Reforming Criminal Justice: A Christian Proposal

By Matthew T. Martens, Foreword by Derwin L. Gray

... Show All

Reforming Criminal Justice: A Christian Proposal

By Matthew T. Martens, Foreword by Derwin L. Gray

... Show All

Noted Attorney and Seminary Graduate Matthew T. Martens Answers the Question: Does the Design and Operation of the American Criminal Justice System Reflect Christian Love of Neighbor? 

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.

  • A Biblical Perspective on Criminal Justice: Offers a biblical framework for thinking about the concept of justice for both the victim and the perpetrator
  • Examines the History of the American Criminal Justice System: Surveys the evolution of the criminal justice system in the United States with a focus on its misuse from the time of the Civil War to the civil rights movement
  • Assesses the Criminal Justice System: Examines the operation of the American justice system today, including plea bargains, assistance of counsel, the death penalty, and more
  • Foreword by Derwin L. Gray: Pastor of Transformation Church in Indian Land, South Carolina, and the author of How to Heal Our Racial Divide and Building a Multiethnic Church

Read Chapter 1


Matthew T. Martens

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.

Product Details

Title: Reforming Criminal Justice
Subtitle: A Christian Proposal
Published: November 07, 2023
ISBN-10: 1-4335-8182-5
ISBN-13: 978-1-4335-8182-3
Category: Christian Living
Retail Price: $34.99
Binding: Hardcover w/ Jacket
Trim: 6.0 in x 9.0 in
Page Count: 416

Table of Contents

Foreword by Derwin L. Gray

Part 1: A Christian Ethic of Criminal Justice
Chapter 1: The Gospel and Social Justice
Chapter 2: Criminal Justice as Social Justice
Chapter 3: My Neighbors
Chapter 4: Accuracy
Chapter 5: Due Process
Chapter 6: Accountability
Chapter 7: Impartiality
Chapter 8: Proportionality

Part 2: American Criminal Justice 
Chapter 9: A History
Chapter 10: Crime
Chapter 11: Plea Bargaining
Chapter 12: Jury Selection
Chapter 13: Judges
Chapter 14: Assistance of Counsel
Chapter 15: Exculpatory Evidence
Chapter 16: Witnesses
Chapter 17: Sentencing 
Chapter 18: Death Penalty
Chapter 19: What Can You Do? 

Selected Bibliography
General Index
Scripture Index


“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

“A book like this is long overdue and vitally important. Combining theological training, many years of legal experience, and authentically evangelical convictions, Matt Martens is just the person to write it. In part 1 he provides a biblical framework that connects criminal justice with Christian love in light of just war reasoning. In part 2 this framework helps us to appreciate certain features of America’s criminal justice system while identifying an urgent need for reform. As a result, this book will make us better citizens of both Christ’s kingdom and our earthly cities.”
Daniel J. Treier, Gunther H. Knoedler Professor of Theology, Wheaton College; author, Introducing Evangelical Theology

“In a climate in which so many of our positions and policies on matters of criminal law and social justice are driven by party and politics, we need more of the biblical insights and applications Matt Martens offers in this book. Reforming Criminal Justice is a rich resource of wisdom, experience, and knowledge that will serve the church and our nation.”
Karen Swallow Prior, author, The Evangelical Imagination: How Stories, Images, and Metaphors Created a Culture in Crisis

“This extraordinary work embraces three or four books in one, all beautifully and clearly written, deeply researched, and organically knit together. Its gift to readers includes the profound framework author Matt Martens builds to examine the Christian requirements of justice and ‘social justice’ and his subsequent use of that framework to explore America’s criminal justice system. This would be an ideal book for a season-long study by an adult Sunday school class or a community reading group. Matt Martens guides readers step-by-step through his thinking, often sharing vivid personal vignettes in a confessional voice. Yet the depth of his scholarship is remarkable; he’s at home not only in the Gospels, the Pauline Letters, and the Old Testament Scriptures but also in the writings of Augustine, Thomas Aquinas, John Calvin, Martin Luther, Reinhold Niebuhr, and Martin Luther King Jr.—learning he wears lightly but employs deftly to support his most important conclusions. A work of love and grace.”
John Charles Boger, Former Dean and Professor of Law, The University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill School of Law

“Drawing on his mastery of law and theology, Matt Martens has crafted a marvelous theory of criminal justice. His major theses—that the gospel demands social justice and that justice is grounded in love—originate in insightful biblical exegesis supported by historical theology and generate solid legal principles. While some will quibble at points, every reader, from the responsible voter to the professional magistrate, will feel profoundly compelled to love more tangibly. For this ameliorating service to our image-bearing neighbors, victims and criminals alike, we all stand in Martens’s debt.”
Malcolm B. Yarnell III, Research Professor of Theology, Southwestern Baptist Theological Seminary; Teaching Pastor, Lakeside Baptist Church, Granbury, Texas; author, Special Revelation and Scripture and God the Trinity

“Martens is a practicing attorney with experience as a prosecutor and as a defense attorney. In this book, he argues that justice must be rooted in love and mercy. He lays out a compelling case for the need to reexamine the reality of injustice in the American justice system. The system is broken and in need of repair. The evidence he presents is compelling. The argument he makes is convincing. The case he makes is compassionate. It is hard to imagine anyone reading this book and not being angered, saddened, and motivated to act for justice. Love demands it.”
Glenn R. Kreider, Professor of Theological Studies, Dallas Theological Seminary

“Everywhere, criminal justice reform continues unabated, higgledy-piggledy. Usually animated by a cliche (‘defund the police’), it is unintelligible. What is required is a return to first principles. That is Martens’s project—from a Christian perspective. Mercifully, he does it in a single volume written in a way that is not sectarian but more general; its appeal, in fact, should be universal.”
G. Robert Blakey, William J. and Dorothy K. O’Neill Professor of Law Emeritus, Notre Dame Law School

“Matt Martens’s book represents careful research and is an excellent primer on the biblical view of justice. I found the claim that true justice is love in action particularly insightful and well argued. Martens explains well the biblical view of justice, comparing and contrasting it with current practices in the United States. We know these matters are complicated and lack easy answers, but Martens’s research helps us chart a way forward as we consider what it means to enact justice in the United States.”
Thomas R. Schreiner, James Buchanan Harrison Professor of New Testament Interpretation, The Southern Baptist Theological Seminary

“Matt Martens shows great courage, as well as biblical and legal depth, in tackling the controversial and sometimes toxic subject of criminal justice in the United States. The research is meticulous, the historical perspectives helpful, and the impact of his sweeping presentation convicting! This book can’t be ignored by those in the political and legal worlds or by anyone else who cares for a just society.”
John H. Munro, Pastor, Calvary Church, Charlotte, North Carolina

"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