Book ReviewsReviews

Book Review: The Grand Paradox (Ken Wytsma)

In The Grand Paradox, aptly subtitled “The Messiness of Life, the Mystery of God and the Necessity of Faith,” Ken Wytsma discusses the struggles that all of us endure as we journey through life. As the author repeats many times throughout his work, “life is messy and God is mysterious” and trust in God is a necessity. No matter how strange or complicated life becomes, we will persevere as long as we place God at the center of our lives.

The Grand Paradox contains sixteen relatively short chapters addressing virtually every major theme of Christian theology including paradox, justice, love, faith, happiness, humility, vocation, mission, doubt, among others. While there are too many chapters to provide a chapter-by-chapter summary, I would like to highlight a few of my favorite parts for this review.

Justice is an important topic for Wytsma (his first book is on that very issue). Many Christians critique other Christians for focusing too much on social justice issues, but as Wytsma notes the Greek New Testament only has one word to cover both “righteousness” and “justice,” meaning they are one and the same.1 In order to have righteousness, there must be justice. A Christian cannot focus too much on justice at the expense of righteousness because the two are inseparable.

“We don’t stray away from good doctrine or truth by focusing on justice and compassion for those in the margins – rather, we find Jesus and truth in the margins.”2

In Chapter Eight, titled “Personal Calling and Mission,” Wytsma points out that we often claim God to justify what we say our calling is, thus writing “God into our story” instead of allowing God to write “us into His.”3 Our ego always builds a wall between God and us. Wytsma discusses how we tend to chase success, then claim it is what God wants for us instead of stepping outside of our own desires to see how we can advance God’s agenda and not just ours.

Chapter Nine is all about love and our lack thereof. Far too often, according to Wytsma, Christians trade love for rules. When we focus too much on rules and controlling behavior, we sometimes lose sight of loving God and our neighbor. Most of us are fully aware of what we shouldn’t be doing, but forget the importance of service, charity, and love, the things we should be doing.

“For those who truly care about love and justice, one of the most disappointing experiences in religion is when it becomes a man-made system of conformity and standardization that we use to judge each other.”4

These are but a few of the many great points made in The Grand Paradox. Wytsma’s strength is his ability to make his point about these very important and complex topics succinctly. This is no easy task. Wytsma addresses each topic with good, easy-to-understand examples and without becoming repetitive or too verbose (those who have had the pleasure of reading Martin Luther know what I’m talking about here). This book will appeal to  a diverse Christian audience regardless of denomination. As an aspiring academic, I spend a great deal of time reading complex material so it was a breath of fresh air to sit down and read this inspiring and straightforward book. 

Ken Wytsma is the president of Kilns College and pastor of Antioch Church (non-denominational) in Bend, Oregon. He is also the author of Pursuing Justice: The Call to Live and Die for Better Things.

(I received a copy of this book from the publisher in exchange for an honest review.)

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Chris Smith

Chris Smith

Chris is currently employed as a library specialist for Middle Eastern language materials at Duke University. Prior to that he spent two years as a teaching assistant and Ph.D. student in Islamic Studies at UNC-Chapel Hill. He holds a M.A. in Religion from Wake Forest and a B.A. in Global Studies and Religious Studies from UNC-Chapel Hill. Chris has two daughters and currently resides in Chapel Hill, NC.

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