God as Patron?

15 08 2009

In his excellent book of 2004 “Reconceptualizing Coversion,” Zeba A. Crook argues that most people in the first century saw God (whichever god they followed) as the great patron and benefactor.

The best picture of this today is actually the Mafia, where the godfather sits at the top of the tree demanding trust and loyalty from his clients, distributing protection, security and belonging in return. But the moment such a parallel is made it causes people to (rightly) cringe. A bit like the parable of the shrewd manager (Luke 16) – we balk at God ever being paralleled with an ugly figure.

David deSilva has recently given other reasons why 21st century westerners may not like this idea:

People in the United States and northern Europe may be culturally conditioned to find the concept of patronage distasteful at first and not at all a suitable metaphor for talking about god’s relationship to us. When we say “it’s not what you know but who you know,” it is usually because we sense someone has had an unfair advantage over us or over the friend whom we console with these words. It violates our conviction that everyone should have equal access to employment opportunities (being evaluated on the basis of pertinent skills rather than personal connection) or to services offered by private businesses or civic agencies. Where patronage occurs (often deridingly called nepotism: channeling opportunities to relations or personal friends), it is often done “under the table” and kept as quite as possible

Are these good reasons to reject this picture? Actually they are very good reasons to be extremely cautious if choosing to reject this picture. There are a lot of ulterior motives kicking around, which may make us blind to seeing the importance of this idea in the NT.

Posted by Bruce Lowe

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2 responses

15 08 2009

Certainly in the United States the patron/client relationship is understood as “basically slavery”, slavery in turn is equated with evil. “Patron” has been joined by “father” and “husband” in a list of metaphors with a lot of baggage for the average American. Sigh.

17 08 2009
Bruce Lowe

based on your name it seems that you are not originally from America or Australia (India?). What is the sense of this term in your cultural experience? Would love to get your sense of this… recently had a girl from Japan in a class who shed some real light on honor and shame.

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