Mimicking Our Disruptive Father And Our Diverse Older Brother

Learning Prophetic Disruption, Priestly Connection, and Kingly Service

By Dan Allender

Copyright © 1996 Mars Hill Review 5 · Summer 1996: pgs 34-46.

Imitation may be the sincerest form of flattery, but it is not a commendable attribute in a world that glories in originality. Any of us would be horrified to be told, "You're just mimicking the boss." This implies we have little initiative or creativity. One of my children was shamed on the playground for wearing a new coat. Her friends mocked her: "You're a copycat. You bought it after Megan wore it first." My daughter was horrified. Now the lovely gift hangs lifelessly in her closet, not to be worn for fear of scorn.

At a gathering of professional therapists, I was told that my work was merely a recapitulation of someone else's labors. I was seen as a mimic and my work dismissed. Like my daughter, I wanted to run from my playground and never pick up the coat of academic thought again.

The critic Harold Bloom has noted that in creative circles there is an angst of "borrowing" from another artist. He quotes Oscar Wilde, "To influence a person is to give him one's own soul. He does not think his natural thoughts, or burn with his natural passions. His virtues are not real to him. His sins, if there are such things as sins, are borrowed. He becomes an echo of someone else's music, an actor of a part that has not been written for him."{1}

This "anxiety of influence" not only is prevalent in artistic circles, but is also at the core of the constant flux and reintroduction of endlessly new products in business. The key word in advertising is "fresh." Advertisers strive to be at the front of the pack of innovation and novelty. A new idea is one that cuts a peerless path apart from the expected and ordinary: "This is not your father's Pontiac." To be viewed as one who mimics is to lose one's calling by putting on the secondhand ideas of another. So, we fail to mimic others because it cuts to our heart of pride. On the other hand, in some circles it is seen as proper to mimic others in a way that is slavish and thoughtless. I recently saw a "disciple" of a prominent Christian leader speak. This man's language, mannerisms, and even his intonation were remarkably correspondent to his mentor. After hearing him speak for ten minutes, the person sitting next to me whispered: "He is a little Doctor ______. I guess the doctor doesn't permit too much variation in his protégés."

At times it seems the more powerful the leader, the more exacting he becomes in requiring conformity from his followers. In many cases, mimicry secures a place in the power matrix of an organization. If I function with a shared vernacular, read the same books and dress in a manner than fits the genre of the group I wish to join, then I facilitate my ease of acceptance. Anyone who has ministered in a broad spectrum of Christian circles, for example, knows when not to say to the speaker, "That was an anointed talk," and when to say to the speaker, "You had presence." For many, mimicry is the dues one pays to join the club.

The dilemma this presents is that wrongful mimicry necessarily leads to disaster. One study indicates that most mentoring relationships last less than three years. The number-one reason for their demise: division due to differences in philosophy and approach that threaten the status of the mentor. One merely needs to recall the heart-wrenching fights between a parent and child in which the child shouts: "I am not you! I want to do it my way, not yours."

We live in an odd era. We require of ourselves individuality and uniqueness, but we don't want to be too far out on the edge of the crowd. On the one hand, mimicry is to be eschewed. And on the other hand, we still want one person (or several) to mimic, so that we can avoid the approbation of others who may see our path as too idiosyncratic. We would follow someone who would allow us to walk in her shadow to escape the heat of an angry day.

Thus, we are caught in a bind-for we learn only by imitation. We grow by trying on the manners and perspectives of those we admire. Mimicry frees us temporally from the burden of individuality and loneliness. Yet if exercised too long, mimicry makes us soulless and eventually sycophantic. Following any man or woman too long eventually binds us from living out our singular burdens in the unique place God has designed for us individually.

Are we to mimic a mentor? If so, how do we avoid the trap of conformity and yet not alienate our mentor? And if we are mentors, how do we invite others to mimic us without requiring their compliance to matters that are not essential to their task of growing in maturity?

I believe the answer is to have a vision of where we will go and what we will become if we follow a good mentor. Put simply, if we mimic a good mentor, we will not become like him or her; instead, we will become a better picture of Jesus Christ-and we will offer a clearer vision of the odd path he invites us to walk.

To this end, God has given us two images of godly mentors to mimic: the apostle Paul, our disruptive father in the faith, and Jesus Christ, our diverse older brother.

Mimicking Our Disruptive Father

As the apostle to the Gentiles, Paul is our birth father. On the basis of this parentage, he rightly calls us to look to his life as one to emulate. This is in keeping with the cultures in which Paul moved.

The Greek culture placed the training of a child in the hands of his father. The man was to orchestrate the physical, intellectual, and spiritual development of his children. As a representative of the city-state, he had the responsibility of shaping his son to serve and honor the gods, values, and mores of the culture. The younger man was to be trained to become honorable, responsible, and fully prepared to defend the state against all enemies. The goal of education was to produce an upstanding citizen who was in control, masterful, competent, and an asset to both the family and the state. Also in this culture, a young boy trained in the Gymnasium would be mentored as well by older men to become a responsible citizen of the Polis.

In the ancient near east, a father had a claim over his children's lives, even to the point of being allowed to kill them if he thought they were rebellious and beyond training. Paul was fully aware of this prerogative, as well as the Greek prerogative, when he tells us he is worthy of being mimicked. Yet rather than exalting himself as the noble, honorable, and educated citizen to be followed, or exerting an ultimatum or mortal threat as his influence, Paul tells us, his children, to live out a disruptive existence that parallels the life of Jesus Christ.

Paul describes the odd path that God has called him to walk (and that the apostle calls us to mimic) in terms of being foolish, weak, dishonored, hungry, thirsty, treated brutally, and homeless. Further, when treated in such an ignoble fashion, Paul says he worked hard, blessed, endured, and answered his detractors kindly by becoming the "scum and refuse of the world." The path Paul calls us to mimic is one that violates the core assumption of "the good life."

Paul mentors his children to confound a world system based on power by taking a position that mocks the advantages of worldly power. He breaks the rules of the game, and in so doing he divests the system of its appearance of validity. Vaclav Havel, the once imprisoned playwright who became the President of Czechoslova-kia, states:

[the dissident]. . . shattered the world of appearances, the fundamental pillar of the system. He has upset the power structure by tearing apart what holds it together. He has demonstrated that living a lie is living a lie. He has broken through the exalted facade of the power system and exposed the real, base foundations of power. He has said that the emperor is naked. And because the emperor is in fact naked, something extremely dangerous has happened: by his action, the [dissident] has addressed the world. He has enabled everyone to peer behind the curtain. He has shown everyone that it is possible to live within the truth.{1}

Most of us seek a mentor to secure a better life, improve our skills, gain greater mastery over our fate, assure our success. Mentoring in our day is usually built on acquisition of skills and securing the right connections so that we can grow in competence and, therefore, be able to perform a job more adequately. We learn by watching the expert perform his tasks; we mimic his skill under his watchful eye; we profit from his encouragement and constructive criticism. This cycle of observation, performance, and critique leads to growing competence and confidence. Our mentor's connections can reasonably lead us to a good position where we can perform our newly learned skills.

This structure is not to be impugned, but Paul's focus is not on skill and connection. Rather, it is on character and the consequences of thwarting a culture or a system that is contrary to God. If we are to mimic Paul, who himself mimics Christ, then an inversion of expectation will occur in us. Normally, we pursue education or mentoring to gain competence and mastery in an area of study; Paul's intention is to take us into the heart of powerlessness, loss, and heartache, where the message of the gospel is most richly lived out. This is the place of paradox-losing life in order to find life-in which Paul says: "Imitate me."

Any mentor who teaches skills and mastery more than he offers disruption and paradox will lead his "children" in a direction that fits the system of the world rather than the mentality of God's kingdom. Skill development and mastery of concepts must be set on a path that draws the heart toward living out the calling of becoming like Jesus Christ, rather than toward merely being a more competent cog in the system of the family, church, or state.

What, then, must I do or become if I take on the disruptive character of Jesus Christ? Paul instructs me to mimic him as he mimicked Christ. And to imitate Christ is not only to mimic his path, but to do so according to his calling-which was to reveal the Father through the offices of prophet, priest, and king. Of course, these offices no longer exist in the manner or form they once did. But they continue to point us toward what we are to do and become as we develop the character of Christ.

Mimicking Our Diverse Older Brother

In theological discourses, Christ's earthly ministry is often spoken of as fulfilling the roles of a prophet, priest, and king. He is the perfect embodiment of the prophet who disrupts and offers hope, the priest who connects and instills faith, and the king who lovingly, justly leads his people into battle against evil.

Who is a good mentor? She is the one who offers a full picture of Jesus Christ in the way she interacts with others. Jesus alone is our mediator, the one who can restore us to relationship with God through his death and resurrection. No one is to fulfill his perfect mediatorial role. Yet it is the humbling privilege of believers-the royal priesthood-to announce the coming kingdom of the king, to proclaim the promise of forgiveness of sins, and to tear down the strongholds that keep the human heart from believing the Word of God.

I believe a clearer picture of these royal roles of prophet, priest, and king will give us the basis necessary to understand better what it means to mimic Christ.

Prophetic Disruption and the Arousal of Hope

The Prophetic Task

A prophet exposes the hardness of the heart; he warns and invites the idolatrous heart to return to God. He stands in the way of deceit and pretense. He calls the people to remember God and to reflect on the consequences of continued rebellion. He stands like the child in the midst of the royal procession and states the obvious: "The emperor has no clothes!"

Jeremiah cried out about the priesthood and other prophets:

"From the least to the greatest, all are greedy for gain; prophets and priests alike, all practice deceit. They dress the wound of my people as though it were not serious. 'Peace, peace,' they say, when there is no peace. Are they ashamed of their loathsome conduct? No, they have no shame at all; they do not even know how to blush. So they will fall among the fallen; they will be brought down when I punish them," says the LORD. (Jeremiah 6:13-15)

Like his fellow prophets, Jeremiah exposed the heart's true motives and focused on the relational-psychological by-products of sin. The leaders refused to blush, refused to feel shame for their idolatry, and the prophet called them to feel, to see, and to change.

The prophetic call exposes whom we trust for life. The prophet Isaiah exposed the leaders' propensity to return to the place of slavery, Egypt, to find "shade for refuge" (30:1-3). Again, the warning is, "Your sin will lead to disgrace, shame, and agony." But the people had hardened their hearts, and eventually they gave themselves over to illusion, deceit, and distortion of truth. Listen to their pointed words: "They say to the seers, 'See no more visions!' and to the prophets, 'Give us no more visions of what is right! Tell us pleasant things, prophesy illusions. Leave this way, get off this path, and stop confronting us with the Holy One of Israel!'" (Isaiah 30:10-11).

The people will face terrible adversity, Isaiah promises, but it is not for naught; God will heal, avenge, and celebrate with his rebellious people. As much as the prophets speak of sin and destruction, they also envision a day of righteousness and restoration. Isaiah promises: "Yet the LORD longs to be gracious to you; he rises to show you compassion. For the LORD is a God of justice. Blessed are all who wait for him! O people of Zion, who live in Jerusalem, you will weep no more. How gracious he will be when you cry for help! As soon as he hears, he will answer you" (Isaiah 30:18-19).

A prophet disrupts denial and exposes the subtle and overt idolatry of the heart, provoking sorrow and shame that lead either to greater hardness or to repentance. But repentance is always offered on the promise of restoration and healing. The hope of a "new" day is the carrot dangled to arouse the desire for reconciliation and righteousness. So the prophet seems to focus on two issues-the hardened heart and future hope-in order to disrupt deceitful complacency and idolatry, and to increase desire for what was meant to be.

The Prophetic Process

The prophet's primary means to accomplish these goals is to describe the obvious in terms of piercing narrative (Hosea), powerful images (Nahum), and prescient poetry. The prophet is a poet, an artist, a stranger who is not really part of the community, but stands outside the normal channels of conversation and commerce and invites the comfortable to see themselves in a new, disturbing light. It is a light that not only pierces but promises a wonder that cannot be truly described outside the framework of imagination, vision, and metaphor.

The prophet may stand outside the community, but he does not do so in a detached fashion. His life becomes the message. He marries a prostitute to reveal the sorrow of God (Hosea), he argues with God on behalf of the people (Habakkuk), and he bears the fury of his hearers (Jeremiah). He steps into the sin and allows it to affect him, and then uses the struggle to further the larger message. He is a radical reformer who may be critical, but he does so not without suffering for the people he exposes.

The Prophet's Calling Today

It should be apparent that no prophets exist today as in the Old Testament, but the work of a prophet today is in essence no different. He is a bearer of the word of God, a spokesman for righteousness, a poet of hope, an expert in the matters of the heart. His domain is the soul. He ponders the darkness of the heart-its flight from God and its fight to retain sovereignty. He reflects on the brilliance of creation-the wonder of human dignity and the calling of glory.

Who is this person? The prophet is anyone who is willing to think deeply about the human condition, speak truth, sorrow deeply, and bear the consequence of being viewed as an enemy of the status quo. Change cannot occur without disruption of deceit and blindness. Disruption will not be immediately appreciated, nor will it be honored. More often, it is met with attack. Therefore, the prophet often is gifted in living with ambiguity, pain, and desperate hope.

He will live in the tension between the horror and hope of the human soul. And he will learn to speak in a way that calls the heart to new vision about both. But in disturbing and energizing the heart, he will always be clear where he leads his hearer-to repentance that leads to worship and to service.

The prophet will never be satisfied to remain a disturbing, alluring presence in a person's life. If he remains only that, he will develop an arrogant, gnostic view of God and community. The true prophet disturbs and invites the heart to return to godly worship. In fact, the prophet is a servant of the church who stands outside the church in order to invite those who appear to be in it to return to true worship.

Priestly Connection and the Deepening of Faith

The Priestly Task

While the prophet disturbs, the priest comforts. The prophet looks at horizontal reality in order to drive the heart back to God; the priest looks to God in order to remind the people of his goodness and grace. Here is a point that must be made clear: the priest and prophet ought not be in competition nor intrinsic conflict. They are bearers of truth viewed from two different perspectives and tasks. The prophet provokes the heart to desire and repentance, and the priest draws the broken, hungry heart to taste the goodness of God (Psalm 34:6).

The priest invites the struggling heart to glimpse the God who rescues his undeserving children from harm. He invites and connects the heart to the remembrance of God's faithful acts of redemption in the past. In the Old Testament, the priest was custodian of the cults: he participated in making sacrifices before God to expiate the sin of the people; he petitioned God on behalf of the diseases, disasters, and needs of the people; he wrote and sang the songs of worship. But his primary work, even in administering the cult, was to point to, remind, and through ritual and word proclaim the exodus as the central story that was to guide the people in their daily struggles (Psalm 77).

The task of the priest is to draw the troubled, plowed-up heart into relationship with God. He invites the heart to cry out to God in confusion, anger, hurt, and desire. It is striking to remember that the Psalms, the prayer and songbook of the temple, is made up of more songs of lament than it is of praise. Walter Brueggemann has said that the Psalms can be divided between songs of orientation, disorientation, and reorientation. These labels also describe the work of a priest.

A priest points people to consider God as the core of existence, to be served in all we do (orientation). But life is disturbing, and we struggle with what God is up to. We experience him as silent, or, worse, as opposed to us. His apparent refusal to save us throws our world into chaos. Here the priest leads us in the expression of lament (disorientation). Finally, God saves. He saved in the past, and his saving purposes will not be thwarted in the present. Salvation leads us to sing songs of thanksgiving (reorientation). The priest is the leader of the celebration.

The priest feels the heartache and struggle of the people. He draws the sinful heart to God, announces the provision of redemption, and invites the forgiven to celebrate. As a teacher of the word, he orients our heart to the principles of the law. As one who knows the heart, he proclaims our inability to keep the law. And as one who has tasted the grace of God, he proclaims the forgiveness of sin that comes from being marked by the blood of the Lamb.

The Priestly Process

While the prophet is a poet who disturbs and arouses hope, the priest is a storyteller who comforts and deepens faith. His armaments are not limited by his task. He sings and prays poetry; he teaches the law; he recalls in story the deeds of God in the past. But he also acts out the rituals of remembered redemption. God has intended for there to be a cultus. The word cult, taken from the Latin colere, means "to attend to, to be called." The word is used to mean worship. The deepest passion of the heart is to attend to God, to be called forth to express our awe and gratitude for him.

The priest leads in praise, lament, and thanksgiving in word and deed. He draws the heart to a sense of wonder that God is for us in spite of our sin, and he invites us to praise God for his forgiveness.

The Priest's Calling Today

It likewise should be apparent that there are no priests as there were in the Old Testament. But the work of a priest today is in essence no different: he is a bearer of the word of God, a spokes-man for righteousness, a storyteller of faith; an expert in the heart. His domain is the cultus. He ponders the glory of God and the heart's hunger for worship. He reflects on the brilliance of creation, the wonder of human dignity, and the calling of glory.

Who is the priest? It is anyone who is willing to feel deeply about the human condition, to speak truth, and to bear the weight of reminding others of God. He may be a pastor or a layman. He may work in a Christian parachurch organization or in any other job. But at his core, he will be gifted at listening, aching for others, praying, and calling others to the glory of being forgiven. He knows that true change will not occur without the comfort of mercy and love.

The priest's intimate connection to others in their pain and his joy often is deeply misunderstood, and can be misused as a means of systematizing and manipulating God. More often than not, cultic worship can degenerate to form without true change. But the risk of grace is the gross misuse of freedom (Romans 6). True worship leads not to license but to humble service; therefore, the priest is gifted in drawing the heart to its true home, reminding the soul of the wonder of what God has done. In comforting and celebrating, however, the priest never ignores the darkness of the heart, nor the need for an external focus of service. It is not his task merely to provide a safe refuge. He is also a prophet, disturbing the soul, and a king, leading into war.

The priest is never satisfied to remain a comforting, celebrating presence in a person's life. If he remains only that, it will lead to a safety-seeking, self-serving use of God and community. The true priest comforts, celebrates, invites the heart to move into godly service. He is a servant of the culture, a person who is in the world but not of the world, and who invites those who are in the church to enter the world to do battle for the kingdom of God.

Kingly Service and the Liberation of Love

The Kingly Task

The prophet disturbs. The priest comforts. The king leads. The prophet provokes the heart to face reality; the priest proclaims that God is at the core of all that is real; the king pronounces how to live in reality. The king leads and protects his people by applying wisdom to the war of life.

In the Old Testament, a king was the human analog of what was called the "divine warrior" (Psalm 45). God was Israel's king, and he fought on the Israelites' side to destroy all that was opposed to him, and to provide the context to grow all that was good (Psalm 86). He was a warrior-king who sought justice and mercy for his people, in order to mirror the coming kingdom of righteousness.

The king led, protected, and provided for the safety of the realm. He secured the infrastructure necessary for civilization.{3} He justly applied the law of God to the government, commerce, and care of the state. In essence, the king protected the cultus from the enemies of God and provided for those who were too weak to care for themselves.

The king was not only a warrior, but he also was the representative of the realm in conversations with the "world." He planned strategies, negotiated alliances, and applied the word of God to daily conflicts. His finger was on the pulse of power in all areas of life. In so doing, he became the one who took the truth of God into the world and invited unbelievers to know and bow before the God of Israel.

A reading of the Old Testament kings revealed, however, that few honored their unique calling. Far too often the kings compromised truth in making alliances that violated God's desire. They allowed for worship of the false gods associated with the nations with which they had formed alliances. This led to grave injustice, perversion, and a loss of freedom and safety. This perversion of power was seldom condemned in the cultus, but it was roundly exposed by the prophetic community. Eventually, God cleansed the subversion of his rule by sending his people into exile.

Nonetheless, God continues today to empower leaders to reveal his own righteousness, justice, and heart for the poor.

The Kingly Process

The prophet is a poet who disturbs and arouses hope. The priest is a storyteller who comforts and deepens faith. And the king is a mentor who applies wisdom to life and leads people into war with the weapons of love.

Most of the wisdom books-Proverbs, Song of Songs, Ecclesiastes, and Ruth-are considered to have been royal literature. For example, the book of Proverbs has been viewed as wisdom taught to young men who were being trained for royal service. These books are practical, earthy, and not overtly about God. In fact, neither the book of Ruth nor Song of Songs ever mentions Yah-weh. This is not to say that God isn't at the foundation of the reflection; but the overt interest of the books is the management of the mystery of life.

A mentor-that is, a practical instructor who applies truth to life-seeks to help a young man or woman grow through the application of proverbic, wisdom categories to life experience. A mentor is neither a priest, nor a prophet, but a developer of skills in fighting the battles of life. He is not only a teacher, but a master, an expert in the guild. He passes on common sense and skills, and he monitors the apprentice so the younger can eventually take over the task related to the field of endeavor.

But the ultimate skill to be taught is how to love. The mentor's competence, therefore, is in a distinct area, but even more so it is in developing character to live out the "royal law of love."

The King's Calling Today

As is true of the priest and prophet, there are no kings today as there were in the Old Testament. Yet, like these others, the work of a king today is in essence no different. He is a teacher of the word of God, a craftsman of righteousness, a trainer in the royal law of love, an expert in pragmatics. His domain is the world of commerce, law, government, medicine, administration, or any specific skill. He ponders the glory of God and the heart's hunger for godly dominion. He reflects on the brilliance of creation, the wonder of human dignity, and the calling of glory.

Who is the king today? A king is anyone willing to know truth, train in wisdom, and bear the weight of leading and protecting those under his care. Again, his work is not limited to any single field of endeavor-he could be a therapist, pastor, or businessperson-but at his core, he is gifted in using power to shape and guide others to become the mature men and women they are called to be. A king knows that change will not occur without the application of wisdom to the diverse demands of life.

Kingly mentoring can often degenerate into shaping the mentored into the image of oneself. The phrase has been often heard: Absolute power corrupts absolutely. It is imperative that the king truly serve with humility, generosity, and jealous-free thrill in seeing the young grow beyond him.

Unity of Calling

Am I prophet, a priest, a king? The offices of these three are fulfilled perfectly in one person, Jesus Christ. It is imperative that we heed the wise words of A.A. Hodge:

It is always to be remembered that these are not three offices, but three functions of the one indivisible office of mediator. These functions are abstractly most distinguishable, but in the concrete and in their exercise they qualify one another in every act. Thus, when he teaches, his is essentially a royal and priestly teacher, and when he rules he is a priestly and prophetical king, and when he atones or intercedes he is prophetical and kingly priest.

He is one, though he fulfills different tasks. The same is to be true of me. I may be more gifted in one area, and that gifting may shape the nature of how I perform my tasks in my area of service, but I must press on to maturity, to be like Christ. I must mature in all three areas if I am to fulfill the task of offering others a picture of Christ. Otherwise, the picture and the task will be perverted. A prophet will become a gnostic; a priest, a charlatan; a king, a despot.

The Calling of a Mentor

A godly mentor guides others on the path of developing unpredictable, disruptive character that undermines the reigning assumptions of his culture. He also shapes character into calling. And calling for any Christian involves mimicking Christ as prophet, priest, and king. A godly mentor never settles for mere skills acquisition or the development of a growing competence in a particular task. Instead, he seeks to develop the character of calling by exposing weaknesses and invoking hope (prophetic), nurturing connection and confidence (priestly), and encouraging and directing passion into the war of life (kingly). In so doing, the mentor steps aside to offer the disciple a vision of the one, mature mentor-Jesus himself.

{1} Harold Bloom, The Anxiety of Influence (New York, N.Y.: Oxford University Press, 1973), 6.

{2} Vaclav Havel, Living in Truth (London: Faber and Faber, 1986), 57.

{3} See Tremper Long-man III and Daniel G. Reid, God is a Warrior (Grand Ra-pids, Zondervan, 1995) and Dan B. Allender and Trem-per Longman III, Bold Love (Colorado Springs, NavPress, 1992).