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Imitation: Paul vs. Practicality

[[Note the quote embedded below. Matt Andersen of Mere Orthodoxy has just released a fascinating book, a readable, engaging, theological text on the body. I highly recommend it…not least because he addresses an under-investigated theme (at least by Protestant evangelicals–I know several converts to Catholicism who left evangelicalism because they found a theology of the body in Catholicism); interacts with Oliver O’Donovan, one of SAET’s favorite theologians; and steers into important related debates. Check out the book’s endorsements, intro video, etc., at earthenvesselsbook.com.]]

In the muddled middle of American evangelicalism, imitation is often made practical; sermons give us models to teach us how to cope with stress, be better leaders, or manage our time. But when believers are called to imitate Jesus or other characters, gospel motivation and reminders of the power God gives for imitation are sometimes lacking.

Granted, Paul frequently gets practical with imitation. But there are far greater needs than practical advice. In fact, Paul’s practical advice is based on indispensible biblical truths: gospel foundations that lead to “a gospel ethic . . . a normative account of how our lives conform to the pattern of the life, death and resurrection of Jesus Christ that is discerned and freely enacted through the power of the Spirit’s indwelling presence.”[1]

Paul does not take good advice around the Mediterranean, but good news; and when he supplies moral instruction, he applies the universal message of God’s big story to local behavior, challenging the world’s little stories along the way.

If our sermons are offering versions of the world’s stories (success, comfort, lack of stress, a beautiful body) with Christian language, then we have traded Paul’s goal of “Christification” for “worldification.”

[1] Matthew Lee Anderson, Vessels, 11; citing O’Donovan’s Resurrection and Moral Order as the “key text”.