Editor's Introduction: Pastor Brian Abshire's ministry and writing are characterized by a direct, no-nonsense, practical application of the Faith. This is refreshing in a generation of sophisticated religious facade that obscures a bankrupt heresy and antinomianism. A prime example is the "WWJD" rage that is sweeping the country. Pastor Abshire's assessment of this evangelical cotton-candy religion is right on target.
Every so often, another silly fad hits Christian circles. Years ago, it was an upraised index finger calling for "One Way." Later it was little fishes (my wife and I have them on our wedding rings!). Mostly these fads are harmless enough, just a bit tacky, sometimes perhaps a little insipid but nothing really to get upset about. They too will pass — and do no real damage to the Kingdom.
The most recent craze is "WWJD" or, "What Would Jesus Do?" The idea behind this is that, throughout the day, when confronted with various decisions, the little logo is supposed to remind us to ask ourselves, "What would Jesus do in this situation?" First, these initials were put on a bracelet, then like some horrible, growing blob creature from a 1950s B movie, they began appearing on anything and everything. ("It's ALIVE!")
Now, really, I don't have a problem with the WWJD bracelet, bumper sticker, baseball cap or pen and pencil set. Marketers have to make a living too. And though I think it a little adolescent, it's no big deal. However, I DO have a problem with WWJD being touted as a SERIOUS aid to Christian ethics. A number of e-mails, cards and advertising blurbs have recently crossed my desk telling me that THIS little logo is THE cutting edge of responsible Christian living.
Borderline Blasphemy Now look, I know that I am a nasty, cynical and unsentimental type, caustic in nature with millennia to go in my sanctification, but, come on people, doesn't anybody else see a problem with this? First of all, the very question itself borders on blasphemy. Jesus was the incarnate Son of God. We cannot always know what Jesus knows nor do what Jesus would do. If we saw thousands of people hungry, could we do what Jesus would do, i.e., feed them with a few loaves of bread and a couple of fishes? If we were out on a boat with the wind and waves threatening to capsize us, could we still the waters with a word? Could you do what Jesus did if the IRS man came and demanded an unlawful tax ("Well Mr. Taxman, if you'll just go down to the local fishing hole, you'll find this year's taxes in the mouth of a big fat trout")? When was the last time someone wearing a WWJD bracelet stood up in a church business meeting and scourged the money lenders (er, I mean "finance committee") out of the church for going into ungodly debt for the building program?
Jesus Then and Now Furthermore, we do not always know WHAT Jesus would do because the historical situation has changed since He came. Therefore, what He did THEN might not be the same thing He would do today. For example, say Jesus was driving in bumper-to-bumper freeway traffic (I have visions of His parting the Los Angeles rush hour traffic jam like Charlton Heston — sorry!) and some numskull cuts Him off in traffic. Would Jesus just smile and drive on His way? In His first advent He might have because He was in His state of humiliation. He came to serve, not be served. But today He is the risen and ascended King of Kings and Lord of Lords. If Jesus were physically here today and somebody flipped him a rude gesture, wouldn't this be an affront to His divine majesty resulting in a squadron of angels, blasting this sacrilegious turkey off the face of the earth? (Well, at least we can hope.) The point here is that Jesus had divine prerogatives that we do not. He had divine power that we do not. He had divine knowledge that we do not. We do not always know what He would do, nor do we necessarily have the power to do it, even if we did.
Antinomian Christians But even more importantly, the REAL problem with this little catch phrase is that few Christians today in broad evangelical circles really have a clue as to what Jesus would actually do in any given situation because they are Biblically illiterate. When they give their cliché, most people immediately turn inward and subjective and ask themselves "What do I THINK Jesus would do?" They do not know the Scriptures, so they look to their feelings as their guide. In reality, they substitute the sinful impressions of men for the power and clarity of the unchanging Word of God.
What would Jesus do? Really? He would keep the Law. Yup, that's right. Jesus would keep the whole law (Mt. 5:19). But since we live in an antinomian age, most Christians don't have a clue as to what the Law requires. For example, the average born-again, Bible-believing, broad-evangelical Christian cannot even state all of the Ten Commandments. Seriously! Back in the Dark Ages when I went to a Christian college, one of the professors had us write down the Moral Law as a quiz. In a class of 30 odd students (well, not really THAT odd) only one was able to list all ten (modesty forbids identifying the one spiritual giant in the class). Here were Christian kids, who had grown up in the church, been to Sunday school, VBS, innumerable Christian camps, sat through thousands of sermons, and they did not even know God's Top Ten.
Hence if people do not even KNOW the Law, how can they possibly do what Jesus would do? They can't. And they don't. And that, my friends, does much to explain the utter irrelevancy of modern, broad evangelicalism.
Unlike modern Christians, David loved God's Law; it was his meditation all the day (Ps. 119:97). Joshua was told to meditate on the Law day and night so that he would be careful to do all that was written in it (Jos. 1:8). Jesus said, "if you love me, keep my commandments" (Jn. 14:15). But we live in a lawless age, where even the King's own household believes that they are under "grace" not law. Consequently, they think up witty catch phrases, put them on bracelets, bumper stickers and baseball caps, and then go right on doing their own will.
Jesus said that His great commission for us was to disciple the nations, teaching them to observe all that He had commanded (Mt. 28:19-20). But if we do not know His commandments, we cannot teach His commandments.
Law and Love Some people will ask, "Isn't it enough just to love God and one another?" True, these are the two greatest commandments. And what Jesus would do is always the loving thing. But what is the "loving" thing? Love is the summary of the Law. The Law tells us what it means to love God and to love one another. You cannot use a summary to deny one of the things that it summarizes! Hence, we cannot understand the content of love without knowing the Law. If we don't know the Law, we can't love in spirit and truth. Unfortunately, Christians today define "love" as a warm, mushy feeling. God defines it as keeping His commands. Most modern Christians hate and fear the Law because to their unsanctified eyes it appears hard, cruel, and "oppressive." They don't want that nasty old God of wrath from the "Old" Testament, but the "loving" god of the New, not realizing that without the Law, there is no content to love.
So the next time some genius inquires, "What would Jesus Do?", be gracious, be kind, be gentle. But also be firm. Remind him, "Jesus would keep the whole Law."
And THAT's the cutting edge of practical Christian ethics!
- Brian M. Abshire
Rev. Brian Abshire, Ph.D. is currently a Teaching Elder associated with Hanover Presbytery. Along with his pastoral duties, he is also the director for the International Institute for Christian Culture, has served as an adjunct instructor in Religious Studies at Park University and is a visiting Professor of Comparative Religion at Whitefield College.