Fall 2009 · Vol. 38 No. 2 · pp. 269–271 

Book Review

Changing Paradigms: Punishment and Restorative Discipline

Paul Redekop. Waterloo, ON and Scottdale, PA: Herald Press, 2008. 294 pages.

Reviewed by Andy Alexis-Baker

In Changing Paradigms, Paul Redekop adds another Anabaptist voice to the vast and steadily growing literature on punishment. Based on his decades of experience within the restorative justice field, he concludes that we cannot justify punishment on a moral or utilitarian basis. Therefore families, churches, and the Canadian and American criminal justice systems should be shaped by restorative justice principles. Redekop begins his book with a brief yet helpful review of several prior studies on punishment. Drawing on Michel Foucault and others, he also provides an insightful historical overview which demonstrates how punishment radically shifted from victim-oriented justice to a model in which the primary victims of crime are the authorities and the nation-state, all of which is fairly familiar ground within this field of enquiry.

Redekop attempts to set himself apart from other restorative approaches to criminal justice by claiming that restorative justice should replace rather than supplement the current retributive system (74). In making this bold claim he is borrowing from Dan van Ness. However, several questions remain with this approach. For example, Redekop agrees that the state’s role is to maintain “order” and accepts that sanctions such as imprisonment are still necessary within a restorative framework. Nevertheless, he sees a significant difference between restorative and punitive forms of imprisonment: a restorative model does not intend to harm the offender. What Redekop does not explore, however, is the highly subjective nature of order itself, so that interpretations of what is “orderly” is heavily influenced by where a person and his or her social group stands in the social hierarchy at any given time. This raises questions of whose order is to be respected when the order of the police conflicts with the order of an anti-war protestor or civil rights activist. What does it mean to do no harm to the offender when the very order being protected needs to be dismantled?

Further, Redekop states that a police force would still be needed (99). Yet, like most authors in this field, he does not attend to a number of pressing questions for the pacifist Christian: How does he imagine police capturing offenders who will not go willingly to a restorative justice prison or court without threatening or using violence? For all its newness, does this restorative model still rely on a system ultimately backed by police in its myriad forms? The answers to these questions must be more explicit, especially if Christians are to support or participate in this new system.

While his section on the criminal justice system left me with more questions than answers, Redekop’s discussion on restorative justice within families and education systems was particularly engaging. Here, he presents research that shows hitting children does more harm than good, and examines common myths or assumptions that encourage parents to use punishment as a form of discipline. Moreover, he argues that noncorporal punishment like yelling or severe criticism can be as damaging as hitting. In this section, Redekop also zeros in on the widespread belief in and practice of violence against children by parents who claim to be peace-oriented. For example, he posits that “literalist interpretations of select Bible passages” (185) are sometimes used to justify corporal punishment. By punishing in God’s name, these parents impart a malformed theology of God’s judgment and wrath to the child whose will is broken by a parent who uses his or her power as an adult to violently enforce God’s law and the parent’s whims. This can create personality issues in children who are taught to obey parents and see their punishment as an act of God. This in turn can create an unhealthy desire to live up to expectations, repressed emotions, and passive aggressiveness as the child grows.

As a whole, Changing Paradigms should reach its intended audience well. Redekop writes clearly without employing technical jargon. However, there is some repetitiveness, and the book lacks an index, making it unnecessarily difficult to navigate within the text. Since I marked my copy well in preparation, I expect to return to the book as a helpful resource in the future. I suspect that readers of this journal will be impressed enough to do the same.

Andy Alexis-Baker
Ph.D. student in systematic theology and ethics
Marquette University, Milwaukee, Wisconsin