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Pursuing Justice

Ken Wytsma Pursuing Justice Book Review

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.

Ken Wytsma Pursuing Justice Book Review

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.

Ken Wytsma Pursuing Justice Book Author
Ken Wytsma

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.

-Nick Watts

If the last few words aren’t enough, this creative spoken word by Micah Bournes just below hits at the heart of the message..

Pursuing Justice | Book Trailer from The Justice Conference on Vimeo.

Read Ken Wytsma’s recent article on Huffington Post

Connect with Ken Wytsma’s Facebook

10 reasons Why Men Should Not Be Ordained For Ministry

10. A man’s place is in the army.

9. The pastoral duties of men who have children might distract them from the responsibility of being a parent.

8. The physique of men indicates that they are more suited to such tasks as chopping down trees and wrestling mountain lions. It would be “unnatural” for them to do ministerial tasks.

7. Man was created before woman, obviously as a prototype. Thus, they represent an experiment rather than the crowning achievement of creation.

6. Men are too emotional to be priests or pastors. Their conduct at football and basketball games demonstrates this.

5. Some men are handsome, and this will distract women worshipers.

4. Pastors need to nurture their congregations. But this is not a traditional male role. Throughout history, women have been recognized as not only more skilled than men at nurturing, but also more fervently attracted to it. This makes them the obvious choice for ordination.

3. Men are prone to violence. No really masculine man wants to settle disputes except by fighting about them. Thus they would be poor role models as well as dangerously unstable in positions of leadership.

2. The New Testament tells us that Jesus was betrayed by a man. His lack of faith and ensuing punishment remind us of the subordinated position that all men should take.

1. Men can still be involved in church activities, even without being ordained. They can sweep sidewalks, repair the church roof, and perhaps even lead the song service on Father’s Day. By confining themselves to such traditional male roles, they can still be vitally important in the life of the church.

[original source unknown]

Lucas Cranach Adam and Eve 1533

Lucas Cranach The Elder-Adam and Eve 1533


It is interesting to see how humor is a powerful way of breaking down silly ideas.

Making Disciples, How Should We Go About It?

sermon on the mount, making disciples, way of jesus

I just came across this great video with some very interesting and provoking illustrated thoughts about Jesus’ central instruction to his disciples to “go and make disciples”.

How should we be going about discipling followers in the way of Jesus? There are probably many various and creative ways to answer that question.. What do you think?

Speaking of Jesus


Carl Medearis has a way of making what might appear to be a complicated issue seem both simple and exciting at the same time.

He is a creative and provocative story teller and has a way of inviting you into a life of following Jesus that seems as exhilarating as one of Indiana Jones’ adventures. Watch this video I blogged recently of Carl discussing the life of Jesus to see what I am talking about.



While Carl’s new book, “Speaking of Jesus: The Art of Not-Evangelism” should technically be located under “Evangelism, How to”, in contrast Carl is showing how the common evangelistic methods are so very much misrepresenting and distracting folks from engaging with the actual person and life of Jesus.

Medearis talks about how often times many people find themselves making the mistake of getting defensive over Christianity when talking with someone about there faith. This just muddles any hopes of getting anywhere fruitful in the conversation.

Carl shows us the way out of these kinds of traps and pitfalls, explaining how simply speaking of Jesus almost always pays the best dividends. Not giving a defense of Christianity, Church Doctrines, and the like. Simply Jesus.

In Carl’s own words, “Here it is – the thesis of this book: if you don’t feel like you have to evangelize someone away from their team onto yours, you can speak of Jesus much more freely, and thus, much more effectively.”

You might find his CNN article, “Why Evangelicals Should Stop Evangeliziing” interesting. I did, so I followed through with getting the book and now am including you in on it.

I have really been quite encouraged and very impressed with Carl as he makes the conversation about Jesus. Jesus is where the life is. Just sayin.

Celebration of Discipline

Richard Foster’s excellent book, “Celebration of Discipline, The Path to Spiritual Growth”
explores many of the classical spiritual disciplines: meditation, prayer, fasting, simplicity, solitude, submission, service, confession, worship, guidance, and celebration. Foster  shares from his own experience and involvement with the Quakers. While he does quote from many of the leaders of the Friends Church he by no means limits himself to this stream of the Christian Faith. He pulls from many of the influential voices through out Christian history.



I know you might be thinking that a book about the Christian spiritual disciplines is probably quite dry and lacking lustre. That is usually what has kept me from any such titles in the past. Actually this book is quite full of energy and life. He indeed challenges the reader to consider that some of the disciplines do take some real effort, but he is so very quick to qualify these notions with the reality of the life that is behind all of these disciplines. A whole chapter is about “Celebration” and joy.



In fact he says that the discipline of celebration is a kind of linchpin to the rest. Concerning celebration Richard writes, “Celebration is central to all the Spiritual Disciplines.” “Celebration brings joy into life, and joy makes us strong. Scripture tells us that the joy of the Lord is our strength” “Joy is part of the fruit of the Spirit. Often I am inclined to think that joy is the motor, the thing that keeps everything else going. With out joyous celebration to infuse the other Disciplines, we will sooner or later abandon them. Joy produces energy. Joy makes us strong. Ancient Israel was commanded to gather together three times a year to celebrate the goodness of God. Those were festival holidays in the highest sense.  They were the experiences that gave strength and cohesion to the people of Israel.”

Life of Jesus -Carl Medearis

“What are the top 4 things you love about the life of Jesus?”, asks Carl Medearis in this youtube video. “Not what he said or his parables and what he taught..” This is challenging.

Carl points out that we have often skimmed right through the life of jesus in our Christian thoughts and meditations. He said that in the 30 Christian creeds he went through there is nothing about the life of Jesus within in them. They might mention briefly that he “lived”, and yes that he was sinless, but nothing about “how” he lived.

He lived a real actual life. Carl says, “Look at how Jesus actually did things, not just what he said, not just his parables, not just the end game, not that he died and rose again, not just the theology around it, but look look at how he lived, how he interacted, how he questioned the questioner, how he didn’t answer questions, ..how he dealt with the religious people as opposed to the sinners. How he dealt with his closest disciples..”

Carl talks about a couple of things that he admires in the life of Jesus. He points out how Jesus never seems to mind being interrupted as he is on his way. He walks everywhere and doesn’t ride there.. He also talks about how jesus taught as he went. He does something. Then he tells the disciples they can do the same thing. Then he does the same thing with them. Then he sends them to do it by themselves.

What are some things you love about the life of Jesus?
Has this short video helped you to think a bit differently about the life of Jesus and encourage you in following him?

The Shaping of Things to Come

If you have heard any of the following terms in religious conversations as of late, Missional, Incarnational, Meta-Narrative, Post-Christendom Culture, being an authentic community, it was probably encouraged at least in part by this book,  “The Shaping of Things to Come: Innovation and Mission for the 21st Century Church“. Both Michael Frost and Alan Hirsch have done an excellent job in describing what is at the the center of the  fresh expressions of church that are emerging.

Frost and Hirsch explain how “Western” society has been moving into what they describe as a post-christendom era. They say, “Christendom has been in decline for the last 250 years.” They argue that many are now or many ought to be moving in to a “Missional” phase of church expression. One where we are moving away from the many things that defined the era of Christendom, such as Buildings, Institutional Centralized Leadership, Institutional Sacraments, Church as center of Society,  and ex-tractional Conversions.


The Missional emerging shape of things to come will not be focused on a Church building. The new leadership mode is one that is pioneering-innovative in nature, including the five-fold ministry ethos, not just majoring on the “pastor/teacher” role. It will move towards being more grassroots and decentralized. It Redeems, re-sacralizes, and ritualizes new symbols and events. Church is once again on the fringes of society and culture. The church re-embraces a missional stance in relation to culture.That is a mouth full.

They suggest the idea of Shared Projects. Rather than only doing church based programs,  instead getting involved in programs and initiatives that are already helping the community.

There is this group in San Francisco calling itself ReImagine.  They have been meeting to explore the goal of living in what they call Green space. Green is the goal. The color green is made up of course by both the colors yellow and blue . “Yellow space refers to a Christian spirituality that is only concerned with the personal, interior world of faith. It characterizes the classic individualized form of faith the focuses on personal quiet times, Bible study, church attendance and personal moral/ethical behavior. Blue space refers to an exclusively other-focused form of Christian spirituality, one that takes context seriously and features such activities as social concern, justice-seeking, activism, and public moral/ethical behavior.” These two parts of faith ought to be blended and not separated.

Rather than being an attractional church, the goal of the emerging church is to be Incarnational. “The incarnational church seeks to infiltrate society to represent Christ to the World” A long chapter toward the end is about what they call “the genius of APEPT“. This is the five-fold ministry or functions of disciples: Apostle, Prophet, Evangelist, Pastor, and Teacher. The newer expressions of church are giving a more rounded recognition within the leadership of all these roles, not just favoritism to the Pastor/Teacher C.E.O. style of things from the past.

I have read many books in this genre and this one is is quite unique and stands out amongst the rest in many ways.

“About You” by Dick Staub

I recently finished Dick Staub’s excellent book About You: Fully Human, Fully Alive. When I came across this title I thought, “that sounds like self-focused spirituality”, but after reading a synopsis I quickly decided that I misread the title. Now having finished the book I am very happy I chose to read this book by an author I hadn’t ever heard of. The writing is very accessible and the topic is excellent. The premise of the book is that God has made you to be a human being with a desire for you to live up to your fully human potential. His starting point is that humans are “Imago Dei”, that humans are made in the “Image of God”. We are created to be reflections of God’s character within his Creation. This is his baseline throughout the book’s meanderings through all topics related to living to our fullest potential as God’s Image bearers.

Dick Staub

Theology Book Review Dick Staub About You

“The Humanizing Jesus” is the title of one chapter where he starts out with a quote by Hans RookMaaker, “Jesus didn’t come to make us Christian; Jesus came to make us fully human.” A provocative statement, yet true indeed. This quote is the main motif throughout the book. Staubs argues that,

becoming authentically and fully human is the evidence of being a true follower of Jesus. It means that the question we should ask is not, ‘Are you a Christian?’ Instead, the more important question is, ‘Are you becoming more fully human?’ The question is not, ‘Are you going to heaven when you die?’ Instead, the question is, ‘Are you living a fully human life now?’ The question is not, “How successful are you are avoiding the world?’ The question is, ‘How effective are you as a loving, transforming presence in the world?‘”




“Love Wins” -Rob Bell


In this post I will be giving my Review of the book “Love Wins”, but first, a preamble is probably needed for context and clarity.



Preamble

On March 15th 2011 Rob Bell’s book, “Love Wins: A Book About Heaven, Hell, and the Fate of Every Person Who Ever Lived” was released to the public.  Of course at this point the Christian Blogosphere had already been buzzing about the short and provocative Love Wins video released a couple weeks earlier where in the very short clip Bell gives an anecdote about an art show at his Church followed by a lot of questions related to “heaven and hell”.  Based on this short clip many started writing and blogging about Bell being a Universalist, and most of  their writings were done without actually having read the book. One prominent pastor even tweeted, “Farewell Rob Bell” again without even having read the book.  : (

It was at that point I decided I should take a step back, read the book, read it twice, listen to some interviews and videos of Bell about his book. Having done so, I am now prepared to give my review.

Review

Rob Bell’s Book “Love Wins..” has 8 short chapters. He starts out his book talking about the importance and place of questions in following Jesus, of whom Bell says, “(Jesus) responds to almost every question he is asked with …a question.” This essentially, is also Rob’s way of exploring faith. He is often re-evaluating old formulas of faith with fresh expressions and understanding.

He then follows up with many questions asking how many people think they know who by name is literally burning in hell right now. Bell tells a story about how his Church had an art show and one of the pieces of art had a quote from Gandhi. Many people were inspired by the quote, but one person decided to stick a note on the art saying, “Sorry, Gandhi is in Hell“. Bell wonders how someone can know this with such certainty about Gandhi.

Now the following two chapters are about Heaven and Hell. I believe these two chapters are Bell’s strongest chapters within the book. Bell critiques the common interpretation of Jesus’ ” kingdom of heaven” message,  often understood as  a reality which is arrived at somewhere else, beginning after this earthly life ceases. He points out that Jesus’ central teaching about “the Kingdom of heaven” was one that spoke of a reality that one is to participate in right here and right now. Heaven isn’t a reality we hope to escape to someday , but rather one we pray for and work for on earth. Bell says:


..Jesus doesn’t tell people how to ‘go to heaven’. It wasn’t what Jesus came to do..”
“Heaven is that realm where things are as God intends them to be..”“A proper view of heaven leads not to escape from the world, but to full engagement with it, all with the anticipation of a coming day when things are on earth as they currently are in heaven.”

First heaven, now hell.
In this chapter bell explores all the different words that often get interpreted by many folks as the singular concept of Hell. This has to be done because if your happen to still be reading from the highly influential King James Version of the bible you would read the English word “Hell” across the board in the place of four different words. Bell begins explaining the context of these different words along with their different meanings. While Bell begins articulating how these words had varying and different intentions of meanings, you begin to wonder how the many translators justified rendering all these as one word -Hell.

The old testament Hebrew word for the place of the dead is Sheol, and its new testament Greek equivalent  is Hades.  Bell then points out that the word Jesus most often used to talk about “hell” is “Gehenna“. Ge means “valley,” and Henna means “Hinnom“. Gehenna is the Valley of Hinnom. This was an actual valley on the south and west side of the city of Jerusalem. Gehenna, in Jesus’s day, was the city dump.. I won’t explain it all here, but he has some striking points which again, this chapter alone would be worth the read.

In the chapter, “Dying to Live”, bell explores what happened when Jesus died on the cross (Atonement Theology). He talks about how there are many different metaphors utilized within the New Testament which give explanation to the meaning of the atoning work of Jesus. He sums up this part here:

“So, back to the question: What happened on the cross?Is the cross about the end of the sacrificial system
or a broken relationship that’s been reconciled
or a guilty defendant who’s been set free
or a battle that’s been won
or the redeeming of something that was lost?Which is It?

Which perspectie is the right one? Which metaphor is correct? Which explanation is true?

The answer, of course, is yes.

..The point, then isn’t to narrow it to one particular metaphor, image, explanation, or mechanism. To elevate one over the others, to insist that there’s a “correct” or “right” one, is to miss the brilliant, creative work these first Christians were doing when they used these images and metaphors. They were reading their world, looking for ways to communicate this epic event in ways their listeners could grasp.

The Point then, as it is now, is Jesus. The divine in flesh and blood. He’s where the life is.”

The remaining chapters of the book have very interesting observations and questions that are worth pondering about the ultimate fate of everyone who has ever lived. Along with Bell’s great skill at observing and asking excellent questions, he begins some attempts at constructing some answers. Now, it has often been rightly said that Bell is great at questions and weak on answers.  On questions of ultimate salvation for all people he seems to suggest that this is a strong possibility.

Some times you think he is saying that in the end all people will ultimately choose the gift of life offered in Jesus.  And in the following sentence he will then say that love demands freedom, love is not coerced. He really sets a tension up here and never gives a definitive conclusion whether or not he resolutely has planted his feet in this belief. In fact, he says we can’t resolve this tension.

Bell asks, “Will everybody be saved, or will some perish apart from God forever because of their choices?” He follows with, “Those are questions, or more accurately, those tensions we are free to leave fully intact. We dont’ need to resolve them or answer them because we can’t..” There in lies the answer to many people’s question, “Is Rob Bell a universalist?”. He wants to be but never definitively states that is his absolute belief.

Now I think Bell’s arguments loose steam in his chapter, “There are Rocks Everywhere.” It is here where he begins making some arguments that are not all together very convincing to me. Especially his use of these passages: John 10 and 14, and Colossians1. He seems to be meandering through some ideas that I think are just not articulated well or very persuasive. And his scripture references don’t seem to hold up his argument as tightly as he is trying to make them do so.

After all is said, I do think much good can come from this book. Bell has brought much needed critique to the current formulations and understandings of heaven and hell. His book serves as a kind of catalyst, a conversation starter. By no means should his book be considered comprehensive or the last word on these subjects. Much of the strong critical reviews that I have come across on the blogosphere at many times were assuming that Bell was giving a version of his own Summa Theologica. Rather, I suggest quite the opposite; that Bell’s intention was not to be the last word, simply just an initiatory word in hopes to re-liven the conversation about long unchallenged beliefs concerning “the end”. He does not come out decidedly on the question of Universalism, he merely invites you to enter into a tension with him. This book should be read as a starting point only. In fact, once one reads any of Bell’s books, it is soon realized that Bell is having a conversation, he is pointing things out that have often been overlooked. He is asking questions, giving some answers, but by no means is he saying this is the last word. Even more so, in this book, I believe that is true. Thank you Rob.

The following excerpt is from a very recent interview with Relevant Magazine and Rob Bell:

Based on your understanding of universalism, do you consider yourself a universalist?
No, I don’t.And you see the difference being what?
My observation would be that people mean lots of different things with that word. I think for some people, apparently the word means nothing matters. It doesn’t matter what you believe, it doesn’t matter how you live—nothing matters. And I simply don’t believe that. Certain paths are destructive. Certain paths are wrong. Certain paths cause all kinds of toxic harm to other people and it’s not loving your neighbor. So if by “universalism,” people mean it doesn’t matter—it doesn’t matter what you believe, it doesn’t matter what you do—that’s just complete rubbish. So, no.Secondly, sometimes when people say the word “universalism,” I think they mean that at some point God just swoops everybody up into heaven. Like, “Come on, everybody—everybody is in.” And the problem with that is, I believe love wins, and the very nature of love is freedom. So if at any point God co-opts your ability to choose, we no longer are dealing with a loving God. And if there are people who are in heaven who don’t want to be there, then it’s not heaven. Like God is saying, “It’s a party—and you’re going to like it!”

The question that I do think is terribly interesting, and which as a Christian we must wrestle with, it is written in a letter to Timothy, “God wants everybody to be saved.” Now this is fascinating. God wants everybody to be saved, so perhaps the important question is, is God a universalist? And I do think as a Christian it is our duty to long for the things that God longs for, and to want the things that God wants.

Here is a link to an interview with Eugene Peterson.