While the “What-Would-Jesus-Do?” wristbands are no longer in vogue, the phrase itself has not passed off the scene. People continue to speak of it, and continue to use this question to guide their ethical decision-making process. While the question itself is a good one to ask (it’s good to want to do what Jesus would do), and can be valuable to making difficult ethical decisions, it is too subjective and will not be used properly by most people. I have three reasons for saying so.

 

First, it has been my experience that most people who use “WWJD?” as a guide for making moral decisions know little about Jesus’ ethical teachings and the kind of life He lived. Why? Because they are Biblically illiterate. It’s kind of difficult to know what Jesus would do if you don’t know the kinds of things Jesus did do, and are not familiar with the ethical principles Jesus taught. There is simply no standard by which to make an accurate and adequate evaluation of what Jesus might do.

 

Secondly, we tend to think Jesus would do what we think is the right thing to do. We project onto Jesus our own ethical system. We reason that if Jesus were as smart as people say He is, of course He would agree with me! But by doing so we argue in an ethical circle. While we claim we are being guided by what we think Jesus would do, what we think Jesus would do is determined by what we think is right. So we put into Jesus’ mouth our own words and call that our ethical authority. This is circular reasoning at its best.

 

Both of the above reasons are rooted in an unfamiliarity with Jesus’ moral teachings and way of living. My third reason for doubting the value of the WWJD? principle of ethical decision making, however, applies even to those who are Biblically literate. While I may think I know what Jesus would do based on my knowledge of His life and teachings, the fact of the matter is that I cannot know for certain what Jesus would do in most circumstances. Jesus taught and did some pretty crazy things in His day that surprised even His very morally-minded Jewish followers. What we think Jesus might do in our circumstances based on our knowledge of what He did do in His own circumstances may not be what He would actually do. For these reasons I remain skeptical that WWJD? is a good guide to moral decision-making.