Thursday, March 31, 2011


Joe Carter at First Things has an essay which includes the best summary of my discomfort with the WWJD trope I have read to date. The rest of the essay has much to recommend it as well. I like quoting Carter - partly because I often disagree with him, and it tells me I am liking the actual idea, not just repeating what pals of mine would say. (Though I suspect I would like him just fine in the flesh.) But also because he's not afraid to write bluntly and cleanly.
If he were walking the streets of America he would likely still be doing the same thing. But is this what we should be doing? Not necessarily. We are not Jesus; we are his disciples. Our mission is not his mission but the mission he assigns us. The question we should keep constantly before us is “What Would Jesus Want Me To Do?” But then WWJWMTD isn’t as easy to embroider on a bracelet or fit on a bumper sticker.

I have read longer expositions, but this captures it all, quite succinctly. Christ's mission and our mission are related, but not identical. We fall too easily into wondering "what would Jesus do with this poor wounded kitty trapped in a tree?" - into the mentality that says "This is a good thing. Jesus likes good things. Therefore Jesus would want me to do this." We can see it best, perhaps if we move the dial in the opposite direction that WWJD thinkers usually want to point us. What Would Jesus Say? Well, He might say "Depart from me you evildoers, I never knew you." Yet it still might be our part to say "As chair of the pastoral search committee, I would like to thank each of you for accepting this task." WWJD might not always be a soft answer.

I can make it a touch simpler, "What Would Jesus Have Me Do?" but either way I think the switch in focus is essential. I don't think it's a mere technicality, where youth pastors roll their eyes and say "you're right Madison, there were only eleven apostles at that point, according to some commentators who have a specific definition of apostle." It's the opposite. It is those who would refuse to make the distinction that are playing with technicalities, trying to make bricks with less straw. The two questions will often have the same answer. But sometimes, they will be profoundly opposed.

When you get into the habit of making this adjustment every time, of What Would Jesus Have Me Do instead of What Would Jesus Do, it gets easy to see through the word games that people play trying to pull a fast one on you. Who Would Jesus Bomb? What Would Jesus Cut? Once you know that it's a stupid question and must be reframed, it's not so hard to get to the real questions they are asking: What Would Jesus Say Is Too Much Injustice When You Have The Power To Stop It, or What Would Jesus Say The Government Should Provide?

Which is nowhere near as much fun to ask, because you don't get to kick people in the balls and feels self-righteous over that.


Unknown said...

You demonstrated how hard it is to make the distinction. As examples, you framed questions such as:

"What Would Jesus Say Is Too Much Injustice When You Have The Power To Stop It, or What Would Jesus Say The Government Should Provide?"

To me, these sound a lot like "What would Jesus do?" You are just changing the verb from "do" to "say."

What does Jesus want me (us) to do about injustice?

What kind of government does Jesus want us to create? What should it do or not do?

I agree that this distinction is NOT merely splitting hairs.

To complicate matters, the answer may well be different in different spheres. The answer for a poor man might be very different than that for a rich man. The answer for a church might be very different than the answer for a commercial corporation, or even a family or social group. One nation, tribe, ethnic group might find answers unique the themselves.

I suspect that different groups within the same sphere might also arrive at different, but correct, answers.

And, of course, who is to say which is ultimately right.

I would suggest, however, that before blasting the braceleted masses, we should give them some credit. WWJD, while falling far short, is a good place to start a discipleship journey. By understanding what Jesus himself might have done, it might at least give us a solid starting point for knowing what he would have us do.

Assistant Village Idiot said...

E - I agree it is a reasonable starting point. But Campolo, Sider, and Wallis have put it forward as something to teach complex cultural matters with.

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