Imitating God in Christ: Recapturing a Biblical Pattern. By Jason B. Hood. Downers Grove, IL: IVP Academic, 2013. 232 pages. Paper, $22.00.
Hood is writing for all three sides of Christianity: “the latitudinal left,” “the massive middle,” and the “reluctant or resistant right” (pp. 14-15, 183-89). He suggests that all three miss the significance of imitating Christ (for different reasons).
Hood basic thesis is two-fold: 1) Christians are to imitate God, Christ, and the saints (the three major sections of the book, pp. 19-180) in the sense that we are to imitate God’s character and His loving selfless actions, as well as His character and actions seen in godly believers, and 2) Most Christians either do not think that they should imitate Jesus or they seek to imitate Him in inappropriate ways or for inappropriate reasons.
One of his headings in Chapter 3 is the title of a book by Greg Beale entitled, “We Become What We Worship” (p. 43). While most people are self-absorbed, Hood says, we are to look “to the one we are supposed to mirror, the God who created us in his image” (p. 43). This is good stuff. He cites Rom 12:1-2, but without actually quoting or discussing it (p. 45).
JOTGES readers will notice that Hood is not at all clear concerning what one must do to have everlasting life. He is a scholar-in-residence at Christ United Methodist Church in Memphis (back cover), though he does not discuss this in the book itself. It sounds as though at one time he might have believed in once-for-all justification by faith alone in Christ alone. Note this statement:
When I was in college I loved the apostle Paul, and I thought I understood him. I loved the message of grace and the gospel. I had a short statement to explain the heart of Christianity according to Paul: ‘God worked to save me in the cross.’ That’s a powerful equation and a helpful short summary. But over time I discovered that this slogan could be used as a sieve to filter out a great deal of what Paul intends for the readers to know and practice. It failed to address the new creation that God was working in Jesus’ resurrection two thousand years ago—and in humans here and now. My failure to see the bigger Pauline picture led to a rather licentious approach to grace and the Bible and left me confused about much of Paul’s teaching. I needed to hear the insistence in Calvin’s teaching that “free remission of sins cannot be separated from the Spirit of regeneration (p. 95, emphases added).
In a number of places in his book Hood indicates that transformation is something all regenerate people will experience (pp. 95, 99, 100, 105, 131, 135, 150).
He coins an expression that sadly but beautifully summarizes the view of assurance advocated by all who hold to Lordship Salvation. He says we must do “moral genetic testing” (p. 150). Genetic testing is done to determine paternity. Is this rich man really the father of this child as the mother claims? Genetic testing will tell. Moral genetic testing is what it sounds like. You look at your works to see if your father is God or the devil: “Our paternity is reflected in our behavior” (p. 150). Assurance, in this view, is found in one’s works.
He seems to think that one of the reasons we are to imitate God in Christ is so that we can be transformed and can make it into Christ’s coming kingdom (note the cooperation needed, p. 131, and the necessity of laying down one’s life, p. 135). In other words, imitating Christ is a condition of everlasting life.
Hood says, “Luther is certainly concerned to get the order of indicative (fact and free offer of salvation) and imperative (the life God then requires) correct, so that imitation is a response: ‘Imitation does not make a son; sonship makes an imitator,’ he tells us in his commentary on Galatians” (p. 201). Hood fails to explain in what sense God requires of sons that they obey His commands. Is it in order to please Him and gain blessings now and in the life to come? There is no hint of that here or elsewhere in Hood’s book. The reason seems to be so that the son can make it into the kingdom.
He also discusses the imperative and indicative at the end of the book. There he says that “there is a grave danger in making Christianity a matter of what we do for God…[and] in making Christianity a matter of what God has done for us and ignoring or downplaying what we are to do in response. First John seems to suggest that both of these tendencies are deadly” (p. 219).
He has a section entitled “A Problem and a Solution: Salvation as Renewal” (pp. 96-97). He says that sanctification is “the process of looking more like the Father and the Son through the work of the Holy Spirit in the believer” (pp. 96-97). While that is true, it is in the section discussing “salvation as renewal.” The point is that sanctification (i.e., renewal) is part of salvation. It is not merely believing in Jesus.
Does Hood believe that all who are regenerate will persevere in faith and good works and thus that perseverance till death in good works provides proof that one is born again? Or does he believe that the regenerate must persevere in good works in order to retain everlasting life? He is not clear, but he seems to hold to the former (see p. 168 where he speaks of “the initiation of a salvific relationship with Jesus”). Possibly that is why on the back cover Calvinists from Knox Theological Seminary, Precept Ministries, and Southern Seminary endorse this book. This is also supported by his answer to the question, “What is the motivation for imitation?” In his answer he brings in salvation/regeneration as part of the motivation to imitate Christ (p. 219). That fits with his statement earlier that,
These aspects of salvation [“such as adoption, justification, forgiveness, predestination, baptism and recreation to do good works,” p. 99] and many others are part of the underlying gospel motivation for imitation and discipleship. But they not just motivate believers with gratitude; they are a new reality in which disciples are commanded to live, new self-conception and worldview that require new creation believers to regard themselves no longer in terms of the flesh…Believers begin to become what they already are in Christ: the true humans they were originally destined to be (p. 100, emphases added).
I recommend this book to the well-grounded believer. I would not recommend it for new or poorly taught believers as the Lordship Salvation undercurrent in it might mislead them.
Robert N. Wilkin
Journal of the Grace Evangelical Society