Great Premise, Fatally Flawed Execution. This is the hardest review I’ve had to write this year, because I completely concur with the premise of this book, and on an emotional level the case presented is appealing. But I have no doubt that this book will only appeal to those who are either already in favor of abolishing the death penalty or are at minimum leaning over the fence. Anyone who is on the fence leaning the other direction will be a tough sell with the arguments presented here, and these arguments stand no chance against someone ardently in favor of capital punishment – an environment both Claiborne and I grew up in and know very well. (Note: I have no connection to the author at all, simply grew up around the same time around the same general region of the globe.)
The Fatal Flaws: First, as I said, this is a book grounded on emotional appeal and indeed the author even outright says in later chapters that he himself was convinced not by the facts, but by the emotional appeals of talking to the people involved on every side of this issue. Secondly, on page 71 Claiborne specifically decries “proof texting”, or citing a Bible verse out of context to support one’s arguments. Yet he does this very thing repeatedly, even as soon as just a couple of pages away from decrying the practice! He even goes so far as to use a version of the Bible other than the one he uses predominantly throughout the book when he wants to use a particular verse which in some translations allows inferences which Claiborne is clearly uncomfortable with. (It is never clear which is Claiborne’s predominant translation in this book.) Thirdly, Claiborne routinely cites “societal” violence, particularly in the chapter dealing with the Early Church, even though the very quotes he cites are more often predominantly concerned with opposing the entire Government, not just its capital punishment systems. It becomes quite clear that Claiborne finds State violence outside of the explicit capital punishment system to be perfectly acceptable, particularly since he never once mentions “street executions”, where cops administer capital punishment without so much as a trial or in many cases even a warrant.
There are exactly two redeeming factors about this book that warrant a 1 star rating (rather than noting that I wish I could give it zero stars): First, that the book is conversationally written in a manner that is very easy to read. You’re not sitting through dry academic prose here, and that at least helps make the read enjoyable. Second, at the end of the book he lists quite a few suggested readings and organizations that are active in this cause, and the organizations in particular are good to at least be aware of.
So while the initial premise of the book is amazing, the book is simply too flawed to recommend to anyone who doesn’t already agree with the premise, unfortunately.
This review of Executing Grace by Shane Claiborne was originally published on March 6, 2018.