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Reforming Criminal Justice: A Christian Proposal (Martens)

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Hardcover w/Jacket

Jesus told his followers that the entirety of the Old Testament’s law is encapsulated in the commands to love God and to love their neighbors as themselves. In Reforming Criminal Justice: A Christian Proposal, Matthew T. Martens argues that love of neighbor must be the animating force for true reformation of the criminal justice system, obligating us to seek the best for both the criminally victimized and the criminally accused. 

Using his theological training Martens reveals how Scripture provides several guideposts (accuracy, due process, accountability, impartiality, and proportionality) for loving our neighbors as it relates to criminal justice. Then, drawing on his near quarter century practicing criminal law, he examines how America’s justice system falls short of the biblical standard. By understanding how our current system operates and considering how love of neighbor relates to issues of crime and justice, we will be better equipped to seek true Christian reform of the justice system.


Matthew T. Martens (JD, University of North Carolina School of Law; MABS, Dallas Theological Seminary) is a trial lawyer and partner at an international law firm in Washington, DC. He has spent the bulk of his more than twenty-five-year legal career practicing criminal law both as a federal prosecutor and as a defense attorney. He served as a law clerk to Chief Justice William Rehnquist at the US Supreme Court and also as a political appointee in the criminal division of the US Justice Department under Attorney General Ashcroft. Matt and his wife are members at Capitol Hill Baptist Church in Washington, DC, and have two sons and a daughter.


“Before you even go to trial, you could be held legally in jail for years. More shocks like that are in this book. In it, the author informs in order to transform. Matt Martens is a Christian, the son of a pastor, a husband and father, a church member, and an accomplished lawyer. He has worked in both the private and the public sectors for decades. In these pages, he takes the reader on a tour of what really happens when a crime is alleged. Martens provides definitions and historical context for terms familiar to the average reader, gives examples of current challenges, and raises concerns about how we actually practice justice. This book is more than informative—it is engaging to the point of being disturbing. Martens is trying to serve us by helping us get in ‘good trouble.’”
Mark Dever, Pastor, Capitol Hill Baptist Church, Washington, DC

Reforming Criminal Justice is a book for our polarized times. Guided by classical Christian sources and a biblical vision of love’s relation to justice, Martens draws on his considerable legal experience to offer a critical yet constructive evangelical approach that is at once theologically sensitive and historically informed. Highly recommended for the church and anyone concerned about the lived realities of the American criminal justice system as an urgent moral and political issue.”
Eric Gregory, Professor of Religion, Princeton University

Reforming Criminal Justice is a superb tutorial on the criminal justice system, and it’s much more. An experienced criminal justice lawyer—as a prosecutor and then as a defense attorney—Martens is also a trained theologian. He offers simple, biblically grounded principles for assessing American criminal justice and doesn’t shy away from the issue of race. Highly recommended.”
David Skeel, S. Samuel Arsht Professor of Corporate Law, University of Pennsylvania Carey Law School