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Imagine for a moment you’ve come across a phrase that’s popped up in conversations, on bumper stickers, and even on bracelets: What Would Jesus Do? It’s a question that has echoed through the halls of churches, schools, and homes, urging individuals to reflect on their choices through a Christ-like lens. But have you ever paused to wonder where it all started? Let’s take a trip back to the origin of this powerful question, discovering its roots and how it evolved to become a guiding light for countless individuals. From the early whispers among the faithful to its widespread adoption across the globe, the journey of “What Would Jesus Do?” is as fascinating as the impact it continues to make today.

The Origin of What Would Jesus Do

The Phrase’s Biblical Origins

The teachings of Jesus as the foundation of the phrase

When you consider the phrase “What Would Jesus Do?” (WWJD), it roots deeply in the teachings of Jesus Christ as depicted in the New Testament. The essence of this question is to encourage you to reflect on Jesus’ example when facing life’s challenges or making decisions. His teachings, based on love, compassion, forgiveness, and servitude, serve as the moral compass that guides this introspection. It’s not just about asking what Jesus would do in your place but striving to emulate those core values that he embodied, such as kindness, patience, and selflessness.

Biblical instances of the WWJD concept

Though the exact phrase “What Would Jesus Do?” isn’t found verbatim in the Bible, the concept is woven throughout its narrative. For instance, in the Gospels, you see Jesus instructing his disciples to follow his example, particularly when he washes their feet in John 13:15, saying, “I have set you an example that you should do as I have done for you.” This act of humility and service encapsulates the WWJD ethos, pushing you to ponder how Jesus would act in your daily life and encouraging you to act similarly.

Influence of Early Christianity

How early Christians interpreted Jesus’ way of living

In the days of early Christianity, followers of Jesus took his teachings and way of life as a blueprint for their own. They sought to live in a manner that reflected his virtues and teachings, emphasizing love, charity, and communal living. The Acts of the Apostles in the New Testament depict these first Christians sharing everything in common, praying together, and taking care of each other, embodying the spirit of what it means to live as Jesus did.

Influence of ‘Imitatio Christi’ in the formation of the phrase

The concept of ‘Imitatio Christi’ or the imitation of Christ has been significant in shaping Christian thought and practice, particularly influencing the formulation of the WWJD phrase. This idea, prominent among early Christians, exhorted them to mirror the life of Jesus in their actions and decisions. Over time, this concept matured and became a cornerstone in Christian spirituality, setting the stage for the eventual emergence of the WWJD question as a way to consciously emulate Christ’s actions in daily life.

The Role of Medieval Christian Mystics

The tradition of living like Christ among Christian mystics

Medieval Christian mystics took the imitation of Christ to heart, seeking to experience union with God through living a life mirroring that of Jesus. Their approach often entailed significant sacrifices and a devotion to prayer and service, aiming to replicate the selfless love Jesus showed. The mystics’ contributions to Christian spirituality enriched the tradition of seeking to understand and live out “What Would Jesus Do?” in a profound and personal way.

Contributions of mystics to the concept of WWJD

The mystics’ deep explorations of faith and their attempts to live out Jesus’ love in their own lives contributed significantly to the evolution of the WWJD concept. Their writings and teachings, centered on the direct experience of God through the imitation of Christ, provided future generations with a rich source of inspiration for understanding how to live a life that truly reflects Jesus’ teachings and actions.

Appearance in the 19th Century

Charles M. Sheldon and his novel ‘In His Steps’

In the late 19th century, the phrase “What Would Jesus Do?” was popularized by Charles M. Sheldon, a Congregational minister, through his novel “In His Steps: What Would Jesus Do?”. The story follows different characters as they face various moral dilemmas and choices, each striving to act as they believe Jesus would. Sheldon’s work was a radical call to apply Jesus’ teachings to everyday problems and decisions, making the WWJD question a practical guide for living.

The role of the novel in popularizing WWJD

Sheldon’s novel wasn’t just a bestseller; it became a cultural phenomenon that brought the WWJD question into the everyday language of Christians and non-Christians alike. Its widespread popularity across different social classes and denominations spoke to a universal yearning for a practical, actionable approach to living a moral and fulfilling life.

The novel’s impact on the Social Gospel Movement

“In His Steps” significantly influenced the Social Gospel Movement, which sought to apply Christian ethics to social problems such as poverty, inequality, and injustice. The movement, buoyed by the novel’s success, embraced the WWJD question as a guiding principle, driving social action and reform inspired by Jesus’ teachings and example.

The Origin of What Would Jesus Do

Relevance During the Social Gospel Movement

Applying WWJD to social justice issues in the 19th and 20th centuries

The Social Gospel Movement found in WWJD a rallying cry for activism and change, applying it to the pressing social justice issues of the day. Christians were motivated to tackle societal ills, seeing this as a direct application of living as Jesus would. The movement’s emphasis on justice, poverty alleviation, and labor reforms were seen as natural extensions of the WWJD ethos.

Impact of the phrase during the Civil Rights Movement

During the Civil Rights Movement in the mid-20th century, the WWJD question again found resonance as activists and leaders like Martin Luther King Jr. grounded their fight for equality and justice in the teachings and example of Jesus. The phrase offered a moral framework for battling systemic racism and inequality, providing a spiritual and ethical underpinning for the movement’s goals.

Revival in the 1990s

The launch of WWJD bracelets by Janie Tinklenberg

In the 1990s, the WWJD phrase saw a resurgence in popularity, largely due to Janie Tinklenberg, a youth group leader who initiated the idea of WWJD bracelets. These bracelets, worn as a constant reminder to consider Jesus’ example in daily life, quickly became a popular accessory among young Christians, symbolizing a commitment to living a life of faith and moral integrity.

Popularity of the phrase among youth Christian movements

The bracelets sparked a global trend, making WWJD a hallmark of youth Christian movements. Its simplicity and tangible reminder of Jesus’ teachings appealed to many, providing a clear and concise guide to navigating the complexities of modern life with faith as a compass.

The Origin of What Would Jesus Do

Impact on Contemporary Christianity

Current understanding and usage of the phrase

Today, “What Would Jesus Do?” continues to serve as a pivotal question in many Christians’ lives, guiding decisions and actions. Its applicability to diverse situations – from personal ethics and relationships to professional and societal dilemmas – underscores its enduring relevance. The phrase encourages believers to pause and reflect on the moral and ethical dimensions of their choices, fostering a more compassionate and thoughtful approach to life.

WWJD as a decision-making guide for modern Christians

For modern Christians, WWJD is more than a question; it’s a way of life. It operates as a decision-making guide that integrates faith into everyday choices, promoting a lifestyle that seeks to replicate the love, humility, and kindness that Jesus exemplified. This continuous reflection shapes not only personal behavior but also influences the broader community and society by encouraging actions that align with Christian values.

Critiques and Controversies

Issues with the phrase’s oversimplification of Christian theology

Despite its widespread popularity, the WWJD question is not without its critiques. Some argue that it oversimplifies Christian theology, reducing complex ethical decisions to a simplistic formula. Critics point out that the diverse contexts and challenges of modern life may require more nuanced approaches than what this question might imply.

Criticisms of appropriating WWJD as a marketing strategy

Moreover, the commercialization of the WWJD phrase, especially during its resurgence in the 1990s with bracelets and other merchandise, has drawn criticism for turning a deeply spiritual practice into a marketing gimmick. This commodification raises concerns about diluting the phrase’s meaningful impact and turning it into a superficial badge of identity rather than a genuine guide for living.

WWJD in Popular Culture

Appearances of WWJD in films, TV series, and music

The WWJD question has transcended religious circles to become a recognizable element in popular culture, appearing in films, TV series, and songs. These references often explore moral dilemmas and the quest for a principled way of living, highlighting the phrase’s universal appeal and its ability to provoke thought and ethical consideration even outside traditional Christian contexts.

Impact on societal values beyond Christianity

The prevalence of WWJD in popular culture signifies its influence on societal values at large, promoting a discourse on morality, ethics, and the importance of compassion and empathy in daily interactions. This broad appeal underscores the phrase’s potential to inspire a wider audience to reflect on their actions and choices, regardless of their religious affiliation.

The Future of WWJD

Reflections on the continued relevance of the phrase

As society evolves, the question of WWJD’s continued relevance comes to the fore. Its enduring appeal lies in its simplicity and the universal values it promotes. As long as individuals seek guidance in making ethical decisions and aspire to lead lives marked by compassion and integrity, WWJD will maintain its relevance, adapting to new contexts and challenges.

Expected evolution of WWJD in an increasingly secular society

In an increasingly secular society, the future of WWJD may involve an even broader interpretation, appealing to people seeking moral guidance regardless of their religious background. The phrase’s core message of empathy, compassion, and ethical living transcends religious boundaries, suggesting its potential to evolve as a universal question posed by individuals striving to make a positive impact in an ever-changing world.