Jason B. Hood recently authored Imitating God in Christ: Recapturing a Biblical Pattern (IVP Academic, 2013). We are pleased to provide this interview with him about his work. Next week we’ll offer a free chapter of his book.
What are you up to these days?
My wife and four kids and I are preparing to move to Moshi, Tanzania, where I’ll be pastoring an international English-speaking church (St. Margaret’s Anglican).
What did you learn while writing this book?
I knew imitation was an important theme when I began, but I had no idea how thoroughly the Bible weaves imitation into the fabric of humanity and discipleship.
I was also impressed by the degree of commitment our theological forerunners displayed to imitation. It was particularly encouraging to see the pattern I’d identified—that we were made to imitate God, and thus we imitate Christ and fellow disciples to the extent they are godlike and christlike—running through centuries of church history.
How does imitating God relate to the optimism of John Wesley for believers in regards to sanctification?
I’m not entirely sure about entire sanctification, because my expertise is biblical studies not systematic theology, I’m Anglican rather than Methodist, and I’m cautious because, to paraphrase my friend Andrew Thompson (a Wesleyan scholar here in Memphis), Wesley—like the Bible, Jesus, Luther, and Yogi Berra—hasn’t said half of what he’s said.
I do think that the imitation of God gives us a valuable perspective on the comprehensive nature of imitation. Every area of our lives should be, and by the power of the Holy Spirit can be, shaped by the imitation of God.
We create because we are sub-creators (Tolkien’s term) who are made to bring beauty and function and order out of chaos. Our creative works—whether visual art, words of praise, thoughtful gifts, or an encouraging sermon—are billions of imitative acts that mirror the creating and recreating God.
Our lives should mimic the pattern of work and rest that God displays “from the beginning.” We forgive and show mercy because God forgives and shows mercy. Thought we often miss it, he is a God of joy, and we should learn to rejoice with “the joy of the LORD.” Even something as seemingly ungodlike as our sex life is part of a marriage relationship where we somehow reflect God’s creativity and the mutuality and social relationships of the Trinity and Jesus and the church (Eph 5).
It’s easy to forget that being God’s children means reflecting his character. But God has made us so that, one day, we will put every fiber of our being and every characteristic we possess to work reigning over all things with him as his heirs. And in the present, he is remaking us by the Spirit according to that original design.
Imitation isn’t just our duty; it’s out destiny and our delight.
What do you want a Wesleyan audience to walk away with from your book?
Different people will be struck by different things. In fact, that’s one of the beautiful things about the book; you can read it straight through, but the NT chapters in particular can be read as stand alone chapters.
It seems to me that many Wesleyans, particularly at the lay level, don’t see how grace and the gospel relate to imitation in particular and moral effort in general, not least because many American preachers and teachers don’t draw the connection as powerfully and consistently as the OT and NT do. This can lead to moralistic sermons and “gospel-free” approaches to the Christian life.
In a footnote somewhere in the book, I mention that Reformed and Wesleyan camps have both seen the development of unhelpful versions of their approach to sanctification (“charges of antinomianism as a mark of gospel fidelity” and “let go and let God,” respectively).
Don’t even get me started on the state of post-orthodox mainline churches. As Richard Hays says in response to Richard Burridge (who employs the imitation of Jesus in attempt to blur the Bible’s sexual lines), too many churches have forgotten that “Jesus is not only friend of sinners but also prophetic nemesis of the wicked.”
The antidote for us all, of course, is the Bible’s own approach.
What do you wish you could’ve done that you didn’t do in this book?
The book is really a book about the Bible, so it doesn’t major in how imitation should be worked out in the real world, which is obviously hugely important. But perhaps this must be lived rather than read anyway.
I also wish I could’ve read more widely. There are church fathers left unexplored. Ben Witherington has done interesting work on the significance of the image of God for NT theology (and someone needs to abridge it). My book wasn’t designed to have reams of footnotes, however, so I’m not sure how much more data I could’ve incorporated.
In one of your chapters, you say, “New Testament authors can use Old Testament characters for moral instruction because they see paradigms or patterns of belief and behavior in its pages…” Can you summarize how Imitating God in Christ may serve as a homiletic tool for ministers?
Some pastors and authors I deeply respect are worried about moralizing, even to the point of leading ministers away from the use of the OT events and characters as paradigms. But I think the NT’s use of the OT actually encourages us to do this, and it doesn’t take a particularly deep reading of the NT to uncover the apostle’s depth of commitment to this hermenutical approach (see 1 Cor 10, for example).
There are some Reformed leaders (I cite Michael Horton and others) who are, at best, extremely wary of imitation. They prefer to focus on finding Jesus and the gospel in the OT. I agree that this is an important task. But as 1 Corinthians 10 shows us, finding Jesus in the Old Testament actually draws the connections closer so that we are more likely to see ourselves in the OT and more likely to draw moral instruction from the stories therein.
When I teach OT, I like to use 2 Tim 3:15-17 as a heuristic tool for homiletics and interpretation. Paul expects us to find two basic things in the OT: salvation in Christ (3:15) and instruction for the Christian life (3:16-17). We should learn to major in both tasks. My hope is that this book shows us how to do the latter without losing the former.
In addition, the book is designed so that you can dip in and read a chapter on (say) Matthew and Mark without having to read the whole book. It’s certainly helped me prepare sermons and lectures.
What is your next project?
I’m working on a lecture for IBR this fall on “The Image of God in the New Testament,” and a book on the kingdom of God.