Tuesday, June 7, 2011

In His Steps

Rev. Henry Maxwell, speaking slowly and determinedly, repeated his astounding proposition, "I want volunteers from First Church who will pledge themselves, earnestly and honestly, for an entire year; not to do anything without first asking the question, 'What would Jesus do?'" Maxwell never dreamed that among those who responded would be the most influential members of his congregation. Together they pledged themselves to a new step of faith that would change, not just a handful of people, but an entire town-for good."

Christian Classic?

     Admittedly, I waited a rather long time before searching for this summer's book club selection. I've read a lot of great stuff lately, but nothing seemed right for a book club. Some titles were too long. Some too serious. Some too sad. My search for "thee book" led me to research the top ten Christian fiction books of all time. I wasn't surprised to see many of C.S. Lewis' titles listed in addition to Bunyan's beloved Pilgrim's Progress. There were also some titles by Hannah Hurnard and GK Chesterton. And then there was Charles Sheldon's novel In His Steps. Never heard of it. Again and again, the book appeared on lists of Christian classics and it boasted some 30 million copies sold since its publication in 1896. Perhaps this was worth reading. My curiosity peaked, I ordered a copy.
    The book directly fits into a topic that I've been reading quite a bit about lately. What does it truly mean to be a disciple of Christ? This question is hardly a new one. Dietrich Bonhoeffer answered this question in his 1937 book, The Cost of Discipleship. More recently, David Platt revisited the question in his instant-hit, Radical, which is still sweeping the country. However, it is Sheldon's novel that is credited with asking the question that created both a witness tool and a fashion phenomenon--What Would Jesus Do? WWDJ?
Unlike Bonhoeffer or Platt, Sheldon uses fiction as a framework and his characters answer the WWDJ question by responding to a bold challenge---to make no decisions whatsoever for one full year without first asking the WWJD question and then obeying no matter the cost. The result is a quietly interesting read.
   Though antiquated, the book is surprisingly relevant and within a few pages, you forget that it's over 100 years old. The language is a little dated, but not distracting. The characters are charming and easy to identify with. It's not a flashy page-turner, but rather a thought-provoking book that leads you page by page on this year long experiment with seven very different characters. But (and it's a big but) the book has the potential for heavy criticism and debate. What are its strengths and weaknesses? Should it be revered as a Christian classic? Should the title be cited with the likes of C.S. Lewis as being top-ten worthy?     
   Put the beach reading down for a little while and read along with me. You be the critic. Will the WWJD question take on a whole new meaning for you after reading this book or will it just be another bumper sticker; another short-lived trend in American culture?

* Read Chapters 1-15 for June 22nd and the remaining chapters for June 29th.

* The book is available via Amazon for around $9.37. For the Kindle carriers, it's available for free. Due to a defective copy-right that was discovered in 1933, the book is available for download all over the internet also and it's perfectly legal (if you can read off of a computer screen or spend $1,000 in ink to print it).


for more info, contact Kerry Cobb.

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