02/07/2006

In His Steps (by Charles Sheldon)

'In His Steps' is a novel that was written over 100 years ago by Charles Sheldon, and is the origin of the much-used phrase: 'What would Jesus do?' (abbreviated sometimes to WWJD).

The story involves an American pastor, whose congregation was wealthy and content, mostly ignoring the rampant poverty in their city. Moreover, some of them were following decidedly dodgy business practice in their work lives. A challenge is issued to pledge themselves for a year to do nothing without first asking the question, 'What would Jesus do in these circumstances?'

These days the phrase is so banded about that it's hard to imagine a Christian church where nobody had ever thought of such a thing. It's even more difficult to imagine Christians living some of the lifestyles mentioned in the books without ever thinking of what Jesus might do - or even what he might want them to do. But 100 years ago, many more people went to church out of routine than do today, and perhaps none of them had ever thought beyond their weekly 'duty'.

It's a fictional account, but it became a best-seller and has evidently had a profound effect, although I'm not sure how many Christians in the USA - or anywhere else - take such an active life in assisting the poor, finding work for the unemployed, and starting soup kitchens etc.

As a novel, it's quite hard going at times, since the style is not just old-fashioned but rather preachy: inevitably, considering the subject matter, perhaps. But the 'voice of the author' is present rather more than I like in addition to the quotations from sermons used as part of the book. Still, that was the trend in Victorian times, as was the rather long-winded verbosity of some of the book.

Worth reading - or at least skimming - since it's so famous. However although I read it as a book, it can be found and read online at various sites including this one.

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