A few years ago, I went to my church’s office for a meeting about better serving a small group of misfits better. While waiting I noticed a little flyer for “The Justice Conference” and shoved it in my pocket. A few months later I was a couple hours from home at said conference absorbing more truth than I imagined would come from Central Oregon. It was 2 days of learning, questioning and unexpectantly mingling with people from around the country and the world. On the way back from that trip we chatted about a few of the speakers, what we learned and where to go from here. I was in a studying, listening, conferencing phase of life so had many names on a list to further research but wanted to know who started it all and why. The more I read Ken Wytsma’s blog and listened to his sermons, the more I learned to respect him.
This week, I finished reading Pursing Justice, his first book. Ken is an intellectual, a teacher, a philosopher, the founder of The Justice Conference and a man who packs as much life into a day as is humanly possible. The book is the product of decades of seeking (pursing) an understanding of justice that wasn’t just intellectual but physical and emotional. It is multifaceted and inspired a list of keywords, which I will expound on here. A list is needed so I don’t share my 1200 words of notes.
The book is filled with Epiphanies like realizing the Nazi’s were humans who followed orders and desired to survive; and that “if consumerism can be created, it can be combated. If selfishness can be taught, selflessness can be learned.”
There is deep knowledge used to teach and illustrate like using math in a passage to come to the conclusion “For God so loved the world that . . . you and I are being sent into the world.” Hermeneutics and translations of words such as love, justice and righteousness are covered in depth. It is so good I had to reread some sections while not on the city bus to fully understand points.
He reminisces of being frustrated with caring for orphans and widows as a college student because they weren’t receptive, until he realized it was changing him.
We are called out occasionally like when there is a comparison between us and the Israelites of the Old Testament, and the religious leaders of the New, who also forgot those who suffered around them. And when it is mentioned how short term missions is not only hurting many it aims to help, but also is a $2 billion dollar industry that could do substantially more. Brian Fikkert would be proud.
There are stomach churning accounts like the Church of England owning slaves to supply their “furthering of the gospel” efforts or that my (our)home state of Oregon had constitutional laws against freed blacks settling and were one of the last to ratify the 15th amendment allowing African Americans to vote.
There are challenges like thinking we will be the next Wilberforce without realizing he fought for the same cause for nearly 50 years and died three days after it was realized; how we tackle global issues while forgetting local and environmental needs; or giving relief when development is needed; or thinking we are being persecuting because no one listens to us at our home church while workers in Asia face death constantly for rescuing girls from brothels.
The fad mentality of justice amongst many people is also addressed, while the social gospel is explained in detail and compared to social justice, including history and challenges to those misusing words stating the gospel can’t be reduced down like politics has been to just checking a box.
There is a call to not just do justice, but see, know and understand justice issues. He points out that many new situations need well educated people, not just eager youth groups. Also addressing how fear and apathy are causing bystanders when they should create workers.
But before you think it is all academic and too hard to read, there are also interludes at the end of each chapter that allow you to breathe.
I don’t think I am an intellectual. I like reading, researching and studying, but need to take notes to remember things. This habit leads me to star quotes or items that jump out to me. This book ended up having 56 stars… a lot for a 300 page book in my method.
I found this quote in the first hour of reading and don’t think anything jumped out to me more. So in closing, I’ll let you chew on this.
“Justice is always a felt need for the poor, for the oppressed. However, for people who have enough—or too much—it is more difficult to feel the need for justice. If the cry for justice, for shalom, isn’t burning in our guts, it’s easy to put it on the back burner.”
In case you missed the other links in the text…You can order this great book and learn about Ken at kenwytsma.com