10 Books Every Christian Needs to Read Series
By Larry Stout
Any list of all-time Christian classics will include Charles Sheldon’s novel, In His Steps. This is not because it is great literature. Actually, the book is rather crudely written from a literary standpoint. It also not because it contains good theology, unlike all the others in my top ten list. Truth be told, it dances on the edges of an ‘earning-salvation-through-works’ mentality.
So why is it included in a list of books that every Christian needs to read? Because every Christian needs a reminder that our faith is more than just attending a Sunday morning worship, but is to be lived out in the nitty-gritty real world that we face every day. And Sheldon’s simple little book is a vivid example of this important truth. It has had an incredible impact on the Christian faith in the twentieth-century. In fact, in the last one hundred years, its legacy is up there with Bunyan’s Pilgrim’s Progress.
The story is set in a somewhat affluent church in a fictitious large city in 19th century America. The pastor of the the First Church of Raymond, Henry Maxwell, encounters a disheveled man looking for work, who he dismisses. Others in the First Church treat the man the same. Later the man confronts the congregation in their disregard for him and asks if this is the way Jesus would have treated him.
That simple question serves as a catalyst and challenge. What would Jesus do? Pastor Maxwell sets that question before the congregation. How many would be willing to live their life for the next year with that focus? Besides the pastor, a wealthy and beautiful heiress, a gifted singer, a newspaper editor and owner, a writer, and an employee of the local railroad all volunteer to make that pledge.
The rest of the book follows the consequences of their actions, and it pulls no punches in the difficulties they face and the personal loses they suffer. The newspaper loses subscribers and advertisers, the singer turns down the opportunity of a lifetime, the railroad worker loses his job. This is not a feel-good story! What it is, however, is a clarion call that to follow Christ can be and often is costly.
And that is why it deserves and needs to be read today. The WWJD bracelet fade of the 1990s do not get to the heart of what true discipleship means. Jesus spelled it out in no uncertain terms, “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)
When that truth is presented in a gospel-centered setting, it can have amazing results. Rev. Sam Shoemaker was an Episcopal minister in the city of Pittsburgh, and in 1955 he was invited to speak to a group that unashamedly called themselves the “Golf Club Crowd.” He gave them a challenge similar to the one found in In His Steps. Shoemaker asked the men to try an “experiment of faith.” The results were so astounding that it gave birth to an organization named The Pittsburgh Experiment that still exists sixty years later. It has birthed other organizations such as CCO, the Coalition for Christian Outreach, a campus organization that is active in other one hundred colleges throughout the Northeastern United States.
The influence of the book has been profound, and it has challenged believers for over a century. But a word of caution is in order. We cannot of our own volition follow Jesus’ example. This is not the starting point of the gospel. We must begin at the cross; acknowledging that the death, burial, and resurrection of Jesus Christ serves as a full atonement for our sins which separate us from fellowship with God Almighty. It is a free gift that is totally unmerited on our part. Now, as regenerated people, through the work of the Holy Spirit in us, we are enabled to follow Christ “in his steps” who is our righteousness.
In His Steps challenges us to live and think and interact with the world around us in a manner that is worthy of our calling in Christ.