Jesus said, “If any want to become my followers, let them deny themselves and take up their cross daily and follow me” (Luke 9:23). Pursuing Justice: the call to live and die for bigger things by Ken Wytsma with D.R. Jacobsen agitates the consumeristic American status quo, showing us how to move toward tangible expressions of dying to self to benefit others for God’s glory. It’s not for readers who prefer to compartmentalize their lives so that their involvement in justice does not conflict with their desire for comfort. Or, maybe it is… Maybe this book is the right prescription to break comfortable hearts and captivate imaginations so that we will get a glimpse–albeit veiled–of what God hears, what God sees, what God is about around the globe and close to home.
Reader beware: this volume is not the typical social justice fare. There is not a comprehensive list of social injustices around the world. Nor are there definitive solutions for the problems the author does address, some of which are not well known. Instead, he seeks to inspire and challenge readers to become more aware of social justice issues which may be glaring at them in their sociological blind spots, something which most of us have.
The author has done his research. From first hand experiences and interviews to extensively documented narratives, both domestic and international, Wytsma weaves a simultaneously heart-breaking and joyful web of stories.
But he doesn’t stop there. He infuses into the narrative theological, sociological, historical, philosophical, and ecclesial depth. Pursuing Justice is a serious, weighty book on one hand, and a heart-compelling work of compassion and inspiration on the other. Truly, it is an enjoyable read with potentially dissonant consequences for future prospects of comfortable living inoculated from the messiness of human suffering. Although it is not a comprehensive text book, colleges would be served well by adding it to their reading lists in relevant courses.
It would have been easier for me if I had not read Pursuing Justice. Now I feel convicted to examine the motives and content of some of my prayers. On page 188 he reflects on the contrast between the prayer lives of two teen girls, the first in a wealthy American home, praying for a new car; the second crying alone in a brothel, enslaved in the sex trade, praying to God for help. He then writes
“I was shocked to realize that my prayers, that I’d always thought of as spiritual, might in fact be discordant noise in the mind of God, who is attuned to the urgent pleas of the vulnerable– my requests in one ear, their cries in the other.”
Rather than picking a ideological slant and demonizing the political, religious, and philosophical enemy, Wytsma helps us navigate the consequences of ideas, acknowledging strengths and weaknesses within conservatism and liberal progressivism. Conservatives will be happy to know that he writes from a strong theologically and biblically evangelical perspective. Liberals will be happy to know that he breaks new ground in the social justice conversation, not least by offering a robust, cutting edge treatment of the topic which honors social justice pioneers, but also captures the imagination of the growing numbers of conservatives who are gaining a fresh perspective on what it means to take up our cross to follow Jesus. Wytsma writes, “That’s one of the lessons about living and dying for bigger things: the call to give your life away is more about the small and faithful over many years than the grand and exciting” (p.144).
Lest any evangelical reader have any lingering doubts about purchasing a book devoted to justice, let me assure you that he does treat the connection between the gospel and justice. It is a thorough, constructive, and redemptive study which embeds the entire volume within the rubric of the nativity, the cross, and the empty tomb, reminding us that God intervened on our behalf as an act of justice. He now calls us to intervene on behalf of the vulnerable and oppressed all around the world, and right where we live daily.
Question is: will you?
Come, let’s take up our cross and follow Jesus, learning to live and die for bigger things. But be advised, this isn’t some pie-in-the-sky guilt trip to motivate people to tackle projects exceeding the scope of realism or God’s call on their lives. It is, on the other hand, a prompt to become alert to how our daily choices affect others, and to engage in helping others where God leads us, whether close to home or on another continent.