3 Ways To Apply Restorative Justice

Our previous post introduced the idea of restorative justice. Here are three applications of restorative justice.

1-Cross-Cultural Relationships

Here is a common scenario Western missionaries face: When I confronted a national believer over the problem of _________, he felt shamed and the relationship was severed. Perhaps I could have been more graceful, but it would have been wrong to not address what he did.

Without ignoring issues of sin, a restorative view of justice situates wrongdoing in the broader context a relationship. The tendency of honor-shame cultures is to ignore the issue to preserve the relationships—all love, no truth. The tendency of Western cultures is to ignore the relationship to address the issue—all truth, no love.

Since our response to problems typically stems from our definition of justice, learning the principles and practices of “restorative justice” may help Western missionaries navigate cultural conflicts. When is justice accomplished: when the wrong is punished, or when the people are restored? Your answer to this question leads to different approaches for resolving conflict.


With zero pretense of having any parenting advice to offer, here is one way “restorative justice” has influenced parenting for me. Let’s say, one kid purposefully disobeyed mom’s instruction. My common parenting response was to discipline her, offering a clear explanation of why her actions merit such a punishment. And then I’d require she apologize verbally and request forgiveness. (Dr. Dobson would be proud!)

Now I try to respond more restoratively, “You behavior broke your relationship with mom, and it’s your responsibility to fix the relationship. Can I help you do that?” I’m not so much a judge enforcing the demands of justice, but a mediator reconciling offended parties. The focus is on restoring the relationship (which on occasion does require punishing wrongdoing, but always as a means of relational restoration). I’m not tracking the data on this one, but I think it works better.


The death of Christ “was to show God’s justice, because in his divine forbearance he had passed over former sins. It was to show his justice at the present time, so that he might be just and the justifier of the one who has faith in Jesus.” (Rom 3:25-26).

In terms of theology, Jesus’ death demonstrates the justice of God and proves God is just. But how? A fuller definition of justice allows for a more complete view of the cross. Not only does Jesus’ remove the penalty of sins (retributive), it puts the relationship back right (restorative). Without getting into various atonement theories, I’ll just point out how common atonement theories prioritize the retributive view of justice that characterizes the Western legal system. The presuppositions and assumptions of Western atonement models are mostly retributive in nature. The controlling metaphor for explaining the cross’s saving significant is judicial. This is not a critique, but a cultural analysis of some rarely-examined assumptions…and a possible reason why the traditional Western gospel presentation is “culturally illogical” in global cultures.

The gospel is a message of restoration/reconciliation! Restoration (with God and people) is an essential function of the cross. How would you explain Jesus’ sacrificial death using the logic and values of restorative justice? Here is how one missionary explained it:

For he is our peace… [he] has broken down the dividing wall, that is, the hostility between us. …to create in himself one new humanity in place of the two, thus making peace, and might reconcile both groups to God in one body through the cross, thus putting to death that hostility through it.  So he came and proclaimed peace to you who were far off and peace to those who were near. (Eph 2:14-17)

4- Peace-Buiding Initiatives

And in the spirit of Proverbs 6:16 (“6, no 7…”), here is an bonus application for restorative justice—”Second Chances for Juvenile Crimes,” a small town peace-building initiative.

Hopefully these prompt some ideas. What do you see is a value or application of restorative justice? Please share below.

Read more in the series “Putting Honor Into Action.”



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3 Comments on “3 Ways To Apply Restorative Justice

  1. Restorative justice may be too ‘fuzzy’ for most westerners. We like things ‘black & white’ and logical. Managing a relationship means that I must be able to hold opposing ideas in my head at the same time. Westerners typically find this difficult. Those from eastern cultures tend to be more at ease with holding opposing views at the same time.

    Yes, I’m painting with a broad brush. Getting mired in the weeds of this or that scenario won’t help us to gain a cultural self-awareness. The first step is to grasp: “Different is not necessarily wrong. Wrong is wrong.” For that is the real rub – ‘different.’ When I proclaim ‘that’s different,’ I make a judgment, which reflects my cultural imprint and can come across as prejudice. And that’s not justice because prejudice means that I have judged in advance that you/your ways don’t measure up to my ‘superior standard.’

    So, justice in the west typically means confronting with truth and facts, because we believe that nothing is superior to these values. In other parts of the world, justice means something different because relationships are valued above truth and facts. And isn’t that how we endure in maintaining our relationships? A son asks for his inheritance and wastes it in a far country. The father welcomes him home, much to the shame of a son that stayed home. The truth and facts of the situation demand justice. The Father’s love for the renegade son births restoration. This is written for our edification, but if we see ourselves as superior, how can we be built up into a community of living stones and bring honor and glory to the Father?

  2. Thanks for this blog–very thought-provoking and eye-opening in general. This article is no different. Restorative justice is a difficult concept to wrap my mind around (as a Westerner). I think I can recognize it better than I can implement it myself (for example, I think restorative justice is at the heart of Paul’s letter to Philemon).

    As a parent, if restorative justice is your main model, how do you know when punishment as a means of restoration is needed? What are instances when punishment is a tool for restoration? Thanks again!

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