It isn’t often that a book about justice surprises me. I get a sense of the author’s basic political frame—collectivist, individualist, liberal, conservative, etc.—and generally know what to expect. But I read a recent book that disrupted my assumptions. Perhaps that is why it is important to read beyond the usual suspects. In this case, the author is a theologian and president of Moody Global Ministries. I’m not sure what I thought he’d have to say, but he managed to catch me here and there in ways I didn’t anticipate.
Part of what is so interesting about Paul Nyquist’s book is how earnest and unassuming it is. If I were writing such a volume, I think I would constantly be apologizing for myself or otherwise letting the reader know that I know that they will disagree with me about various things. Having read Is Justice Possible? I can say that I appreciated Nyquist’s method. He simply tries to discern what the Bible says and then straightforwardly offers conclusions where he thinks he can make them. The results don’t fit anyone’s pre-set agenda.
As an example of what I liked so much about Is Justice Possible?, let me point to Nyquist’s analysis of sin as a factor in justice. The obvious thing would be to discuss the sinful nature of human beings and how our sinful nature translates into disobedience, which may take the form of crime. But Nyquist takes his camera and swings it panoramically in a wide arc over human hearts. We see accusers and accused. We see judges and juries. We see reporters and audiences. And what does the camera discern with its lens? The camera records the democratic existence of sin. It is everywhere. Sometimes sin compels a man to commit a crime. But other times it operates so as to prevent careful discernment on the part of a police officer, a judge, or a witness. We may assert blame too quickly or associate guilt with a racial identity even if we are certain that we abhor racism. When I read such things, I sometimes have a scoffer’s attitude, but Nyquist helped me see it.
I think that part of what makes the book penetrating is the consistency of how it analyzes injustice. Injustice comes from our refusal to follow God, who is the ultimate source of justice, and his word, which speaks to his great concern that justice be done. Justice means that we have to carefully examine our own biases, which may be racial, sexual, ethnic, nationalistic, or otherwise tied to identities people have. In reviewing the laws and decisions which cut against biblical justice, Nyquist identifies Jim Crow laws, fugitive slave laws, Roe v. Wade, Obergefell v. Hodges, euthanasia laws, and immigrant deportation acts. For each, the author gives biblical reasons for his views. I get a little dizzy looking at the way Nyquist gathers his choices because I know there is more than enough to make heads explode all over the political spectrum. That is part of what is impressive about the book. Nyquist’s view is biblically informed and fresh. There are no sacred cows preventing him from applying his theological approach to justice.
Along similar lines, the author encourages voters to try and do justice “in the political arena.” His emphases fall on individual liberty (inclusive of religious liberty), the sanctity of life, incarceration rates, and the social safety net. Nyquist appeals to no typical political coalition. As I thought about it, I recalled the phrase “The Lamb’s Agenda,” which is invoked by Samuel Rodriguez. Nyquist offers something we might think of in that way.
In an age of social media, news and commentary that never stop, and a cacophony of conflict, we might be tempted to give up and check out. Possibly the best thing about Is Justice Possible? is that it inspires the reader to engage fundamental questions anew. The questions are too important to tune out. Christians who serve a just God should make the pursuit of justice part of the stewardship of their lives, and thus Nyquist’s book is worthy of a careful read.