What Would Jesus Do?: Imitation of Jesus

What Would Jesus Do?: Imitation of Jesus

Copyright: © 2020 |Pages: 19
DOI: 10.4018/978-1-7998-5452-4.ch006


Jesus rode a donkey into Jerusalem and also preached by the shore of the Sea of Galilee. If we are supposed to imitate him, does that mean we also need to ride a donkey into Jerusalem and preach by the Sea of Galilee? The chapter shows how it is important to go beyond superficial mimicry to understand how to imitate the mind of Jesus at a deeper level. It ends by contrasting two cases that more or less demonstrate what it means to imitate Jesus (i.e., Anthony of the Desert and St. Francis of Assisi).
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The one necessary thing is that we praise, reverence, and serve God. This should be consistent with our deepest desires; it should not make us miserable. ~ J. Michael Sparough, Jim Manney, & Tim Hipskind (2010, p. 49)

So far in this book, an evolved understanding of Christianity has been derived by first applying critical thinking and biblical research to 18 pillars of Christianity (Chapters 1 to 4), and then considering the role of emotions in Christian thought and behavior (Chapter 5). It was necessary to consider emotions to provide a linkage between Christian beliefs that were described in the first four chapters and the focus of the present chapter: Christian behavior. We shall see that additional insights can be gained through a re-analysis of the age-old question of what it means to imitate Jesus. The relevance of this question is made evident by fact that it was addressed in the earliest NT writings (i.e, Paul’s letters) and in Jesus’s request that his disciples imitate his breaking of the bread and pouring of wine at the Last Supper. Jesus also asked his followers to love each other as he loved them. To these and other NT references to imitation, we can add two other phenomena: (1) the popularity of Thomas á Kempis’s 15th century book, Imitation of Christ, which has been alleged to be the second most read book in the world behind the bible (Cockayne, 2017), and (2) the large numbers of children who wear “WWJD” bracelets.

Although this topic of imitating Jesus has been addressed by scores of Christian thinkers over the centuries, few have considered it from a psychological perspective and none have attempted to link this psychological perspective to the arguments presented in the first four chapters of this book (as will be done here). In what follows, I approach the issue by first delineating what it means for people to imitate anyone, and then focusing on how “Developing Christians”(i.e., a proposed term for anyone who ascribes to the revised set of pillars advanced in this book) could or should imitate Jesus.


What It Means To Imitate

Psychologists first became interested in the topic of imitation in order to counter the Behaviorist argument of B. F. Skinner that little can be gained by appealing to cognitive (mental) constructs to explain behavior. As one form of counterevidence to Skinner’s argument, social-cognitive psychologists showed that it is useful to appeal to mental images to explain how people can imitate behaviors from someone else who is no longer present. More recently, however, psychologists from a variety of sub-disciplines became interested in imitation because of its important implications for cross-species comparisons, evolution, and the emergence of cognition during infancy and early childhood (Tomasello, 1999).

Scholars who study imitation make a distinction between mimicry, which involves a superficial copying of behaviors, and true imitation, which involves understanding the intentions behind goal-directed behaviors. Some lower animal species are capable of mimicry (e.g., songbirds), but only humans and perhaps some highly advanced primate species appear to demonstrate true imitation.

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