A scholar once quipped, “God created man, and man has returned the favor!” — a true statement indeed when one considers the theological ghost town of American Christianity. At base the theological errors are much the same as those that have beset humanity since the Garden of Eden — the confusion of the image of God.
The second commandment, “Thou shalt not make unto thee any graven image” (Ex. 20:4), reveals a strict prohibition on creating any physical representations of God with material means such as wood and stone. Excluding outright paganism, one might think this commandment has lost its relevance in the world of the 21st century. But leave it to modern man to carve with his thoughts what he once carved with his blade. In the subtlety of thought man carves an image of God reflective of himself and his own determination of the acts of God.
This is the case with the faddish W.W.J.D. (What Would Jesus Do?). For all of man’s supposed sophistication he has reduced Christianity to sloganeering on bracelets and T-shirts. This comes as no surprise. It’s the outgrowth of a retarded theology of the image and character of God. The average evangelical of today is remaking God in his or her own image, and the reflection is a distortion of the Biblical concept of God.
When you mix a self-centered, experience-oriented style of faith with the pop-psychology of an infomercial culture, you get interesting ethical approaches such as the W.W.J.D. phenomenon. The modern church encircles herself with self-help gurus and corporate experts instead of the law of God. So quickly have we forgotten the resources of King David: “Thy testimonies also are my delight and my counselors” (Ps. 119:24).
What used to transpire only in corporations is now mainstream in contemporary churches. For years, business leaders, in an effort to create better worker relations, hired the costly services of personality gurus to test each employee with extensive personality profiles. The objective was to help the employees to better understand themselves as well as the personalities of their coworkers. Hopefully, with a better awareness of your associate’s personality you’ll be less inclined to offend him or her.
There are several systems, and each one divides the breadth of human personality into different categories. I was once tested with the DISC system (in my church, of course) and discovered that I was both a High D (Dominant) and a High I (Influencer). This meant that I was a dominant leader and a black and white thinker, yet I loved dinner parties! The other two categories, S (Steady) and C (Cautious), were very low at that point in my life — I had no balance apparently.
I’m not suggesting that systems like DISC are sinful or useless — far from it. Like any other “science” it reveals the fearful and wonderful ways in which God has made us. But, like any other science, it can also be misused to reinforce the man-centeredness of contemporary man. The popularity of personality systems like DISC is competing with the Biblical ethic as Christians are seeing the world and God through the eyeglass of self-awareness. When self-awareness is mixed with ethics, you have the recipe for a remaking of the image of God. This is the case with W.W.J.D.
W.W.J.D. is a question that asks what Jesus’ response would be to situational ethics. The immediate challenge we’re confronted with is just “who” is being asked. It certainly isn’t God. It’s inconceivable that anyone would inquire of God the Father as to what His Son would do. That would make the Father a mediator. No, the question is actually being asked of man himself. Individuals are consulting themselves and their own concept (or “image”) of God when asking what Jesus would do.
Are all man’s concepts of God equal? By no means — there are as many concepts of God as there are diverse personalities. A Christian who is overly aware of his or her own personality profile will tend to see Jesus reflected through that image. So, a Dominant or “D” personality will see Jesus’ response as direct and tough, while an Influencer, “I” personality, will see Jesus as responding like Oprah. To ask “What would Jesus do” is actually to ask what the “individual” would do because the character of God is being squeezed through the narrow opening of that limited human personality.
Because of our individualism, we are carving vain images of Christ that we consult for our situational ethics. This is pushing close to violating the second commandment that forbids vain images. Answering ethical questions is important, but if you truly want to know what Jesus would do, you need not look very far.
Romans 4:3 asks, “[W]hat saith the scripture?” when Paul is discussing the foundations for Biblical righteousness. In Galatians 4:30 the Apostle asks the same question when discussing the divisive issue of law and gospel. When such complicated theological issues as these are only resolved with a strict appeal to the Scriptures, it stands to reason that situational ethics must likewise bow the knee. There should be no consulting of a Jesus made in the image of ourselves, but rather an objective inquiry of the abiding standard of God’s law (Ps. 19:7–11).
Let us forsake the sloganeering of our faith. Let us not be identified by bumper stickers, tattoos, and bracelets. Let our identity be found in the eternal Son of God who obeyed His Father’s Word in all its dimensions. What would Jesus do? He would obey the will of His Father as given through the voices of the law and the prophets. Who are we to live above that same standard?
- Christopher J. Ortiz
Christopher J. Ortiz is a freelance writer and independent communications specialist servicing churches, ministries, and publishers.