I remember when the WWJD (What Would Jesus Do) craze hit in the mid 1990s. Everybody was wearing the bands, and even though they were the opposite of chic, I will admit I had a couple. But what always baffled me were the people that wore ten bands all the way up their forearm because they wanted people to know they were real tight with Jesus. Everyone else thought they looked like a rainbow colored totem pole. At the time when the WWJD concept started sweeping through American churches, it was a good thing. I believe people can benefit from having items they keep on them that serve as reminders of what and who they represent. I will have to say, however, from a personal perspective I rarely used the wristband as a blockade to keep me from being a bad person, and more times than not I was embarrassed to wear the bracelet because I thought someone might make fun of me. At that time in my life, I was much more concerned with being accepted by my peers than being affirmed by God.
Slowly, the WWJD wristbands got old and out-dated, but for those of us that are followers of Jesus, the question continues to permeate our thoughts and actions. What Would Jesus Do? I wonder if any of you ever ask that question when you are faced with ethical and moral dilemmas in life? It can be a very healthy question to ask, but it can also be a very dangerous question to ask. Now, some of you are ready to cry foul and give up on me as a Christian, but I want to encourage you to think seriously about this question. Allow me to highlight a few issues…
1.) YOU ARE LIMITED IN YOUR UNDERSTANDING AND YOU ARE ATTEMPTING TO ANSWER A QUESTION ABOUT A GOD WHO HAS UNLIMITED KNOWLEDGE.
I need to start with a disclaimer: There are certainly situations and circumstances where the life Jesus modeled on earth gives us a clear answer to the question we might be asking (i.e., Do we need to love our neighbor? Do we need to cheat on our spouse?, etc.). We have no problem answering those questions, but other times we are faced with difficult questions and no explicit answer from the life of Jesus or the Bible to provide us an answer. At this point, we are no longer asking What Would Jesus Do?, but What Do We Think Jesus Would Do? Two completely different questions. Now, Jesus knows the CORRECT answer to every question (if an answer even exists), but you, on the other hand, do not have the correct answer to every question. That would make you God. So, inevitably you are bound to distort the ethos of Jesus because you believe he would handle a situation exactly like you would handle it. At this point, it is necessary to make an important point…YOU AND JESUS ARE NOT GOING TO HAVE THE SAME ANSWER TO EVERY QUESTION. Let me say it another way.
If you and Jesus answer every question the same way in regards to politics, finances, life choices, etc., you are probably being influenced more by your own desires and aspirations than the desires and aspirations of Jesus.
Be very careful about trying to mold Jesus around your own selfish desires, and thus forcing him to think just like you. Read through the life and ministry of Jesus and note how many times Jesus befuddled the people he was around because they expected him to say or do a certain thing and he did something different.
You are limited in knowledge and understanding and Jesus is not…approach situations with this in mind.
2.) IT IS IMPOSSIBLE TO ANSWER A QUESTION ABOUT GOD WITHOUT DIVORCING YOURSELF FROM THE SURROUNDING CULTURE.
Culture is a powerful shaping element. I have made the statement before that culture does not have to define you, but it is going to shape you. I have spent the majority of my life in Mississippi, and it has shaped my personality and my thought pattern. It has shaped my vernacular and my dialect. If someone from the south goes to New York for vacation, it does not take much investigative work to figure out that person is not a native. Conversely, if I am walking down the street and someone bumps into me without saying, “Excuse me,” I know they are either a jerk or from the north (the two are mutually exclusive, so please, my northern brothers, do not take offense).
Because we are shaped by our surroundings, there is an element of our surroundings that factors into our understanding of Jesus. So, if you are from the south you most likely believe Jesus is a conservative that votes a certain way because you cannot imagine Jesus advocating a social party that is pro-choice (not understanding that there are people all across the board in all arenas). Take the Civil War as an example. When I was taking a class at Harding School of Theology recently, one of things I found fascinating was that religious leaders of both the South and the North thought God was fighting for them. I look back at that with disgust and ask myself how people in the South could ever think God would fight for a group of people that believed in the ownership of slaves and prejudice. Let’s be honest, even though I am not questioning their devotion to the Lord, I am saying there was financial and economical incentive for them maintaining slaves and oppressing certain people groups. Our surroundings affect how we think Jesus would handle situations.
If you think Jesus today would be waving an American flag, live in a gated neighborhood, be involved in an institutionalized church, take his kids to see Santa Claus, and travel all over the land participating in traveling team sports, maybe you are being more influenced by the culture around you than by the ethos of Jesus.
3.) IT IS IMPOSSIBLE TO READ THE BIBLE OBJECTIVELY
I grew up hearing this phrase (or some derivative of it) from men in the pulpit, “Do not just take what I say as fact…go home and read (the Bible) for yourself.” What a novel statement, but the problem is most people are going to take what the preacher says as truth. After all, that is why he is the preacher. He should be trusted not to deliver false doctrines. This never eliminates the authority of Scripture and personal study, but the reality is this…we are shaped religiously by our upbringing. I am in a fellowship, Churches of Christ, that holds dearly to many of its traditions. I am proud of my heritage, but we have our issues. As I struggled through the journey to develop my own faith, I noticed many of the things we hold as essential truths are muddled interpretations of Scripture at best and misguided interpretations at worst. I have known men and women that have honestly believed everyone outside of our fellowship needs to be saved from their misguided interpretations of Scripture. Others have made claims that they have not changed their mind about anything related to God in years. I believe strongly in some core doctrines found in Scripture, but I also understand when I believe I have all the interpretations nailed down, I make a claim that I am God. That’s not good. I know how sinful I am. I make a terrible god.
If Jesus would interpret the Bible exactly the same way you would, you are probably influenced more by your surroundings than your Savior.
On a macro level, the WWJD question is good. It keeps us focused and it allows our thoughts to be conditioned by the ways and teachings of Jesus. Be careful, however, not to fall into the trap of thinking Jesus would answer every question the way you think he would. Give the almighty, all powerful, omniscient God more credit than that. It is on the micro level that the WWJD question becomes problematic and even dangerous. As you journey through life, respond to situations with humility and a level of openness, accepting differing thought patterns and opinions. I think Solomon issues a statement that would be wise for us to grasp, “God is in heaven and you are on earth” (Ecc. 5:2). You are not God. You do not have all the answers. You are not omniscient. Pray to God for wisdom and understanding, but be cognizant of the reality that even the most knowledgable people still have their convictions undergirded by a layer of subjectivity.
I love you all. To God be the glory forever. Amen!
Great job Mathew
[…] I recently finished a research paper for a graduate school class entitled, “The Social Gospel: A Liberal Agenda or a Necessary Component?” If you are not familiar with the term “social gospel,” give me a few lines and I will explain it to you. The term has been around for a long time, but it really made waves (at least in Churches of Christ) around the period of the 1950s-1970s. It was during this period many leaders and preachers began tabbing any person who dabbled in “social issues” as being guilty of adhering to a “social gospel.” So, most would define the “social gospel” in a negative light, with the term meaning, in essence, a person who elevates the saving of the community far above the saving of the individual. In other words, the gospel (or good news about the saving power of Jesus) is about restoring the community and not restoring lives. I believe, however, based on my research, the conclusion drawn by most of these leaders was very narrow-minded. It was not that individuals concerned with “social issues” were unconcerned with salvation issues, but they were concerned with balance. These individuals did not believe a follower of Jesus could divorce themselves from the surrounding community. Unfortunately, however, the mantra of this era prevailed over an objective approach to applying Scripture… […]
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