on January 26, 2013
Around ten years ago, I used to meet my Seminary spiritual mentor, Bobby Brewer, weekly at the local Barnes and Noble in Scottsdale, Arizona for some good spiritual refreshment, insight, and encouragement. And every week I would show up a little early and scan the Christian section of the bookstore, seeing what was new and popular to read in the Christian world. During this time, I remember seeing books on lots of topics - sex, prayer, holiness, discipleship, love, theology - but I never remember seeing any books on justice. Boy, how things have changed in ten years....Now, justice resources abound as the Spirit of God seems to be renewing and refashioning His people to live a life pursuing and doing justice - a calling and goal as old as the Scriptures themselves. Ten years ago, justice wasn't on the radar for many Evangelical Christians. Today, it couldn't be more different.
So, when I got the opportunity to read and review the soon-to-be-released book, Pursuing Justice, by Ken Wytsma, I jumped at the opportunity. Wytsma is quietly (he is so dang humble - more on this later) becoming a leading voice in America for a new generation of justice folks. He is the founder of the Justice Conference, President of Kilns College, and the lead pastor of Antioch Church in Bend, Oregon....and likely soon to be a best-selling author. He lives a life he preaches - which is so refreshing and captivating.
Wytsma covers a lot of ground in Pursuing Justice - masterfully weaving together Scripture, theology, Christian tradition, current/historical stories justice, and personal reflections/stories. He moves through many of these categories eloquently - never talking over the head of the reader or going off on tangents. In between each chapter is an "Interlude", in which Wytsma focuses on artistic expressions of justice - things like poems, interviews, pictures, and musings. Indeed, after reading the book in its entirety, you get a multi-faceted and comprehensive look at justice - scholarly and practically. Because this book covers so much, I want to focus my review on the parts of the book that really stood out to me.
Why Do Justice? Wytsma breaks down the "why" of doing justice into three basic categories: ethical, religious, and personal. In the ethical, justice is the "right thing to do"; for religious, God has "called and commanded us to join Him in doing justice"; and for the personal, justice will bring us "peace and joy". Though Wytsma does well at explaining and expounding all three categories, for my money, where he really shines is in the personal emphasis. Wytsma gives a clear and Scriptural picture of how giving our life away for God and His purposes is actually the one thing that will bring us joy and contentment. In the closing chapters, including the concluding chapter, "Live and Die for Bigger Things", he lays out a full-fledged discourse on how living for the things of God (i.e. justice) will deliver the abundant life promised to us - that in dying to self, you will find life.
The Anatomy of Apathy. The best chapter in the book is Chapter 12, "The Anatomy of Apathy". This chapter alone is worth the price of admission. Here, Wytsma digs deep into the reasons why justice is so hard to do - especially for Western Christians. He provides some great insight - like comparing and contrasting the silver rule vs. the golden rule. In the silver rule (which most of us live in by default), life is more about "not doing wrong", while in the golden rule, life is about "doing good." Many of us in the West (including me) struggle with this. Wytsma points out that it is easy to default into a life of "not doing wrong" - meaning, going through your day(s) without "hurting anyone"- especially when we rarely encounter grevious acts of injustice in our daily personal lives. Wytsma contends (and I agree) that most of the time (not all) it would take a serious act of injustice to happen personally in our lives before we will really be moved into action for justice. What I hope this book does, however, is give the reader plenty of reason to move into a life following the golden rule long before injustice hits home.
God-Centeredness. One of the first things that hits you about Wytsma's book is it's God-centeredness - always reminding the reader that the call, pursuit, and doing of justice starts with God - not us. The work of grace in the heart of the Believer, recognizing ourselves as lost and broken (and therefore part of the injustice), and moving out in the power of the Spirit to a broken world are the keys in a life of justice. For Wytsma, only God and the working of His Spirit can lead us to live a life of justice.
Wytsma's God-centeredness has turned him into a man of sincere humility and grace outside the book as well. I emailed him about a question I had in the chapter I was reading and he got back to me within a day (I have written many authors before and rarely get a response ever, let alone a day). Not only that, he didn't respond like I was putting him out, but answered all of my questions fully and with transperancy. I came away thinking to myself, "This is just the type of guy I would want leading and teaching me...." Call me a true postmodern if you want, but the posture and life of the messenger is just as important to me as the message. Wytsma is a great example of a godly messenger.
Two years ago, I gave my full life to the pursuit of justice in the context of the Kingdom of God. Because of this, I am always looking for resources to help me on my journey and to point others to. For me, Pursuing Justice is an essential book for this road. When you read the book, I hope you find your place in God's narrative of justice.