Dr. Joe’s Book of the Month Club — Charles Sheldon’s “In His Steps”

August 22, 2012

Somehow this summer has just galloped away from me! So much so that I forgot July’s Book of the Month, and all but forgot August’s as well. The mere fact that no one jogged my memory about the omission makes me wonder how many of our readers are seriously into reading our selections. So belatedly, here is September’s selection.

“For hereunto were ye called: because Christ also
suffered for you, leaving you an example, that ye
should follow his steps.”
1 Peter 2:21

1897 Edition

In 1889, a young minister named Charles M. Sheldon founded the Central Congregational Church of Topeka, Kansas. Profoundly convicted that it was long past time for Christians everywhere to forsake their doctrinal warfare against each other and instead—really study Christ’s example while on this earth: in short, our Lord’s example of humble selfless service for others. The 1890’s produced a veritable explosion of interest in Christ’s Didoche (one is saved, not by doctrine or creed, but by loving God with all one’s heart, soul, and mind, and unconditionally loving and serving one’s neighbor)—and, of course, by the Cross.

1899 Edition

Sheldon couldn’t help but notice that Story was about the only thing that caused his parishioners to be faithful in their attendance, so he began packaging his Social Gospel sermons in story serializations. Presto! Church attendance swelled. Each chapter would conclude with a fictional cliffhanger of sorts—so people naturally had to show up for the next installment. The core of the story had to do with the question, What would Jesus do? were He faced with the same circumstances and decisions the parishioners were.

As Sheldon read his story to his congregation, a religious weekly of Topeka published it serially, gathering the chapters together in a paper-bound book in 1897. Within two years In His Steps went through five editions. In 1899, ten different publishers, finding a flaw in Sheldon’s copyright, and disregarding the central premise of the book, What would Jesus do?, unleashed a veritable torrent of new editions, not paying its author a dime. It was then pirated overseas as well. But one good thing resulted from all this chicanery: it became one of the best-selling books of all time. 115 years later, it is still selling.

1900 Edition

If you have not yet read it, now is the time! Do let me know what you think of it.


Hart, James D., The Popular Book (Berkeley: University of California Press, 1963).
Mott, Frank Luther, Golden Multitudes (New York: The Macmillan Company, 1947).

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9 CommentsLeave a comment

  1. I just re-read this book a few weeks ago. My copy is an old, old one that belonged to my Mother. It is such a powerful story. It is a challenge for all of us. I did not know the background of it. I so very much enjoy your weekly blogs – just not always good about telling you so. I’ll try to do better!

  2. Found some good books while being the employee on duty at Middletown State hospital in Connecticut with 50 patients locked in. Fascinating book!!! I was thankful that it was there, though little used.
    Sometimes an ex-patient would write a book about recovery experience.

  3. I just placed a hold for this at the library. No copies are currently available, but I’m first in line so maybe it will be waiting for me when we return from our trip. 🙂

  4. I’ll request a copy at the library today. I did miss the last two month’s of books recommended by you, but thought either you had decided to let the book club go or you were busy as you said. Don’t stop please I truly enjoy them!

  5. I just purchased on Amazon a free download to my Kindle. So easy and I have been doing the same thing with every book you have recommended and am loving all of them. Thanks Dr. Wheeler for your excellent recommendations. They have opened a unique, new world of reading to me.

  6. Hunted up my copy and will reread it.

  7. It changed my whole paradigm. Thanks for bringing this to light again.

  8. Just finished Ragamuffin Gospel-Brennan Manning; and in His Steps. Was so glad I read them in this sequence as they have truly deepened my understanding of God’s love towards me and as a follower of Christ what that truly means. Great book.

  9. I read this book in 1969, and it made quite an impact on me. I must confess that I have not always followed its counsel, but it is a good thing to keep in mind when dealing with life’s issues.

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