Wyt(sma) Privilege: a ★★★★★ book review

Recently a friend and mentor, who is a person of color, posted on social media of a recent invitation he had to explain white privilege. To white people.  My friend is a justice advocate, an activist, and well-known Christian leader. He declined the invitation to write about something he doesn’t have. He decided instead to spend his creative energy supporting leaders of color instead of educating us white folk.

4482But Ken Wytsma, on the other hand, is uniquely gifted and qualified to describe white privilege. He is a pastor in Bend, Oregon, president of Kilns College (where he lectures in philosophy), an author of several quality Christian books, a father of four, and founder of the Justice Conference. He is also pretty darn pasty white. He was asked by Helen Lee at IVP to write a book on White Privilege that would help bridge the gap between those on the forefront of race relations and us white evangelicals who are only beginning to awaken to our racist history (3). In response to both her request and a couple of recent examples of racial bias (in the media, and against folks he knew personally), he wrote The Myth of Equality: Uncovering the Roots of Injustice and Privilege. Wytsma probes the reality of privilege and race, theology and justice and the responsibility of the privileged.

In Part 1, Wytsma reviews the history of race and racial attitudes in America. He describes immigration policies which favored white Europeans, the history of racism in European thought, slavery and Jim Crow, law enforcement practices (e.g. how the War on Drugs disproportionately attacked communities of color), and how urban development has reinforced modern segregation.  He offers a pretty solid analysis of America’s racial story—how we got here and how people of color still are affected by ongoing systemic injustice.

Part 2 brings this American story into conversation with our theology and the values of the Kingdom of God. Wytsma challenges the church’s silence about race and the status quo and calls us to more prophetic engagement (94).  He describes how justice is integral to the gospel of Jesus and his cross, and he challenges our transactional and individualized view on faith and spirituality (and the ways privilege plays into it).

In Part 3, Wytsma discusses how white Christians can become more aware of their implicit racial biases, make space for diversity in sharing power and laying down our privilege. This involves intentionally listening and making space for the other, lamenting our troubled history, confessing, and beginning the hard work of dismantling privilege.

This is the fourth book I’ve read from Wytsma and thus far, I think this is, without a doubt, his best book. He discusses the issues of race without making himself the ‘expert’ and without offering pat answers to tough questions. Wytsma gives space for the complexity of race and privilege:

Everyone wants to think they have a good understanding of race. We often treat it like a yes-or-no category. Are you a racist?  No. Therefore, are you good with race? Yes. The problem is, it’s not a yes-or-no category but something with a hundred layers of nuance. . . . As a white man writing a book on privilege, I’ve had to admit from the beginning that my understanding and knowledge of racism end when conversation turns to the firsthand experiences of people of color. (132-33).

Growing up, I wasn’t aware of how I benefited from privilege and all the ways that communities of color were affected by institutionalized racial bias and ongoing systemic injustice. I’m still learning, mostly because I have friendships with people of color that have opened my eyes to some things I may not have otherwise seen. But I have other friends and family which are unaware of the dynamics of privilege and race (either through willful ignorance or because their social circles are almost entirely white). Privilege is at play in American race relations. Opportunities that have been afforded us white guys have not historically, and are not, even now, extended to people of color. We can’t dismantle privilege if we aren’t able to name how it has penetrated our culture and the church. Wytsma does a wonderful job confronting our troubled history and faulty theological assumptions.

This is a short book (only about two hundred pages) so therefore unable to say everything that needs to be said about race and privilege. Wytsma addresses dynamics between whites and blacks most directly, and touches on the Native American/ colonial experience (with a nod toward the late Richard Twiss). He deals with how white privilege affects other minorities more tangentially (i.e. the experiences Latinos and Asians are not in sharp focus here). This isn’t a criticism so much as naming the limits of what Wytsma is able to accomplish through this book. I’d also note that this book is more conceptual than practical, aimed at enlarging our understanding of racial dynamics more than providing a road map of what to do about it.

Everybody I know values diversity and multi-culturalism until it costs something. We love when minorities come to our (mostly white) church, but often we demand minorities change and conform to our way before they really belong. Dismantling Privilege involves real partnership, listening and sharing of power.  It means listening to and sharing in the burdens of those who have suffered discrimination and shame. It means to change. I recommend Wytsma’s book for anyone interested in moving beyond how the dynamics of racism affects us, to effecting real change. All royalties from this book go to The Voices Project, an organization working to empower voices of color.  I give this book Five stars ★★★★★

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

I am Evangelical and So Can You!

Trump won and about 81% of white evangelicals helped make that reality. Translation: people who look like me, who share some of my cherished religious beliefs helped put Donald Trump in the White House. This is despite the fact he  was endorsed by the Ku Klux Klan, his locker-room talk normalized sexual assault, he is currently on trial for fraud, he fat-shamed a beauty pageant contestant, and admitted to going into dressing rooms while contestants were naked. Despite the fact he made fun of people with disabilities and let us not forget about the wall. He ran on a platform of xenophobia, promising to protect us from refugees, devout Muslims, bad hombre Mexicans and other widows, orphans and aliens in the land.

81% of evangelicals. Sigh. I’ve heard  progressive-minded evangelicals, disavow their evangelicalism in the wake of Tuesday’s results. It makes sense. It is easier to stop being evangelical than it is to stop being white or male (61% of white males voted for Trump and 63% of white women). Leaders who denounced Bill Clinton for his moral lapses overlooked Donald John Trump’s. Some for pragmatic reasons (i.e. Supreme Court appointments, pro-life concerns), others out of disdain for Hillary Clinton. I am part of the 19% of white evangelicals which voted the other way. I did so because Trump’s platform, tone and substance struck me as antithetical to the gospel, even if he gave lip-service to faith and pro-life concerns. Hitting a few Christian coalition talking points doesn’t transfer to a Christlike policy.

frabz-you-keep-using-that-word-i-do-not-think-it-means-what-you-think-c96affSo what does being an evangelical actually mean?

The word evangelical is so often, poorly defined. If you ask the mainstream media or the faculty of your local university, you may get the impression that evangelicals are just nicer versions of fundamentalists. Evangelicals may not boycott military funerals, hold up “God Hates Fags” protest signs like Westboro Baptist church or blow-up abortion clinics; yet some think they are cut from the same cloth. Others see ‘evangelical’ as  political speak for being ardently Pro-life and anti-LGBTQ rights.  And yes, the majority of evangelicals uphold traditional marriage definitions and the sanctity of life. None of this gets at the heart of what it means to be an evangelical.

At its heart, evangelicalism is a commitment to the ‘good news.’ (εὐαγγέλιον). This means both the good news about Jesus (John 3:16-17), and the good news he preached, “The Kingdom of God has come near. Repent and believe the good news!” (Mark 1:15). The Kingdom good news was Jesus’ major theme. He announced God’s reign had come and was coming. Implicit in this was a call to live lives which reflect Christ’s reign and reconciliation:  a right relationship with God, with neighbors and enemies, and with all creation. The good news of Jesus meant good news for poor folks, freedom for prisoners, sight for the blind, and justice for the oppressed:

16 He went to Nazareth, where he had been brought up, and on the Sabbath day he went into the synagogue, as was his custom. He stood up to read, 17 and the scroll of the prophet Isaiah was handed to him. Unrolling it, he found the place where it is written:

18 “The Spirit of the Lord is on me,
    because he has anointed me
    to proclaim good news to the poor.
He has sent me to proclaim freedom for the prisoners
    and recovery of sight for the blind,
to set the oppressed free,
19     to proclaim the year of the Lord’s favor.”

20 Then he rolled up the scroll, gave it back to the attendant and sat down. The eyes of everyone in the synagogue were fastened on him.21 He began by saying to them, “Today this scripture is fulfilled in your hearing.” (Luke 4:16:21)

It is commitment to good news which provides the identifying marks of evangelicalism. Can you claim to be good news people and capitulate to hate and fear-mongering? Can you follow the one who tore down the dividing wall of hostility and advocate building a wall?

I am Evangelical and So Can You!

I call myself an evangelical because I believe in Jesus’ good news. Not just a little. I am sold out on it, trusting in Him for salvation and wanting to see his kingdom come on earth as it is in heaven. I won’t give up the label ‘evangelical’ because the good news of Jesus Christ—his life, death & resurrection, his compassionate actions and challenging words—has shaped and is shaping who I am. I believe the Kingdom of God has come and is coming. My trust in Jesus marks me as speak_the_truth_even_if_your_voice_shakes_poster-r94702277266b4e28acece46e4bc383b0_w2y_8byvr_512a good news person. Can we call ourselves evangelicals if we have no good news right now for the frightened, disenfranchised,  the poor, the widowed, the alien and the orphaned?

My tribe didn’t vote the way I voted in this past election. Friends and family voted for Trump, some of them quite happily. Here is the thing: many on the margins are now frightened by the prospect of a Trump presidency. If you call yourself an evangelical, embrace it. Evangelical  become what you are! Because it is good news time! How are you bringing good news to the high school senior who is afraid president Trump will deport her undocumented parents?  What good news do you have for Muslim immigrants who now find this nation less hospitable? How about victims of sexual assault traumatized by this entire election cycle? People of color who fear Trump’s support of stop and frisks? The working man who is afraid he  will lose healthcare for his family when Obamacare gets repealed? It is over. Trump won (had Clinton won we would still be in desperate need of good news). Now is the time to bear good news to those who are struggling.

Half the nation celebrates, the other half mourns, the margins fear. What good news do you have for them? If you voted for Trump or Clinton, or Johnson or Stein there is room at the table.  Good news, people good news. Bring good news!

Beyond Partisan Politics

I want to begin by saying something that should be uncontroversial: Jesus is not a Republican or a Democrat. Jesus is a radical departure from politics as usual. He doesn’t endorse a candidate. He is King of Kings and Lord of Lords. Fact-check it. And if Jesus is king, it calls into question every power, principality, party, political platform, or ideology. All of them fall short of the glory of God.

image source: Wikimedia Commons

In the first century, Jesus had several political options available to him, but he didn’t join the party politics of his day. He came onto his own, but didn’t side with the elites (the Sadducees), the middle-class (the Pharisees), the purists (Essenes) or the radicals (the zealots). He challenged the legitimacy of Herod and he tacitly critiqued the politics of empire (in N.T. Wright’s happy phrase, “If Jesus is Lord, Caesar is not”). He didn’t choose the lesser of two evils (or six evils?), he announced the game had been rigged and inaugurated a whole new way of being in the world (John 18:36-37, Mark 10:42-45 ). If we call Jesus our king, we need to follow his example in our own political engagement. Continue reading Beyond Partisan Politics

Jesus is My Partner: a book review

With the five patches of ‘red letters’ and its exploration of Jesus’ life, Matthew’s gospel is an apt manual for discipleship.  In Partnering with the Kingauthor John Hiigel takes us on a 31-day-tour of Matthew, exploring its implications for disciples. The book opens with an examination of the story about the feeding of the five thousand (Matt. 14:13:21). In that story, Jesus’ disciples were asked by Jesus to feed a crowd but had no resources to do so (or very little resources). Jesus takes whatever they had to give and he multiplies it and uses it, miraculously feeding the multitudes. This is what Hiigel calls ‘partnering with the King.’ Jesus holds the power because he is God and King, but we get to partner with him in bringing God’s kingdom to this earth.  Just like the disciples, we are asked to do what seems impossible, but as we learn to faithfully obey Jesus multiplies what we offer a. The nd uses it for his glory. The feeding of the five thousand is a personally meaningful image for my life and ministry and provides a great organizing motif for this book. 

Partnering with the King: Study the Gospel of Matthew & Become a Disciple of Jesus by John Hiigel

After the feeding of the five thousand,  the rest of the daily entries follow the book of Matthewin a  largely chronological fashion. As Hiigel walks through the text several themes emerge. Jesus’ authority is seen in his miracles, healing,  casting out of demons,  and his teaching.  His life is commended to us for our imitation, and we are challenged to put into practice his teaching.  Ultimately his entries explore what it means for us to participate with Christ and ‘partner with him’ in bringing about his Kingdom in its fulness. Disciples see the the kingdom Theses daily entries can each be read in 10-15 minutes and are fairly meaty.

 Hiigel teaches Biblical Studies at the University of Sioux Falls. Having received his  Ph.D. from Fuller, he’s also served as a pastor for decades and as a musician in Los Angeles.  His examination of Matthew blends together the world of scholarship, pastoral insights, and musicality.  While music is not a major theme, he utilizes several examples of his ‘musician days’ to help explicate the text.

This is not a scholarly book and so it does not explore every critical issue or fill in all the background of the first century  context. That doesn’t mean that Hiigel is not a good scholar or that this book does not rest on good scholarship. It just doesn’t explore every jot and tittle of the text.  I was occasionally disappointed when Hiigel did not fully exegete my pet passage. On the other hand Hiigel stays on task, exploring Matthew for what it tells us about discipleship. What he shares here is challenging and engaging.  For a devotional commentary on the book of Matthew, I think this is the best of its kind even if I happily recommend it, especially for personal study. I think that this is better than Tom Wright’s Matthew for Everybody and breaking it down into daily readings makes it a great way to soak in Matthew’s message for a month.

Personally I really appreciated that this book did not just tell us what Jesus said or what Jesus did but raised a challenge by asking,”in light of this passage, what should we do?”   Hiigel wants people to be hearers of the Word who then do what it says. I found myself prayerfully reading over passages and underlining a lot. Listen to his words regarding the parable of the sheep and the goats in Matthew 25: 31-46:

We are meeting surrogates for Jesus at every turn.  The grave danger is to be lulled to sleep by the ordinariness of life and miss the sacredness of the people around us and the reality of God’s unseen kingdom. Blessed is the servant whom Jesus finds doing what he commanded when he returns. Imagine hearing Jesus say in the end, “Well done good and faithful servant . . . Come,  you are blessed of my Father, and receive the inheritance that has been prepared for you from the beginning of time! (239)”

As someone who too often is lulled to sleep by the ordinariness of life  but really hungers to be used by God with my life and ministry, I found myself challenged anew in these pages. I give this book ★★★★★.

Thank you to Paraclete Press for providing me a copy of this book in exchange for my honest review.

In this review, I didn’t offer a detailed summary of most of what Hiigel says but am always happy to discuss particular passages from Matthew and what Hiigel says about them.

Community Theology of the Kingdom: a book review

The proclamation of Jesus was that ‘the Kingdom of God is at hand.” However a lot of ink has been spilled trying to explain what the ‘Kingdom of God’ actually is. The classical liberal position was that the Kingdom denoted God himself in his power. Others (like Walter Rauschenbush) implied that the Kingdom was embodied by righteous life and action. Liberation theologians and others  claim the Kingdom is a challenge to current social structures while theonomists and reconstructionists argue that the kingdom is a restoration of Israel’s law (21-23). The great Russian novelist Leo Tolstoy, understood the Kingdom of God as an idealist ethic which we ought to live out.  Emergent Christian definitions of the kingdom often denote a present reality without much of a future orientation. Certainly there are aspects of truth to all of these models but none does justice to the richness of the Biblical material and theological tradition.

The Kingdom of God edited by Christopher W. Morgan and Robert Peterson

Christopher W. Morgan and Robert A. Peterson have edited a book on the kingdom of God, which they’ve creatively titled,  The Kingdom of God. This book is part of their “Theology in Community” series (from Crossway) which gathers together a team of biblical scholars and theologians to reflect on particular themes. Their conviction is that theology is done best in teams. I have not read the other books in the series, so I cannot comment on how successfully they achieved their aim, but this book is exceptional for the depth, insights and cohesiveness. Each of the scholars in this book  affirm that ‘the kingdom’ implies ‘the reign’ of God and ‘the realm of God (his presence and sphere of influence). They also agree that the kingdom of God is both a present reality and a future hope (the already and the not yet). However they all bring their own unique insights from their fields of study (Old Testament, New Testament, Historical Theology, Systematic theology.  Theological ethics, etc).  The rich insights spill from one chapter to the next and force you to consider the meaning of the kingdom from several different angles.  The book begins with a short introduction from Morgan and Peterson which describes the theme and structure. Stephen Nichols explains the variegated understanding of the kingdom in Church history and in contemporary contexts (chapter one).  Bruce Waltke puts the Kingdom in the context of the Old Testament and the covenant (chapters 2-3). Robert Yarbrough examines the variety of references to the kingdom in the New Testament (chapters 4-5). After Waltke and Yarbrough have laid the biblical foundation, the subsequent chapters turn to theological matters. Clinton Arnold discusses how healing and exorcism in the New Testament demonstrates a ‘breaking in’ of the Kingdom into the present reality. However all miracles are transitory and point forward to a future fulfillment (where God’s in-breaking is the norm not the exception).  Gregg Allison relates the concept of church to kingdom and what it means for mission (particularly the ministry of reconciliation).  Gerald Bray explores eschatology and the Kingdom. The final chapter is by Anthony Bradley and explores the ethical implications of the Kingdom (orthopraxy). This book will enrich your understanding of what the Kingdom is and will further evangelical, scholarly discussion. It is a tribute to a book that upon finishing it, I found myself re-reading parts of it immediately. There is a lot here to reflect on and process. Stephen Nichols and Bruce Waltke’s chapters are particularly good (but there is not really a weak essay).  Whether you are wanting  to beef up your theological understanding of the Kingdom or gain some exegetical insights, this is worth reading. I give it five stars: ★★★★★ Thank you to Crossway publications for providing me a copy of this book in exchange for my honest review.

Back in Black: It’s Thursday But Friday’s Coming!

Black Friday is the high holy day of conspicuous consumption. Thanksgiving is supposed to be the day that we look toward God in gratitude for his provision. Instead we glut ourselves and whet our appetites for a day at the mall. It is the Friday after Thanksgiving when most retail stores go from being in ‘the red’ (owing) to ‘in the black’ (turning a profit). We awake from our tryptophan-induced slumbers to hunt for the best prices, the biggest and best Christmas gifts (some of which are for ourselves).  We will push carts through the crowd and will maneuver to get what we want. We will hunt for the gifts that say, “You are special and we love you” at the least personal cost to us. Nothing says I love you like a new blender for $14.99

In previous years I have abstained from Black Friday, at the very least avoiding big stores and shopping malls.  This year I am working at a hardware store and have set up the displays for tomorrow’s sale. I am complicit in the mass consumption.  Others will participate by going to the mall or big box stores because of the promise of the best prices (or best shot of getting the item you want).

I find the name ‘Black Friday’ ironic. There is another Friday we call Good where the sun disappeared from the sky, the ground shook and God died. We call that Good Friday because through such a death God opened up the way to new life for humanity. A day of buying and selling of goods, we call Black Friday and the name communicates more than the move from credits to the debits. Black Friday has left an indelible mark on our souls.

In Desiring the Kingdom (2009) James K.A. Smith explores how the ‘liturgy of the shopping mall’ both reflects what matters to us and shape what matters to us (93).  The telos of the mall is antithetical to the Kingdom of God and represents an alternative vision. Smith observes that the mall’s version of the Kingdom carries  an implicit notion of human brokenness (I’m broken, therefore I shop), a strange configuration of sociality (we size up people based on our own shopping habits), promises the hope of redemption through consumption (always something newer, better, shinier), and provides an unsustainable vision of human flourishing (96 ff).

Smith uses the mall as an example of a secular liturgy. His project  is to get us to pay attention to our practices of worship and the implications for Christian education (and formation). My question is, if Smith is right about the mall both reflecting what matters to us and shaping what matters to us, what does it say about us that we begin our Advent season every year with a day of mass-consumption? If our participation in Black Friday shapes us into good consumer capitalists, how are we being shaped as citizens of God’s Kingdom? What practices nourish us? Where can we find an alternative vision of the mall?

Black Friday has muddied our souls and still many of us will brave crowded parking lots and long lines tomorrow. No judgement. If you come into my store tomorrow, I will sell you a power tool you don’t need for someone who doesn’t really want it. I want you to know that consumerism is a lie which subverts the truth and dulls your senses. Shop if you must, but guard your heart.

Prayer for Ascension/Easter 7

Liturgically, this is the last Sunday of Easter before Pentecost. This past Thursday was the feast of the Ascension which commemorates the event described in Luke 24 and Acts 1 when Jesus was taken up into Heaven. The disciples were commanded to wait for the Holy Spirit, but the Ascension itself describes one of the central mysteries of the Christian faith. We proclaim that  God’s Kingdom is near, that it is at hand, that it is here. But are King is absent from the scene (present by the Spirit). We declare a kingdom but the nations see no King. This is the now-but-not-yet-ness of the Kingdom of God. To our risen and ascended Lord we pray:


Jesus we know that you drank the dregs of our humanity,

that you suffered heartbreak and loss,

You were rejected and abandoned by those you called your own,

We know that you know betrayal and that you bore

all the abuse we could throw at you.

We  trust in your resurrection and the power of new life you offer.


But when we look at our world and wonder. . .

Where are you when the single mom is evicted because she can’t make ends meet?

Where are you as warfare, abuse and sexual immorality destroys families?

Where are when we ourselves struggle? Feel abandoned? Feel alone?


We know your kingdom is here and we trust that you are at work–

interceding for us, preparing our place, reconciling the world to yourself.

But sometimes we still feel the dull ache of your absence on the earth.

Come Lord Jesus and restore all things!



Make us mindful of your presence with us by your Holy Spirit and let us rejoice at the hope of your coming again.


Come Lord Jesus!