Friday, May 2, 2014

Roger Olson and Al Mohler, Evangelicalism and the Death Penalty
I originally prefaced this fascinating discussion with 'two of my favorite theologians...' But, I cannot remain impartial. In the dialogue, while I don't necessarily end up where Olson does, I favor his argument. That said, in terms of simple influence, both men wield enough influence within evangelicalism to sway (or cement!) popular opinion.

I find pacifism to be a difficult stance to maintain in light of the modern world. I do find the death penalty to be difficult to maintain in light of the tension of putting potentially innocent people to death. That tension drives me to maintain some sense of neutrality on the issue. For those of you who know me, I don't always end up in neutral territory (my thoughts on final punishment or women in ministry), so please don't take my neutrality as a lack of courage or insight. I'm simply quiet on the issue because, well, I don't know enough and I don't feel comfortable taking sides in such a complex issue.

That said, enjoy the discussion. I did. Well. I kinda did.

Al Mohler:
The death penalty was explicitly grounded in the fact that God made every individual human being in his own image, and thus an act of intentional murder is an assault upon human dignity and the very image of God.
In the simplest form, the Bible condemns murder and calls for the death of the murderer. The one who intentionally takes life by murder forfeits the right to his own life.
Roger Olson:

I find Mohler’s defenses of capital punishment weak at best. The Old Testament “clearly calls for” many things—including capital punishment for a broad range of offenses including adolescent rebellion against parents. Certainly for idolatry. Does Mohler think we, as a whole society, should then expand the death penalty for all the offenses for which it is called for in the Old Testament? I doubt it. That makes his appeal to the Old Testament extremely weak.
Mohler seems to believe that IF the Bible calls for something American government should practice it. That’s a huge leap off the pages of the Old Testament to modern, secular government. He speaks disparagingly of secular government. Does he want a return to theocracy? If not, he should explain how his argument is consistent with a rejection  of “Christian Reconstructionist” theocracy.


  1. Neutral? With proven exonerations of persons sentenced to death (and the number gets bigger each year), that PROVES that innocent people were sentenced to death. It is logical to believe (and I believe it) from the circumstantial evidence of the exonerations that many mistakes have been made in the past.

    I used to believe that states ought to be allowed to experiment with the death penalty, but now I am far more comfortable with the possibility of a "just war" than I am with the possibility of a "just execution" -- Biblically, socially, economically, and morally.

    Here is a superb essay on the subject from a secular writer of considerable intelligence and skill:

  2. I fully agree with Olsen. I find almost no Biblical ground for the death penalty (unless you want to start enforcing OT laws to today's society - which is ludicrous) and in the NT find much support to oppose the death penalty. I find it very hard to think that Jesus would have supported the death penalty (case in point, the adulterous woman).