Tag Archives: social gospel

Charles Sheldon as example of how pastors could better understand the working life of their congregants


Kansas 150/150

Charles Sheldon's blockbuster novel. READ IT!

A book that is sorely needed in today’s Christian world is John Knapp’s How the Church Fails Businesspeople (Knapp is a professor and head of an ethics center at Samford University in Birmingham, Alabama). He’s blogging on the concept, briefly, on his publisher’s website, and lo and behold, up pops one of my favorite classical, Christocentric liberals of the 19th century, Charles M. Sheldon. Yup. I dedicated a chapter to Mr. “What Would Jesus Do?” in my book Patron Saints for Postmoderns (yes, there’s a Kindle version, in case you get one of those hugely popular commerce devices this Christmas). Here’s Dr. Knapp’s take on Sheldon. Amen, John. May your book gain a wide audience:

Pastors who wish to better understand the weekday lives of their parishioners could learn a thing or two from the real-life example of a nineteenth-century minister named Charles Sheldon, best known for his classic novel titled In His Steps: What Would Jesus Do? Continue reading

Kingdom work, social justice


Stained glass at St John the Baptist's Anglica...

The King of the Kingdom

As Scot McKnight says over at his Jesus Creed blog, this is an article in the Associated
Baptist Press
 that ought to get some discussion:

WACO, Texas (ABP) — A rising generation of Christians intent on working for social justice must not confuse that effort with “kingdom work,” award-winning Christian author Scot McKnight said during the Parchman Endowed Lecturesseries at Baylor University’s Truett Theological Seminary.

“In our country, the younger generation is becoming obsessed with social justice,” including through government opportunities, politics and voting, said McKnight, author of The Jesus Creed: Loving God, Loving Others. “What it’s doing is leading young Christians out of the church and into the public sector to do what they call ‘kingdom work.’

“I want to raise a red flag here: There is no such thing as kingdom work outside the church — and I don’t mean the building. The kingdom is about King Jesus and King Jesus’ people and King Jesus’ ethics for King Jesus’ people. Continue reading

Thrift Store Saints: A no-guilt, practical storybook about helping the poor


Friend LaVonne Neff recently blogged her review of a nifty new book. Here’s a sample:

Thrift Store Saints . . . is one book about helping the poor that won’t make you feel bad about yourself and won’t put you to sleep. In fact, it may make you chuckle, if you’re the chuckling sort. And if you’d like to get involved with serving the poor but don’t have a clue where to start, this is the book for you. . . .

Most books about poverty present a lot of facts, data, theory, and theology, interspersing the sober exposition with occasional anecdotes in hopes of keeping the reader’s attention. This book turns that approach inside out. Knuth tells story after story, only occasionally supplementing her tales with commentary, as she gently and with self-deprecating humor leads readers into a new way of seeing.

The full review is here.

Poverty and racism: What would Charles Sheldon, “Mr. WWJD,” do?


In researching the man who originated the phrase “What would Jesus do” for Patron Saints for Postmoderns, I discovered something exciting. This novelist, whose In His Steps immortalized the idea of asking oneself “What would Jesus do?” before making any major decision, was no starry-eyed dreamer who lived only in his writing. Rather, he was one of the most active men of his day in the cause of social justice. Here’s what minister-novelist Charles Sheldon did when, as the brand new pastor of a Topeka, Kansas church, he was suddenly confronted with the problems of urban poverty and racism. [The following is an excerpt from the chapter on Sheldon in Patron Saints.]

Crossing Class Lines

From the first, Sheldon did well for his new church. The upper room over the butcher was often full, and soon the group was building a big stone edifice. When the new building opened, on June 23, 1889, Sheldon preached a defining sermon to what would be his lifelong flock. We can imagine their mix of pride and discomfort—“what had they gotten themselves into?”—as the young pastor announced that he would always preach “a Christ for the common people. A Christ who belongs to the rich and to the poor, the ignorant and the learned, the old and the young, the good and the bad. A Christ who knows no sect or age, whose religion does not consist alone in cushioned seats, and comfortable surroundings, or culture, or fine singing, or respectable orders of Sunday services, but a Christ who bids us all recognize the Brotherhood of the race, who bids throw open this room to all.” Little did those unsuspecting congregants know what concrete shapes their activist pastor’s dreams would assume in the years to come. Continue reading

Is “social justice” a Christian code-word for “communism and Nazism”? Fox News’s Glenn Beck says so, and evangelical leaders are striking back


Fox News personality Glenn Beck has told his viewers to leave Christian churches that preach social justice. Now evangelical leaders are striking back, with Jim Wallis leading the way.

But Jerry Falwell Jr. is backing up Beck, who says that “social justice” in church rhetoric is to be considered a code-word and cover-up for “communism and Nazism.” Read about it here or here.

What do you think? Is there a place in the preaching and life of the church for social justice? Is correcting social inequities part of the “good news” of the gospel?

How would Jesus pastor? The ministry style of the man behind “What would Jesus do?”–Charles M. Sheldon


When I started digging into the life of Charles M. Sheldon–the man behind “What would Jesus do?”–I was expecting to find the caricature of a novelist: an introverted, naive, impractical dreamer who didn’t emerge much from his house, . . . Well, I discovered a very different sort of man. And Marshall Shelley was gracious enough to let me share my findings with the readers of Leadership Journal:

How Would Jesus Pastor?
The unpredictable Charles Sheldon gave it a try.
Chris Armstrong

The words rang out one Sunday morning in the fictional First Church in the fictional, comfortable town of Raymond. The speaker was a tramp who had walked, mid-service, up the center aisle. “I get puzzled when I see so many Christians living in luxury and singing ‘Jesus, I my cross have taken, all to leave and follow Thee,’ and remember how my wife died in a tenement in New York City, gasping for air.

“It seems to me,” he continued, “there’s an awful lot of trouble in the world that somehow wouldn’t exist if all the people who sing such songs went and lived them out. I suppose I don’t understand. But what would Jesus do?

The following week, First Church’s pastor, Henry Maxwell, challenged his congregation to live up to their faith by asking themselves that same question, “What would Jesus do?” and act accordingly regardless of personal cost. Continue reading

I’m dreaming of a Victorian Christmas


OK, it’s December 4 and I can’t resist the urge any more. Time for a Christmas post!

I’m Dreaming of a Victorian Christmas
An ageless story reminds us of the values the Victorians can still teach us.
Chris Armstrong

A particular Christmas, or to be more exact, two Christmases, entered the modern imagination in 1868 through a much-beloved storybook, coloring our vision of Christmas ever since.

The first of these Christmases takes place under the shadow of war—the Civil War. A few days before the holiday, the four young daughters of an absent army chaplain mope together in the home that now seems so empty. They ruefully consider their holiday prospects: their “straightened circumstances” have reduced the customary Christmas bounty to a mere dollar apiece, doled out by their mother. Continue reading