challenges readers to consider our role in not obstructing God’s forgiving and redeeming work.

Kirkus Reviews

Passionate Christian activist Claiborne (The Irresistible Revolution: Living as an Ordinary Radical, 2006, etc.) uses Scripture and societal statistics in an argument for the abolishment of the death penalty.The author begins by considering the victims of crime involved in death sentence cases. He notes that the death penalty is rarely satisfying to those left in the wake of tragic crimes; instead, it prolongs mental anguish for victims' families and places the emphasis on the criminal as opposed to the victim. After addressing the needs of victims, Claiborne explores faith issues surrounding the death penalty, arguing that the early Christian church was strictly against its use. The author points to the death of Jesus—"the most famous execution in history"—and notes the irony that his followers would ever support the executions of others. Turning to modern times, Claiborne acknowledges that the death penalty has been dwindling in use worldwide, and in the United States, for decades. He also points out that the U.S. ranks alongside such nations as Saudi Arabia and Iraq in its use of the death penalty, while most nations have banned it or diminished its use. Claiborne finds a tie between the modern use of execution and the history of illegal lynchings in the American South, arguing that the death penalty today continues to be a racially charged issue. After discussing botched executions, the innocent on death row, and the weight of the issue upon executioners themselves, the author offers an alternative viewpoint on how to bring about justice in such cases. Claiborne's arguments are well-structured and, perhaps necessarily, laced with pleas to emotion. Proponents of the death penalty (among others) may be put off by his localization of the issue as a problem inherent to the Southern states, specifically to Southern evangelicals. In this often moving and unsettling book, Claiborne provides a meaningful contribution to a deeply fraught topic.

Product Details

ISBN-13: 9780062347374
Publisher: HarperCollins Publishers
Publication date: 06/07/2016
Pages: 320
Product dimensions: 5.40(w) x 8.20(h) x 0.70(d)

Customer Reviews