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The Justice Conference, according to my Moleskine

I’d hoped to live-tweet The Justice Conference in Portland last weekend with quotes from speakers throughout the two days, but spotty phone coverage served to sort of nix that plan. I did take notes in my trusty Moleskine, however, so belatedly, and in lieu of a barrage of tweets all day Friday and Saturday, here are some quotes (admittedly paraphrased at times) from the different speakers, an all-around top notch bunch.

This could get longer than usual, so I’ll omit notes from breakout sessions, and just include those from the main sessions I attended: Ken Wytsma, Miroslav Volf, Walter Brueggemann, Richard Twiss, John Perkins, Stephan Bauman and Francis Chan. For some speakers (Rick McKinley, Maddy DeLone, Shane Claiborne & Ben Cohen), I just listened without taking notes, and I missed hearing Rachel Lloyd while meeting a friend for coffee, so nothing from her either.

Please feel free to weigh in with any thoughts on what different speakers had to say. It’s a lot of good stuff, some of which could be controversial, but all of it is worth pondering, I think. Also, I want to mention that all the photos in this post are from The Justice Conference’s Friday and Saturday albums on Facebook.

1. KEN WYTSMA – founder of The Justice Conference, pastor of Antioch Church, and president of Kilns College.

– You are 4,000 people who believe it’s better to give than receive.
– It’s a bit crazy to be spending a weekend being told to die to self.
– We don’t worship the word justice, but it’s a helpful, important word
– Truth is what IS; justice is what OUGHT TO BE; both are uncompromising.
– Justice is a theological necessity – why do we have such a hard time with it?
– The way we’ve come to understand the biblical word “righteousness” – purity, morality, personal piety.
– Those who thought they were okay because they’ve majored on purity, morality and personal piety, but have neglected the REAL MAJORS are NOT righteous, according to the Bible.
– When you push against the powers-that-be, they push back – “blessed are those who are persecuted for righteousness’ [justice’s] sake.”
– “The just will live by faith.”
– Where am I missing the story because of my presuppositions?
– Many of us grew up hearing the David story in the Bible as a morality story; it’s a JUSTICE story.
– Bonhoeffer: “Being a Christian is less about avoiding sin than about courageously and actively doing God’s will.”
– Justice is deep, broad, necessary – we need a humble posture.
– Justice both surfaces the need for, and is made complete by, grace.

2. MIROSLAV VOLF – a theology professor at Yale, director of the Center for Faith and Culture, and the author of books like A Public Faith (which I plan to blog about soon).

– In the story of Job, how is it that one can do justice, but then experience injustice? Who was unjust?
– Job discovers God as an incomprehensible One.
– We need justice, but we need more: we need a God of mercy and gratuity, who can hold us when the world has abandoned us, or has turned against us.
– Topic tonight: respect & honor of others.
– We live in an inter-connected, inter-related world – if religions are violent, what are we to do about it?
– Is violence the bastardization of religion? (Crusades, Jihad, etc.)
– Authentic Christian faith indeed serves others, but we have seen that violence has been done in the name of Christianity.
– “Honor everyone.” (I Peter 2:17)
– Honor is even stronger than respect.
– Honor. Period. Not conditional on how you’re treated.
– It’s easy to internalize the violence done to us.
– Most of us want to be more than tolerated, though in some places, mere toleration would be an improvement.
– Christians are called to more than tolerance – honor and respect those made in the image of God.
– Respect others’ integrity and help others develop their potential, even if they may end up becoming your enemy.
– Speaking the truth is also part of honoring – and being willing to hear the truth from the other.
– Honor without conditions – don’t just tolerate, but honor by speaking the truth in love.
– The reach of God’s love is the scope of our respect.
– Everyone who loves separates the doer from the deed.
– Can we respect not just the person, but even the opinions, conclusions or convictions or someone with whom we disagree?
– In other faiths, can we respect not just the adherence of other faiths, but even in some sense the faiths themselves? Can we find in them something that may be true, despite our deep differences?

3. WALTER BRUEGGEMANN – renowned Old Testament scholar and author of about a million books and articles, including Journey to the Common Good (my thoughts on it here). He was interviewed on stage by World Relief’s Don Golden.

– Turning the world upside down is what I sense among us.
– Hosea 2 has a lot to teach us about what justice is.
– Five words that describe fidelity and risky/costly relationship: steadfast love, righteousness, justice, mercy and compassion.
– All five should characterize our relationship with God, and we know they are how he relates to us – when they’re in place, we experience shalom, or wholeness.
– Baal is a false god representing bad religion, but also represents bad politics and bad economics.
– Steadfast love: tenacity to stick with it, no matter what.
– Righteousness: has to do with shalom of the community.
– Justice: everything necessary for good living.
– Compassion: being with others in their hardship.
– Mercy: complete self-giving.
– These five words provide a kaleidoscope of fidelity, which touches religion, economics and politics.
– Everything depends on loyalty to God and neighbors.
– Bad religion/economics/politics says loyalty to God and neighbor isn’t really necessary – the biblical prophets called that a lie.
– “Go tell John” – that everywhere Jesus goes, the world is changed and justice is done – that’s what happens when fidelity in relationship takes root.
– “Justice and righteousness” is a key slogan of the prophets.
– The coming of the Kingdom is about relationships with all kinds of economic, political and social ramifications.
– The staying power of justice requires that our guts are stirred, realizing this isn’t right, it can’t be sustained, and it must be changed.
– Television ads are designed to make us numb because numb people are compliant consumers.
– In Hosea, we see God held nothing back in relationship and we see how scandalous it is that he loves us.
– We sometimes understand righteousness as avoiding messes – but we need to be there.
– Jesus intentionally and publicly chose his natural companionship among those disinherited by the power structure – justice requires casting our lot with them.
– Walk and talk are both essential – justice walkers need justice talkers, but walking is most important.
– “Those who wait on the Lord” (Isaiah 40:31) – promises us certain things, but we can see that those who DON’T wait on the Lord can’t expect these things.
– Is there one program or party that can best serve the cause of justice? No.
– Go in the mode you can (whether through the state, private sector, nonprofit, etc.) and do the most you can for the neighborhood – injustice is rampant and we need all kinds of approaches to do justice.
– The vulnerable need to be on the screen of theologians, economists and politicians.
– Eucharist (holy communion) is the pivot point of God’s generosity to his people – God gives God’s self, along with mandate to give yourself away for the neighborhood.
– When you give yourself away you get yourself back, enhanced. It’s a miracle, but it’s the truth.

4. RICHARD TWISS – president of Wiconi International and author of One Church, Many Tribes (my thoughts here).

– As Native Christians, “We’re trying to rescue theology from the cowboys.”
– God brings life through the soil, in community and relational context.
– To the victor goes the spoils of re-writing history.
– Europeans believed land was worthless if not developed.
– Doctrine of discovery: if inhabitants didn’t belong to a recognized kingdom or nation, Europeans  decided they could put a cross on it, claim it and establish it as their own.
– The Bible became an instrument of injustice, instead of a message of freedom and liberation.
– “Kill the Indian, save the man” – boarding schools were established to strip children of their “Indian problem.”
– God put Indians here to be stewards of the land, keepers of the land, who were willing to share – but Europeans took it and used it how we wanted, because we don’t even know they’re here.
– How can non-Natives join hands with the Native people, believing we need each other?
– When was the last time you read a theology book by a Native person or heard a Native speaker at a conference (other than me)? Do you believe Native people are equal members of the church?
– We’re establishing the North American Institute for Indigenous Theological Studies (NAIITS) in conjunction with George Fox Evangelical Seminary to train Native pastors and leaders.
– My prayer is that you’d no longer see Native people as the mission field, but as co-equal partners in pursuing shalom together.

5. JOHN PERKINS – was a leader in the civil rights movement, is the grandfather of Christian community development, and has been a big hero of mine (evidenced here and here, for example). He was interviewed on stage by Dr. Paul Louis Metzger.

– The gospel itself is an explanation of God’s justice – the good news that redemption has been worked out.
– To have a gospel without justice is to have no gospel at all.
– The basis for justice starts with Creation and Psalm 24.
– It’s a big theological problem when we leave justice out of it.
– Our language too often contributes to racism & bigotry – we’ve got to learn a new language and a new way to sing songs.
– You folks are part of the possibility of revival in our day.
– Discipleship is an urgent social issue – needs to happen among neglected urban people.
– It’s difficult for those who’ve benefited from colonization to identify with the poor and vulnerable (referring to the importance of listening to and learning from Richard Twiss and other Native Americans).
– What is grace? God taking the initiative to make us his workmanship.
– Grace is taking all the redemptive biblical thought and bringing it all together.
– Tremendous discipleship problem: helping people understand the gospel and the need to plant churches where real discipleship will take place.
– Church planting and finding/joining with existing churches are both worth pursuing.
– Discipleship happens when you’re near people and able to nurture them.

6. STEPHAN BAUMAN – president of World Relief and quite the poet. I like him a lot, but during this session I didn’t take as many notes as I should have. Here’s the little I have of his interview with Lynne Hybels.

– Injustice wears skin; it’s personal.
– We so easily forget injustice is embodied in human flesh.
– Miroslav Volf: “The demands of justice and the extravagance of love meet on a wooden tree.”
– In reference to one of his poems about those he has met in the Congo: a lament is a consolation and a protest against suffering.
– Flannery O’Connor: “The truth doesn’t change according to our ability to stomach it.”

7. FRANCIS CHAN – former pastor in southern California and author of Crazy Love and Forgotten God. I copied some of these quotes/concepts from Katie‘s notes, as my brain was too fried by that point to take any more notes of my own.

– I said a lot of stuff, and people challenged me on it, so I was quiet for a while. I’m done being quiet.
– True religion, according to James, is to care for orphans and widows.
Some parts of the Bible are hard to understand, but a lot of it is straightforward – we just don’t want to live that way.
A lot of people in our churches live lives that don’t make sense biblically.
Do we get this? Our life is so brief, then comes forever.
Get rid of stuff, and pursue justice.
– Jesus will come in all his glory and will gather all the nations before him – live in light of that.

Which of these thoughts jumped out at you? If you were at the conference, what were your big take-aways?

[Photo credits: The Justice Conference via Facebook]


  1. I loved the Justice Conference. I missed the morning sessions due to not feeling well but enjoyed everything I was able to go to. I went to see what it was all about and came out finding things within myself that are broken and need to be fixed. Loved listening to Rachel. Wish I would have taken some kleenex. I went to get her book and have her sign it but she ran out 3 people before me. I will be ordering her book though. Thanks for the notes.

  2. So Glad that you were there with Katie and Elise,

    The conference speakers+topics are an AMAZING array (the combination of wisdom, experience and conviction shared by brothers and sisters across the globe and spectrum is inspirational and convicting. Many great quotes in there!)

    Keep sharing Tim, your heart and skills are helping in showing a better way is possible!

  3. Richard Twiss seems to be agreeing with what some prominent African theologians have been saying about missions and evangelism in Africa.

    “When was the last time you read a theology book by a Native person or heard a Native speaker at a conference (other than me)? Do you believe Native people are equal members of the church?”

    There needs to be recognition of the fertile ground God has laid in African culture and the wealth of experience that can be mined by followers of Christ across the world. Kwame Bediako. John S. Mbiti and Lamin Sanneh have written and discussed this significantly and so have numerous other brothers and sisters.

    The linguistic, tribal, philosophical and sociological aspects of traditional African life and post-colonial culture heavily influence how contemporary believers live, work, think and act. Even in cases where the ‘modern’ Africans have been completely immersed in Western culture both inside and outside the church.

    The positive and negative influences of colonialism have shaped ALL African generations up to the present. Forceful importation of Western Christian hegemony must stop among brothers and sisters if we truly say we are co-heirs TOGETHER and followers in unity as members of the same body of Christ.

    This is especially true for the millions of followers of Christ investing directly and indirectly in Christian and para-Christian missions, church-planting, evangelism, education, micro-finance and fair trade development across the African continent.

    However, it is not a solely western or missionary problem. Blame must also be laid on Christians in Africa heavily consuming some non-Biblical aspects of western Christian sub-culture. Many times consuming without second thought to what is truthful and faithful to scripture and what is not profitable at all.

    The “hip” young churches, Christian schools, charity organizations and businesses being planted in metropolitan cities like Nairobi and Accra will do harm and may fail if they also ignore the landmines and focus on pomp, marketing and charisma for the primary goal of having a mega-church, wealth, political clout and popularity or global fame/connections:an “inter-national ministry”.

    John Perkins says:
    “It’s difficult for those who’ve benefited from colonization to identify with the poor and vulnerable (referring to the importance of listening to and learning from Richard Twiss and other Native Americans).”
    “- Grace is taking all the redemptive biblical thought and bringing it all together.”

    Every once in a while we must read, listen, talk to and visit (or live) with fellow Christians who are in a context that is different from ours. The diversity in the body of Christ is a rich tapestry to learn from and makes the whole fellowship stronger and more cognizant of the universal and global nature of God.
    This is the only way to be what Twiss calls, “co-equal partners in pursuing shalom together.”

    Tim, one day when you and I are reading and discussing through a multiple-year book list together, these will be my initial suggestions for Christianity, Christian History and Theology in Africa.

    Christianity in Africa: The renewal of a non-Western Religion
    Theology and Identity: The Impact of Culture Upon Christian Thought in the Second Century and in Modern Africa
    Jesus in Africa
    Jesus And The Gospel In Africa: History And Experience

    Bible and Theology in African Christianity
    Introduction to African Religion
    African Religions and Philosophy
    New Testament Eschatology in African Background
    The Prayers of African Religion
    Concepts of God in Africa

    Whose religion is Christianity?: The Gospel beyond the West

    How Africa shaped the Christian Mind: Rediscovering the African Seedbed of Western Christianity

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  6. tjh

    Barnabas, let’s talk about Africa, Christianity and much more very soon!

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