In His Steps has long been one of my favorite Christian novels. Upon reading it for the first time in my teens, I tried for a long time to live by the question asked of its characters: “What would Jesus do?” While I don’t remember the results of my attempts, I do recall having long conversations with my dad about how as a Christian I should approach writing fiction. Thus, I felt both apprehensive and excited at the chance to read In His Steps again for our family book discussion. Anytime I reread a novel that I’ve first encountered years ago, I worry that it won’t hold the same appeal. Yet remembering how much In His Steps had impacted me as a Christian, I really wanted to still love it. For the most part, I do.
A lot of interesting stuff happens in the all-important first chapter. For example, the first scene always grabs me. It’s Friday morning and the Reverend Henry Maxwell is trying to prepare his Sunday morning sermon. He’s been interrupted several times and thus is growing nervous. It’s such a tiny incident, yet one to which I fully relate because of how frustrated I feel when my work is interrupted. Next comes an ironic moment. The Reverend is writing about how Christians should follow in Jesus’s steps, when a shabbily dressed man knocks on his door. Although the Reverend is polite about it, he basically tells him he doesn’t have time to deal with his needs and so loses the chance to minister as Jesus might. Moving quickly forward, it’s now Sunday morning and the Reverend is standing in his pulpit and feeling proud of his church, congregation, and sermon. However, his comfortable and orderly world is about to be turned upside down by the presence again of the tramp. One week later, the Reverend challenges his congregation to pledge to do everything after asking: “What would Jesus do?”
As for the subsequent chapters, I appreciate how real the church members are who accept the pledge. These aren’t your average stereotypical Christians for whom following Jesus is the easiest thing in the world. For example, there is Edward Norman, editor of the Raymond Daily News. Anyone who has responded to a call for repentance or renewal at a religious service will relate to how hard it is to keep these promises when living in the “real” world again. Similarly, as the regular life of the paper starts on another week’s whirl of activity, Edward wavers in his resolve and so must turn to God for strength. And before the morning is even half over, he’s already facing decisions about what kind of stories to run. Will he cave? And if he doesn’t, will his paper survive?
Then there’s Rachel Winslow, a beautiful and talented singer. Rachel has received an offer of a place with a large traveling company. Moreover, the salary is large. All of her high society associates keep telling her a voice like hers belongs to a larger audience than First Church. I like the description Sheldon provides of her uncharacteristically outspoken reaction to one of those associates: “But with all her repression there was possible in her an occasional sudden breaking out that was simply an impulsive, thoroughly frank, truthful expression of her utmost inner personal feeling.” Rachel might be popular and pretty, but she’s also complex. As a Christian himself, Sheldon knows that Christians aren’t all cut from the same cloth.
A "What Would Jesus Do?" (WWJD) bracelet (Photo credit: Wikipedia)
There are several other engaging stories, but I’ll note just that of Jasper Chase. The heroine of his first novel had been his own ideal of Rachel Winslow, with whom Jasper is in love. One night as he walks Rachel home, he openly reveals his love. When Rachel rejects him, Jasper throws himself into his next novel. As he writes, he continually struggles with the question: “What would Jesus do?” Naturally, he served as the inspiration so many years ago when I asked my dad about how as a Christian I should approach writing fiction.
In His Steps is full of interesting situations and unique characters. It also contains a thought-provoking theme. Yet it’s not without flaws. Sheldon’s writing style sometimes feels overwrought: “What were the flippant, perfumed, critical audiences in concert halls compared with this dirty, drunken, impure, besotted mass of humanity that trembled and wept and great strangely, sadly thoughtful under the touch of this divine ministry of this beautiful woman.” There are also some redundant moments such as the inclusion of a letter by the Reverend Calvin Bruce, wherein readers essentially receive a summary of the events which have transpired to date at the Raymond Church. What caused me most to skip paragraphs however was the prohibitionist agenda that it’s clear Sheldon wanted to push. The increasing number of tirades for prohibition especially in the latter part of In His Steps grew wearisome.
Despite these few criticisms, In His Steps remains one of my favorite Christian novels. I’m also thinking again about how to answer the question: “What would Jesus do?” And so, in a highly entertaining form, Sheldon has successfully gotten across an important message.
My rating?Bag it: Carry it with you. Make it a top priority to read.
Américas Award for Children’s & Young Adult Literature
CLASP founded the Américas Award in 1993 to encourage and commend authors, illustrators and publishers who produce quality children’s and young adult books that portray Latin America, the Caribbean, or Latinos in the United States.
The Caldecott Medal was named in honor of nineteenth-century English illustrator Randolph Caldecott. It is awarded annually to the artist of the most distinguished American picture book for children.
The Carnegie Medal is awarded annually to the writer of an outstanding book for children. It was established by in 1936, in memory of the great Scottish-born philanthropist, Andrew Carnegie.
The Christy Awards are awarded each year to recognize novels of excellence written from a Christian worldview.
Coretta Scott King Award
The Coretta Scott King Book Award titles promote understanding and appreciation of the culture of all peoples. It is given to African American authors and illustrator.
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Dolly Gray Children’s Literature Award
The Dolly Gray Children’s Literature Award was initiated in 2000 to recognize authors, illustrators, and publishers of high quality fictional and biographical children, intermediate, and young adult books that appropriately portray individuals with deve
Hans Christian Anderson Award
The Hans Christian Andersen Awards is given to a living author and illustrator whose complete works have made a lasting contribution to children’s literature. The award is the highest international recognition an author can receive.
Kate Greenaway Medal
The Kate Greenaway Medal was established in 1955, for distinguished illustration in a book for children. It is named after the popular nineteenth century artist known for her fine children’s illustrations and designs.
Middle East Book Award
The Middle East Book Award recognizes quality books for children and young adults that contribute meaningfully to an understanding of the Middle East and its component societies and cultures.
Mythopoeic Fantasy Award
Honors fantasy books for younger readers, in the tradition of The Hobbit or The Chronicles of Narnia
Newbery Medal Award
The Newbery Medal was named for eighteenth-century British bookseller John Newbery. It is awarded annually to the author of the most distinguished contribution to American literature for children.
Pura Belpré Award
The award is named after Pura Belpré, the first Latina librarian at the New York Public Library. It is presented annually to a Latino/Latina writer and illustrator whose work best portrays, affirms, and celebrates the Latino experience.
Red House Book Award
The Red House Children’s Book Award is a series of literary prizes for works of children’s literature published during the previous year in England.
Sydney Taylor Award
The Sydney Taylor Book Award is presented annually to outstanding books for children and teens that authentically portray the Jewish experience.