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
Theme #3: Heart Formation, and
Theme #4: Spiritual Practices.
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 #3: Christian Formation is about the Inner Formation of the Heart
The key to Christian formation for living now in God's Kingdom involves attending to the inner aspects (as the title indicates: Renovation of the Heart) of our lives (e.g., mind, feelings, dispositions) and that requires our own continuing intentionality and effort, sustained by God's grace.
HG: “But one who inquires seriously after God’s guidance must never forget that even if one was to do all the particular things God wants and explicitly commands us to do, one might still not be the person God would have one be. . . . An obsession merely with doing all God commands may be the very thing that rules out being the kind of person that he calls us to be.” (11)
SD: “So we should be perfectly clear about one thing: Jesus never expected us simply to turn the other cheek, go the second mile, bless those who persecute us, give unto them that ask, and so forth. These responses, generally and rightly understood to be characteristic of Christlikeness, were set forth by him as illustrative of what might be expected of a new kind of person—one who intelligently and steadfastly seeks, above all else, to live within the rule of God and be possessed by the kind of righteousness that God himself has as Matthew 6:33 portrays.” (7-8)
DC: “There is, for example, no field of expertise in human affairs where interaction with God is part of the subject matter or practice that must be mastered in order to be judged competent. . . . All of us live in such a world [in which “the flight from God” is rampant]. . . . Our souls are, accordingly, soaked with secularity.” (90-91) “[Jesus] knew that we cannot keep the law by trying to keep the law. To succeed in keeping the law one must aim at something other and something more. One must aim to become the kind of person from whom the deeds of the law naturally flow.” (142-143)
RH: "Without the gentle though rigorous process of inner transformation, initiated and sustained by the graceful presence of God in our world and in our soul, the change of personality and life clearly announced and spelled out in the Bible, and explained and illustrated throughout Christian history, is impossible." (79) "So the problem of spiritual transformation (the normal lack thereof) among those who identify themselves as Christians today is not that it is impossible or that effectual means to it are not available. The problem is that it is not intended. . . . They do not decide to do the things Jesus did and said." (91)
Theme #4: Christian Formation includes Spiritual Practices with our Physical Bodies
We must develop a holistic view of formation that also includes attention to the role of the physical body through the practice of spiritual disciplines.
HG: “When God does speak to you, pay attention and receive it with thanks. It is a good habit to write such things down, at least until you become so adept as the conversational relationship that you no longer need to. If he gives you an insight into truth, meditate on it until you have thoroughly assimilated it. If the word he has given concerns action, carry it out in a suitable manner. God does not speak to us to amuse or entertain us but to make some real difference in our lives.” (214)
SD: "The disciplines for the spiritual life, rightly understood, are time-tested activities consciously undertaken by us as new men or women to allow our spirit ever-increasing sway over our embodied selves. They help by assisting the ways of God's Kingdom to take the place of the habits of sin embedded in our bodies." (86)
DC: “A discipline is an activity in our power that we do to enable us to do what we cannot do by direct effort.” (200, 353) “Somewhat ironically, perhaps, all of the ‘spiritual’ disciplines are, or essentially involve, bodily behaviors. But really, that makes perfect sense. For the body is the first field of energy beyond our thoughts that we have direction over, and all else we influence is due to our power over it. Moreover, it is the chief repository of the wrong habits that we must set aside, as well as the place where new habits are to be instituted. We are, within limits, able to command it to do things that will transform our habits—especially the inner habits of thought and feeling—and so enable us to do things not now in our power.” (353-354)
RH: "In particular, specific disciplines go far in retraining particular parts of our body away from the specific tendencies to sin that are localized in them. They enable us to stop the practice and remove the tendency in question by entering special contrary practices and circumstances, and thereby breaking the force of habit that has us in bondage." (176)
In the fourth and final blog regarding Dallas Willard's writings about Christian formation and the Christian Life, I offer some final thoughts.