We continue our focus on highlighting four pervading themes in Dallas Willard’s writings about Christian formation and the Christian Life. In this blog we’ll look at Themes #1 and #2. I’ll be letting Dallas Willard speak for himself about each theme, by including some quotations from the following writings:
HG: Hearing God (1984)
SD: The Spirit of the Disciplines (1988)
DC: The Divine Conspiracy (1998)
RH: Renovation of the Heart (2002)
Theme #1: Christian Formation is Uniquely Empowered within the Kingdom of God, which is Now Uniquely Present with the coming of Jesus
It is a commonplace that the main subject of Jesus’ teaching is the Kingdom of God. What Dallas highlights is that Jesus announced the present availability and empowerment of Christlike living within the Kingdom of God (for those regenerated and indwelt by the Spirit).
HG: “This is a point about the nature of social reality that we cannot afford to miss. Some of our greatest problems in understanding and entering into life in the kingdom of God come from an inadequate appreciation of how that kingdom—like all kingdoms—works: that is, by communication, the speaking or use of words for the expression of minds and intentions. The Scriptures are the best place to look for illustrations of how the speaking of a word works in the kingdom of God” (122). “It is through the action of the Word of God upon us, throughout us, and with us that we come to have the mind of Christ and thus to live fully in the Kingdom of God.” (148) “That gospel is the good news that the kingdom rule of God is available to humankind here and now.” (156)
SD: “I believe men and women were designed by God, in the very constitution of their human personalities, to carry out his rule by meshing the relatively little power resident in their own bodies with the power inherent in the infinite Rule or Kingdom of God.” (54).
DC: “The eternal life that begins with confidence in Jesus is a life in his present kingdom, now on earth and available to all. . . . It is about living now as his apprentice in kingdom living, not just as a consumer of his merits. Our future, however far we look, is a natural extension of the faith by which we live now and the life in which we now participate." (xvii)
RH: “Thus in Jesus’ own ministry he came proclaiming access to the kingdom of God: to God’s present care and supervision, available to all through confidence in himself. ‘Repent, for life in the kingdom of the heavens is now available to you,’ was what he said. And his presence, actions, and teachings manifested and explained the kingdom. He made ‘disciples’ by presenting them with the kingdom and introducing them into it by reaching their hearts, changing their vision of reality and their intentions for life.” (67-68)
Theme #2: Christian Formation is about following Jesus and Putting Jesus’ Words into Practice
Through his words and actions, Jesus is our primary teacher and guide and the exemplar par excellence for what Christian living in God's Kingdom encompasses. Jesus’ disciples can become more and more like Jesus.
HG: “My strategy has been to take as a model the highest and best type of communication that I know of from human affairs and then place this model in the even brighter light of the person and teaching of Jesus Christ. In this way it has been possible to arrive at an ideal picture of what an intimate relationship with God is meant to be and also come to a clear vision of the kind of life where hearing God is not an uncommon occurrence.” (10)
SD: “Turning from old ways with faith and hope in Christ stands forth as the natural first expression of the new life imparted. That life will be poised to become a life of the same quality as Christ’s, because it indeed is Christ’s. He really does live on is us. The incarnation continues.” (38)
DC: "Jesus as the actual teacher of his people has disappeared from the mental horizon of our faith. In that capacity he is not a part of how we 'do' our Christianity today. It is the main purpose of this book on Jesus and his kingdom to help us face this fact of the absence of Jesus the teacher and to change it." (316) "Plainly, in the eyes of Jesus there is no good reason for not doing what he said to do, for he only tells us to do what is best. In one situation he asks his students, 'Why do you call me, “Lord, Lord,” and do not do what I say?' (Luke 6:46)." (273)
RH: "Spiritual formation in Christ is an orderly process. [The ways God has chosen to work with us] are clearly laid out in the Bible, and especially in the words and person of Jesus." (10) “A life of victory over sin and circumstances is accessible to all." (11) "Hopefully, it will now be clear that our inner (and therefore our outer) being can be transformed to increasingly take on the character of Christ. That transformation is not only possible, but has actually occurred to a significant degree in the lives of many human beings; and it is necessary if our life as a whole is to manifest his goodness and power, and if we as individuals are to grow into the eternal calling that God places upon each life." (82)