Updated: May 21
Over the past few decades What Would Jesus Do (WWJD) has become a popular slogan (with plenty of merchandise marketed, especially bracelets and shirts), but unfortunately there is not a whole lot of Biblical truth associated with the WWJD movement and where it stems from, including the phrase itself.
First of all, its the wrong question. The right question is: What Did Jesus Do or Command? That we know. Anything we think He would do should be based upon what we know He did do, so the question is wrong and promotes relativism, a serious issue within evangelicalism today.
Secondly, the phrase developed popularity through the very popular Charles M. Sheldon book, “In His Steps: What Would Jesus Do?” which is allegedly believed to have sold about 50 million copies since its publication in 1896. Though the novel embodies strong prohibitionist and temperance views on tobacco, alcohol, college fraternities, and other such things, which is good and Biblical, there is a big problem however. Almost entirely invisible is the one true gospel in the novel and in one instance, a woman endeavours to teach poor women how to cook and offer good nutrition, so she calls this her “gospel of food."
The book does not present the true saving gospel found in Scripture but rather “another gospel” which a false and corrupted social gospel, “Which is not another; but there be some that trouble you, and would pervert the gospel of Christ.” (Gal 1:6-7). Besides the false and corrupted social gospel, easy believism, quick prayerism, no-repentance, no-Lordship, perverted gospel, the book presents walking in the steps of Jesus for moral living and to transform society and the world at large as being sufficient for eternity, as if unregenerate men could do these things. This isn’t sufficient however since true salvation is firstly required for these things to be accomplished. The true gospel is one where a repentant sinner surrenders to Jesus Christ as Lord and trusts in His saving merits and vicarious satisfaction to get to Heaven, not by trying to live a morally and upright life, which always comes as a consequence of true conversion (e.g. Ti 2:11-14; Eph 2:10; Rev 22:14-15). Sheldon in fact makes zero mention in the book of the necessity of the new birth through true repentance and faith in Christ (Lk. 13:3; Mk. 8:34-38; Ac. 17:30-31; 20:21; 26:18-20; Jn. 3:7; cf. 1:12-13). But that is where it has to begin, and that is the only beginning. It is only the one reborn spiritually, and indwelt by the Spirit of God, who is able to truly, immediately and then consistently follow the Lord Jesus Christ (Rom. 8:1-14; cf. 2 Cor. 2:14).
Thirdly, the overall story line of the book is heretical:
“Sheldon creates a Jesus who is especially gentle on the modern church of his day, speaking generous words of grace and favour. Sheldon offers a nice counterpoint through the skepticism of [the town] Raymond’s lead editor, a non-Christian and non-churchgoer, who sets the story line of the book.” (https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/In_His_Steps).
The Bible doesn’t deal with skeptics in a generous, gracious, favourable or gentle manner (cf. 2 Pet 3:3; Ac 13:8-11; 15:1-2; Matt 23; Gal 1:6-9; 2:4-5; Rev 3:14-18). In Rev 3, Jesus said He would spew these “modern churches” out of His mouth because they are unsaved and lukewarm, just like the Laodicean church.
The book's recurring phrase, used in describing Jesus, “Like an average man. Only different,” dovetails with the overall heresy of this book.
Fourthly, what Sheldon is promoting in the novel falls more along the lines of Pelagianism. Amongst the many errors presented, is the false gospel (pp. 78, 94), easy believism and quick prayerism (p. 201), pursuing “Divine presence” (p. 109), and the heretical Keswick theology throughout (e.g. p. 230). And the “Jesus” that is presented throughout the novel is “another Jesus” (2 Cor. 11:4), not the Jesus of the Bible.
Fifthly, Sheldon, a Congregational minister, followed the liberal teachings of his day that Christ was merely an example, and by every appearance was an unregenerate, false teacher. In general, the WWJD social “gospel” movement and its adherents have been liberal in theology, unconcerned with such crucial truths as the verbal inspiration of Scripture, the deity, virgin birth, and substitutionary atonement of Christ, salvation by grace through faith and apart from works, and the true gospel that includes true repentance and true faith. It mainly views Jesus’ earthly life and crucifixion as a pattern of good deeds, and an example to follow. And overwhelmingly, the social gospelites have been post-millennial in theology, seeing it as their “calling” to bring in an earthly golden age (i.e. kingdom-now theology) and their responsibility to transform society, until the world becomes a fit kingdom for Christ to rule over. This is also the background to the novel and its philosophical roots. When one speaks positively of WWJD or promotes it, these are the things one is espousing.
Sixthly, Sheldon wrote a sequel titled “Jesus is Here,” where Christ actually shows up and visits the characters of “In His Steps,” supposedly a few years later. Yikes. At least here he is more open about the demonic influence of his philosophy (1 Tim 4:1; 2 Cor 11:12-15).
The born again soldier and ambassador of the King is commanded by his Captain and King, Jesus Christ the Lord, to oppose false gospels and false teachings such as WWJD, and false teachers such as Charles Sheldon (1 Tim 6:3-5; 2 Jn 1:9-11) and expose them (Rom 16:17), not embrace or promote them — thus, Doing What Jesus Did (DWJD) and Commanded (DWJD&C).
"If any man teach otherwise, and consent not to wholesome words, even the words of our Lord Jesus Christ, and to the doctrine which is according to godliness; He is proud, knowing nothing, but doting about questions and strifes of words, whereof cometh envy, strife, railings, evil surmisings, Perverse disputings of men of corrupt minds, and destitute of the truth, supposing that gain is godliness: from such withdraw thyself." (1 Tim 6:3-5)
"Now I beseech you, brethren, mark them which cause divisions and offences contrary to the doctrine which ye have learned; and avoid them." (Rom 16:17)