Friday, November 13, 2009


Further thoughts based on John’s comments on previous blog.

I agree that the WWJD fad has bothered me for some time. I would definitely add it to my list of FAD DOCTRINES. Teenagers and wannabe teenagers wearing those little arm bracelets with the letters on them (these were later found to contain lead and to be harmful to wearer’s health), caps, t-shirts, etc. The letters of course stood for “What Would Jesus Do?” but those who weren’t in the know were left to wonder. Weren’t these the call letters of a Chicago radio station that broadcast country music late at night when I was a kid?

I have seen “What Would Jesus Do?” used as an argument in term papers by some of my college students as well as heard it used in discussions and arguments in areas of disagreement. The argument usually follows this pattern (thought not expressed quite this clearly): “Paul says this, the Old Testament says this and Jesus didn’t address the topic at all. But I believe He would have disagreed with the others and agreed with my position.” Thus any position, no matter how bizarre, can be proven. Who can argue with “Jesus”?

I also agree that the critical question is “What Did Jesus Do?” His life stands as a pattern for us of intimacy with God and His death on the cross made our eternal life with God possible. Theologians refer to these as His active and passive obedience.

But as I said in my previous post, I believe that the question is a legitimate question. I have asked this question of myself quite a few times. I suspect that the questioner may have been the Holy Spirit.

The first time I met someone with AIDS, 20 years ago, the question came to my mind. (See: MY FRIEND.) It would have been easy to rationalize refusing to touch him. After all, when Jesus told us to love our neighbor, He didn’t tell us how close we had to get to him in order to love him?

What about those of another race or culture? What about those who are prejudiced against me? What about those who hate me?

Jesus modeled more than intimacy with God. He also modeled a life of love and compassion for others. In my walk, especially in my relationships with others, I find that the question needs to be asked over and over. Not as some sort of mantra, but to give direction to my behavior.

I believe if we’d ask it more often and seek to answer it honestly, we wouldn’t have near the divisiveness among Christians that we have.


Bill Ball

Tuesday, November 10, 2009


When I saw Ed Dobson’s book, “The Year of Living Like Jesus: My Journey of Discovering What Jesus Would Really Do” I was intrigued. Dobson (no kin to the Focus on the Family guy) is pastor emeritus of Calvary Church in Grand Rapids, MI. I had read a previous book of his, “Blinded by Might” written in conjunction with Cal Thomas, describing his pilgrimage from the Religious Right and I had recognized him as a kindred spirit. Now I hoped this book would tell me more about his continuing spiritual journey.

Dobson spent the year of 2008 attempting to live as he felt Jesus would live in the 21st century and has recorded many of his actions and reflections in his book. He is very open and honest and frequently humorous. His pilgrimage is complicated by the fact that he is suffering from ALS and weakened by it.

He attempts to live by the Torah. He eats kosher food and keeps Shabbat; he observes the Jewish holidays; he wears a fringed t-shirt; he grows a beard. He listens to the Gospels over and over on his iPod.

But then he does some rather strange things. He recites the Catholic rosary as well as Orthodox and Anglican prayer rituals. I fail to see how living like Jesus involves these things. He observes Jewish traditions. Would Jesus do this? Jesus in the Gospels flaunted the extra-biblical traditions. He didn’t fit in with the Jewish orthodoxy of His day and I doubt if He’d fit in with much of today’s Jewish (or Christian) tradition.

Jesus ate and drank with sinners, so Dobson attempts to do the same. Some of the most entertaining parts of the book are his stories about his time spent in bars. He’d belly up, have a beer and strike up conversations with the bartender and whoever else was there. And he’d talk about Jesus.

He struggles with voting in the presidential election. Should he vote? What criteria should he use in choosing the right candidate? In the end he makes a choice that brings criticism, even rejection, from many of his conservative Christian friends.

His conclusions are refreshing. The section entitled, “What Have I Learned?” is worth the price of the book. He sees this year as “the next step in my journey of trying to follow Jesus more closely.” It’s clear that Dobson has been on this journey for a long time – much longer than this one year – and that he will continue to draw closer to his Savior and Lord.

I read this book as a conversation. As I read I found myself carrying on a dialogue with Dobson. Though I’ve never met him I found myself and much of my journey in his book.

I’ve known Jesus for most of my life. He was part of the conversation in my world since I was a child (although sometimes His name was heard as an expression of astonishment or anger). But it wasn’t till I was 18 years old that I personally put my faith in Him. I became part of a church where “salvation by grace through faith” was preached. That’s how one “got saved.”

The problem was that all of us “saved” people were not taught how to be followers of Jesus. We were rather given legalistic rules and moralistic sermons as our resources for “living the Christian life.” We sang: “Be like Jesus this my song …”; “Oh to be like Thee …”; “Take up thy cross and follow Me …”; but somehow we – perhaps I should say I – did not see this as a goal in life and especially as an end in itself.

Yet isn’t that God’s purpose for us? To be “conformed to the image of His Son” (Romans 8:29)?

Like Dobson, as I have grown in my knowledge of and walk with Jesus, I have found that in many ways “living like Jesus” puts me out of step and even at odds with traditional Evangelicals and Evangelicalism. I’ve come to realize that this is a radical way of life.

I’m not claiming that I’ve got it made. I’m still growing. It’s just that certain actions I’ve taken, that I felt were “what Jesus would do” have been interpreted differently by my traditional friends: befriending the “wrong” kind of people – hippies, blacks, AIDS victims; bringing them to church; taking political or ethical positions that are out of line with current “orthodox” positions – even questioning such positions; emphasizing certain theological positions and de-emphasizing others; speaking out on any of the above .

Of course there are many things Jesus did that I haven’t done and don’t plan on doing: I haven’t driven anyone out of a church with a whip; I haven’t stood up in church and called someone a hypocrite; I haven’t performed any miracles; and I definitely haven’t challenged anyone to convict me of sin if he can.

I have been accused by some of being self-righteous, condescending, arrogant and rebellious. I hope I’ve not been any of these, though I probably have been such at times. If I have, I pray that God will reveal that to me. I’ve also been accused of being contrarian and “liberal.” I don’t know if I am, but I’ll accept that without apology or defense.

Some further thoughts on the “how-to” of living like Jesus. We tend to become like the person we spend the most time with, especially our close friends and those we feel are more mature. (See: IMITATE ME.) The best way to become more like Jesus is to spend time with Him. I believe this is what Dobson was trying to do by listening over and over to the Gospels. I haven’t done that, but I have tried to read through them on a regular basis, marking Jesus’ actions, emotions and demands.

We also need to spend time with Him in prayer. I believe that we need to keep a running conversation with Jesus/God going in our minds. Jesus must be part of our thought life and brought into every decision we make.

And the question, “What would Jesus do?” is a legitimate question. If there are clear moral imperatives or prohibitions this should not be a problem. But sometimes there are not. It is then that this question must be asked. And we need to remember that He always acted in love and truth.

There was a time when I thought I had it all put together. I now realize that the life of a believer involves constant change, that I must constantly reexamine many of my convictions. I hope that as I change, it is in the direction of becoming more like Jesus.

Bill Ball

Monday, November 2, 2009


Some further thoughts regarding the comments by Josh.

Thanks, Josh.

The passages are so different that it's hard to make a blanket statement. But I believe all are rebukes to those who professed to be knowledgeable.

I agree that the key to understanding is the recognition of Christ. At least that's the case in Matthew 21:42 (Mark 12:10). It's interesting, however, that He rebuked them for their ignorance of Psalm 118:22, but not for not getting His interpretation of Isaiah 5:1-7. I do think He was holding them accountable, not for their exegesis, but for failing to recognize Him. This makes sense, since Psalm 118 was regarded as Messianic, while I can’t find any evidence that Isaiah 5 was.

In Matthew 12:3-5, it is not clear to me what the case is. He could simply be showing from the references to David and the priests that His disciples' behavior was justifiable. However, He may also be subtly asserting that He is the Greater David and that they should have understood His actions in this light.

In Matthew 19:4, He seems to be rebuking them for ignoring the creation account in their arguments about divorce. In this case and in the following, He is asserting Himself as the Great Teacher of the Law, speaking authoritatively as He did in the Sermon on the Mount in chapter 5:27 ff.

In Matthew 22:29, 31 (Mark 12:26), He is doing something similar to the Sadducees, though His interpretation might have been easier for them to miss. It is interesting, however, that He quotes from Exodus 3 when speaking of the resurrection, rather than Ezekiel or Daniel. This is most likely because the Sadducees apparently only accepted the Torah (the first 5 books of the Bible) as authoritative.

So I agree with you, Josh. It was about their recognition of Him as the Christ. They were the scholars. He seems to have been holding them accountable for not connecting what they saw in Him with their knowledge of the prophetic Scriptures. It was as though they hadn’t even read them. They were not able to “discern the signs of the times” (Matthew 16:3).

I have to admit, however, that I was wrong when I said that I couldn’t find one place where He rebuked others for their ignorance. He did!

Luke 24:25: “And He said to them (his disciples), ‘You stupid and slow in your hearts to believe everything that the prophets said.’”

In fact, in all the resurrection accounts He rebuked His disciples for not only failing to believe the Scriptures, but for failing to believe the evidence that was right in front of them – The risen Christ Himself.

Thanks again for forcing me to think harder!

Bill Ball