In His Steps

( 34 )

Overview

The source of the popular slogan "What Would Jesus Do?" - found everywhere today from key chains to the pages of Rolling Stone magazine - can be traced back to the 1896 publication of In His Steps. Soon after its publication In His Steps was popping up everywhere - from comic books to plays - and had a circulation greater than any book other than the Bible. Sheldon presents "a Christ for the common people. A Christ who belongs to the rich and poor, the ignorant and learned, the old and young, the good and the ...
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Overview

The source of the popular slogan "What Would Jesus Do?" - found everywhere today from key chains to the pages of Rolling Stone magazine - can be traced back to the 1896 publication of In His Steps. Soon after its publication In His Steps was popping up everywhere - from comic books to plays - and had a circulation greater than any book other than the Bible. Sheldon presents "a Christ for the common people. A Christ who belongs to the rich and poor, the ignorant and learned, the old and young, the good and the bad." He asks us to consider what Jesus would do if He were in our shoes.

This profound book urges readers in the direction of Jesus' words, "take up your cross and follow Me." Relevant to readers today, it asks us to set our eyes on God instead of being led astray. Chose the path Jesus would have chosen. Live the life He lived. Walk in His steps.


About the Author:
Charles Monroe Sheldon (1857-1946) was a minister who wrote powerful pictorials of the Christian life. Growing up in the Dakota Territory, he was influenced by his father who founded about one hundred churches as the region's first missionary superintendent. Sheldon went to Brown University before graduating from Andover Theological Seminary and becoming so devoted to sharing the Gospel that he labored alongside snow shovelers, made rounds with doctors, and took classes with college students just to gain a better understanding of their lives and win them to Christ.

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Product Details

  • ISBN-13: 9781562924898
  • Publisher: Cook, David C.
  • Publication date: 3/1/1998
  • Edition description: REVISED
  • Product dimensions: 4.72 (w) x 7.38 (h) x 1.08 (d)

Meet the Author

Charles M. Sheldon was a pastor in 1896 when he chose to preach one Sunday night on the question "What would Jesus do?" A sermon became a series, that became an article, that became a book, that became a movement. And the book has sold over 30 million copies.

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First Chapter

Chapter 1

"For hereunto were ye called; because Christ also suffered for you, leaving you an example, that ye should follow his steps."

It was Friday morning and the Rev. Henry Maxwell was trying to finish his Sunday morning sermon. He had been interrupted several times and was growing nervous as the morning wore away, and the sermon grew very slowly toward a satisfactory finish.

"Mary," he called to his wife, as he went upstairs after the last interruption, "if any one comes after this, I wish you would say I am very busy and cannot come down unless it is something very important." "Yes, Henry. But I am going over to visit the kindergarten and you will have the house all to yourself."

The minister went up into his study and shut the door. In a few minutes he heard his wife go out, and then everything was quiet. He settled himself at his desk with a sigh of relief and began to write. His text was from I Peter ii. 21: "For hereunto were ye called; because Christ also suffered for you, leaving you an example that ye should follow his steps." He had emphasized in the first part of the sermon the Atonement as a personal sacrifice, calling attention to the fact of Jesus' suffering in various ways, in His life as well as in His death. He had then gone on to emphasize the Atonement from the side of example, giving illustrations from the life and teachings of Jesus to show how faith in the Christ helped to save men because of the pattern or character He displayed for their imitation. He was now on the third and last point, the necessity of following Jesus in His sacrifice and example.

He had put down the "Three Steps. What are they?" and was about to enumerate them in logical order when the bell rang sharply. It was one of those clock-work bells, and always went off as a clock might go if it tried to strike twelve all at once.

Henry Maxwell sat at his desk and frowned a little. He made no movement to answer the bell. Very soon it rang again; then he rose and walked over to one of his windows which commanded the view of the front door. A man was standing on the steps. He was a young man, very shabbily dressed.

"Looks like a tramp," said the minister. "I suppose I'll have to go down and . . . " He did not finish his sentence but he went downstairs and opened the front door. There was a moment's pause as the two men stood facing each other, then the shabby-looking young man said: I'm out of a job, sir, and thought maybe you might put me in the way of getting something."

"I don't know of anything. Jobs are scarce-" replied the minister, beginning to shut the door slowly. "I didn't know but you might perhaps be able to give me a line to the city railway or the superintendent of the shops, or something," continued the young man, shifting his faded hat from one hand to the other nervously. "It would be of no use. You will have to excuse me. I am very busy this morning. I hope you will find something. Sorry I can't give you something to do here. But I keep only a horse and a cow and do the work myself."

The Rev. Henry Maxwell closed the door and heard the man walk down the steps. As he went up into his study he saw from the hall window that the man was going slowly down the street, still holding his hat between his hands. There was something in the figure so dejected, homeless and forsaken that the minister hesitated a moment as he stood looking at it. Then he turned to his desk and with a sigh began the writing where he had left off. He had no more interruptions, and when his wife came in two hours later the sermon was finished, the loose leaves gathered up and neatly tied together, and laid on his Bible all ready for the Sunday morning service.

"A queer thing happened at the kindergarten this morning, Henry," said his wife while they were eating dinner. "You know I went over with Mrs. Brown to visit the school, and just after the games, while the children were at the tables, the door opened and a young man came in holding a dirty hat in both hands. He sat down near the door and never said a word; only looked at the children. He was evidently a tramp, and Miss Wren and her assistant Miss Kyle were a little frightened at first, but he sat there very quietly and after a few minutes he went out."

"Perhaps he was tired and wanted to rest somewhere. The same man called here, I think. Did you say he looked like a tramp?" "Yes, very dusty, shabby and generally tramp-like. Not more than thirty or thirty-three years old, I should say." "The same man," said the Rev. Henry Maxwell thoughtfully. "Did you finish your sermon, Henry?" his wife asked after a pause. "Yes, all done. It has been a very busy week with me. The two sermons have cost me a good deal of labor." "They will be appreciated by a large audience, Sunday, I hope," replied his wife smiling. "What are you going to preach about in the morning?" "Following Christ. I take up the Atonement under the head of sacrifice and example, and then show the steps needed to follow His sacrifice and example." "I am sure it is a good sermon. I hope it won't rain Sunday. We have had so many stormy Sundays lately." "Yes, the audiences have been quite small for some time. People will not come out to church in a storm." The Rev. Henry Maxwell sighed as he said it. He was thinking of the careful, laborious effort he had made in preparing sermons for large audiences that failed to appear.

But Sunday morning dawned on the town of Raymond one of the perfect days that sometimes come after long periods of wind and mud and rain. The air was clear and bracing, the sky was free from all threatening signs, and every one in Mr. Maxwell's parish prepared to go to church. When the service opened at eleven o'clock the large building was filled with an audience of the best-dressed, most comfortable-looking people of Raymond.

The First Church of Raymond believed in having the best music that money could buy, and its quartet choir this morning was a source of great pleasure to the congregation. The anthem was inspiring. All the music was in keeping with the subject of the sermon. And the anthem was an elaborate adaptation to the most modern music of the hymn,

"Jesus, I my cross have taken, All to leave and follow Thee."

Just before the sermon the soprano sang a solo, the well-known hymn, "Where He leads me I will follow, I'll go with Him, with Him, all the way."

Rachel Winslow looked very beautiful that morning as she stood up behind the screen of carved oak which was significantly marked with the emblems of the cross and the crown. Her voice was even more beautiful than her face, and that meant a great deal. There was a general rustle of expectation over the audience as she rose. Mr. Maxwell settled himself contentedly behind the pulpit. Rachel Winslow's singing always helped him. He generally arranged for a song before the sermon. It made possible a certain inspiration of feeling that made his delivery more impressive.

People said to themselves they had never heard such singing even in the First Church. It is certain that if it had not been a church service, her solo would have been vigorously applauded. It even seemed to the minister when she sat down that something like an attempted clapping of hands or a striking of feet on the floor swept through the church. He was startled by it. As he rose, however, and laid his sermon on the Bible, he said to himself he had been deceived. Of course it could not occur. In a few moments he was absorbed in his sermon and everything else was forgotten in the pleasure of his delivery.

No one had ever accused Henry Maxwell of being a dull preacher. On the contrary, he had often been charged with being sensational; not in what he had said so much as in his way of saying it. But the First Church people liked that. It gave their preacher and their parish a pleasant distinction that was agreeable.

It was also true that the pastor of the First Church loved to preach. He seldom exchanged. He was eager to be in his own pulpit when Sunday came. There was an exhilarating half-hour for him as he faced a church full of people and knew that he had a hearing. He was peculiarly sensitive to variations in the attendance. He never preached well before a small audience. The weather also affected him decidedly. He was at his best before just such an audience as faced him now, on just such a morning. He felt a glow of satisfaction as he went on. The church was the first in the city. It had the best choir. It had a membership composed of the leading people, representatives of the wealth, society and intelligence of Raymond. He was going abroad on a three months vacation in the summer, and the circumstances of his pastorate, his influence and his position as pastor of the First Church of the city.

It is not certain that the Rev. Henry Maxwell knew just how he could carry on that thought in connection with his sermon, but as he drew near the end of it he knew that he had at some point in his delivery had all those feelings. They had entered into the very substance of his thought; it might have been all in a few seconds of time, but he had been conscious of defining his position and his emotions as well as if he had held a soliloquy, and his delivery partook of the thrill of deep personal satisfaction.

The sermon was interesting. It was full of striking sentences. They would have commanded attention printed. Spoken with the passion of a dramatic utterance that had the good taste never to offend with a suspicion of ranting or declamation, they were very effective. If the Rev. Henry Maxwell that morning felt satisfied with the conditions of his pastorate, the First Church also had a similar feeling as it congratulated itself on the presence in the pulpit of this scholarly, refined, somewhat striking face and figure, preaching with such animation and freedom from all vulgar, noisy or disagreeable mannerism.

Suddenly, into the midst of this perfect accord and concord between preacher and audience, there came a very remarkable interruption. It would be difficult to indicate the extent of the shock, which this interruption measured. It was so unexpected, so entirely contrary to any thought of any person present that it offered no room for argument or, for the time being, of resistance. The sermon had come to a close. Mr. Maxwell had just turned the half of the big Bible over upon his manuscript and was about to sit down as the quartet prepared to arise to sing the closing selection, "All for Jesus, all for Jesus, All my being's ransomed powers," when the entire congregation was startled by the sound of a man's voice. It came from the rear of the church, from one of the seats under the gallery. The next moment the figure of a man came out of the shadow there and walked down the middle aisle. Before the startled congregation fairly realized what was going on the man had reached the open space in front of the pulpit and had turned about facing the people.

"I've been wondering since I came in here"-they were the words he used under the gallery, and he repeated them-"if it would be just the thing to say a word at the close of the service. I'm not drunk and I'm not crazy, and I am perfectly harmless, but if I die, as there is every likelihood I shall in a few days, I want the satisfaction of thinking that I said my say in a place like this, and before this sort of a crowd."

Mr. Maxwell had not taken his seat, and he now remained standing, leaning on his pulpit, looking down at the stranger. It was the man who had come to his house the Friday before, the same dusty, worn, shabby-looking young man. He held his faded hat in his two hands. It seemed to be a favorite gesture. He had not been shaved and his hair was rough and tangled. It is doubtful if any one like this had ever confronted the First Church within the sanctuary. It was tolerably familiar with this sort of humanity out on the street, around the railroad shops, wandering up and down the avenue, but it had never dreamed of such an incident as this so near.

There was nothing offensive in the man's manner or tone. He was not excited and he spoke in a low but distinct voice. Mr. Maxwell was conscious, even as he stood there smitten into dumb astonishment at the event, that somehow the man's action reminded him of a person he had once seen walking and talking in his sleep.

No one in the house made any motion to stop the stranger or in any way interrupt him. Perhaps the first shock of his sudden appearance deepened into a genuine perplexity concerning what was best to do. However that may be, he went on as if he had no thought of interruption and no thought of the unusual element which he had introduced into the decorum of the First Church service. And all the while he was speaking, the minister leaned over the pulpit, his face growing more white and sad every moment. But he made no movement to stop him, and the people sat smitten into breathless silence. One other face, that of Rachel Winslow from the choir, stared white and intent down at the shabby figure with the faded hat. Her face was striking at any time. Under the pressure of the present unheard-of incident it was as personally distinct as if it had been framed in fire.

"I'm not an ordinary tramp, though I don't know of any teaching of Jesus that makes one kind of a tramp less worth saving than another. Do you?" He put the question as naturally as if the whole congregation had been a small Bible class. He paused just a moment and coughed painfully. Then he went on.

"I lost my job ten months ago. I am a printer by trade. The new linotype machines are beautiful specimens of invention, but I know six men who have killed themselves inside of the year just on account of those machines. Of course I don't blame the newspapers for getting the machines. Meanwhile, what can a man do? I know I never learned but the one trade, and that's all I can do. I've tramped all over the country trying to find something. There are a good many others like me. I'm not complaining, am I? Just stating facts. But I was wondering as I sat there under the gallery, if what you call following Jesus is the same thing as what He taught. What did He mean when He said: 'Follow me" The minister said," here the man turned about and looked up at the pulpit, "that it is necessary for the disciple of Jesus to follow His steps, and he said the steps are 'obedience, faith, love and imitation.' But I did not hear him tell you just what he meant that to mean, especially the last step. What do you Christians mean by following the steps of Jesus?

"I've tramped through this city for three days trying to find a job; and in all that time I've not had a word of sympathy or comfort except from your minister here, who said he was sorry for me and hoped I would find a job somewhere. I suppose it is because you get so imposed on by the professional tramp that you have lost your interest in any other sort. I'm not blaming anybody, am I? Just stating facts. Of course, I understand you can't all go out of your way to hunt up jobs for other people like me. I'm not asking you to; but what I feel puzzled about is, what is meant by following Jesus? What do you mean when you sing 'I'll go with Him, with Him, all the way? Do you mean that you are suffering and denying yourselves and trying to save lost, suffering humanity just as I understand Jesus did? What do you mean by it? I see the ragged edge of things a good deal. I understand there are more than five hundred men in this city in my case. Most of them have families. My wife died four months ago. I'm glad she is out of trouble. My little girl is staying with a printer's family until I find a job. Somehow 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 and asking God to take the little girl too. Of course I don't expect you people can prevent every one from dying of starvation, lack of proper nourishment and tenement air, but what does following Jesus mean? I understand that Christian people own a good many of the tenements. A member of a church was the owner of the one where my wife died, and I have wondered if following Jesus all the way was true in his case. I heard some people singing at a church prayer meeting the other night, 'All for Jesus, all for Jesus, All my being's ransomed powers, All my thoughts, and all my doings, All my days, and all my hours,' and I kept wondering as I sat on the steps outside just what they meant by it. It seems to me 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? Is that what you mean by following His steps? It seems to me sometimes as if the people in the big churches had good clothes and nice houses to live in, and money to spend for luxuries, and could go away on summer vacations and all that, while the people outside the churches, thousands of them, I mean, die in tenements, and walk the streets for jobs, and never have a piano or a picture in the house, and grow up in misery and drunkenness and sin."

The man suddenly gave a queer lurch over in the direction of the communion table and laid one grimy hand on it. His hat fell upon the carpet at his feet. A stir went through the congregation. Dr. West half rose from his pew, but as yet the silence was unbroken by any voice or movement worth mentioning in the audience. The man passed his other hand across his eyes, and then, without any warning, fell heavily forward on his face, full length up the aisle. Henry Maxwell spoke:

"We will consider the service closed."

He was down the pulpit stairs and kneeling by the prostrate form before any one else. The audience instantly rose and the aisles were crowded. Dr. West pronounced the man alive. He had fainted away. "Some heart trouble," the doctor also muttered as he helped carry him out into the pastor's study. (Continued)

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Introduction

"What would Jesus do?" This expression and its acronym, WWJD?, are inscribed on bracelets, tee shirts, mugs, bumper stickers, pencils, notebooks, and even dog leashes., Certainly, this is a clear indication that the question has established a place in popular American culture. One might assume such a famous question referring to Jesus came directly from the Christian Bible. Instead, its source is Charles M. Sheldon's inspirational social-gospel novel, In His Steps. This easy-to-read book quickly became the best-selling volume of its genre and has been listed among the most popular books that have changed America. It depicts the dramatic personal and social changes that resulted when a fictional community of persons committed themselves to asking, "What would Jesus do?" whenever confronted with a moral decision. The book's challenging message is as relevant and powerful today as it was when it was first published more than a century ago.

A winsome pastor whose ministry was centered in Topeka, Kansas, Charles Monroe Sheldon was also a talented popular writer and a deeply committed social reformer. He was born in 1857 in Wellsville, New York, where his father was a Congregational pastor. By the time he was a teenager, Sheldon's family had become homesteaders and missionaries in Dakota Territory. It was there, at age twelve, that the young Sheldon began to compose stories in the evenings after his daily chores were finished. He read widely and continued to write, eventually using this skill to earn much of his way through college and seminary. By the time his schooling was completed in 1886, Sheldon had established himself sufficiently as a writer and wasoffered an editorial position at The Outlook in New York City. However, he was determined to respond to a call to ministry, so he declined this offer and instead became the pastor of the Congregational Church in Waterbury, Vermont. After three years of service in this New England town, Sheldon accepted an invitation to pastor the Central Congregational Church in Topeka. He ministered in this midwestern city for the remainder of his career, even after In His Steps brought him international acclaim.

Old enough to remember the national crisis over slavery, Sheldon experienced the devastating aftermath of the Civil War first-hand in Topeka, where one-third of the residents were poverty-stricken former slaves. They had moved to the community from southern states looking for employment, but most found themselves without work in a ghetto of Topeka called Tennesseetown. Sheldon's years in ministry occurred during the Gilded Age in American history, a period when the extensive displacement of former slaves, an enormous influx of European immigrants, rapid industrialization, and unprecedented urbanization combined with a somewhat lawless American entrepreneurial spirit to produce horrendous social problems in the United States. In response, Sheldon took his place among the Christian leaders who believed that the church, representing Jesus Christ in the world, had a duty to help protect and make things better for the large numbers of people who suffered for want of life's basic necessities. Sheldon's was part of a broader, international Protestant response that coalesced to form what later became known as the social-gospel movement.

One of the many social problems Sheldon was concerned about was unemployment. In the winter of 1890, during a depression, a stranger came to Sheldon's door desperately looking for work. After regretfully turning him away, Sheldon was moved to explore the condition of the unemployed. So he dressed in old clothing and spent a week seeking employment in Topeka. He managed to secure only a couple of odd jobs that paid in one case nothing at all, and in another, a mere pittance. Sheldon was so moved by the results of this experiment that he decided to familiarize himself with the circumstances of the larger community in a similar fashion. He proceeded to visit eight other social groups in his home city for at least one week each: streetcar operators, college students, African Americans, railroad workers, attorneys, doctors, business owners, and newspaper workers. These eye-opening experiences became core to his outreach and preaching ministries in Topeka as well as to his writing.

Sheldon did not think it fair to expect his congregation to listen to two sermons on any given Sunday, as was the practice in many churches at the time, including his own. So in 1891, he began to write stories that would communicate a timeless gospel message for the people of his own day, and he read a chapter every Sunday night from his pulpit. In His Steps was the seventh of thirty public story readings, a practice that he continued until his retirement in 1919. This story, by far Sheldon's most well-known, begins with a dusty, dejected young man coming to the home of Pastor Henry Maxwell looking for work, but without success. The stranger also visits Maxwell's church with an astonishing message. Deeply moved by the man's words, and then by his tragic and untimely death, Maxwell challenges himself and volunteers from his congregation to pledge for one year to ask themselves "What would Jesus do?" before every action they take, regardless of the consequences. Those who accept the challenge include a newspaper editor, a railroad superintendent, a college president, a merchant, a doctor, a novelist, an heiress, and a richly talented singer. In thirty-one brief chapters, each ending with an element of suspense that would be resolved only by the next reading, Sheldon relayed to his ever-growing audience the astounding results of the experiment.

Sheldon's public reading of In His Steps commenced on the evening of October 4, 1896, but a month later it began to reach a wider audience through publication as a serial in the Congregational journal, The Advance. Responding to enthusiastic reader requests, the publisher issued it as a book in 1897 and rapidly sold hundreds of thousands of copies. In 1899, news broke that the Advance Company's copyright notice was invalid with respect to Sheldon's increasingly popular novel, whereupon multitudes of unauthorized versions quickly appeared. Widely varying estimates report that between eight and thirty million copies of the story have been printed in at least twenty-seven languages. Additionally, it has been dramatized in theatrical plays, radio adaptations, artistic lantern slides, and film.

In His Steps was well received partly because Sheldon was already a widely known and respected author when it was published. He had a track record of several popular novels in addition to scores of published articles. Furthermore, Sheldon's material was viewed as edifying. Unlike some fiction, In His Steps was promoted widely among religious readers as well as the general public. The work was part of a growing genre of fiction, later known as the social-gospel novel, which began to appear in the 1870s. These novels were written to convey a sense of crisis over the glaring societal problems of the day, and to suggest constructive ways individuals and communities could make a difference by engaging in efforts for social transformation. Most were written by privileged, well-educated authors who wanted to draw their readers' attention to injustices and deplorable conditions related to poverty and to prescribe a remedy for social ills based upon the simple, social teachings of Jesus. These novels served a didactic objective in which the values and the purposes of the social gospel were transmitted to the broader public. Historian Susan Hill Lindley perceptively observes that the social-gospel novel reveals socially acceptable roles for women and men during the time period when the books were written but also stretched those boundaries. In many social gospel novels, including Sheldon's In His Steps, a meaningful and satisfying life of community service and friendship with the social outcast is portrayed as the highest calling for women and men, rather than marriage, accumulation of wealth, and a shallow, elite social life. Social-gospel novels have sometimes been viewed as quaint, sentimental, and idealistic, but they possess a timeless message germane to readers of all ages. In his classic exemplar of this genre, Sheldon leads the reader to confront the possibility of an alternate way of life that is able to challenge the status quo. He does so in such a compelling way that In His Steps successfully inspires new readers into a second century.

In His Steps was never classified as a literary masterpiece, and the plainness of Sheldon's message and style was praised by some but criticized by others. Critics viewed the work as simplistic, unrealistic, and moralistic in content, as well as flat and predictable in style. Some religious circles found fault with the underlying concept that Jesus would care to involve Himself or His followers in worldly social problems or politics. Others protested the idea that Jesus intended His followers to do exactly as He would do. There were also those who were troubled by the subjectivity of the response to the question, "What would Jesus do?" Later critics have looked upon In His Steps and other social-gospel novels as trivial expressions of middle-class Victorian anxiety over inevitable social changes. Nonetheless, since its first printing, the book has consistently maintained a wide readership. In fact, because of its far-reaching popularity and influence, it has become known as the prototype of its literary genre.

In His Steps was one of fifty books Sheldon authored, thirty of which were read publicly from his pulpit before publication. He also wrote hundreds of articles, as well as poems, hymns, and plays. His earliest books include Richard Bruce, or the Life that Now Is (1892), Robert Hardy's Seven Days (1893), and The Crucifixion of Phillip Strong (1894). His experiment in the social reform of Tennesseetown was fictionalized in The Redemption of Freetown (1898), and the social-gospel theme was continued in Born to Serve (1900) and The Heart of the World: A Story of Christian Socialism (1905). Sheldon published a sequel to In His Steps in 1913, titled Jesus Is Here!

Notwithstanding his other talents and accomplishments, Sheldon always regarded himself first and foremost as a pastor. His father, Stewart Sheldon, was a pastor in upstate New York, then Rhode Island, and finally Dakota Territory. There, as a home missionary superintendent, he founded numerous churches. Sheldon's entire family, including his mother, Sarah Ward Sheldon, his father, and his five siblings, gathered daily for Bible reading and prayers and attended church every Sunday. His mother read spiritual classics like Pilgrim's Progress aloud to the children on Sunday afternoons. Sheldon's uncle Joseph Ward, also a Congregational pastor serving in Dakota Territory, was a social reformer whom he deeply admired.

Sheldon received his higher education at Brown University in Providence, Rhode Island, and Andover Theological Seminary in Andover, Massachusetts. His seminary years were marked by the involvement of his professors in grueling controversy over traditional doctrines of the church, an experience that may have contributed to his own affinity for "untheological Christianity." As can be seen in his novels, what mattered more for Sheldon was practice, not theory. In all likelihood he imbibed deeply of the Christ-centered, liberal thinking that was popular at the seminary of his choosing. Although he took very seriously the need for Christian belief and conversion, he developed a comparable commitment to the application of religious beliefs to personal life and social and political circumstances.

Charles M. Sheldon has been described by historian Sydney Ahlstrom as "a major apostle" of the social-gospel movement, primarily because he did so much to popularize it through his writing. His contemporaries included Washington Gladden, Frances Willard, Josiah Strong, W.D.P. Bliss, Nannie Helen Burroughs, Reverdy Ransom, and Walter Rauschenbusch. He was also an active social gospeler in his own right. In his first pastorate in Vermont, he preached sermons advocating social services and projects in the local community and organized civic improvement programs such as the abatement of street dust. It was not until he arrived in Topeka, however, that his social-gospel beliefs were truly put to the test. Following his practical sociological experiment of extended visitation among a variety of social groups in his community, Sheldon oversaw the founding of two kindergartens-one for black children and one for white children-in Topeka. The project was so successful that in 1897 he founded one of the first kindergarten teacher-training institutions in the United States. In 1893 he opened a library in Tennesseetown, the African-American section of Topeka, and implemented classes in sewing, basket weaving, and music in the years following. He promoted a Village Improvement Society in the settlement, leadership of which was transferred to the residents of Tennesseetown in 1901. Sheldon was also an advocate for women's rights and an avid crusader against the liquor trade and the widespread abuse of alcohol.

In the fall of 1896, along with a group from his church, Sheldon himself pledged to try to live up to the slogan, "What would Jesus do?" Four years later, he lived part of the story of In His Steps when he was given an opportunity to apply this question to a week of editing the Topeka Daily Capital. Sheldon omitted from the newspaper extensive reports on crime, scandals, and competitive fights. He featured on the front page a morning prayer and a headline story about famine in India, and he publicized local and national social-reform causes. He allowed advertising only for wholesome products with wording whose truth could be verified. The Capital printed 120,000 issues per day, and during this particular week it was also published and sold out in Chicago, New York, and London. Not only did Sheldon's appeal for the Indian famine raise over $100,000 in relief funding, but the project added to the fame of his novel and its penetrating question, "What would Jesus do?"

Sheldon's story appeals directly to spiritual seekers as well as to both adherents and critics of the Christian church. Its most basic themes include the human search for meaning, the eternal struggle between right and wrong, and the inherent value and potential for good that exists in all persons. The social-gospel themes of the social nature of sin and salvation and the building of the Kingdom of God on earth figure prominently in this popular novel. On a spiritual level, the unemployed stranger is a symbolic Christ figure who challenges the reign of apathy and hypocrisy in the religious community. Ancient Christian themes of the imitation of Christ, the cost of discipleship, and the ministry of all Christians are given a fresh application in turn-of-the-last-century United States of America and, by implication, any historical or geographical setting. The reader of any age or era can hardly escape pondering the question, "What would Jesus do if He were in my shoes and, what does this mean for how I live my life?"

Wendy J. Deichmann Edwards is Director and Associate Professor of History and Theology at United Theological Seminary at Buffalo. She is the co-editor of Gender and the Social Gospel and the author of numerous articles appearing in journals and edited collections.
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See All Sort by: Showing 1 – 20 of 36 Customer Reviews
  • Anonymous

    Posted March 9, 2012

    Wonderful

    God will really speak to you in this book

    2 out of 2 people found this review helpful.

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  • Anonymous

    Posted October 21, 2007

    A Life Changing Read!

    Charles Sheldon's groundbreaking late 19th Century novel is a worthwhile, still groundbreaking read. The novel is credited with the coining of the phrase 'What would Jesus do?' and challenges the reader to consider this question in his/her everyday life. After reading the book the story and breadth of the commitment of the characters in the novel to the mission of Jesus is inspiring and truly a moving witness to the power of love for all humanity and a true appreciation of the peace found in one's faith in God. I encourage any one interested in Christian inspiration literature and theology to delve into this incredible classic.

    2 out of 2 people found this review helpful.

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  • Posted June 25, 2011

    this book

    this book is the worst book i think that i have ever read in my entire life, and i have read my brothers diary b4 uhgg

    1 out of 10 people found this review helpful.

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  • Anonymous

    Posted June 3, 2003

    Exercising Faith

    In His Steps certainly brings to the forefront of my thoughts how shallow we really live without the full experience of relying on Jesus to do just what He promised. The reigning theme 'What would Jesus Do' is so awesome and can be overwhelming in 'self'.

    1 out of 1 people found this review helpful.

    Was this review helpful? Yes  No   Report this review
  • Posted May 2, 2014

    This is a wonderful book for a study group so I ordered this ver

    This is a wonderful book for a study group so I ordered this version of the book specifically because of the study/application material prepared by David and Karen Mains. However, the book DOES NOT CONTAIN this added material. After speaking with the publisher, I found out that the material was edited out a few years ago and there is no way to purchase one with the added material. B&N NEEDS TO REMOVE THIS FROM THE DESCRIPTION.
    I give the story 5 stars but not this "expanded" edition.

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  • Posted September 13, 2013

    Timeless Classic

    I've read this book several times throughout my adult life and each time it touches me deeply and propels me to be a true Christian.

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  • Anonymous

    Posted September 6, 2013

    Everyone should read! Highly recommended!

    Through the last 73 years, I have read "In His Steps"
    and am convinced that it is better each time.
    is a true "classic". Deffinatly a must read.

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  • Posted March 20, 2013

    This is a great book that offers not only a great story but an e

    This is a great book that offers not only a great story but an even better message that as Christians we are to take up our cross and follow him and His example no matter the cost.

    I would recommend this book for anyone.

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  • Anonymous

    Posted January 11, 2013

    I really like this book I really like this book

    I think everyone should read this book It wil change your life

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  • Posted November 9, 2012

    more from this reviewer

    Review title: Saving Souls with the Savior. Consider the questio

    Review title: Saving Souls with the Savior.
    Consider the question "What Would Jesus Do?" for any life situation that confronts you, then pray, and then follow the answer that comes in your heart. That is what a minister challenged his congregation to do. Many took the pledge and the challenge and this manuscript reveals reveals to the readers the outcome of this pledge and challenge. This novel is great for encouraging 21st century Christians to "step up" and follow in Jesus' footsteps and observe how taking the pledge will revolutionize our world. Two thumbs up for this novel.

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  • Posted September 28, 2012

    A Classic worth your shelf space to keep!

    My daughter's book club is reading this. Sheldon was a man ahead of his time. Each chapter is meant to be paused over and thought about for a week, but you can stream through it as well. Each of us has a great gift to offer our neighbor, and Sheldon won't let us get by without facing that question, "What would Jesus do."

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  • Anonymous

    Posted July 20, 2012

    Inspiring read

    This inspiring book was suggested to us at a Bible Study at my church. The lady said she gave it to each Senior in her sports classes. What a wonderful way to pass it on. Now I pass it on to you.

    Was this review helpful? Yes  No   Report this review
  • Anonymous

    Posted March 10, 2012

    Great book for Lent

    I have been reading this book throughout Lent. It is a great way to become closer to God inn your Christain faith. I too have taken up the challange to live my life asking WWJD What Would Jesus Do? I have felt my connection with God becoming much stronger. I also have come across the conclusion that Lent isn't about giving something up because you are told you should do so but, to do somthing to strengthen your bond with Christ. I felt I was slacking on reading the Bible so for Lent I am reading it more. In His Steps really makes you think. More and more often I find my self asking "Am I living as Christ would?" Which is what the challenge's purpose is isn't. If more Christains took up this challenge what would the world be? Yes crime would probably still be out there but not as much we Christains need to help change the world for the better. Isn't that what God is calling us to do? Isn't that what Christain faith is? We Christains have the power to change the world with God. But, do we do it? Do we call up our friends who don't know God and say "Come with me to church today"? Some of us might but ALL of us should.

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  • Posted August 27, 2011

    VARIETY, Emotional, Fascinating, and Inspirational Reading- WWJD

    I enjoyed each moment of reading. I spent much time in circumspect, in awe, in empathy, joy, sadness, and many other emotions that drew me close to the characters and their plight for answering WWJD. At the same time. I was led to examine my own walk. I am fascinated with the era the book was written; the setting of carriages, footwalking, letterwritting, and an overall slow pace of life is such a contrast, yet, so much the same in attitudes and selfcenterdness. Also, my Nook reader was handy to look up today's outdated words used a century ago. I count this book as one of my most recommended, along with: Purpose Driven Life, It's Not About Me, and of course, my Bible. ALAN LANGFORD, Huntsville, AL August 27, 2011

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  • Anonymous

    Posted February 10, 2009

    great book

    We used this book for our summer reading group. Everyone seemed to get a different edition of it, some were set in a different time period. It was a real eye opener for how you live your life. I bought the book as gifts after I read it. It really makes you think

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  • Anonymous

    Posted October 9, 2002

    Still around

    This book was first published many years ago. Its tenure is a testimony to its message. Although a fiction, many have testified that it has dramatically changed their lives. Also recommended is a little known book called "MY FATHERS EYES" by Jim Loose. Also available from bn.com

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    Posted February 25, 2011

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    Posted January 26, 2012

    No text was provided for this review.

  • Anonymous

    Posted May 2, 2011

    No text was provided for this review.

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    Posted June 16, 2011

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See All Sort by: Showing 1 – 20 of 36 Customer Reviews

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