Here’s my confession: I never liked the WWJD craze; it made me want to throw up. This is not intended to offend you or insult you if you are one that found it meaningful. And intellectually, I had no objection to it. I simply reacted to it with such visceral opposition to bracelets, T-Shirts, bumper stickers that proclaimed neither the encouraged devotion or intent, but served more as an endorsement. They may just as easily put “Jesus is my preferred candidate” and a Jesus Fish on their chest, wrist, or bumper.
It’s even inherently exclusive. An acronym, even one so recognizable, is in its very nature exclusive. Our churches aren’t SDEC, expecting the world to simply “get” that it stands for St. David’s Episcopal Church. We just live with the proper name. So should the What Would Jesus Do? movement.
But something hit me the other day. WWJD is insidious—in a good way. It suggests something that the Fundamentalists and Conservatives that championed the concept wouldn’t support, or would seem to have trouble supporting in the theologies of leading scholars like Marcus Borg and John Dominic Crossan. By asking what Jesus would do, we are showing a profound respect to both the actions of Jesus and our call to be his disciples. This shows a real interest in the humanity of Jesus—a short distance jump from the efforts of the historical Jesus scholars.
I know what you’re saying: “But Drew, just thinking about Jesus’s actions isn’t the inherent purview of liberal scholars, nor is this exclusive from evangelicalism.” If you are thinking this, then of course, you are right. But here is the rub: the theological focus of evangelicals is so primarily trained on evangelism, baptism, and church growth, that it serves the top 1-10 spots in their hierarchy: the human nature of Jesus is so far removed from the discussion, that using the WWJD reminder cue to think about Jesus’s actions is often counter to the evangelical devotion to that aforementioned singular focus.
Secondly, that focus is so primarily interested in the ‘saving power’ of Jesus and the interest in Jesus being the singular means of salvation. This demonstrates a Christological focus on the divine Jesus. Disinterested in what Jesus says to his disciples about poverty, politics, and civilization, the discussion of salvation is exclusively interested in the pre- and post-human Jesus: what the legal ramifications on humanity before Jesus ‘came down from heaven’ are and in Jesus’s position as grantor of salvation to those in the last 2,000 years that have become Christians.
Thirdly, this view of the divine Jesus as grantor of salvation or as gatekeeper on behalf of Christians to let them in and keep the riff raff out, simultaneously leads to an interesting Trinitarian response that Jesus is God (as opposed to God in/as Jesus, God and Jesus as coequals, or God as directing Jesus and the Holy Spirit, etc.) and is the center of our worship life. Making Jesus the center of our worship clearly leads to confusion over both the purpose of our religious tradition and of the persona of Jesus.
Fourthly, in focusing on the actions of Jesus, we then isolate those actions from the divine form of Jesus. One may infer from the reminder of Jesus that He is/was connected to God and demonstrates His inherent divine nature regardless of the context, but the reminder (WWJD) is of the human form with no mention or interest in divinity. Instead, our attention is directed on the human Jesus and what we as humans are doing in relation to Him.
Fifthly, our Catholic and Mainstream Protestant friends are further directed away from questions of legalism and hierarchy when the primary question that each member asks is “what would Jesus do?”. Jesus’s teachings and actions were clearly less interested in adherence to rules that direct us, but to the simple relationships between us and God and between an individual and his/her community.
So there you have it. What Would Jesus Do? is actually a pretty good slogan. I can’t say that I’ll wear one of those stupid bracelets any more than I’ll put a fish on my bumper, but I might suggest that this fad wasn’t that bad!
PS—yes, I know that WWJD is, like, ten years old or something, but you never know! Some of us are a little slow.