Friday 9 December 2011

What would Jesus do?: The rise of a slogan

What would Jesus do?: The rise of a slogan

WWJD banner at the Occupy London Stock Exchange protest

The Occupy movement has become the latest to use the slogan "what would Jesus do?", something that has been questioned by the Archbishop of Canterbury. But where did the slogan come from and is there ever an answer to the question posed, asks Stephen Tomkins.

Like all the most enduring slogans, "what would Jesus do?" has inspired countless rewrites.

There has been everything from political parody - anti-war T-shirts asking "who would Jesus bomb?" - to the beyond parody such as the "what would Jesus eat?" biblical diet plan.

The original question "what would Jesus do?" has been taken seriously by millions of Christian teenagers who have worn it over the last 20 years as a reminder to live their life in the right way. But it's now been co-opted by protesters outside London's St Paul's Cathedral threatened with eviction.

Particularly in the US, but also elsewhere, it's on wristbands, mugs, T-shirts, bumper stickers, necklaces and earrings, though most of those seem rather to defeat the purpose of reminding the owner about anything.

Pastiche and parody

  • What would Jesus cut? - Washington Post headline on national debt debate
  • What Would Jesus Deconstruct? - a book of postmodern theology by John Caputo and Brian McLaren
  • What Would Audrey Do? - Hepburn-based style guide by Pamela Keogh
  • What Would Google Do? - book by Jeff Jarvis
  • Who Wants Jack Daniels? - T-shirt

Also available, if you know where to look, are WWJD? teddy bears, WWJD? lunch boxes, WWJD? underwear, and WWJD? baby bibs.

The question has a long history. In 1896 the Kansas Congregational minister Charles Sheldon published a novel called In His Steps: What would Jesus do? in which a town is revolutionised when Christians "pledge themselves, earnestly and honestly for an entire year, not to do anything without first asking the question, 'What would Jesus do?'".

Thanks to a mistake by its first publisher, the book was never covered by copyright, so it was sold cheaply by multiple publishers. As a result it has sold 30 million copies, putting it in the top 50 bestselling books ever.

One of its readers was Janie Tinklenberg, a youth leader at Calvary Reformed Church in Holland, Michigan. After re-reading it in 1989, she talked to her youth group about it.

She considered printing T-shirts for them bearing the slogan, but at the time friendship bracelets were all the rage, so she got a local company to print 300. She opted for the abbreviation WWJD. Tinklenberg asked the group to wear them for 30 days, they caught on locally, and more were needed.

Others with more of a commercial eye than Tinklenberg spotted the trend, made their own and took the marketing to the national level. By the time she attempted to register her trademark it was too late.

Slogan on baseball player Albert Pujols' boot The use of WWJD? can be a simple signifier of faith

Today, tens of millions have been sold, and Tinklenberg and her church, like Sheldon, have not profited from their success, but are certainly just glad to have the word spread.

It is unusual for a slogan to take the form of a question. A few others come to mind: "It is. Are you?" from the Independent newspaper, "Where do you want to go today?" from Microsoft, and "Are you thinking what we're thinking?" from the Conservative Party's 2005 election campaign.

It seems paradoxical that this most popular question-slogan emerged from US evangelicalism, which critics and opponents would not necessarily connect with open-minded questioning.

Perhaps, like the popularity of the Alpha Course with its question mark logo, this shows that religion most connects with people when it raises questions rather than when it answers them.

Slogan poster The slogan has been much adapted over the years

The Archbishop of Canterbury took on this point this week, writing that WWJD?, while a good question, did not represent a simple path to the truth.

"Christians don't believe that Jesus is there just to give us a good example in every possible human situation," he noted.

For Conrad Gempf, a US evangelical who teaches the New Testament at the London School of Theology, as well-meaning as it is, WWJD? is the wrong question.

"When we look at what the early church did in the Bible," he says, "they didn't copy Jesus. They did what Jesus told them to do. Jesus spoke in parables, his disciples didn't - they preached about him and they told it straight. They didn't walk on water. Jesus didn't tell us to do what he did, he told us to do even greater things."

There are other potential problems with the simple-sounding question. Can we really know WJWD?

The life of a first century Judean carpenter, let alone messiah, is hard to compare to that lived by western teenagers today. "There was never a time when it was appropriate for Jesus to play the saxophone. But there may be a time when it's exactly the right thing for you to do. That bracelet will mislead you," Gempf suggests.

Moreover, the Bible offers very little detail about Jesus's daily life when he wasn't preaching or performing miracles. And what little it does tell us defies all expectations - hanging around with prostitutes and trashing the temple. Is that the kind of behaviour church youth leaders want to encourage?

Sarah Wynter, editor of Youthwork magazine, suggests that the question isn't the whole point of the wristband anyway.

"Teenagers are looking for a way to demonstrate they belong to something," she says. "They might not feel comfortable talking about what they believe, they might still be working some of it out. But wearing a wristband is something they feel they can do to make some kind of a stand."

"What's good about it," says Gempf, "is that it does get people asking a question about what they're doing, looking at it from another perspective. Most people don't ever do that. But the right question is: what did God create me to do?"

Saturday 19 November 2011

Saturday 22 October 2011


The belief that there was nothing
and nothing happened to nothing
and then nothing magically
exploded for no reason, creating
everything and then a bunch of
everything magically rearranged
itself for no reason what so ever
into self replicating bits which
then turned into dinosaurs.

The fool hath said in his heart there is no God (Psalm 14:1 & 53:1)

Saturday 2 July 2011

1st July 11 Your Life is a Vapour.

Have you ever boiled a kettle? within a few seconds the kitchen is filled with vapour (steam) and then a flick of the switch and the steam disappears? Our lives can be just like that one minute you're here and the next minute you're gone!

Two events happened today, which have reminded me of the frailties of life. The first was attending the funeral of Michael Kweku Osei-Boadu (20.8.86 – 17.06.11) who passed into glory a couple of weeks ago after a long battle with illness. Kweku attended the church, of which I pastor, The Potters House Christian Church Croydon, some time ago. I remember him as being bright, well mannered and respectful. It was good to see so many family, friends and colleagues attend the service and that is a measure of our brother’s popularity. (Interestingly we give loved ones flowers when they can no longer smell them?).

The second event was as we were driving home from the funeral a lady was knocked off her bike by a car (which initially drove off before returning) along lower addiscombe road. The lady was passing in and out of unconsciousness and was bleeding heavily from her nose and mouth. Fortunately the ambulance service were on the scene within a few minutes and they stretchered her off to hospital.

Our best wishes and prayers go out to Kweku’s family and the lady cyclist, whom we pray makes a speedy recovery.

These two events remind of James 4:14 “How do you know what your life will be like tomorrow? Your life is like the morning fog--it's here a little while, then it's gone”. James reminds us, of the frailties and fragility of life here on this earth. Young's Literal Translation says it this way who do not know the thing of the morrow; for what is your life? for it is a vapour that is appearing for a little, and then is vanishing” Have you ever driven a car through the fog? Then after a few minutes the fog disappears? This is the imagery James is using to show us how easily our lives can pass away. In essence what this text is teaching us, is that life is too often and that we need to live our lives in light of eternity.

In one moment of time we can step from this world into the next world, where we will all stand before God and give an account for our lives. Hebrews 9:27 “it is appointed for men to die once, but after this the judgement”. I thank God my brother Kweku is “Born again” (John 3:3), but what about you? What about the lady cyclist? If you were to die today, where would you go? Heaven or Hell? Have you made peace with friends? Family? Foes?, but most importantly, with our Father in heaven?

The following are a few scriptures to ponder and reflect on,

Job 7:17 Remember, O God, that my life is but a breath; my eyes will never see happiness again.

Psalm 39:5 You have made my days a mere handbreadth; the span of my years is as nothing before you. Each man's life is but a breath. Selah

Psalm 78:39 He remembered that they were but flesh, a passing breeze that does not return

Psalm 102:3 For my days vanish like smoke; my bones burn like glowing embers.

Psalm 144:4 Man is like a breath; his days are like a fleeting shadow.

Proverbs 27:1 Do not boast about tomorrow, for you do not know what a day may bring forth.

Isaiah 2:22 Stop trusting in man, who has but a breath in his nostrils. Of what account is he?

Ecclesiastes 12:13 Let us hear the conclusion of the whole matter: fear god and keep his commandments, for this is mans all”.

Wednesday 27 April 2011

Reflections on Australia

I just arrived back (good Friday) from a 10 day preaching enagagement in Australia. Preaching the Gospel of Jesus Christ is a GREAT privilige and responsibility, but travelling to the other side of the world is tiring! Having left the previous Monday, it took me a day and a half to get there, sitting in a seat two sizes too small for 23hours. However I must say the Quantas / BA staff were very helpful and made a very long journey easier.

I first preached a wednesday night to Sunday morning revival for Pastor Darryl and Sister Carol Munckton in Wollongong, 1 hr south of Sydney. Pastor Darryl has been pastoring this Church for a number of years now and the congregation numbers around eighty saints who were very welcoming and hospitable to me. I've known Darryl and Carol now since 1996, when our uk impact team visited them in Armadale and it was good sharing humorous fellowship about the english beating the aussies at Cricket, Rugby and football ;-) Darryl kindly took me to Sydney harbour to see the world famous Opera House, Bridge and street performers ;-)

After the Sunday AM service I was driven 3hours to Canberra the capital of Australia to preach for Pastor Craig & Raelene Holford and their adorable four children. Craig was also very kind to take time off work to take me to the Australian War memorial, which i must admit was an eye opener. I have visted the Haulocast Museum in Israel, War museum in Poland and of course the British war museum, yet I was very impressed (and enlighhtened) by the role of the ANZACs in various conflicts around the world. On another day we visted the Telecoms tower and the very impressive (and expensive AUD1.1 billion) Parliment House, which in many ways is very similar to our own English parliment. The revival meetings went well and on the last night, they had their highest attendance for a while (praise be to God).

I must say after preaching two revivals back to back I was missing family, Church, home, etc and was actually looking forward to the trip home. on the flight I got to have great conversations with the Christian Stewardess sitting opposite me (emergency exits seats..... thank you Jesus), the atheist, Ghandi loving ex Christian (very nice guy) and the GAY young guy sitting next to me who was a Christian until about 20yrs old (God you have a sense of humour).

Please keep the Muncktons and the Holfords in your prayers

Thursday 17 February 2011

BBC Worst place in the world for being GAY (Homosexual)

Someone sent me the link and asked me to watch the above programme that was aired recently.

Firstly as a Christian and a Pastor, it was sad to see people being victimised and brutalised because of their sexuality, whether we agree theologically, socially or ethically with it or not! The way of Christ is to ‘love our neighbours’ for me the story of Stosh (sic) was very harrowing and will live long in the memory.

What was the purpose of going to Uganda? Well, Uganda was recently in the media following reports of anti homosexuality legislation and the recent death of a Ugandan Homosexual (though some reports say the attack had more to do with robbery than homophobia) seems to have promoted Uganda to the premier league of anti homosexuality. So with that in mind, Radio DJ Scott Mills, a Gay man travels to Uganda to see what life would be like as a Homosexual.

I actually found this programme to be quite racist and condescending. I suspect Scott Mills is not a serious Journalist, but he came across as quite ignorant and arrogant. You are surprised that huge sections of the world don’t agree with a lifestyle that (as you admit) was illegal in this country thirty to forty years ago. So the insinuation is we i.e. the UK have change our position on this issue, why haven’t you? The problem with a lot of Europeans is that they consider their worldview to be the most superior consciously or not. There is a sort of intellectual, social and elitist snobbery that exists. Do you notice that if you have views contrary to the pro homosexual movement how they use shame? How you are viewed as some backward stone age Neanderthal? Whilst I am happy that the Radio 1 DJ had an easy time coming out as a Homosexual in the UK (Portsmouth) that does not mean that everyone in the UK is supportive of the Homosexual lifestyle!

As he visits a slum with open sewers making comments such as ‘If you want to see what homophobia does’? What a class one, or should that be radio one idiot! He obviously has not spent much time in Asia, Africa and many other parts of the world? I suspect on his salary he does not do much visiting of third world countries? So being anti homosexual forces people into poverty in Africa eh? Scott Mills seems shocked that people have ‘Bars on the windows’ in Africa, has this guy never been to many of housing estates in Hackney, Peckham, Harlseden, Kilburn and many other places in London? Contrasting the quay in White middle (or is that upper?) class Portsmouth with the bustling market places of Uganda is not really a fair comparison is it?

Did you notice the repeated attacks on ‘Pastors’, and ‘Preachers’? (I actually thought the pastor was not as bad as the DJ tried to make him out to be! In fact the pastor seemed quite tactile with the DJ, hmmm maybe not that homophobic eh?) let me guess Scott Mills, you’re not a devout Christian? Possibly atheist? Agnostic? Give me a break just who the heck does this guy think he is? A white, well paid middle class guy, who has lived an easy life, much of it spent in nightclubs treated like a VIP, travelling to the other side of the world to criticise and critique other peoples culture??!! Does being a Gay (or straight) radio 1 DJ qualify you to do that? I must say the Homosexual movement is clever and pervasive in the media, did you notice the dramatic changes in background music (watch it again) and crouching down in the back of the minibus to try and convey a dangerous mood?

I must say the visit to the witch doctor was hilarious – I suspect they saw him coming and thought to themselves ‘there’s one born every minute’. Also the look on the politicians face when he found out that Scott Mills was Gay was hilarious.

Having said all of the above, there is a serious issue at hand and that is how those with a Christian worldview engage with a world that is ‘sin sick’. We are called to love those in the world but not be like those in the world. I think that as Christians we should state our theological position in a clear and loving manner. God bless ALL.

Tuesday 8 February 2011

Book Review 'Son of Hamas'.

Just finished reading an 'incredible' book called 'Son of Hamas', written as the title suggests by Mosab Hassan Yousef, the eldest son of one of the founders of Hamas. It is a gripping read from someone who was raised in Hamas. The book is also up to date in that many of the events spoken about happened in the last 10-15 years. This book gives you an insiders perspective to all the stories we read and saw in the media at that time. If you want to quickly try and understand some of the struggles of the middle east, this book will help! God bless.