Thursday, March 10, 2005

Newsletter: WIJD

On my bookshelf I have a dusty old volume of Charles Sheldon’s novel, "In His Steps." The book was written in 1896 by Sheldon for his youth group in Topeka, Kansas. The novel tells the story of a pastor who challenges his congregation to live for one year asking the question, "What would Jesus do?" The rest of the book outlines the transformed lives of the parishioners as they tackle the problems of poverty, economic exploitation, graft, and the like. The story epitomized the social gospel movement and its optimism in human efforts solving human problems.

The book is not great literature, but amazingly it continues to make an impact. Just a few years ago, the book spawned a line of merchandising. One found WWJD everywhere, emblazoned on bracelets, T-shirts, bumper stickers, etc. The question became a credo for an entire subculture of Christians. But the fad faded. No one any more seems interested in asking, "What would Jesus do?" Part of me is relieved.

Don’t get me wrong. I’m entirely in favor of promoting ethics based on the teachings of Jesus. The world would be a better place if more people patterned their lives after our Savior. However, the question itself is troublesome. "What would Jesus do?" is conditional. "Would" implies an "if" clause. "If Jesus was here, what would he do?" As Christians who live in the sunlight of Easter, we no longer can speak conditionally.

"Christ is risen. He is risen, indeed."

The resurrection refuses to allow Jesus to slip into the sands of time. Instead, we believe in his reality and his continued actions on our behalf. His teachings remain valid because his kingdom remains an actuality. Perhaps, with all respect to Rev. Sheldon, this Easter we should take on a new challenge. Because Jesus is alive, let us ask, "What is Jesus doing right now?" Let’s live the next year asking, "What is Jesus doing in our congregation, in our families, in our lives?"

Hat tip: The first time I encountered the question, "What is Jesus doing?" was in a sermon by Leonard Sweet.

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