I can’t more highly recommend a book which explores the topic that Jesus himself instructs us to seek first above all other things: God’s Kingdom and Justice.
In the book, Pursuing Justice: The Call to Live and Die for Bigger Things, Ken Wytsma sets out to explore the proper place and broad reaching effects that pursuing a life of justice ought to have among the followers of Jesus.
For me a book about justice seemed a bit daunting at first, and so you too might be hesitant or suspicious that this is another book meant to guilt you and twist your arm into caring about many issues that may be beyond your natural sphere of concern. Who wants more of that? You might already have enough on your plate within your own purview. This fear is not necessary..
Ken carries you through his program with conviction and passion for sure, but not with any emotional and manipulative tricks up his sleeve. Instead, he points you towards seeing the intrinsic joy and beauty that accompanies those who begin to join God in his Kingdom and Justice dreams for this world.
He lays the ground work very well, philosophically and theologically, towards a big picture view of justice; including it’s individual/personal as well as its societal implications.
Some have recently gotten stuck in the false dichotomy of pitting the “social gospel” folks against the “heavenly/spiritually minded” folks and acting like you must choose between these bounded polar ends. Ken steps into this discussion with some helpful context and offers us a 3rd option or rather builds a bridge and life line between the two isolated extremes and shows us how they are better together, serving to compliment the bigger whole.
While Wytsma does name many of the pressing justice related issues of today, rather than presume to offer up an exhaustive schematic that all should now follow, he cleverly goes only so far in his prescriptions, and thus leaving work for his readers both to imagine and appropriate how they might go about pursuing a life of justice in their unique situation.
I found the chapter most personally intriguing in which Ken tells an anecdote from his relationship with a friend of his from Rwanda. His friend Célestin, a Hutu who had lived through the Rwandan Genocide between April and July 1994 has now become one of the world’s more respected voices on reconciliation and forgiveness.
While visiting Ken’s church recently Célestin said that “Americans tend to think that punishment is the only way to satisfy justice, when in fact punishment is only one of several ways to satisfy it. The evil must be punished, but the goal is not just to punish the perpetrator; the goal is to restore the community.”
And further, “There is no justice without forgiveness, and there is no forgiveness without justice. Before I forgive something, I have to judge it as evil.”
This whole discussion about the many possibilities or means of achieving a restored shalom/justice really got my head churning and I begun connecting the dots from this idea to the life and mission of Jesus.
This has catalyzed my thought process, and I am now desiring to further investigate my forming theology around the significance and meaning of the central work of Jesus. If achieving justice need not be limited to a punitive means simply, then how might that reality shape my understanding of what Jesus’ sacrifice means. How do I read it? I already see some possibilities but won’t continue in that vein here.
There was so much more that the book stimulated my thoughts and hopefully soon my actions towards. I simply am mentioning this one bit -to encourage you that the words can have fruit. I found the book not static in nature, but leaving me with a sense of action.
I pray that “Pursuing Justice” will do just that for you, imagining a world of justice, God’s dream, and beginning to see and act on that vision in your life.
If the last few words aren’t enough, this creative spoken word by Micah Bournes just below hits at the heart of the message..
A good friend once sent me this quote from J.I. Packer on Worship:
“If worship services are so fixed that what’s being offered fits the expectations, the hopes, even the prejudices, of any one of these groups as opposed to the others, I don’t believe the worship style glorifies God.”
I really like it. It’s been a while since I’ve found myself in the theological debates about “what is worship?” “should we use music to worship?” “what style of praise and music is most worshipful?” etc. etc.
When I was in grad school with a bunch of other single guys who had nothing better to do than read Nietzsche, debate Dispensationalism and Covenant Theology and circle back endlessly to conversations on the modern church — we talked about worship stuff all the time.
With Antioch growing up from a tiny church plant of 30 folks to a pretty well established church, however, I find these questions and conversations coming back up in my mind more and more.
“When does a progressive church plant need to step back and look at what silly things it is doing that need to be re-envisioned?”
“Do we do the same things other churches did that we reacted to when we dreamed of Antioch in the beginning?”
“Does our use of music and the arts really keep God at the center — does it aim at the glory of God and the reconciliation of us to Him?”
That is why I love Packer’s quote above — if our prejudices… if our fixed routines… it we fit lazy expectations… if we favor one… then our style probably isn’t broad enough or rich enough to be God’s style of worship.
Thinking about worship isn’t about solving a problem like a math equation — it is much more like making an adjustment as in steering. The value is in the repetition. The value is in asking the question. The value is in recalibrating.
Anyway, below is a Redux answer to a recent question wrestling with many of the same themes on Worship.
“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.
We are in full swing for preparation for The Justice Conference 2013 in Philly.
I recently found a prayer I wrote for the very first conference back in 2011 in Bend, Oregon. It is so cool to think of all the things that have happened with The Justice Conference since our first year!
Here’s what I prayed as 1,000 people stood and read the prayer with me:
God – lead us this weekend to hear the cry of the vulnerable and oppressed
Lead us to care for the weak and needy
Lead us to see others as brothers and sisters
Help us appreciate goodness, to love simply and not hide hypocrisy with rhetoric
Let us embrace justice and mercy
Grant us humility
Supply us with enough faith to give our lives away
And bless us with strength when we grow weary
LORD, let the knowledge of your love;
Fuel our commitment
Inform our passions
Stir our gratitude
And help us transform the world
For you and your Glory – Amen.
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.
I’m excited for The Justice Conference 2013 coming up February 22+23 in Philly.
The conference is one of those amazing things driven by a social movement of students, advocates and justice seekers – not to mention HUNDREDS of volunteers doing everything from driving speakers, assembling registration bags, calling exhibitors, putting up posters and more.
Amidst all of that, there are the thirty or so adults and dozen or more kids who helped finalize the custom painting on this year’s Program Books.
Check out the screen grab below!
Below you'll find Ken's latest messages at Antioch Church in Bend, OR. Searching for a specific video? Visit Antioch's Vimeo page to find more of Ken's messages and other videos from Antioch.
Below you'll find Ken's most watched videos from Redux. Searching for a specific video? Visit Askquestions.tv to find more answers from Ken and many other Christian leaders and thinkers from around the world.