By Eric Newton
The previous post considered what a Christian college education is all about. It is a whole-person education aimed to glorify God and help people flourish by developing character, the imprint of virtuous habits.
This leads us to another question. How do we establish these patterns? Or, how do we translate goals into lifelong pursuits? Here is the answer we’ll unpack over the next two posts: Virtuous habits develop through God-glorifying imitation and God-dependent practice.
All of us need inspiration more than occasionally, because success is more than knowledge. We often make strides due in large part to the example of others. For instance, Paul commends Timothy in 2 Timothy 3 not only for believing apostolic doctrine but also for adopting the apostolic pattern of discipleship. Timothy learned how to live from Paul.
This emphasis on imitation can seem contradictory to being Christ-centered. In fact, the pendulum of imitation tends to swing out of balance. Many times in history, both Christian and otherwise, leaders set themselves up as paragons of virtue and dictate that their followers copy their every move. Such a proud, man-centered environment is very unhealthy and often ends in catastrophe. As Proverbs 16:18 says, “. . . an haughty spirit [goes] before a fall.” God never desires one mere human to be the center of anyone else’s universe.
But there is an opposite error, an overreaction to this real and present danger. The other ditch is to dismiss imitation as an illegitimate category. Sometimes with good intention we attempt to step out of the picture, not wanting the scrutiny or pressure of being exemplary. The problem is that God made His image-bearers to affect others by our example. It’s a part of created human nature. To be relational is to have influence. Without blushing Paul wrote these God-breathed words, “Be ye followers of me, even as I also am of Christ” (1 Cor. 11:1).
Therefore, we cannot simply take a pass when it comes to God-glorifying imitation. The truth has to be embodied. As Jeremy Pierre says in The Dynamic Heart in Daily Life, “Imitation is an effective means of spiritual formation as people model themselves after others who embody a full-hearted faith. . . . The gospel message for Paul was not merely knowledge content to be transferred, but also a life to be lived in light of that knowledge. People learn what that life looks like by seeing it” (148). We don’t seek to bring glory to the faithful examples we’re following. We follow their footsteps because their gaze is firmly fixed on Jesus Christ, the Author and Finisher of our faith (Heb. 12:2).
So, our quest this year involves finding faithful examples we can learn from and humbly attempting to set the right example for those whom we will influence.