Pursuing Justice: The Call to Live and Die for Bigger Things by Ken Wytsma
First question who is Ken Wystma? According to his bio:
“Ken Wytsma is the founder of The Justice Conference, one of the largest international gatherings on biblical and social justice and the president of Kilns College in Bend, Oregon where he teaches classes on philosophy and justice. He is also a church planter and lead pastor of Antioch.” More here.
First Impressions: I found myself nodding my head from the beginning.
“One of our most important tasks in this book will be to hold up justice and examine it’s many elements together …” There was the idea of the picture of justice being mosaic of small pieces of colored class, stone or tile … Justice is like a mosaic. It’s not l about single pieces – it’s also about all the pieces working together in a stunning whole …. All of these shards are a vital parts of God’s mosaic of justice” (pp. 6-7).
As a fan of plurality, not only was I excited to read this line in the beginning of the book but was even more excited to keep seeing the delivery of this throughout.
What I Liked:
The “Church and Justice” conversation sometimes comes across too simplistic – “Just go serve in a soup kitchen or something …” and Ken did a fine job of bringing maturity and depth to it. For this reason alone, it’s required reading and worth the price of the book.
Along the same lines, I liked that he is encouraging his readers to lay some roots down in pursuing justice – it’s not a trend, it’s a way of life.
Loved the attention he spent in unpacking the nature of God’s justice and what it means to us and its place in the world today.
Also liked that he reclaimed the idea of happiness (I was convicted by this).
Loved the excellent history of fundamentalism and the social justice conversation. I can already see myself using this.
Loved that he was inspired so much by minds like C.S. Lewis & G.K. Chesterton.
I especially liked that Ken is a younger guy and he’s putting this type of content out there in the church and justice conversation. I’m guessing he’s in his late 30’s/early 40’s. And that’s why he sounds different than say, Tim Keller’s Generous Justice (Also an excellent read though).
Pursuing Justice excels in three things:
1. It’s an excellent and needed intersection between practical life and a theological understanding of Biblical justice.
2. It’s an excellent recap of the content of the Justice Conferences.
3. It actually is different than books in its genre.
I want to unpack that last one:
Not another justice book! I already read Shane Claiborne’s Irresistible Revolution, do I really need to read this?
Umm, if you read that back when it was released in 2006 then yes, maybe it’s time to read another. And read the book of Isaiah and the Gospel of Mark too.
Please Note: Truth be told, I would be grateful for my brothers and sisters in the Lord to be reading more Scripture and books that challenge/inspire/encourage us in our discipleship. I’m only using comparisons for the sake of context within this genre.
What if I read The Hole In Our Gospel and Radical, should I skip this?
Well, we always have to careful that we’re not just reading about justice but also practicing it – a challenge for all of us. But its necessary to compliment our practice with the reading of Scripture as well as reading books, conversations, etc. However in terms of the comparison of books Pursuing Justice is a deeper engaging type of book than these two. Meaning it goes deeper and it’s not written on as popular of a level. For evidence of that, look at some of the lower reviews on Amazon. It feels like it’s for more of a serious reader. I’d say it’s the next reading for those who want to get deeper in the justice conversation.
It’s also not passionate /emotionally-driven like Richard Stearns’ The Hole In Our Gospel. (I don’t say that in a negative way towards Stearns our THIOG btw as I liked this book too).
Further, Radical and The Hole In Our Gospel are written in personal narrative where Pursuing Justice is significantly less. Though Ken uses some personal examples and writes often in first person, it’s not really his story of finding justice – thus, it feels more like the reader and the writer are discovering something deeper together.
Lastly, depending on who you are and your appetite/schedule for reading, I’d recommend Hole In Our Gospel, then Pursuing Justice and then at least ten other books before Radical. It’s not that Platt’s work isn’t good, it’s a good entry to the conversation, but my sentiment is there are better entry points.
I have a number of concerns with the book however – mainly that not enough people will read it and I hope readers of this blog can remedy this
It’s not fast moving and riveting as the aforementioned titles.
It’s long – over 300 pages. Sadly, this weeds out certain readers.
It felt like some of the chapters could have been either combined or held off for another book.
I did find myself wishing for some personal application points like in Julie Clawson’s Everyday Justice.
“I keep hearing that Ken name drops, did that bug you?”
I have a very low tolerance for that. But I have heard this a few times and honestly, it got stuck in my head and finding myself wanting to defend Ken here (whom I don’t know). Frankly, I think some of it is plain envy. Clearly Ken has met some people along his journey, I mean Walter Brueggemann endorses the book – that’s cool. But more to the point, it felt to me that he was promoting the work of his friends and fellow collaborators and sharing it with the readers. Name-dropping isn’t when we mention a name that the reader knows and then punish the author for it. Name-dropping is when you inappropriately mention someone of greater notoriety in hopes of garnering a higher a respect for one’s self resulting in the objectification of the said person and consequently receiving a lower view of your self. Example, “I was wondering what I should do today, and then my good friend, Bono said, ‘You should go get some coffee today and I thought why didn’t I think of that. Thanks bro, you know me so well …”
Wytsma Seems Compassionate and Sincere To Me
Though it’s a longer book, it has great readability and while Ken does not write in an emotionally manipulative manner, he stirs your compassion while intellectually engaging you. I found that I needed to stop and process frequently. Maybe I was caught a little off-guard there, as I am fairly familiar with this genre of books and the “Church and Justice” conversation is one I am very interested in. Maybe it’s part of my journey of Lent or maybe it’s the great coffee I’ve been drinking from One Village, I don’t know. Or maybe it’s due to a series of decisions that Ken and his publishing team have made – who knows but I got really into it and found to compassionate in a way that is consistent of God’s sense of justice & love.
What To Do With It Now
Initially I wanted to use this as a book for an upcoming “Reading Circle” for GC@Nite but I’m afraid it’s not going to work in that context as the length is an issue for us. In thinking it over, I see its use in a few ways:
Personal Daily Reading – – almost in a devotional style. It’s not a quick read, I got more out of it by reading a chapter a day and thinking about it with a notebook in hand.
A Plethora of Sermon Material – I think preachers would find this to be very useful for a series on church and justice. Not 18 weeks mind you, but 4 or 6 so.
One on One Conversation – If you are fortunate enough to have a friend who you can read a book and get together and enjoy coffee/beer together, this could be your next book. Honestly, it’s been a while since I’ve had this – taking applications :)
Required Reading For those Serious About the “Church and Justice conversation” – This is by bottom line. For those who really are serious about this issue/practice, I’d love to convince you to read Pursuing Justice. It offers a legitimate framework and feels like required reading.
If you end up getting Purusing Justice – drop me a line (and I’d love to hear your thoughts about it).