Charles M. Sheldon wrote his bestseller IN HIS STEPS, in 1896. Since then it has never been out of print, and has sold more than thirty million copies. It tells the story of a wealthy and influential church in the fictional midwestern town of Raymond whose life is changed by the challenge of a young man seeking work who spoke up on a Sunday morning after the preacher had urged his congregation to follow Jesus.
“The minister said that it is necessary for the disciple of Jesus to follow His steps, and he said that 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?”
The minister was profoundly touched by the words of the young man who, after speaking fainted, and then died. On the following Sunday he challenged his congregation to volunteer to pledge themselves for a year not to do anything without first asking the question, ‘What would Jesus do?’ And after asking that question, each will follow Jesus as exactly as he knows how, no matter what the result will be. He asked those who would take that pledge to remain behind for a time of prayer and sharing.
The novel follows the lives of several who take the pledge and try to live by it: the newspaper publisher, the president of the college, the merchant, the railroad executive, the vocalist, the heiress, the novelist, and the minister.
The novel was written before government programs to alleviate poverty so there is an emphasis on social welfare programs to help the poor and needy. It was also a time when the Temperance movement and evangelists like Billy Sunday were targeting the influence of the saloons and trying to shut down the alcohol industry. Sheldon’s book is representative of that movement.
The book is a powerful challenge to those who are wealthy to examine themselves about their practical commitment to Christ. His message is that following Christ requires self-denial and suffering. There is no place for superficial, formal churchianity if one is to be serious about one’s faith. He indicts the hypocrisy of those who would enjoy the benefits of church life, the beautiful music, the beautiful people, the ‘no rocking the boat’ preaching and the extravagance of an affluent lifestyle of country clubs, clothes and expensive trips when many people need the Gospel and a helping hand.
If you haven’t read this book I would encourage you to do so. It is as relevant to day as when it was first written. If you have read it I would be interested in knowing what you thought of its message. Did it cause you to look at your priorities? Did you make any changes in your attitude and lifestyle as a result of reading it? How did it affect your attitude to worship and church life?