WWJD and "The Passion of the Christ"

"What Would Jesus Do?" bracelets and “The Passion of the Christ” demonstrate a fundamental divide within Christiantity. On one hand, Jesus is taken as a great moral teacher, defined by what he taught—the Sermon on the Mount, the Golden Rule, etc. On the other hand, he’s taken as the divine sacrifice whose death paid for humanity’s sins in blood. The first Jesus invites emulation. The second expects worship. Let's compare WWJD and "The Passion of the Christ" side by side.


The Passion of the Christ

Jesus as moral paragon. His role is to inspire you to moral action. He serves as a guide for your moral imagination.

Jesus as supernatural sacrifice. His role is as sacrifice in an esoteric equation of sin, guilt, suffering, and blood.

You should feel love. "WWJD" challenges one to see your situation from the perspective of one who preached forgiveness, humility, and love. It's about peace.

You should feel guilt. The film exaggerates the punishment and suffering of Jesus with the idea that He died for your sins. It's about violence, and it's hard to watch.

Refers to “Jesus.” "Jesus" is the name of a man. Anyone can accept that Jesus was a wise teacher and powerful prophet. Even Muslims identify Jesus as the purest prophet. "WWJD" doesn't imply a divine identity for this man.

Refers to “Christ.” This title refers to Jesus' identity as God. It excludes those who do not believe that Jesus was God.

It’s about what you do. Your actions are the point, and Jesus is a guide to those actions.

It’s about what Christ did. His suffering and death are what matter. Your decision is how you relate to Christ's act—accepting it or rejecting it.

It’s personal. "WWJD" is about your own actions and your own attempt to emulate Jesus. Individuals taking Jesus' message to heart and acting accordingly don't imply a threat to or judgment of anyone else.

"WWJD" concerns itself with the believer and that believer's actions. The phrase is not "whom would Jesus condemn?" It's not "What would Jesus tell other people to do?" It's not "What constitutional amendments would Jesus pass?"

It's cosmic. It's about God's world-altering self-sacrifice and all of humanity. The message is for everyone in the world, not just for you. Those who reject the sacrifice that God made for them are ingrates at best.

It's open-ended. It involves taking a moral imagination that has been inspired by Jesus and applying it to everyday life. You decide for yourself what Jesus would do. It asks instead of tells. One might call it relativistic.

It's definitive. It's a done deal and all that's left for us is to choose how we relate to Christ's sacrifice.

June 2005