Sunday, 30 August 2009

Quote of the day: WWJD is not gospel

I've never found WWJD bracelets particularly inspiring - rather, I think if I wore one I'd find it a bit depressing! The gospel says not, "What Would Jesus Do? Go and do likewise." No, the gospel says, "What has Jesus done? Rejoice and live in Him!"

So I was interested by this snippet of discussion in the White Horse Inn broadcast from last week:

Michael Horton: So, "What Would Jesus Do?" is not the gospel?
Retired Episcopal Bishop C. FitzSimons Allison:
It is contemporary adoptionism. ... It's an ancient and classical heresy in which it reduced the work of Christ to giving us a good example. ... Jesus was baptised and we heard the Father say, "This is my beloved Son with Whom I am well pleased,"... according to the adoptionists, He did what none of the rest of us have ever done, which was to be perfect. And therefore he's like a kind of Roger Bannister, breaks the 4-minute mile, and he becomes the image by which if we just try harder, if we are scolded enough, then we will run the 4-minute mile: we will be like Jesus. And it ignores the complete OT presentation of a Messiah who came to take away the sins of the world: that God did something that we were unable to do. The Messiah came and made it all right by his actions. It leaves out 2/3 of the whole meaning of the gospel.
And yet, let's get this: neither is the gospel, "God has accepted the unacceptable: so now go and do likewise - accept yourself."
Horton, summarising Allison: It is law to tell people, "Accept yourselves," it is gospel to tell people, "This is how God has made you acceptable to Him."

So what isn't law? What is gospel? Allison says the key is imputation - not known or loved as a word because it's so awkwardly and variously translated into English (account, credit, reckon, etc.): we have no good translation for it. Of this, Allison says,
The word itself, λογιζομαι (logizomai),... is the verb form of λογος (logos). ... It's not merely that God by His action in Jesus Christ has made it possible for us to have mercy, but I am imputed as righteous, even though I am not righteous, and by that wording of me as righteous, I begin to become the kind of righteousness that we see in the second person of the Trinity.
Horton: So it is actually a speech-event: God has declared us righteous.


Paul said...

You and they are right, but then WWJD is a perfectly good question. We are called to imitate Christ, which does involve knowing what he would do in that situation. The problem is that it is so easily skewed towards a legalistic approach. If only our hearts were better set on Jesus it would work like this (theology simplified for sake of space):

"Reaching forwards to download the latest episode of 24 illegally, I noticed my WWJD bracelet. Hmm, what would Jesus do if I downloaded this? He would forgive me. What a great saviour I have! Why would I choose illegal 24 over worshipping him? Get the ukelele out, folks I'm gonna sing some praise songs!"

Or something like that.

étrangère said...

Yes, but as you suggest, with how our hearts are, it lends itself much more easily to law, doesn't it? I'm not in the "WWJD is evil" brigade, nor am I judging anyone for wearing one - I just wouldn't find it helpful myself, and for that reason.

It's not that WWJD 'people'(?) has claimed to be summarising the gospel, as far as I know, but it is used as a reminder to live for Jesus. But it is *grace* which teaches us to say no to ungodliness, not example, nor law, as useful as those 2 things are. So as the prolific movement which it became, WWJD wrong-foots us for sanctification. Your turning it into a hypothetical about Jesus' actions to us in the present/future is nice, but not the usual usage!

Often it was advertised as an evangelistic tool, too, with teens telling me that they wanted to collect more designs, so they could give them to non-Christian friends when they asked about it. Thus it was being seen as the gospel, supposedly used to tell the gospel, when it was only moral example or law, which is powerless to sanctify from beginning to end. The righteous shall live by faith. Of course with the gospel at heart you can take it otherwise, but the most natural reading of it for those not taught otherwise, is merely example or rule.

RobHu said...

I'm surprised to hear anyone thinks of WWJD as the gospel. I'd always thought it was just something to remind us to make choices that are more Christ-like, which AFAICT is a good thing.

étrangère said...

As I said above, Rob, it's not that anyone is going around saying, "This is the gospel," but it is used for a sanctification aid (as well as for encouraging kids to give them to others evangelistically). As such, it's not bad, but it's not the whole story, and lends itself more easily to law than it does the gospel. The NT way of motivating us to do what pleases our Lord is What Has Jesus Done for us? What Has Jesus commanded? and What will Jesus do in the future? Those are historical, objective things outside of us, into which we are caught up by the Spirit as He united us to Christ - rather different from the present hypothetical of What Would Jesus Do? I'm not saying it's wrong per se, only that because it's not the gospel, it's not our motivation for holiness according to the NT!

Anonymous said...

Rob, you said you'd be surprised to meet anyone who thought WWJD was the gospel. I meet such people all the time! By way of example, I was talking to someone at my part-time job on Saturday and mentioned that I was a Christian and went to church. They immediately said that, although they didn't like church or "believe in miracles or any of that stuff", they thought Christianity was great and that they were "kind of a Christian too" because they tried to follow his example, "and in the end, that's what matters, right?". The idea that Christianity is wholly or even primarily about following Jesus' ethical example is remarkably widespread.

RobHu said...

When I say that I'd be surprised to encounter anyone who thought WWJD was the gospel I mean among Christians. I know that most non-Christians think that Christianity is about works.

Anonymous said...

Fair enough. Although I suppose you could argue that if they think WWJD is the gospel then they aren't Christians...