“In His Steps” by Charles M. Sheldon

Oscar Wilde on Reading 

 “If one cannot enjoy reading a book over and over again, there is no use in reading it at all.”

“In His Steps” by Charles M. Sheldon

(Published by Spire a division of Baker Book House Company, Copyright 1896, renewed in 1984, 242 pages)

Several years ago a friend recommended the book“In His Steps”  by Charles M. Sheldon.  “In His Steps” is one of those books that Oscar Wilde would like, because you can enjoy reading it over and over. Since this book was recommended to me, I have read it every year. I know the story and its characters. I know the sacrifices the people who committed to ask the question “What would Jesus do?” before they make any decisions.  “In His Steps” is definitely a great reread!

Charles Sheldon was pastor of the Central Congregational Church in Topeka, Kansas in 1895, when he decided that he would preach a series of sermons on the question, “What would Jesus do?” Rev. Sheldon would talk about how people from different backgrounds and vocation might respond to that question. As Rev. Sheldon preached this series at Sunday evening services, more and more people began to attend the service.

The publisher of The Advance, a Chicago newspaper, heard about the interest and success of these sermons and decided to run the series in the newspaper. With increased readership, the editor offered the series to three other newspapers, but they refused to run it. In 1896 The Advance published “In His Steps” as a “ten-cent paperback edition.” Today “In His Steps” has sold over 30,000,000 copies. This book, today, is one of the best-selling books of all times.

“In His Steps” begins with the Rev. Henry Maxwell in his home office writing his sermon for Sunday’s worship when there is a knock on the door. Rev. Maxwell opens the door, and he is face-to-face with a “shabby-looking man” who says, “I am out of a job, sir, and thought maybe you might give me a lead toward something.” 

“‘I don’t know of anything. Jobs are scarce,’ replied the minister, beginning to shut the door slowly.” From that moment on, Rev. Maxwell is haunted by the shabby-looking man. When worship begins the lives of Rev. Maxwell and several members of his congregation are changed forever.

The book has its share of critics as well. Stephen Escalera (book review for Goodreads on 12-21-2010) sees a small population enjoying the majority of the nation’s wealth. He does not believe the story shows the characters making decisions based on Biblical scripture, but their own “personal interpretation.” I have to disagree with Mr. Escalera’s logic.

Granted, there is very little scripture quoted in the book. However, Mr. Escalera seems to not recogize that the environment the group lives in is Christian. The characters spend a large part of their time in prayer, searching scripture, communicating with and supporting one another. I don’t think today is a lot different from the late 1800’s. We still have a “small population enjoying the majority of the nation’s wealth.” Life is difficult today for poor families and jobs are scarce in parts of our nation just like in 1895. However, there continues to be Christians who push themselves beyond their comfort zones to follow Christ. So we can also ask ourselves “What would Jesus do?” when we have a decision to make.

And Jesus says, “If anyone would come after Me, let him deny himself and take up his cross and follow Me. for whoever would save his life will lose it, but whoever loses his life for My sake and the Gospel’s will save it” (Mark 8:34-35).

God bless you all during this great season of love and compassion!

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