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


John Kulp said...


The question WWJD has bothered me for some time. I understand the desire to be Christ-like, but the WWJD seems to often to be mystically applied to any tradition one believer wants to demand of another.

Some time ago, I had a baseball cap custom made with a WWJD on the front having the second "W" crossed out and a "D" inserted above it. Below the WDJD it states "Read the book.....Find out"

The critical question for both believers and non-believers is "What DID Jesus Do?" It demands a search for truth, and provides wonderful answers.

For non-believers, He died to rip apart the veil which separates imperfect humans from a perfect God. He paid the price which allows any human to walk into intimacy with God by simply believing that Jesus is who He says He is and trusting Him to provide the eternal life he promised to those who believe. This is the focus and clear message of the Gospel of John.

For believers, he modeled a life empowered by that intimate walk with God. There are many scriptures which show this, but my favorites are Matthew 14:13&23 and Luke 5:16, 6:12 and 22:44.

There are many ways people come to this path, desire and persuit of intimacy. Mine was more simple than Dobsons. Mine was, and continues to be summed up in your statement that "the best way to become more like Jesus is to spend time with Him".

For years as a believer I pursued the thought that my holiness would bring me to intimacy with God. I did well enough to look good to others, but inside it was a painfull path of struggle and failure. When I finally came to understand from the book of Galatians that, instead, my pursuit of intimacy with God brings me to His holiness, it changed my life.

I liken it to a modern custom which I hate. Our world is now filled with people driving, walking, standing in line and living their lives attached to their cell phone. For me, the speaker of my "phone" is God's word. I cary an audio bible, and it is his voice to me. And the microphone of my "phone" is my communication back to him in prayer. I pursue a path of having that conversation as often as the silly lady in front of me in line does while talking on the phone as she checks out her groceries. I have not mastered it. My mind still gets pulled away too often, but I pursue it. The more time I spend with Him, the more He produces the fruit of His Spirit in my life.


Bill Ball said...

Thanks John