Antiquarian Anabaptist

Apologetics from an Anabaptist perspective

WWJD is the Wrong Question

In His Steps, first published in 1897, is Charles Sheldon’s tale of the transformation of the fictional town of Raymond when people began to ask “What would Jesus do?”  Many of us have read it.  It sounds inspiring, doesn’t it?  The Bible is read, powerful prayers are offered up, good things happen.

However, when answers come to the question “What would Jesus do?” they do not come from the Bible, nor from the Holy Spirit in answer to prayer, but from the imagination  and reasoning of the people asking the question.

If we look a little closer, we find that the main concern of the books is that the liquor business, and big business in general, have created a social environment where people cannot live a Christian life.  It is suggested that part of the remedy would be to form co-operative businesses, rather than allow businesses to be run for the profit of the owners.  There is no hint that the greatest need of rich and poor alike is to recognize the evil in their own heart and repent of it.  The sin of society must first be addressed.

This book played a large part in popularizing what became known as the Social Gospel.  Walter Rauschenbusch was another very influential voice in the social gospel movement of the early 1900’s.  In his books, Rauschenbusch quotes Scripture and uses the language of evangelical Christianity.  Yet he does not believe in the divine inspiration of the whole Bible, leaving him free to select certain Scriptures as authoritative, and to reject others.  The Scriptures he does use are interpreted according to social gospel theology.

The kingdom of God includes all of humanity.  Men are not inherently sinful, but live in a sinful environment which hinders them from living as God would have them to live.  Sin is not committed against God alone, but since God resides in every human being, every sin against our fellow man is indirectly a sin against God.  Jesus is not the incarnate Son of God, but simply a man who attained to a new level of understanding and living the kingdom of God.

Rauschenbusch names six sins that caused the death of Jesus: religious bigotry; graft and political power; corruption of justice; mob spirit and mob action; militarism; and class contempt.  There is no mention of a resurrection.  The devil, hell and heaven exist only in a figurative sense.  All people are somewhere in the unending process of growing closer to God and becoming more like him.

Rauschenbusch considered the production and marketing of alcoholic beverages to be a great evil.  Even worse was the oppression of mankind by privately owned businesses operated for the profit of the owners.  He called these businesses unsaved organizations.  Collectively owned businesses, such as co-operatives or government-owned businesses are saved organizations.  This is the Social Gospel and it is indeed a strange gospel.

Another common name for the doctrine of Charles Sheldon and Walter Rauschenbusch is Christian Socialism.  This is socialism clothed in language that appealed to the masses of the day, the language of evangelical Christianity.  One may search their writings in vain for a clear statement of a belief in a transcendent, omnipotent, Creator.  They used the name of God freely, but evidently believed that God was only a useful myth.

It may sound quite pious to ask: “What Would Jesus Do?”  But it is the wrong question.  We do not need to struggle to find the right response by a process of rational reasoning, or by our imagination.  We have the Bible and the Holy Spirit to give us answers to that question.

Someone once said that a fanatic is a man who does what he believes God would do if He really understood the facts of the situation.  Saul of Tarsus was such a man.  He was certain that he was doing God a service by hunting down the followers of Jesus.  Then one day, on the road to Damascus, Jesus stopped him in his tracks.  Then Saul asked: “Lord, wilt thou have me to do?”  That is the right question.  We all need to ask that question, not to ourselves but to God.


One response to “WWJD is the Wrong Question

  1. Ben Ginther September 18, 2012 at 08:53

    Thank you brother. Well stated! Most of Christianity practiced in America today is based on imagination and reasoning, and very little is based on scripture. No wonder, then, that many who believe they are living for Jesus will hear, “I know not whence ye are; depart from me.”

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