I am really looking forward to The Justice Conference, coming to Philadelphia next weekend. Eastern University is one of the hosts, and since I work at Eastern, I get to volunteer! I’m excited to not only do my little part in making this all happen, but also to get to rub shoulders with some fantastic people.
A month or two ago, the creator of the conference, Ken Wytsma, came to campus to talk about The Justice Conference to anyone interested. I decided to take my lunch off and go hear what he had to say. I was so glad that I did. Ken is incredibly down-to-earth, “normal”, theologically grounded and interested in helping each and every person to pursue justice in their everyday life. Something else that struck me was that Ken and his family are able to pursue justice even though they are a family of 6 (mom, dad, and 4 girls). I think sometimes Jake and I feel “stuck” (How can we pursue justice? Our lives are full of work and parenting!), but I was reminded of something I already knew deep inside– we’re not stuck. Everyone can pursue justice.
When given the opportunity to review his new book, Pursuing Justice: The Call to Live & Die for Bigger Things, I was open to hear what he had to say. I knew that one of his goals is to help conservatives, liberals, and everywhere inbetween see and understand how justice is a call for every believer, and how justice is ROOTED in the gospel story.
As to defining justice, while there are many facets and a broad definition in one sense, a simplified version is that justice is what ought to be. “Justice involves harmony, flourishing, and fairness, and it is based on the image of God in every person- the Imago Dei- that grants all people inalienable dignity and infinite worth” (p. 9). He also relates justice to righting the wrongs that sin creates.
Depending what circles one runs in, “justice” can be primarily talked about when it comes to the part of God’s nature that demands payment for sin. One may hear something like: “God is just, so he couldn’t just let our sin go unpunished. It was God’s mercy that put Jesus on the cross instead of us, and paid for our sin.” And that’s the end. But, our justification is only a part of the gospel story. This is part one of, say, three acts. The other two- sanctification (becoming more like Jesus) and glorification (being made like Jesus in heaven) also have elements of justice to them, because God is a just God. He is making things right. And after we are justified (part I), we are being invited to become like him, i.e. making things right too. What I consider to be my life verse (and I guess in many ways was Jesus’ too), is Isaiah 61, and it illustrates Jesus’ mission, and hence our mission on earth. It’s filled with justice language!
The Spirit of the Sovereign Lord is on me,
because the Lord has anointed me
to proclaim good news to the poor.
He has sent me to bind up the brokenhearted,
to proclaim freedom for the captives
and release from darkness for the prisoners,[a]
2 to proclaim the year of the Lord’s favor
and the day of vengeance of our God,
to comfort all who mourn,
3 and provide for those who grieve in Zion—
to bestow on them a crown of beauty
instead of ashes,
the oil of joy
instead of mourning,
and a garment of praise
instead of a spirit of despair.
They will be called oaks of righteousness,
a planting of the Lord
for the display of his splendor.
Ken does a fantastic job of theologizing (in a meaningful, yet easy to understand way) about justice, as well as helping us to explore our various biases, misunderstandings, and emotional “stuff” that muddles or stands in the way of understanding justice and how we are to be participating with God in the making right of things around us.
This is book is definitely going to be on my list of “must reads” for all believers, especially when I’m meeting with others and teaching about justice in general (and social justice in particular). Ken’s language is accessible and he does a good job of pulling in a diversity of sources to illustrate his ideas.
I’ll probably have a post or two more surrounding some of the points he brings up in the book. It’s a lot to process in one reading, and promises a rich re-reading as well. I think this would be a great book to have a series of discussions around– lots to talk about, some things to disagree about, and a lot of things to live out. With a skilled discussion leader, one could bring in some other resources to foster some incredible dialogue that both challenges and encourages the participants.
Thanks to Ken for writing such a good book!