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Imagine stumbling upon a phrase that’s more than just words, but a compass for countless individuals seeking guidance in life’s tricky situations. “What would Jesus do?”—this simple question has woven its way through the fabric of society, prompting people to consider their actions in a new light. Originating from a time far earlier than you might guess, this article on, the official site dedicated to capturing the essence and history of this profound question, takes you back to the roots of where it all began. Dive into the story behind “What would Jesus do?” and discover how it emerged as a pivotal guide for moral decision-making.

The Origins of the Phrase What Would Jesus Do

The Phrase ‘What Would Jesus Do’: Initial Conception

The phrase in the early Christian tradition

You might wonder how such a simple question, “What Would Jesus Do?” (WWJD), found its roots deep within early Christian tradition. It’s not just a modern catchphrase but a deeply thoughtful invocation that draws upon the very essence of trying to live a life mirroring Jesus Christ’s teachings and actions. Early Christians, in their quest to embody Christ’s teachings, would often reflect on how Jesus might respond to various life situations, thus laying the groundwork for what would centuries later be encapsulated in the concise query, WWJD.

Significance of the phrase in early scripture

Digging into the significance of WWJD in early scripture, it’s clear that the core idea behind it is deeply woven into the fabric of Christian teachings. The biblical texts, while not explicitly posing the question, WWJD, invariably promote the principle of making decisions based on the moral and ethical teachings of Jesus. For instance, the Gospels are replete with stories and parables that encourage believers to model their actions after Christ’s examples of love, compassion, and justice.

WWJD in the Context of Christian Evangelism

Evangelical use of the phrase in missionary work

In the realm of Christian evangelism, WWJD became not just a rallying cry but a foundational question that shaped the approach of missionaries in their work. Evangelicals, known for their fervor in spreading the teachings of Christianity, adopted the WWJD phrase as a tool to guide their actions and decisions in missionary contexts. Reflecting on what Jesus would do in their situation, missionaries were better equipped to navigate the complex and often challenging environments they found themselves in, aiming always to act in ways that reflect Christ’s love and teachings.

Inclusion in sermons and gospel music

The WWJD phrase seamlessly made its way into sermons and gospel music, serving as a powerful reminder of the Christian call to emulate Jesus. Preachers have woven the question into their sermons to challenge congregants to consider the Christ-like response in their daily lives. Similarly, gospel music, with its profound ability to touch hearts and souls, has incorporated the WWJD message, encouraging listeners to align their actions with those of Jesus Christ.

Introduction of WWJD into Literature

Incidence in Charles Sheldon’s ‘In His Steps’

Perhaps the most pivotal moment in the journey of the WWJD phrase into the collective consciousness of Christians worldwide was its inclusion in Charles Sheldon’s 1896 novel, “In His Steps.” Through his compelling narrative, Sheldon tells the story of a small town transformed by the question, “What would Jesus do?” as its residents earnestly seek to apply this query to every aspect of their lives. Sheldon’s novel not only popularized the phrase but deeply impacted how individuals viewed their personal and communal lives through the lens of Christ’s teachings.

Impact of Sheldon’s use of the phrase on wider popular culture

The impact of Sheldon’s use of WWJD on wider popular culture is undeniable. The novel’s widespread popularity sparked conversations and debates across various societal spheres about the practical application of Jesus’s teachings in the modern world. It encouraged people from all walks of life to critically assess their choices and actions through the simple yet profound question of what Jesus would do in their shoes.

Influence of WWJD on Christian Merchandising

Birth of WWJD merchandise

In the wake of the phrase’s growing popularity, the market saw the birth of WWJD merchandise. Bracelets, T-shirts, bumper stickers, and a myriad of other items branded with the WWJD acronym became ubiquitous. This merchandising wave not only served as a public testament of one’s faith but also provided constant personal reminders to consider Jesus’s example in everyday decisions.

Role of merchandise in popularizing the phrase

The role of this merchandise in popularizing the WWJD phrase cannot be overstated. Wearing a WWJD bracelet or displaying a sticker on one’s car transcended mere fashion or trend. It symbolized a commitment to a lifestyle choice that seeks to uphold the values and teachings of Jesus. Moreover, it sparked curiosity and conversations among those who might not be familiar with the phrase, thereby spreading its influence even further.

The Origins of the Phrase What Would Jesus Do

The WWJD Movement in the 1990s

WWJD’s mainstream cultural breakthrough

The 1990s heralded WWJD’s mainstream cultural breakthrough. The simplicity and universal appeal of the phrase, combined with the burgeoning Christian youth movements of the time, propelled WWJD to unparalleled levels of popularity. It became more than a personal mantra; it was a communal expression of a desire to live out Christian values in a rapidly changing world.

Influence of the movement on other Christian youth movements

The WWJD movement significantly influenced other Christian youth movements, serving as both inspiration and model. It demonstrated the power of a simple message to galvanize and unite young believers in their faith journey. Many Christian youth organizations adopted the WWJD question as a core part of their teachings, using it to encourage young people to reflect on their actions in light of Jesus’s teachings and example.

WWJD in Wider Cultural Contexts

Adoption of the phrase in secular contexts

Interestingly, WWJD found resonance even beyond the Christian community, being adopted in various secular contexts. Schools, community organizations, and even businesses have applied the WWJD principle as a moral compass or ethical guideline, proving its versatility and universal appeal. This widespread adoption speaks to the phrase’s ability to transcend religious boundaries, offering a simple yet powerful framework for ethical decision-making.

Influence on contemporary social and political movements

WWJD’s influence extended to contemporary social and political movements, where it has been invoked to prompt reflection on issues of justice, equity, and compassion. Activists and leaders have used the question to challenge societal norms and policies, asking whether they align with the principles of love and justice exemplified by Jesus. In this way, WWJD has become a tool for social critique and a call to action in the pursuit of a more just and compassionate world.

Critiques and Controversies Around WWJD

Critics of the WWJD concept

Like any movement, WWJD has its critics. Some argue that the phrase oversimplifies complex ethical and moral dilemmas, reducing the profound teachings of Jesus to a catchy slogan. Others worry that it can lead to a superficial form of Christianity focused more on outward appearances than on deep, personal transformation and commitment to social justice.

Controversies surrounding the commercialization of the phrase

The commercialization of WWJD has also sparked controversy, with detractors claiming that merchandising the phrase dilutes its spiritual significance. They argue that turning a call to embody Christ-like values into a profit-making venture undermines the very message WWJD seeks to promote, potentially diverting attention from its profound spiritual implications to mere consumerism.

Reinterpretations and Variations of the WWJD Phrase

WWJD in contemporary Christian discourse

Within contemporary Christian discourse, WWJD continues to evolve, being reinterpreted to address new ethical challenges and societal changes. The phrase is applied not just to personal morality but increasingly to global issues like environmental stewardship, social justice, and economic inequality, reflecting a broader understanding of what it means to live like Jesus in today’s world.

WWJD variants in wider culture (such as WWBD – What Would Buddha Do?)

Variants of WWJD, such as “What Would Buddha Do?” (WWBD), have emerged in wider culture, demonstrating the phrase’s adaptability and the universal human quest for guidance from revered spiritual figures. These variations encourage individuals from different faith backgrounds to reflect on their actions and decisions through the lens of their spiritual or philosophical traditions, further expanding the influence of the original phrase.

Inclusion of WWJD in Pedagogic and Ethical Frameworks

Shift towards using WWJD as a moral guideline

There’s been a noticeable shift towards using WWJD as a moral guideline in various settings, including schools and non-profit organizations. Educators and leaders see the value in posing this question as a way to prompt ethical reflection and foster a culture of integrity and compassion among students and members. This application of WWJD in pedagogic and ethical frameworks underscores its potential as a tool for character development and moral reasoning.

Adoption in non-religious teaching contexts

Interestingly, WWJD has found a place even in non-religious teaching contexts. Its simplicity and focus on empathy make it a valuable resource for teaching universal values such as kindness, respect, and responsibility. By encouraging individuals to consider the impact of their actions on others, WWJD serves as a bridge between diverse philosophical beliefs and practices, highlighting shared human values.

WWJD’s Lasting Legacy and Modern-Day Impact

Impact of the phrase on modern Christian worship practice

The impact of WWJD on modern Christian worship practice is profound, with the phrase being incorporated into prayers, hymns, and devotions. It serves as a constant reminder of the Christian commitment to live in a way that is reflective of Jesus’s teachings, encouraging believers to embody those values in their daily lives.

Relevance of WWJD in today’s society

The relevance of WWJD in today’s society is undeniable. In a world increasingly characterized by divisiveness and indifference, the simple question of what Jesus would do offers a counter-narrative of hope, unity, and compassion. It challenges individuals to look beyond their immediate concerns to the broader implications of their actions, promoting a vision of a world shaped by love and justice. As such, WWJD remains a powerful and enduring expression of the Christian call to live a life of service, integrity, and love.