Matt Martens is a man on a mission. He’s in his fifties and is a partner at one of the most prestigious law firms in the country. He has worked for the Department of Justice. He has multiple graduate degrees and is working on another. He has more drive and ambition than most and has a sharp mind honed by years of experience and research. But what stands out most about him is his focus.
Martens is laser-focused on helping Christians love our neighbors. He has a long and successful career as both a prosecutor and defense attorney and is convinced that the criminal justice system in our country is in need of reform. He makes that case convincingly in his forthcoming book, Reforming Criminal Justice: A Christian Proposal (Wheaton, IL: Crossway, 2023).
The key to this book is in the subtitle. It’s explicitly, unapologetically Christian. Martens makes no prudential or political argument. He makes the case that Christians must love our neighbors. All of them. And that should be our guiding ethic when we consider the criminal justice system. We should love the criminally accused, the criminally convicted, and the criminally victimized. We should do this, Martens argues, because we are commanded to do so by God.
The research in this book stands out. There are a lot of footnotes. As Martens explains the history of criminal justice in our country, he does so as someone who knows what he’s talking about. This history can be upsetting at times. I had to set the book down at several points to take a break, and I read hard things for a living. Martens shares details of several stories of the wrongly accused and imprisoned. He shares about people who have been exonerated after losing decades of their lives behind bars. He explains abuses and failures in the system which create these unjust outcomes and explains why it will be difficult to change the system.
Despite all that, this book is surprisingly hopeful, which should not be surprising given how Christian it is. Martens knows that while human judges may fail us, the Judge of all the Earth shall do right.
I found this book so helpful because I have been content to get my opinions on criminal justice from pundits and commentators. I assume some of you have as well. I have never considered how to have a uniquely Christian approach to criminal justice reform. In that sense, Martens’ book is a breath of fresh air.
He deals with themes like accuracy, due process, and proportionality, drawing on centuries of Christian ethics. He points out elements of the criminal justice system that price efficiency over accuracy and other failures to love our neighbors.
Something that stands out is how Martens refrains from binding the conscience of his readers. He makes the case for and against certain practices and procedures. But does not say, “A Christian approach to criminal justice must involve this specific list of reforms.” Instead, he offers advice to think differently, speak differently, and vote differently, leaving the readers to sort out the specifics.
As I wrote in the beginning of this reflection, Matt is on a mission. He is focused at this point in his life on helping Christians to think and pray about criminal justice reform. He’s not only focused on attorneys and law enforcement officials. He wants Christians in all walks of life to care about this for the sake of loving our neighbors. I interviewed him recently for our podcast, and after the mics were off, he told me that he’s spent every spare moment for the last two years thinking about how to love his neighbors. It shows. Love is the motivation behind this book and what he hopes to impart to his readers. I pray he is successful.
- Pray for this book, that it is widely read and that it convinces Christians to love all our neighbors.
- Pray for those involved in the criminal justice system as law enforcement, attorneys, judges, and jurors. Pray that they would fear God and love their neighbors.
- Pray for those currently in the criminal justice system who are criminally convicted and criminally accused. Pray that they would receive true justice and that they would seek Christ.
- Pray for the criminally victimized, that they would receive justice and be comforted by Christ.