The Leap of Paradox: a book review

If you want a simple, step-by-step approach to the Christian faith don’t read The Grand Paradox by Ken Wytsma. Like his earlier volume, Pursuing Justice, Wytsma examines an idea from many different angles. In the former book he looked at the mosaic of justice. Here he turns around the jewel of ‘faith’ in all its mysterious and messy glory. This isn’t a book about easy faith with pat answers.  Wytsma is much more interested in the paradoxical nature of faith–how walking by faith calls us to ‘live the questions’ (13).  In the place of answers, Wytsma calls us to something deeper: trust in God.

That Wytsma examines  a topic from various angles shouldn’t be too surprising, he wears a few different hats. He is the lead pastor of Antioch in Bend, Oregon and a philosopher who teaches at Kilns College. As the founder of The Justice Conference he moderates a discussion on biblical justice and how to care for the vulnerable. He is also a C.S. Lewis aficionado. So in these pages Wytsma offers reflections that are pastoral, theologically rich, philosophically deep and practically engaged. There are a number of rich insights here, though not always ‘easy reading.’

Wytsma begins his paradoxical look at faith by examining Joshua’s defeat of Jericho. The plan that God gave Joshua was to walk around Jericho with the ark and blow horns, watch the walls fall down and take the city. From a strategic perspective this is a terrible plan, but through it God demonstrated that the victory was his and not the might of Joshua and Israel (4). The Jericho example sets us up for the nature of faith–where we are called to walk by faith and not by sight. Sometimes the stuff God calls us to makes no sense, from a human point of view. Wytsma writes, “Walking by faith doesn’t bring the control or sense of satisfaction we desire, and over time, it guarantees a measure of suffering. Walking by faith on the other hand, can feel like walking blind–an even more dangerous idea–and we know that it, too, will involve suffering. Both alternatives seem undesirable.” If that was where things ended, faith or no faith carries no special promise. But Wytsma goes on, ” It is the faithfulness, the promise, and presence of God that give us a way out of the catch-22″ (16). God, and God alone provides a way through the paradox.

In chapter three Wytsma (with a great deal of Kierkegaard) describes he nature of  authentic faith as trust in God, though we don’t understand him (26). In chapter four he discusses how Christian wisdom may look like folly to the uninitiated and therefore close-communion with God is required for us to know that we are on the right track. In chapter five, Wytsma examines the imperative of justice for all who claim Jesus as savior. Chapter six examines how the pursuit of happiness (in the ancient sense) encapsulates all that is necessary for human flourishing and therefore is a necessary component of the virtuous and godly life. Chapter seven examines the interplay between doubt and faith, Chapters eight and nine examine personal calling where chapters ten and eleven examine the wider cultural landscapes. Chapter twelve examines the role of church and the final three chapters unfold the eschatological dimensions of faith.

I appreciate many of the insights Wytsma has here. I am a new pastor who has been preaching on discipleship through Lent and I’ve been thinking a lot about the paradox of discipleship. Wytsma has been a good dialogue partner and has pointed me to other theologians too. Where a lot of pastor/authors are light on content, and where justice practitioners sometimes lack thoughtfulness it is refreshing to read  a book from a justice-loving-pastor which is meaty, challenging, theological and inspiring. This is a comprehensive guide to the pursuit of God and it gives space for questions, doubt and uncertainty while still calling us to greater trust and obedience. That I appreciate.

My convoluted (and small) critique of this book is that I think he emphasizes the personal dimensions of faith at the beginning of the book to the exclusion of  its communal aspects. Wytsma doesn’t explore the church until chapter twelve. Eschatology comes later. Yes, I know he is a pastor and he cares about justice (which he addresses beautifully in chapter five), I just wish the company of witnesses was named earlier and given their due throughout. I give this book a solid four stars.

Notice of material connection: I received this book from the publisher in exchange for my honest review.

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