Wednesday, June 21


At a youth camp, an enterprising youth pastor came up with the idea of making bracelets with the intials 'WWJD?' on them. The "What Would Jesus Do?" idea has since become an enormous success worldwide, with bracelets (and other paraphernalia) available across the english-speaking world. It is practically the standard for moral decision-making in many circles, and young people especially find great comfort and challenge in its simplicity.

The call to imitate Christ is certainly a biblical one. But I was reading something yesterday that challenged my understanding of what this means (Kenda Creasy Dean's Practicing Passion). The Greek term for imitation used is mimesis. Crucially, this kind of imitation is not Xerox-style mimicry, but more like identification. Imitating Christ is less about copying the things he did and more about taking on his attributes, imitating the person he is. This isn't quick-fix morality, but becoming "little Christs": a much more complicated approach to the Christian life.

How useful is the concept of WWJD anyway? Do we really want our young people to copy everything Jesus did, including turning over tables in temples, clashing with religious and civic leaders, hanging on a cross? Maybe we do - but in asking 'WWJD?' let's not just screen Jesus for the culturally 'safe' moral choices he made - let's look at the whole picture.

But even the moral issues get cloudy. Are we supposed to transpose the ethics of 1st Century Palestine to our 21st Century global cutlure? "What would Jesus Do" about genetic modification, homosexual Civil Parnterships, global ecological threats, international business ethics...? Some may think they have a fast answer to these issues, but it certainly isn't found in any direct WWJD?-style 'Biblical' ethic.

This goes well beyond wearing a bracelet with "WWJD?" or, come to mention it, "Make Poverty History" on it. Don't get me wrong, I'm not against bracelets per se. But I'm not sure they do justice to huge questions such as ethics or poverty. They're just too cheap, to easy to wear (and take off!). How many of us are still wearing our white Make Poverty History bracelets? (I'm not) How many took that campaign any further than a one-day march, web banner or petition (I didn't). Is this the approach we want to take to our imitation of Christ?

Real imitation of Christ means identifying with who he is - in his life, but also his death and resurrection. What would happen if we moved beyond the simple morality of a 'WWJD?' bracelet and wrote across our lives (and deaths and resurrections) the slogan "Who Would Jesus Be?". There's no simple answer to that question, but you can guarantee it would involve total surrender of ourselves in passionate love for 'the other' (even surrender of our cherished moral standpoints? or our cherished understanding of the Christian faith? - and if this sounds too far read Endo's Silence or Dietrich Bonhoeffer).

'WWJB?' He'd be a self-giving passionate lover, especially of the least deserving. But in giving himself he would find himself caught up in the endlessly selfless love of the Trinue God. And in Christ we can identify with that, But it won't produce simple morality - it'll produce intense, passionate martyr-like "radicals and prophets" (Dean) in us and in our young people. I'm up for that kind of imitation.

Friday, June 16

Top three questions

I hope you'll forgive my silence again (incidentally, on the question of silence, you should read Shusaku Endo's book - it'll redefine Christianity!). Since I last posted on SFT I have a new job and a new house. Before I leave to start my new job as youth pastor at Bishopbriggs Community Church in Glasgow, I have a couple of commitmnets in Edinburgh.

One major one is that I am due to give three short evangelistic talks at my church's festival cafe-style outreach. I am trying to figure out what to talk about. The last thing I want to do is just talk about things that concern me but miss what people are really concerned about, and show them how the gospel transforms lives in that area. So I'm asking for ideas. What are the top three subjects I should address? What are the top three burning questions of people today? Is it the environment? Individualism? Global terror?

Answers on a postcard...