Is “What Would Jesus Do” the Way to Live?

~~For the longest time, perhaps since the days of Charles Sheldon’s classic book “In His Steps,” the phrase “what would Jesus do?” has been a code of ethics for millions of believers. Unbeknownst to most of these believers, however, “what would Jesus do?” is actually a bad ethical model.One of my greatest fears for Christians today is that they are so gullible. If something sounds spiritual, then thousands upon thousands of believers will immediately accept it. Anyone who questions it will quickly be condemned as unspiritual. For example, if someone says they don’t like the church growth movement, they will be accused of an, “us four and no more” policy. If someone is opposed to the social gospel, they will be accused of not caring for shoeless children in Africa. If someone doesn’t believe that God is giving direct messages to believers around the world, they will be accused of rejecting the third person of the Trinity. So, having experience with each of these, I know that some people will reject outright my rejection of the “what would Jesus do?” code of conduct.But, should we do what Jesus would do? Can we do what Jesus would do? Do we know what Jesus would do? Are we instructed to do what Jesus would do?Even before twitter we had what I call “twitter theology.” Twitter theology is a spiritual statement that is easy to post and repost, to like and to share, and to put into sound bites and onto the church marquise. Most of this twitter theology needs to be thoroughly questioned. In fact, we should question twitter theology as much as–if not more than–the sermons we hear, the Christian books we read, and the contemporary Christian music we listen to. “What would Jesus do?” is pre-twitter era twitter theology, and I want to question it.For at least two reasons, I do not think that Jesus can be the criterion for Christian living.JESUS LIVED UNDER THE LAWWhat would Jesus do for breakfast? Biblically, the only time that we see him eating breakfast, He is eating fish. Personally, I’m not too eager to do what Jesus would do for breakfast. Though we only have one incident in the Scripture in which Jesus is actually eating breakfast, we know that Jesus would not have bacon for breakfast.  Sausage and biscuits are also out.What would Jesus do for lunch? I enjoy going down to my favorite burger joint and having a cheeseburger. Jesus, however, kept kosher. Not only would He not eat a cheeseburger, He likely would not even choose to dine at the burger joint. No doubt, for the same reasons, my Tex-Mex supper would not be what Jesus would do either.So I say, “I would do what Jesus would do,” but, I wouldn’t do it at breakfast, lunch, or dinner. What about on the Sabbath? A typical Sabbath day will find me mowing the lawn, doing some chores around the house, and often running about town to complete some errands. Maybe I would gather the family into the car to go on a picnic, or a shopping venture, or a movie, play, or concert. For those under the law, all of these are prohibited. So, I don’t do what Jesus would do at mealtime, nor on the Sabbath.Of course, as a modern Christian, I would find ways to explain that Jesus, if He were living today, would behave differently than He actually behaved in the day in which He lived. As is not uncommon, I would likely be very selective in my Biblical interpretation so that, conveniently, Jesus ends up behaving the way I want him to behave.If Jesus was here today, would He –• Say, “The poor you have with you always.”• Make the entire focus of his ministry to be the nation of Israel?• Overturn the sales booth in the church foyer, snapping a whip on the backs of the moneychangers?• Tell us to shake the dust off our shoes if someone rejects the gospel message?The bottom line is that when we fail to “rightly divide the word of truth,” we create a mumbo jumbo theology that has absolutely no consistency. I think this is one of the reasons that young people so quickly leave the church when they leave home. The church and its WWJD ethic code just often lacks logical sense.There is an easy way to bring the Scripture together in perfect harmony. The problem is we would have to leave many of our closely held doctrines of modern religious wisdom. In fact, the apostle Paul gives us an instruction that spares us from all the “what would Jesus do?” inconsistencies. In I Corinthians 11:1, Paul says “imitate me, just as I also imitate Christ” (NKJV).Perhaps we should start wearing a bracelet that says WWPD? What would Paul do? Pauline theology is built for Christians living in the age of grace. It avoids the problem of “what would Jesus do?” Some may be thinking, “why not cut out the middleman, and just imitate Christ?” This fails to take into account the fact that Paul, as the apostle for this age, had a unique access to Jesus Christ. He consistently claims that he received direct revelation from the Lord that is applicable to our lives today.JESUS CANNOT BE SELF-INTERPRETEDWWJD becomes a bad ethical policy, because we just have to make so much stuff up! What would Jesus do about the bio-medical ethical issues we face today? What would Jesus think about our Federal Reserve policy? How would Jesus respond to an overloaded e-mail box? What would Jesus do if the waiter got His order wrong? Where would Jesus live if He had a choice between Albuquerque and Albania? All of these questions require us to make assumptions, and these assumptions are very likely to be nothing more than our preference masquerading as God’s will.The problem is that Jesus is not open to self-interpretation. We can’t just guess what Jesus would do, or say, or think. For that matter, I can’t even guess what you would do, or say, or think. Why do we want to create an ethic that requires the self-interpretation of Jesus?Have you ever noticed that when people use the WWJD approach to ethical problems, they are often landing on the liberal side of the argument? A conservative position has a clear scripture reference. When someone wants to go in a different direction than the clear teaching of Scripture, they will pull the WWJD card.  Have you ever heard that Jesus wouldn’t support capital punishment, but he would support gay marriage?  It is so convenient to be able to make-up what Jesus would do so that we can use Jesus to support our position.My seminary Old Testament Survey book, by LaSor, Hubbard & Bush, had this to say about the way Jesus interpreted the Old Testament—"Compared to the viewpoint of most of his Jewish contemporaries, Christ's approach to the Old Testament is dynamic, not static. He looked upon the Old Testament not as a catalogue of fixed principles regulating religious conduct, but as the inspired and authoritative record of God's activity in history, an activity which presses toward its denouement in his coming kingdom. As Jesus' words are spirit and life (John 6:63), so the Old Testament when viewed with his insights becomes a guide to life (John 5:39)." (pg. 2)By determining what Jesus would do with Old Testament interpretation (He would interpret it in a dynamic, not static manner), the authors could then release themselves from the literal nature of the Hebrew text.  And they did!  Writing about Genesis 1-11, they said it, "is not 'history' in the modern sense...rather, it conveys theological truths...portrayed in a largely symbolic, pictorial literary genre." (pg. 74)  They further said that since, "Adam means 'mankind' and Eve is '(she who gives) life'. Surely, when the author of a story names the principle characters Mankind and Life, something is conveyed about the degree of literalness intended!" (pg. 72). How does one build an Old Testament interpretation that all but denies the literal existence of a man and woman named Adam and Eve? How does one deny a six-day creation or a worldwide flood? All you need to do is self-interpret Jesus, then have that self-interpreted Jesus interpret the Hebrew text the way you would want it, and you have a beautiful tool for your own political purposes.CONCLUSIONWhat would Jesus do?  I’m not sure I know. I know some things that He did, but I can’t just use that as anecdotal evidence for some personal pet-peeve. I know some things He did that I can’t do. I know some things He did that, because I am not under the Law, I am not obligated to do. So, at best, WWJD is just an exercise in theological imagination. I better not use WWJD for a personal ethic. What I should do is to be diligent to present myself, “approved to God, a worker who does not need to be ashamed, rightly dividing the word of truth” (2 Timothy 2:15, NKJV).Dr. Randy White is Pastor of First Baptist Church of Katy and the host of the weekly Ask the Theologian radio program. Join him online each Thursday night at 8:00PM Central for online Bible study. 

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