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The Problem with WWJD
Why do we need to ask what Jesus would do today when He told Christians in every generation what He expects of His followers?

There seems to be a besetting wrinkle with the faddish, What Would Jesus Do (WWJD)?  It isn’t that wannabe disciples often yield to indecision and inaction trying to figure out precisely how Christ might respond in a given situation.  More precisely, it’s just doesn’t seem to be a legitimate biblical question.  A better query would be, What or how would Jesus have us as His followers live?  And that’s a question for which we have solid, illustrative instruction found in Scripture; it’s called the Sermon on the Mount, and it has everything to do with authentic Christian spirituality.  Instead, of questing WWJD, a more biblical option is to take more seriously what He has already told us to do – live as obedient disciples.

…"cheap grace" is invariably "grace without discipleship."

I’ve been prompted to think along these lines in recent months, not so much because I don’t like fads, but because of some promptings in the writings of Dietrich Bonhoeffer.  In a letter he wrote in 1936 to a woman theologian with whom he shared a fairly serious relationship, he speaks of the changes which started taking place in 1932 when he started taking the Sermon on the Mount at face value.  He says he became a Christian, and he started studying the Bible for more than its academic content.  He had chosen to pursue theology while a teenager and wrote a doctoral dissertation on the church at the incredible age of 21 which astonished many of Europe’s greatest theological minds.  However, he later confessed that his quest for academic excellence was a bonafide example of the power thrust of his own ego.   His famous book, Cost of Discipleship (1937, German) developed out of the changes in his life and thought in the early 1930s.  The German title Nachfolge meaning, “following after” more clearly brings out his meaning and epitomizes Bonhoeffer’s understanding of the costliness of responding to God’s grace in Christ.  It wasn’t coincidental, that this, the most famous book of his 10,000 word legacy, was mainly an exposition of the Sermon on the Mount.

One of the most familiar of the major concepts he saw challenged by the Sermon on the Mount is what he called “cheap grace.”  He insisted that “cheap grace” is invariably “grace without discipleship.”  As a possible corroboration of my protest on WWJD, I cannot help but wonder if this phrase tacitly has more of ourselves in it than it does Christ?   Why need we ask what Jesus would do in the 21st century, when He told Christians in every generation what He expects of His followers?  In one of his many letters, Bonhoeffer spoke of how he turned from “the phraseological to the real.”  Perhaps our contemporary “following after” Christ would be more authentic if we gave up the catch phrase, WWJD, and got on with His program of daily discipleship.  In His beatitudes Jesus describes non-negotiably the character He expects of His followers.  In the rest of the sermon, He tells us how to live, work, pray, relate, all clearly illustrated and emphasized.  None of this pretends to be an “impossible” or “ideal” ethic, or what life will be like in heaven. 

Rather, than scratching my head wondering WWJD, a more biblical path is to seek the Holy Spirit’s guidance and enablement in living my life authentically in selfless obedience.  The Sermon on the Mount tells us how.

Jimmy Cobb, PhD, is a professor of theology, ethics and church history at the Canadian Southern Baptist Seminary.




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