(Literary Essentials: Christian Fiction and Nonfiction)

While preparing a sermon based on 1 Peter 2:21, the Reverend Henry Maxwell is interrupted by a tramp knocking at his door, requesting assistance in finding employment. The minister apologetically turns him away. Two days later, Maxwell delivers his sermon to the First Church of Raymond, and at its conclusion, the same tramp unexpectedly appears and addresses the congregation. This man, Jack Manning, relates how he lost his job as a printer and that his wife has recently died. He boldly questions Maxwell’s sermon on Christian discipleship by asking what it means to follow in the steps of Christ. Manning’s speech concludes when he faints and collapses in the aisle. Maxwell takes the tramp to his home to convalesce, but Manning dies a week later.

This experience effects a great change in Maxwell. He realizes that Christian disciples should be willing to sacrifice and consecrate their lives. He invites members of his congregation to take a pledge for one year to ask the question, What would Jesus do? when facing every decision in their individual lives. In His Steps depicts how those who choose to accept this invitation not only influence the community of Raymond but also begin a movement that will spread throughout the entire country.

Among that initial group of nearly fifty souls in Raymond who take the pledge is Rachel Winslow, a gifted singer who chooses to forgo a promising career in order to consecrate her talent to God. In addition to singing in the First Church of Raymond, she volunteers to help Mr. and Mrs. Gray with tent revival meetings in the decayed Rectangle District, and her music touches the hearts of those affected by life in the slums and saloons; in the process, she helps bring souls to Christ.

After taking the pledge, the owner of Raymond’s daily newspaper, Edward Norman, decides not to publish on Sundays and omits certain news items (such as prizefights). Such actions lead to losses in advertising revenue; however, the wealthy heiress Virginia Page, who also has taken the pledge to do as Jesus would do, donates $500,000 to fund Norman’s visionary venture to create a Christian daily.

This small but prominent group of...

(The entire section is 899 words.)


(Literary Essentials: Christian Fiction and Nonfiction)

Sources for Further Study

Callahan, James. “Looking for a Jesus to Follow.” Christian Scholar’s Review 30, no. 3 (2001): 265-288. Considers imitation spirituality by comparing Sheldon’s In His Steps with Thomas à Kempis’s Imitatio Christi (c. 1427; The Imitation of Christ, c. 1460-1530).

Mariz, George. “Towards a Socio-Historical Understanding of the Clerical-Utopian Novel.” Journal of the Society for Utopian Studies 14, no. 1 (2003): 51-73. Mariz claims that, like other clerical-utopian novels, In His Steps belongs in this genre because it includes a moral vision and promotes social reform.

Miller, Timothy. Following in His Steps: A Biography of Charles M. Sheldon. Knoxville: University of Tennessee Press, 1987. Provides detailed contextual information on the writing of In His Steps and its printing history.