Chris Marshall introduces book on compassionate justice

Published: March 20, 2013

Mary E. Klassen

Chris Marshall, biblical scholar and authority on restorative justice, introduced his newest book, Compassionate Justice: An Interdisciplinary Dialogue with Two Gospel Parables on Law, Crime, and Restorative Justice, during a presentation at Anabaptist Mennonite Biblical Seminary on March 12.

In this book, Marshall features Jesus’ parables of the Good Samaritan and the Prodigal Son as avenues to explore restorative justice. “The book’s overriding concern is to return again and again to the stories, metaphors and parables that Jesus told in Luke 10 and 15 to find guidance on the meaning of justice and the need for compassion,” he said.

“The stories of Jesus are freshly illuminated by commentary from the social sciences and legal philosophy, while the modern discourse is enriched and critiqued by the parables and miracles of Jesus.” This is a dialogue in which Jesus speaks with distinctive authority, he explained.

The two parables cover the main parties in the justice system. The story of the Good Samaritan addresses issues of victims and trauma, while the story of the Prodigal Son deals with reintegration of an offender into the community, he noted.

Marshall uses the term “compassionate justice” and defines compassion as a positive response to caring for individual instances of suffering and pain. As one way to emphasize the challenges of compassion in offender-victim relationships, Marshall told the story of the death of a young child and how the parents met with the young man who caused the death. The parents were criticized for their forgiveness of the offender by a news columnist who saw it as a sign of weakness. The parents wrote to Marshall, “It’s not weakness. He has no idea of the strength needed on both sides of that meeting to acknowledge the humanity of each other.”

“That’s what compassionate justice is about,” Marshall said.

Issues of victims’ needs are complex, and must be approached with integrity and understanding. “Forgiveness can be a way of short-circuiting the needs of the victims. But what people don’t reckon on is that forgiveness is as much for the sake of the victim as for the offender.”

Restorative justice is not a doctrine of forgiveness, he explained. But by placing the healing of hurts, the renewal of relationships and the re-creation of community at its center, restorative justice paves the way for forgiveness to occur.”

This new book is one of several Marshall has written. Beyond Retribution: A New Testament vision for Justice, Crime, and Punishment (Eerdmans, 2001) originated as a thesis when Marshall was completing a Master of Arts: Peace Studies degree at AMBS. Other books written by Marshall include Crowned with Glory and Honor: Human Rights in the Biblical Tradition (Herald Press 2002), The Little Book of Biblical Justice: A Fresh Approach to the Bible’s Teaching on Justice (Good Books, 1969), Faith as a Theme in Mark’s Narrative (Cambridge University Press, 1995).

Before earning a MAPS degree at AMBS, Marshall completed a Ph.D. in New Testament. He is Head of the School of Art History, Classics and Religious Studies at Victoria University of Wellington in New Zealand.

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