What would Jesus do?
||The examples and perspective in this article deal primarily with the United States and do not represent a worldwide view of the subject. (February 2014)|
The phrase "What would Jesus do?" (often abbreviated to WWJD) became popular in the United States in the 1990s and as a personal motto for adherents of Evangelical Christianity who used the phrase as a reminder of their belief in a moral imperative to act in a manner that would demonstrate the love of Jesus through the actions of the adherents.
In popular consciousness, the acronym signifying the question—WWJD—is associated with a type of bracelet or wristband which became a popular accessory for members of Christian youth groups in the 1990s.
John Wesley in 1766 postulated the concept of Christian perfection, a moment in the life of a Christian at which the regeneration effectuated by the Holy Spirit results in a "perfection in love" which means that at least at that moment one is being motivated wholly by love of God and neighbor, with no taint of sin or ulterior motives in effect. While such Christian perfection is expressed in outward action, it is also the effect of grace. Indeed, Wesley could speak of sanctification by faith as an analogous doctrine to the more widely held belief in justification by faith. Because Christian perfection is also visible in outward good works and a rigorously moral lifestyle, adherents of the Holiness movement assumed that a perfectly moral lifestyle is a consequence (not the cause) of the state of grace and ultimate salvation.
Earlier appearances of the term, 1420s-1891
Charles Spurgeon, a well-known evangelical preacher in London, used the phrase "what would Jesus do" in quotation marks several times in a sermon he gave on June 28, 1891. In his sermon he cites the source of the phrase as a book written in Latin by Thomas à Kempis between 1418 and 1427, Imitatio Christi (The Imitation of Christ). It is possible that Sheldon was familiar with either Spurgeon or Thomas, or that he was independently inspired.
Charles Sheldon's 1896 book, In His Steps was subtitled "What Would Jesus Do?" Sheldon's novel grew out of a series of sermons he delivered in his Congregationalist church in Topeka, Kansas. Unlike the previous nuances mentioned above, Sheldon's theology was shaped by a commitment to Christian Socialism. The ethos of Sheldon's approach to the Christian life was expressed in this phrase "What Would Jesus Do", with Jesus being a moral example as well as a Saviour figure. Sheldon's ideas coalesced with those that formed into the Social Gospel espoused by Walter Rauschenbusch. Indeed, Rauschenbusch acknowledged that his Social Gospel owed its inspiration directly to Sheldon's novel, and Sheldon himself identified his own theology with the Social Gospel.
In this popular novel (it had been translated into 21 languages by 1935), Rev. Henry Maxwell encounters a homeless man who challenges him to take seriously the imitation of Christ. The homeless man has difficulty understanding why, in his view, so many Christians ignore the poor:
"I heard some people singing at a church prayer meeting the other night,
and I kept wondering as I sat on the steps outside just what they meant by it. It seems to me there's an awful lot of trouble in the world that somehow wouldn't exist if all the people who sing such songs went and lived them out. I suppose I don't understand. But what would Jesus do? Is that what you mean by following His steps? It seems to me sometimes as if the people in the big churches had good clothes and nice houses to live in, and money to spend for luxuries, and could go away on summer vacations and all that, while the people outside the churches, thousands of them, I mean, die in tenements, and walk the streets for jobs, and never have a piano or a picture in the house, and grow up in misery and drunkenness and sin."
- 'All for Jesus, all for Jesus,
- All my being's ransomed powers,
- All my thoughts, and all my doings,
- All my days, and all my hours.'
This leads to many of the novel's characters asking, "What would Jesus do?" when faced with decisions of some importance. This has the effect of making the characters embrace Christianity more seriously and to focus on what they see as its core — the life of Christ.
In 1993, Garrett W. Sheldon (great-grandson of the original author) and Deborah Morris published What Would Jesus Do? : a contemporary retelling of Charles M. Sheldon's classic In His Steps. Garrett Sheldon states that his updated version "is based on many actual events in the lives of believers."
A youth group leader in Holland, Michigan, named Janie Tinklenberg, began a grassroots movement to help the teenagers in her group remember the phrase; it spread nationwide in the 1990s among Christian youth, who wore bracelets bearing the initials W.W. J. D. Later, a sequel bracelet was generated with the initials "FROG," to provide an answer to "WWJD." FROG was an acronym for "Fully Rely On God."
In 2005, Garry Wills wrote "What Jesus Meant", in which he examined "What Would Jesus Really Do" (also a book review in Esquire Magazine).
In 2009, the phrase "WWJD" appeared in a scene in the movie: Madea Goes to Jail.
The expression has become a snowclone, sometimes for humorous effect. Examples: What Would Jesus Buy?, "What Would Lincoln Do?", What Would Brian Boitano Do?, "What Would Johnny Cash Do?", "What would Tintin do?", "What Would Wellstone Do?" and "What would Reagan do?". "Who would Jesus bomb?" is a common bumper sticker for advocates of peace. "What Would Sagan do?" is used by non-religious people.
"What Would Jesus Do" is also a comedy song by Australian comedy group The Axis of Awesome that points out that as people do not have supernatural powers, they are unable to do what Jesus would do, such as cure lepers. The gossip blog What Would Tyler Durden Do? is a reference to the phrase, replacing "Jesus" with the name of a character from the novel Fight Club (and the film adaptation).
South Park uses the bracelets in the episode "A Scause for Applause". In The Simpsons episode "Barting Over", Homer uses a bracelet that reads WWJD, but when Lisa points its meaning to him, he answers: "Jesus? I thought it was Geppetto."
Management and leadership
The term "What Would Jesus Do?" or "WWJD" is also perceived as a fundamental management and leadership principle given Jesus' methodology of going to the marketplace to preach and lead by example. In modern management principles, more academic and professional references are going to the gemba or Management by Walking Around.
- "WWJD What Would Jesus Do Bracelets". Mortal Journey. Retrieved 3 November 2013.
- Sermon no. 2210. Spurgeon.org Spurgeon, Charles. "The Agreement Of Walking By Faith". Spurgeon.org.
- Sheldon, C. (1896). In His Steps. First published by the Chicago Advance in serial form.
- Charles Monroe Sheldon/Central Congregational Church Collection, 1811-1984.
- Sheldon, C. (1896) In His Steps, p. 10
- Garrett W. Sheldon with Deborah Morris, What Would Jesus Do? : a contemporary retelling of Charles M. Sheldon's classic In His Steps (1993), p. iv.
- Salon.com Business | What would Jesus do - about copyright?
- What Would Jesus Do? - by Sandy Sheppard. Christianitytoday.com. Retrieved on 2012-10-18.
- A small book investigating Tintin as a role model for young people. http://microcosmpublishing.com/catalog/title/2796
- King del Rosario. "MBA Buzz: Pope Francis and the Rebuilding of the Catholic Culture". Retrieved 2013-06-11.