Shopping for Churches, Odd Psalms for Corporate Worship, Imitatio Dei

As an ice-breaker before I get into my write-up on my readings, I want to share a post by Rachel Held Evans: Finding Our Notch in the Bible Belt.  It’s about her search for a church at the time that she wrote the post.  She wanted one that cares for the poor, creates an environment that encourages intellectual honesty, stays out of politics, and allows women into leadership positions.  I like her following statement:

Often I am told that my expectations are unrealistic, that church isn’t about getting what I want out of it, but rather about putting more of myself into it. I’ve been told that to search for a church that “fits” is to subject the Church to consumerism, to put my own needs above those of others. While I believe this sentiment is true to an extent, I also believe that in order to really contribute to a church, one must be able to embrace its mission and priorities. Staying in a church out of guilt isn’t good for the church or the individual.  I’m slowly beginning to embrace the idea that my desire for spiritual and intellectual fulfillment can be reconciled with my commitment to follow Jesus as faithfully as I can.

That’s my struggle over attending an evangelical small group or church: I don’t have the agenda that evangelicals want me to have!  I’m not a salesman for Jesus, and my faith is not a group activity.  I have my own personal relationship with God, and I honestly communicate through my blog and other avenues what I think about Jesus, both my positive and negative reactions.  I don’t parrot an evangelical script or encourage people to sign on the dotted line.  Those who criticize “shopping” for churches are probably authoritarian anyway, since they’re critical of people having a choice and voting with their feet.  Personally, I don’t understand why evangelicals would want people to attend their church and small group if they’re not passionately committed to the evangelical agenda.  If it’s to learn about the love of Jesus and to study the Scriptures, that’s good, but people should be free to grow at their own pace, without a lot of pressure.

That little rant aside, let’s turn to my readings:

1.  For Philip Davies’ Scribes and Scrolls, Davies suggests that the Psalms may have been for private devotional reading rather than liturgy (pages 133-134).  The reason is that many of them relate to the religious life of the individual.  I can’t exclude the possibility that they were used in temple worship, since there are plenty of Psalms about praising the LORD, and I see praise with instruments as communal.  But I’ve often had trouble imagining certain Psalms in a temple service, particularly ones in which the Psalmist says he’s been delivered from death at the hands of his enemies, or asks God to smite those who afflict him, or challenges the oppressive authorities.  I mean, how many church attenders are there who’ve been delivered from rapacious oppressors who have sought to kill them?  But I can envision a person reading these Psalms as an expression of David’s pain as he fled from Saul and Absalom.  The reader would celebrate God’s goodness and think that, if God could deliver someone from these serious problems, then God could help him out with his comparatively lesser difficulties.

This is my honest struggle with the Book of Psalms, and it may reflect my ignorance.  There are plenty of people in the world who do have to deal with oppression, even of the fatal sort.  And I’m not entirely familiar with the Psalms of other ancient Near Eastern countries, so I can’t say whether or not their corporate worship had Psalms about deliverance from well-to-do oppressors.  It’s just odd that those Psalms would be a part of corporate worship, and I can’t pin-point why.  Perhaps I wonder why society would officially criticize those types of oppressors in a worship service, while simultaneously allowing them to do their dirty deeds.  Anyway, now that I’ve written myself into this pit, let’s go on to my reading of Henri Crouzel’s Origen.

2.  On page 97, Crouzel essentially says that the concept of imitating God is a Greco-Roman concept and is largely absent from the Hebrew Bible.  A professor of mine once said the same thing.  Indeed, the concept of imitatio Dei is more heavy-handed in the New Testament than in the Old.  Jesus’ sermons on the mount and the plain exhort us to be like God in our treatment of the wicked.  The epistles have a lot about treating others as God has treated us, and of imitating God and Christ.

In the Old Testament, we have the concept of being holy as God is holy, so that may count as imitatio Dei, in a sense.  I always thought that the parts of the Torah about treating the poor and stranger well because the Israelites were strangers in Egypt was another example, since Israelites are presumably to have the same compassion for the vulnerable that God had for them.  But it may not relate to imitatio Dei, for those passages don’t explicitly mention imitating God.  The concern of the Torah is largely “Do this because I own you, for I delivered you from Egypt and you are mine.”

I wouldn’t die over this view of imitatio Dei, though.  I could be wrong.  But, if my professor, Crouzel, and I are right, then the New Testament reflects its cultural context.  I wouldn’t say that means we should dismiss it as the work of mere men.  I think God communicates with people where they are.  He may have wanted to impart to people the idea that they could become like him, but he waited until the predominant cultures had the vocabulary for that sort of concept; otherwise, he’d be coming out of the blue with something incomprehensible.  Perhaps there’s progressive revelation going on here: he wanted his people first to know that he was God and was over them, before he told them they could become like him.  After all, there are Bible passages about humility preceding exaltation.

About jamesbradfordpate

My name is James Pate. This blog is about my journey. I read books. I watch movies and TV shows. I go to church. I try to find meaning. And, when I can’t do that, I just talk about stuff that I find interesting. I have degrees in fields of religious studies. I have an M.Phil. in the History of Biblical Interpretation from Hebrew Union College in Cincinnati, Ohio. I also have an M.A. in Hebrew Bible from Jewish Theological Seminary, an M.Div. from Harvard Divinity School, and a B.A. from DePauw University.
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2 Responses to Shopping for Churches, Odd Psalms for Corporate Worship, Imitatio Dei

  1. Hi, James. Thanks for the shout-out. I’m glad I found your blog! Good stuff!


  2. jamesbradfordpate says:

    Hi Rachel. Thanks for commenting here! I’ve had you on my blospot blog’s blogroll for a while—after I read your post on “Confessions of a Bible Snob,” or something like that. But I started reading you more this morning. I loved your post on why Calvinism makes you cry, since I feel the same way.


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