Pursuing Justice by Ken Wytsma
In the myriad of books on social justice in our day and age, a few writings come to the top for their keen insights, practical application, and biblical rootedness. Pursuing Justice by Ken Wytsma is one of those books that strikes right at the heart of what justice is all about. In the opening introduction of the book Wytsma closes in on a theme that is particularly pointed by saying “Giving our lives away as Jesus calls us to do requires an understanding of justice….requires us to understand biblical justice…is rooted in the character of God” (xxii). As he spells in out in later chapters, Wytsma is concerned that we practice justice not for some altruistic end but to give our lives away as Jesus did, to be brought into the grand story of God’s redemption through playing an integral role and to reflect the image of God we are made in.
Challenging men and women to act more justly through their just actions isn’t the route that Wytsma takes in his book. Rather, “this book is about recovering the full-orbed biblical concept of justice and inviting in back into our lives” (9). Why is this important? We all have a sense of what justice is, making right a wrong or rendering each what each is due, but, we often fail to see how the biblical record provides a holistic understanding from the beginning about justice. In the chapter on Dynamic Art Wytsma seeks to integrate knowing God with practicing justice. If we have a biblical idea about God’s justice from the OT but are not experiencing it in our own lives, have we really done our theological homework well? “Doesn’t it follow that if you want a relationship with God, you will care about what He cares about?” (29-30). Wytsma goes onto sharpen the argument by bearing witness to the lack of worship songs and Sunday school lessons that teach about justice. Good point! Bringing the theological necessity of justice together with the experiential reality of practicing justice together require a great deal of thought and emotion, but as Wytsma indicates, it is a ribbon that runs throughout the Scriptures.
Perhaps what was the most striking chapter in the book was on Human Rights and Happiness. Wytsma makes a strong point by writing, “Ethical and religious motivations carry the most urgency and gravity, but they can burn us out over time an deform us into passionless, duty-bound people…..Rather, God in His grace provides us the personal motivation to obey, and that is the joy that comes from doing good and obeying Him” (53). Bringing goodness and happiness to another’s face is a joy that does not come back void. It is possible to practice justice for ethical and religious motivations and become burned out, having no energy to continue. Yet, Wytmsa refers to Jesus and the “complete” joy that lacks nothing and is full to the brim. This joy is the kind that “naturally produces right actions and genuine love” (53).
From discussion of justice and righteousness to understanding our part in not practicing justice, we begin to see a more fuller discussion of justice. Wytsma uses many passages on justice in the Bible but the most powerful one is Isaiah 58. Wytsma rightly connects the worship of God’s people with pursuing justice that locates its message in Isaiah 58. He makes a distinction between the church gathered and the church scattered. “It is when we are scattered that we will fight injustice….or contribute to it” (226). I agree that most of our weeks are spent as the church scattered into the world that God made. Yet, I would also say that God’s people receive the grace and nourishment of fellowship, the Word of God, and the sacraments that are able to fuel the church scattered to practice acts of lovingkindness and justice.
This book was a breath of fresh air, a call to act rightly, and a fully orbed understanding of biblical justice. Reading this book alongside Amy L. Sherman’s Kingdom Calling is a powerful antidote to many books that speak little about justice.
Thanks to the BookSneeze program and Thomas Nelson for the book in exchange for review.