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Archive for the ‘reviews’ Category




Book Review

Here’s a blog review on Pursuing Justice from Micah J. Murray.

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“The truth is, we are all giving our lives away…”

Pursuing Justice showed up in my mailbox sometime before Christmas, and then sat on the workbench in my garage for a few months. I’m not sure why I put off reading it for so long – maybe because the idea of reading and reviewing books still reminds me a little bit of college, and it’s much easier to spend the evenings watching Netflix on my oversized TV. Or maybe it’s because I knew from the title that this book, like Red Letter Revolution, would walk right up in my face and smack me and leave me questioning my entire lifestyle (especially my oversized TV).

But once I finally picked up Pursuing Justice, I had a hard time putting it down. I read most of it in one night, circling and underlining paragraphs like an over-eager freshman, turning pages at a rate that would make Good Will Hunting proud. And now, on the day of the book’s official launch, I am here to break it all down for you so that you don’t even have to read it yourself. Just kidding. I’m gonna tell you just enough about the book to make you want to order it on Amazon, and then leave you with a fistful of quotes that you can feed into the Twitter machine and spray out across the interwebs for the good of the people whilst waiting for your very own copy to arrive in the mail.

As Ken Wytsma notes throughout the book, “social justice” has somehow acquired a sort of political designation over recent decades. For a while, it was the nearly exclusive property of the “liberals”, whilst the “evangelicals” focused on, well, evangelism. Now, “justice” is making a comeback in popularity amongst the trendy Scripture-tattoo v-neck Christian generation (a group which includes me and my sadly ink-free skin). However, Wytsma digs into the Bible and emerges with a pile of Bible verses which make a pretty compelling case for “justice” at the heart of all Christian faith and expression. (see: the book of James). Throughout Pursing Justice, he answers some basic but important questions:

What is justice? Why does it matter? How should it affect my life?

And instead of providing easy answers to these difficult questions, he leads us into a conversation that is just the starting point for a justice-oriented life. A righteous life requires more than just the avoiding of sinful actions; it demands that we labor along with Jesus to heal the brokenness in the world because of sin. I love that his reference for justice is shalom. “Injustice and sin”, he writes, “tears the fabric of shalom. The astonishing reality is that we are also part of God’s plan for meding the fabric of shalom.” This is his starting point. All the details – the specifics of a justice-centered life – are shards in the mosaic of justice that God is creating.

God has given all of us a deep desire for happiness. Sadly, we usually try to find happiness by piling up wealth and comfort around us. But Wytsma suggests that the desire for happiness is only fulfilled when we live for something bigger than ourselves, when we live for justice.

“The truth is, we are all giving our lives away – the only question is, to what?”

That’s all I have for now. Buy the book. Read it. Let its words sit with you. Underline some stuff. Let Jesus whisper into your heart about what you should do. Listen to his invitation to join Him in the big, beautiful work of justice.

And now, as promised, here are a few words from the pages of Pursing Justice for your copy/paste pleasure:

“Pure religion, then, is a reflection of God’s love.”

“God’s heart beats with justice.”

“He is greatly concerned with how we treat each other, our use of material wealth, and the extent to which we care for the marginalized.”

“All too often, we fixate on the static study of God at the expense of participating in what God is doing in the world.”

“God’s love in us should compel us to be tangibly involved in the needs of the world.”

“Justice has no finish line.”

“The way we consume directly affects the lived realities of other people, whether we want it to or not.”

“God never asks us to choose between doing justice and loving Him… He asks us to do both at once.”

“Grace allows the unjust to stand next to a just God as if we are just. It covers our sins and reconciles us to God.”

“Justice is a thread running throughout the gospel.”

BONUS: If you buy this book, you’ll learn the dark history behind “eenie meanie miney moe.” Spoiler alert: It’s about slavery and rape.

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Book Review

Here’s another thoughtful and honest review of Pursuing Justice from Pastor Glen Woods.

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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?

Will I?

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.

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Book Review

I figured I’d post a few of my favorite book reviews little by little as bloggers and other writers cover Pursuing Justice.

Here’s one of my favorites so far from Daniel Watts on the G92 Blog (The post below retains the Daniel’s original emphasis):

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In order to convey the effect Ken Wytsma’s excellent book Pursuing Justice had on me, I need to very briefly explain a bit about my own background. My father runs an organization that sends teams of doctors and nurses into the streets to provide health care for New York City’s homeless. My mother was a teacher in one of the Bronx’ most troubled schools during the crack epidemic of the 1980s. I grew up believing that a true understanding and application of the Bible demanded that believers take action to tangibly bring about justice; as such, while I figured Wytsma’s book would definitely be something I enjoyed reading, I expected it to mainly tell me things I already knew and offer me an affirming pat on the back. I expected Wytsma to be “preaching to the choir.”

Boy, was I wrong!

As a member of the so-called “social justice” generation, I opened the book feeling a bit smug. After devouring it cover to cover, I closed it feeling humbled, challenged, convicted, exhorted, and more energized than ever about properly understanding and working to bring about God’s justice on earth.

I really appreciated Wytsma’s definition of justice. Rather than giving a clichéd, catch-all definition, Wytsma submits that biblical justice is a concept and way of life that describes the divine rightness of the world, the harmony between all relationships, that God intended. While things such as love, mercy, charity, and righteousness are all aspects of justice, Wytsma starts off the book by cautioning against mistaking individual applications of justice for the entire concept. Understanding this concept helps bring about the realization that justice is interwoven throughout the Bible as an integral part of God’s message. In fact, Wytsma opened my eyes to the fact that justice is not just a part of God’s message, but justice (which includes salvation as an integral piece) is the Gospel that Jesus the Messiah came to proclaim. I admit, while I have believed as long as I can remember that God’s commands to act justly are an integral part of what it means to be a Christian, I don’t know that I ever explicitly thought of justice as being what Jesus specifically came to institute. However, Wytsma diligently explores the Scriptures to clearly point out the extent to which this is true. In fact, one of the things I appreciate the most about this book is how central Scripture is to Wytsma’s arguments, and how frequently it is integrated into the text. Wytsma closes every single chapter with a Scripture passage that applies to the chapter’s topic. While Wytsma is clearly a great thinker who has been blessed with many spiritual insights, I really applaud the fact that he overtly submits to the Bible’s authority in his writing.

One of the most powerful things Wytsma does throughout this work is give clear examples of areas in our 21st century life where we can rethink our approach in order to practically apply biblical justice. Growing up in the inner city, creation care was never high on my list of things on which to take action (though I definitely firmly believed Christians were called to steward God’s creation responsibly); however, I found myself moved by the passages describing the need to connect with the land, with our food, and to display gratitude. As an African American, I found myself specially convicted by the statement that it is easy to condemn Thomas Jefferson for owning slaves and doing little to stop slavery, yet we so often fail to take meaningful action to liberate the up to 27 million people currently enslaved around the world. Of course, I really appreciated the section on immigration, where Wytsma calls readers to empathize with the 5,000 foster children whose parents have been detained and to shed the alienating labels by which we often identify immigrants.

I found Wytsma’s repeated emphasis on action to be particularly powerful. Something that strikes home for me is the intersection of two concepts he discusses. The first concept is the idea of politics as an arena in which God’s justice can be implemented. While human political institutions will always be imperfect, Wytsma reminds us that the solution to injustice does not lie in abstaining from politics due to the imperfections thereof. If a particular party or piece of legislation is attempting to implement justice in a manner in which we don’t agree, the proper response would be to try to come up with a better solution and work together toward the common goal of justice. However, it makes no sense to discard the end simply because we disagree with the means! I find this particularly poignant because of the increasing political discussion surrounding comprehensive immigration reform. Just because Christians may disagree with current or proposed policies does not mean they should give up on the idea of seeing just immigration legislation passed.

The second concept is the idea of being willing to suffer and be persecuted for Christ, and to get over our fear of what will happen when we live justly. Again, I was reminded of the current comprehensive immigration reform discussion. When we combine the call to implement justice through politics with a godly fearlessness, we get a Christian church that is not afraid to speak up and tell our legislators that we want justice. While interacting with politics can be a scary thing for churches and pastors for reasons ranging from fears of being associated with a corrupt institution to fears of pushback from congregants, peers, and leaders, we must overcome our fear when it is keeping us from being a part of bringing about justice. Many pastors throughout the country, spurred by the truths they have encountered while participating in the “I Was a Stranger…” challenge, have begun to do just that by advocating to their legislators for just immigration reform.

This book is ultimately powerful because of its holistic understanding of justice. It grounds its understanding of justice in biblical teaching, opening readers’ eyes to the fact that justice is a dynamic concept that encompasses empathy, charity, personal purity, evangelism and salvation, and many other good things Christians have been taught to practice and cherish. However, it also complements this fact with a clarion call to action, putting to rest once and for all the false dichotomies Christians have drawn between the spiritual and the physical, between faith and works. If we are to know God, Pursuing Justice contends that we must live justly. Awareness and empathy must lead to engagement and education; this formula will produce effective action. Action is important and mandatory because, as Wytsma notes, if you aren’t actively bringing about God’s justice and shalom, you are opposing it.

Pursuing Justice is just what is needed to mobilize Christians everywhere to be a part of bringing God’s justice to the world in which we live. I look forward to reading this book again and to learning even more from it. I really hope this book and its lessons are spread far and wide; those who read it will surely feel the call to justice tug at their heart as it did mine! I sincerely believe this text can be a game-changer in how Christians understand the call to justice, and I look forward to seeing my fellow brothers and sisters in Christ begin to awaken to the necessity of its theme of “living and dying for bigger things.”

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Publishers Weekly Review

Click on the image below to check out the Publishers Weekly review of Pursuing Justice that just came out today.

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Blog Reviews

Here are a few of my favorite blog reviews that people have posted in the last couple of days on Pursuing Justice.

Click the screenshots below to view each blog:

 

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Pursuing Justice Interview Questions

I was asked the following questions by a book reviewer of Pursuing Justice.

1. You’re a pastor, a husband, a father to four daughters, the founder of The Justice Conference, President of Kilns College and a consultant and creative advisor to non-profits (did I leave anything out?!). How did you find the time to write “Pursuing Justice?”
Much of the book is what I have been living, learning and teaching for over the past decade… the rest of the writing was motivated by deadlines!

2. How did the idea come to you to write this book?
I’ve felt called for sometime to try and get something out that would redeem the word justice and also show it’s relevance to the rest of the big questions: God, life and happiness. Much of what is out there either leaves people feeling guilty, over idealistic that we can “fix” the world or thinking that justice is about certain causes like Human Trafficking. In the end, justice is bigger, deeper and more central than all of that. It leads to joy (it truly is better to give than receive) and surfaces the need for grace both to cover us and sustain us.

3. Why did you feel it was important to share your story with this book?
We all have a story. Mine is inextricable from what I’ve learned. Insights and lessons have come from both people and from experience. Showing where that comes from will hopefully make the book more real and also help people to look at the voices and experiences in their lives that will teach them to see the world through bigger and more sensitive eyes.

4. I enjoyed the format of the book with your words as well as inserting poems and other written works titled “Interludes.” What was the idea behind the format?
I’m a big fan of the arts and part of the lesson about justice is that it needs many voices to flesh out. I decided to include what we called “interludes” as a way of working in art and a greater larger cast of people into the conversation.

5. While dialoguing, researching and writing this book, did you learn anything you hadn’t already heard or known before?
I think humility is the big lesson I’ve been stewing on. Justice is about standing up (which is so very necessary), but humility (which is about sitting down) is also so very necessary for us to see what we don’t see, recognize our own flaws and be willing to celebrate others rather than trying to be the hero ourselves. The role of humility in justice is one that I continue to chew on and think about even now. It is an under explored facet of justice.

6. What advice do you have for people who feel pursuing justice feels like a chore?
If pursuing justice feels like a chore then someone probably hasn’t connected it to proper motivation (delight and joy rather duty and guilt) or hasn’t found the outlet that fits their gifts or calling. When we connect justice to proper motivation and proper calling it will wear us out, but not burn us out. As Paul said, “I am being poured out like a drink offering.” In other words, I’m being emptied out with labor, but it is my spiritual act of worship. A phrase I often use to describe Paul’s statement is that the sweet spot is to fall in bed exhausted and empty, but with a smile on your face.

7. This year marks the third year of The Justice Conference. What was your original vision for the conference when you founded it, and has that changed over the years?
The vision has always been to explore a theology of justice in addition to talking about specific issues of justice. The hope is that in connecting justice as a necessary component to our knowing and being known by God that it will lead to deeper, more lasting and more satisfying engagement than if we just whip up group excitement about flashy causes. With the conference we are looking for lasting change and a unity between justice and Christian belief and practice.

In addition, we hope conference goers will be able to network and be exposed to hundreds of organizations, schools or movements leading to collaborative endeavors and engagement that, without the conference, might not have been possible.

8. For those who are headed to Philadelphia in February for the conference, what can they expect?
I think Philly will be a lot of excitement as well as deep and meaningful talks sure to spark reflection, heart change and motivation to continue forward in pursuing God’s call to justice in our individual lives. The amount of pre-conference sessions and main conference speakers is far greater than any previous conference and is sure to be worth its weight in gold.

Lastly, there is something about the solidarity of thousands of people coming together for a weekend who share the paradoxical vision giving our lives away on behalf of others is where we’ll actually find true life.

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Peter Batarseh, Audiobooks and the heart of Pursuing Justice

I loved reading the Facebook Post below from vocal artist Peter Satarseh.  Peter was hired by Thomas Nelson Publishers to do the voice recording for the audiobook version of Pursuing Justice.

Give it a read and follow the image at bottom to view on Amazon.com.

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Friends! I had NO idea what God had in store when I was asked to lend my voice to record a new book that Thomas Nelson is releasing next month!

Initially, recording this project came from my desire to help Joshua Goggans, a friend-of-a-friend. But what an unexpected gift from God!

[Many of you are aware of my passion for "justice" ministry and building bridges across social divides. I felt so strongly about OUR obligation to build relationships rather than joining weekend teams that blow in and out of town, checking off our "outreach scorecards," that several years ago I began writing "Don't Dry Their Tears. Kiss Them. called to compassion." My prayer was to inspire and mobilize people to live life intentionally, serving others and "pouring it all out" for the sake of Christ.]

Well, today we finished recording and my heart is Full, and yet very much at rest. This IS the message…Nearly all that was in my heart has been harolded loud and clear in this manuscript.

I haven’t yet met Pastor Wytsma, but I can tell you that this work is balanced, backed-up, bold, and gets to the heart of the matter! I promise you-it is Imparative for you to read and share. I have ZERO material incentive to say this, but please hear me: pre-order, purchase, and buy a second as a gift for someone! And if you want me to read it to you, buy the audio version!

May God inspire a deep work in your heart.
His Peace+ Peter

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