|Close Up: Ken Wytsma|
|Written by Production|
|Monday, 14 January 2013 03:09 PM EST|
Latest project: Pursuing Justice: The Call to Live & Die for Bigger Things (978-0-849-96466-4, $19.99, hardcover, Thomas Nelson).
Why did you write this book? God has continually placed the content of Pursuing Justice on my heart over the past 10 years. The book articulates lessons I’ve learned about the nature of justice and God’s heart for the vulnerable. Through story, theology and philosophy, I hope to help people understand God’s call to us to give our lives away on behalf of others. To pursue justice. To ultimately live and die for bigger things.
We hear stories of “social justice” quite a bit in the media. How does that concept relate to the message of your book? Any robust theology of biblical justice must address concerns that exist in the social arena. The media only give us a sliver of what social justice really is. Most of what we hear regarding social justice is political and focused on money, poverty and the welfare system—and thus our highly charged conversation about social justice is pinned between two rival economic ideologies. The way governments handle money is definitely part of social justice, but social justice is bigger than that. Just as there should be justice in the criminal arena, justice in the business arena and justice in the international arena, there should be justice in the social arena—that’s what social justice means. That includes things that matter to God, like proper treatment of workers, healthy immigration policies, wholesome treatment of the poor and weak in our society and more. All of these are very real social concerns that are relevant to a proper understanding of biblical justice.
You write that the word justice needs to be redeemed “to its full significance.” What is a biblical understanding of justice? Another problem with modern notions of justice is the tendency to reduce all of justice to simply criminal justice—crime and punishment, the legal system, police, judges and courts. We also tend to see justice issues more clearly from a distance. For instance, we know poverty and corruption in the Third World is a problem of injustice. But what injustices are we blind to in our own backyard—or even inside our own hearts? Justice means a right relationship with God, self, others and creation, everywhere. That goal is broad, deep and multifaceted.
You are the founder of The Justice Conference. Could you explain its purpose? Our dream is to help change the world through an annual conference that educates, inspires and connects a generation of men and women around a shared concern for the vulnerable and oppressed. The idea of the conference was always simple. We wanted it to be affordable and accessible to everyone. We wanted to attract a wide cross-section of people. We wanted attendees to learn about the theology of justice as well as the practice of justice. And we wanted to facilitate networking, partnership and collaboration.
How does an understanding of justice affect one’s daily life? Understanding the full meaning of justice changes everything. It will change where we shop and what we shop for. It will change the way we vote. It will change the way we read the Bible. It will change the way we give money to charity and buy Christmas presents. It will change the way we love our friends and neighbors. It will change the way we respond when we get cut off in traffic. It will change the assumptions we have about other people. In short, understanding justice will lead us to a foundational commitment to choose others before ourselves even as it magnifies the gospel as the standard of justice and spotlights our need for grace.
Pursuing Justice includes more than a dozen “Interludes.” What are they and why did you include them? The Interludes are short, artistic elements like poems, drawings and stories, many provided by artists I have the privilege of knowing. One of the main arguments in the book is that justice is multifaceted and complex, so inserting Interludes between chapters allows for fun, creative and even surprising conversations on different aspects of justice from multiple voices.
You write that justice is “far broader than a single life can hope to capture, no matter how well it is lived.” Could you explain that further? Justice is the establishment and enactment of what ought to be. It is a just society, a just community and a fully just life. A single life can contribute much to justice, be a part of a just society and help bring about a just community. But a single life is also characterized by unjust actions and uncharitable instances. In addition to helping, we often also hurt our communities and are a part of unjust structures in society. The totality of justice requires more than what any one of us can fully muster. This is why God says in Isaiah that he will work justice by his own right arm. Only in salvation and redemption is justice fully restored. Additionally, only in being sustained and covered by grace are we truly able to pursue justice on an ongoing basis and successfully as individuals.
What is the difference you see between justice and effective justice? Effective justice is justice that is successful for the one needing justice. It is justice that works or fixes. Doing justice, as we often talk about in culture today, can reduce down to simple actions I do, things I give or ways I sacrifice. Often, however, what I’m doing says more about me than it does about the vulnerable or oppressed person meant to receive justice. Talking about effective justice. Justice measured by the goodness received by the one needing it, is a way to put the focus back on the vulnerable or oppressed and say that true justice is triumphalistically not merely the gift given, but the benefit received.
What invitation do you issue to readers? Justice is big. Justice is deep. Justice is broad. Justice is a story and an invitation to living a life for bigger things than consumerism and individualism. The invitation in Pursuing Justice is to hear the call and be able to join the pursuit—not triumphantly, but humbly and graciously. It is also an invitation to find God, life and happiness, each one a God given desire, in the pursuit of justice. For, as Jesus said, “whoever loses his life for my sake will find it.”
How can Christian retailers best promote Pursuing Justice? Placement is key with all products. This book falls in line with other titles such as The Hole in our Gospel and Radical that help people find their walk humbly with their Creator. Promoting Pursuing Justice doesn’t mean targeting a niche interested in justice per se. We’re called, as the subtitle says, to “live and die for bigger things,” because that’s how God designed us to find true fulfillment, and I believe that’s a message that resonates with everyone!