What would Jesus do?

What would Jesus do?


A friend pointed out that the question is incredibly important, even if it’s seen as passe.

I’d go so far as to say it might be the most important question.

And yet… Can you ask it outloud?  Can you ask it with a straight face?  Can you ask it with out shuddering and feeling like the worst kind of cheese?  (Which might be cheddar.)

I can’t.

Perhaps I’m rationalizing here, but I want to say that I’m not ashamed of my faith or Jesus.   And as my friends observation,  implies, I’m not alone in this aversion to the question.

Satan is smart.  This would be terrifying if it weren’t for the fact that God’s a gazillion times smarter.

There’s a brilliance in how Satan worked all this out.   He recognized that there was a powerful question: What would Jesus do?  And he did his best to castrate it.

He began with the people who popularized the question.  He turned it into an omnipresent slogan.  We saw it everywhere.  He oversaturated the world with it; on books, C.D.’s, bracelets, billboards, necklaces, notebooks, pencils, stuffed animals…

This first step did two things: Firstly, it triggered all the defenses we normally employ against marketing that has reached the saturation point.  We naturally just filter things out that we see over and over again.  Did you ever notice how you stop noticing strong smells when you’ve been around them long enough?  It’s like that.  You’re so close to it you don’t see it anymore.

Perhaps more damagingly, people made profits, tremendous profits,  off of those four little letters.  It called thier motivation into question.

And then there are the people who asked it.   Rightly or wrongly, a perception popped up about the sort-of people who regularly asked this question.  (Like many stereotypes, there probably is a root of truth in this perception. )

This perception is that WWJD became WWMSLPJD: What would my silly little preconcieved Jesus do?

People began with a rigid, innacurate, tiny picture of who Jesus was.  And they basically used the question to reaffirm the things they wanted to believe.   The marketing didn’t help.  It allowed this to become a fashion show.  It created a possibility to be pharisitic, to show off our holiness with wristbands and t-shirt, rather than internalize our holiness.

And now, the question, “What Would Jesus Do?” Doesn’t actually mean “What Would Jesus do?”  Grabbing on to the letters “WWJD” means aligning oneself with this whole history of a certain group who answered that question in a quite specific way, which was arguably not the way that Jesus himself would have answered it.

It’s a bit like the whole “Christian” thing.  People who reject the label generally recognize that it doesn’t matter what the dictionary says, in this case.   They grab terms like Christ-follower, because the term “Christian” has picked up this whole connotation as a result of the history of the people who chose this term.

So there’s a disconnect between what a word (or question) should mean and what a word (or question) does mean.  “WWJD” began it’s life like the term “Christian”.   They had these meanings, based merely on what made them up.

It’s a bit like a person: when we’re born, all we really are is the things that make us up.  (Genetics, soul, call it what you want.)

As these words begin to have an independent life, things happen to them.  They gather a reputation, they are changed.  Just like a growing person, who might choose to hang out with drug users or heroes, who might choose to live healthily or live destructively.

Of course, we should never give up on people.  But I think it’s a valid question: At what point do we give up on redeeming words and phrases?  The perversion of the question “WWJD” confronts us with this decision.  And that’s a sad thing.


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The stories that speak to our soul begin at a home where things are good. Cinderella is happy with her father. The three little pigs have grown up and are ready to move on. Bilbo Baggins knows his shire. Adam and Eve walk with God in the garden. My story isn’t much different. There was a time and a place where it was so good. There was a community for me. And there was joy. We were filled with a sincere desire to do what God wanted us to do. We possessed explanations and understandings that went a certain distance. We offered security and tradition and laughter. For a lot of years, that was enough. I have this sense that it was also necessary. I have this surety, now, that it certainly wasn’t everything. There were some things that became increasingly problematic as time went by. There was a desire to package things up so very neatly. Sunday morning services were efficient and strategic. Responses to differences of opinion were premeditated. Formula began to feel more important than being real. A real desire for everybody to be one of us, but also a real sense that there is an us, and there is a them. They carried a regret that it has to be this way, but deeper than this regret was a surety that this is how it is. I began to recognize that there was a cost of admission to that group. There were people who sat at the door, collecting it. Those people wished they didn’t have to. But I guess they felt like they did have to. They let some people in, and they left others out. There was a provisional membership. My friends did possess a desire to accommodate people that are different… But it would be best for everyone concerned if they were only a little bit different. I did make many steps forward in this place. Before I went there, there were lies that I believed. Some of the things that I learned there, I still hold on to. But that place is not my home anymore. Those people are not my community anymore. There were times it was hard. I am engaged in a different community now. And I am working hard at finding a place in many different places now, embracing many different kind of families. I don’t always get it right. I am trying and I am learning and I am moving foreward. I have this sense that I am not alone in these experiences. I believe that we are tribe and we are growing. We are pilgrims, looking for a new holy land. Perhaps we won’t settle on the same spot of land. But if you’ve read this far, I am thinking that we are probably headed in the same general direction. I have begun this blog to talk about where my journey is taking me. In every space, we find people who help us along. And maybe we can get to know each other, here. We embrace ideas that provide a structure for the things we believe, and perhaps we can share these too. Maybe we can form a group, a tribe, a community, if we can figure out a way to work through the shadow of these kinds of groups, if we can bigger than the us-and-them ideas that have caused so much trouble in the past. As important as they are, I think the very nature of online interactions will lend itself to something equally powerful. I am stumbling onto these practices that my grandfathers and great grandfathers in the faith engaged in. I am learning about these attitudes and intuitions are so different than the kinds of things we call doctrine today. I don’t know about you, but I am running out of patience, and even interest, in conversations about doctrine. I hope that maybe you’ll share a little something about where your journey is taking you, and maybe our common joys and challenges might help each other along, and we might lift each other up. Thanks for doing this journey with me.

4 thoughts on “What would Jesus do?”

  1. Sorry, brothers, but all this discussion and articulation of apprehensions is in effect a barking up the wrong tree. I must disagree on two points. First, the question is NOT incredibly important. Second, it is not passé. It is simply not a real question. It’s not a question that can have an answer, because it betrays a deeper and more schizoid form of christianosis, the malady of being christianised but not united to Christ. Very serious an implication, don’t you think?

    I am going to skirt past all the ruminations that form the bulk of your post, and hit the nail on the head, really hard. (This is not to devalue what you wrote. Considered in themselves some of the things you wrote were well-said and good observations of this or that, just not relevant to what should be the topic of your post.)

    You can stop reading now, if you like, as what I am about to comment is nothing new. I’ve said it and written it many times in my own blog and in comments all over the Christianide blogosphere.

    WWJD — What would Jesus do? — is not a question that can be asked, only one that can be axed. It’s like asking what Jesus would have done with the rest of His earthly life, if He hadn’t been crucified or, even more silly, what He would have done on earth had He not ascended to the Father. That’s like asking what would a man do if he could have a baby. A question doesn’t earn the distinction of having meaning or deserving an answer, unless it is asking something about what is. What could be, what might be, what should be, all that is the stuff of fantasy. It’s by wasting their time and efforts on fantasies of this ilk that many evangelical Christians find their churches drifting farther and farther from the Truth, despite their historic formularies. “It’s not hearing the commandments, but keeping them,” that matters, that makes the essential difference between the follower of Jesus and the follower of religion. One follows Someone who is confessedly still Alive and Present. The other follows someone who has been written up and has now entered the realm of a historical personage that can be speculated about. Do you see my point?

    To put the reality in the same frame of reference as the fantasy, we would have to ask, “What DOES Jesus do?” and in fact that is what I do ask myself and others, every day, over and over again. How many times must I say this? “Jesus Christ is alive, and He is still the most active Person in the history of the world.” No one and nothing can hold a candle to Jesus: He is the Light of the world, and stranger than our gut will let us believe, by His own word, He has said of us, “You are the Light of the world.” What do you think He means by that? No, no, listen carefully, I didn’t ask, What do you think He meant by that, but what do you think He means by that? Jesus is not just in the past and in heaven. Unfortunately for us lazy bones, He’s here in the cemetery called earth and speaking to the bones as holy prophet Ezekiel spoke in a type, “Put on flesh!” What’s even worse for us, He starts with that part of the cemetery called “the Church.” And what do we do? We lie there asking each other “What would Jesus do?” when He’s come right among us calling out as He did once to Lazarus and does now every day to each of us, “Come forth!” and as He did through an earlier Son of Man, “Dry bones, hear the word of YHWH. The Lord YHWH says this to these bones: I am now going to make the breath, ha-ruach, the spirit, enter you, and you will live…”
    “What would Jesus do?” gives the lie to the resurrection of the Lord, on the basis that since He ascended and is no longer among us in His earthly body, we can talk about Him as though He were absent. It seems that more Christians believe the Lord is absent than those who believe He is present. Perhaps it’s not their fault, perhaps they’re just being humble and meek, afraid of offending the Lord, or someone, if they were too perky, and had the gall to think, speak, act and live as though what Jesus said about them were really true, “You are the salt of the earth,” and “You are the light of the world.” Heaven forbid! Christ was talking about the saints! Now, where were we, oh yes, I was just asking myself, “What would Jesus do?”


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