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Jon Ruthven

This paper was written by Jon Ruthven.

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Jon Ruthven is a Professor of Systematic Theology at Regent University School of Divinity, Virginia Beach, Virginia.

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Articles > Charismatic Theology > The "Imitation of Christ" in Christian Tradition

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    This paper attempts to show that the elimination of miraculous works from the purview of the imitatio Christi simply does not derive from scripture and is not, therefore, normative. Against the traditional, restricted view of "imitation," the NT contains a strong parenesis for replicating the life and activities of Jesus in all areas, including the ministry of the miraculous.

    The recent trend toward a more biblical "Spirit Christology" facilitates our thesis that a central NT theme in Jesus' ministry was that he is presented not only as a unique sacrifice for sin, but as a normative exemplar of charismatic ministry for others to replicate. Hence, in this paper, after Part I, a survey of traditional theology and developments in this area, Part II examines the NT and its contemporary expressions of mimesis (imitation/ replication) and its semantic field, while Part III shows that the NT content of mimesis requires a remarkably detailed replication of each stage of Jesus' life and ministry, specifically including his ministry of "signs and wonders." This paper represents an exploratory survey of this issue. It is necessarily brief and incomplete, both in its scope and supporting evidence.

    Early on, the doctrine of Christology found much of its shape in Greek philosophical apologetics. Since it was no difficult matter to prove that Jesus was a man, the overwhelming apologetic emphasis focused on establishing His divinity, the importance of this being that only God could redeem from sin.[3]  In Christian tradition, then, Jesus came to be seen principally as the divine savior from sin, whose nature and mission was utterly and transcendently unique. To protect this image of Christ, the apologetic impulse tended to recast the New Testament portrayal of his ministry, particularly his miracles, into proofs for divinity, a move that had the effect of distancing the life and actions of Jesus from those of his mortal followers. Of course Christian tradition is far from uniform on this, or even on most issues, but for example, St. Cyril of Alexandria (d. 444) expresses some flavor of this discontinuity when he insisted:

If any man shall say that the one Lord Jesus Christ was glorified by the Holy Ghost so that he used through him a power not his own and from him received power against unclean spirits and power to work miracles before men and shall not rather confess that it was his own spirit through which he worked these divine signs let him be an anathema.[4]

An anonymous commentator on this passage clarifies Cyril's distinction between Christ and the apostles with respect to miracles and the anointing of the Spirit.

The apostles worked miracles through the Holy Ghost but as by a power external to themselves but not so Christ. When Christ worked wonders through the Holy Ghost he was working by a power was his own via the Third person of the Holy Trinity, from whom he never was and never could be separated, ever abiding with him and the eternal Father as the divine unity.[5]

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