In other words, can we know What Jesus Would Do?
A couple of weeks ago I posted a quote from Dallas Willard’s The Spirit of the Disciplines in which he questions the What Would Jesus Do approach to discipleship. His main concern was that it overlooked the fact that Jesus’ choices in an given “on the spot” situation were “the natural outflow of the life he lived when not on the spot”.
A couple days ago Justin at Radical Congruency linked to a New York Times op-ed by Gary Willis (here are some “bug me nots” to sign in with if you need them, thanks to Justin. Try username: bugmenot213213 and password: 213213, which worked for me). In the article Willis discusses the co-opting of Jesus for political purposes by the American right and left. It’s an interesting op-ed that attempts to (for once) remove Jesus from political partisanship of any kind. But that’s not what this post is about (I may quote the op-ed more later).
Within the op-ed, however, Willis has this to say about What Would Jesus Do?:
Some may think that removing Jesus from politics would mean removing morality from politics. They think we would all be better off if we took up the slogan “What would Jesus do?”
That is not a question his disciples ask in the Gospels. They never knew what Jesus was going to do next. He could round on Peter and call him “Satan.” He could refuse to receive his mother when she asked to see him. He might tell his followers that they are unworthy of him if they do not hate their mother and their father. He might kill pigs by the hundreds. He might whip people out of church precincts.
The Jesus of the Gospels is not a great ethical teacher like Socrates, our leading humanitarian. He is an apocalyptic figure who steps outside the boundaries of normal morality to signal that the Father’s judgment is breaking into history. His miracles were not acts of charity but eschatological signs ”? accepting the unclean, promising heavenly rewards, making last things first.
If Willis is right—and he’s certainly on to something here, I think—the only thing we can be certain that Jesus would do is love. But even ‘love’ as a motivator in any action is often vague, because what does “love” really mean these days? For the most part it’s either sex or “being nice”, both of which are far off the mark. Jesus wasn’t always nice, was he, even though he always loved? And what does “love” mean in the context of correction and discipline, for instance? By some definitions, “love” wouldn’t correct or discipline. If I were to turn the tables on the bingo parlour in a church’s basement or accused someone of being a (unwitting?) tool of Satan, that wouldn’t be considered “loving” by today’s standards, would it?