This book is a collection of Dallas Willard's previous writings and lectures surrounding the importance of discipleship for Christians. This book is a...moreThis book is a collection of Dallas Willard's previous writings and lectures surrounding the importance of discipleship for Christians. This book is a great introduction to Willard's other books and a stirring exposition of his chief concern: That becoming a disciple of Christ is seen as optional in most churches today. It is enough that a person accept Christ as savior and affirm certain beliefs to be a Christian. While these things are absolutely essential, they are not enough and they only partially fulfill the teachings of scripture and the commands of Jesus.
When many people consider discipleship, or spiritual formation, they think of what it costs (a la Bonhoeffer). This is a valid perspective, but Willard asks us to take a look from the other side: The cost of nondiscipleship:
"Nondiscipleship costs abiding peace, a life penetrated throughout by love, faith that sees everything in the light of God's overriding governance for good, hopefulness that stands firm in the most discouraging circumstances, power to do what is right and withstand the forces of evil. In short, nondiscipleship costs you exactly the abundance of life Jesus said he came to bring (John 10:10)."
Discipleship is essential for every Christian, not just for the "super Christians." There is nothing in the teaching of scripture that suggests that being forgiven and "saved" is all there is to being a Christian. To the contrary, Willard shows that Christians need to be undergoing a profound transformation in character becoming more like Christ from the heart. How does this happen? By the faithful acceptance of everyday problems, interaction with God's Spirit in and around us and spiritual disciplines. He recommends four spiritual disciplines as basic to discipleship: solitude, silence, fasting and scripture memorization. For those to whom spiritual disciplines sound like "works righteousness," Willard repeatedly emphasizes the difference: "Grace is not opposed to effort, it is opposed to earning. Earning is an attitude. Effort is an action." The process of transformation isn't passive on our part. Its effectiveness is all due to God's grace. But our effort makes us receptive to this grace. God will not impose it upon us. Willard likens spiritual discipline to the physical discipline of an athlete (cp. 1 Cor. 9:24-27). The spiritual disciplines aren't meant to be burdens that we groan under. They are tools which we can help us make God's grace more effective in our lives. In fact, our bodies themselves are tools for spiritual growth.
The heart of the book is chapter 9, "Living in the Vision of God." Here Willard distinguishes between the substance of devotion to God and its effects. When we become too attached to the latter we are in danger of losing the former. Here there is a very good analysis of how this happens and what can be done about it. We are commanded to love God with all our heart, soul, mind and strength in Mark 12:30 and Willard assures us that, "It is something we are to do, something we /can/ do. We /will/ learn learn how to do it if we /intend/ to do it. God will help us, and we will find a way." Amen! Let it be so.
The book ends with a few short chapters about various books on spiritual living that have been a tremendous help to Willard and which he commends for our use. I've added a few of them to my reading list.
Dallas Willard is a very wise, and practical teacher. He has deep and valuable insight into what it means, and what it takes, to be a disciple of Jesus Christ today. He is a trustworthy guide for the efforts of any Christian who wants to break an addiction to mediocrity in their relationship to God. This book will never be the classic that _The Divine Conspiracy_ is bound to become, but it provides a a much needed impetus for modern evangelical Christianity to reclaim the great omission for its life and mission. I hope it gains a wide reading.(less)
Back in 1996 I started to experience a series of very disturbing "interruptions" in a life that I thought had progressed nicely up until that point. L...moreBack in 1996 I started to experience a series of very disturbing "interruptions" in a life that I thought had progressed nicely up until that point. Little did I know that M. Craig Barnes had just published a book that would help me greatly in making some sense of it all. I'm glad to have found it.
Any Christian who has suffered a huge interruption in the life that he or she has expected to live will benefit from this book. Like it or not, most of us will be abandoned by many things we value in this life. Even the best things we have our only ours for a time. We stand to lose our material wealth, our health, our livelihood, people we love, and finally our very lives as such. Dealing with this grim reality requires a choice of perspective. We can devote our life's energies to trying to preserve our lives as we want, or hope, them to be. The fear of losing our self-made lives will rule our lives. Inevitably, loss will come. How will you take that loss? If the meaning you find in your life depends on your ability to keep it the way you want it, then the loss may come pretty hard. Alternatively, M. Craig Barnes presents a perspective based on Bible lessons and people's stories which can help us to see and appreciate the sum of our lives as an unearned gift from God.
Gaining this perspective requires a conversion process that goes beyond mental assent to certain doctrines or simple belief. It is when we are abandoned by things we hold most dear that the test of faith comes. Is it real, or is it mostly dependent on our having our lives the way we want them to be? Most of us will have more than one opportunity in our lives to find out. The good news is that, even if we can't have the life we wanted, God can show us a way to want the life we have. Sounds risky (and it is). But, no matter how much we have in this life, we will lose it all some day. Learning how not to worry about losing what we think we depend upon for our peace and security could be a long, uncomfortable process. But if being so focused on "saving" the kind of life we want is making us blind and ignorant to the better kind of life that God wants for us, then it is a risk worth taking. This is not to say that it's good to throw the nice things we have in life away. But I would like to be the kind of person who can lose those things when the time comes without too much regret and also use them (while I have them) to bless others in God's name. This can only happen if I truly believe that my life is the product not of my own will and struggle, but of an intimate and everlasting relationship with God.
This book is a good elaboration on what Jesus means by losing our life when we try to save it and finding it when we lose it for His sake (Matt. 16:25) and what it means to find the pearl of great value (Matt. 13:45). As Barnes says at the end of his book, "People who have a God do not need to become one". This book will help you break the habit of trying to be your own life's savior and enjoy letting God do that for you. If you read this book and want more, I would also recommend Philip Yancey's books "Disappointment With God" and "Reaching for the Invisible God". But don't pass this one up for those. I read this after Yancey's books and gained many valuable insights. (less)
This book is an exceptionally good introduction to the meaning of personal relationships that are called "spiritual friendship" and " spiritual direct...moreThis book is an exceptionally good introduction to the meaning of personal relationships that are called "spiritual friendship" and " spiritual direction". Good spiritual formation doesn't happen well on a purely individual level. It's important to have some trusted person(s) with whom one can discuss just about anything and be vulnerable and open. American Protestant Christianity in particular has been too individualistic for it's own good. The "just me and Jesus" mindset works out little better than "just me" without a third person who is just as committed to life as a spiritual journey being there to observe and help discern the direction of the Holy Spirit in one's life.
David Benner does a very good job of clearly describing the qualities and characteristics of spiritual friendship and spiritual direction, how they differ from each other and from other similar relationships like counseling, life coaching, discipleship, etc. and how then can be combined in a small group setting or (even!) within the marriage relationship. I highly recommend this book for those who want a good basic understanding of what it means to be "sacred companions". This is a much needed ministry within the church today. I'm very thankful for the people who have filled this role in my life.(less)
This is a foundational book for me. It's as relevant now as when originally published. It's more about the necessity for Christians being real discipl...moreThis is a foundational book for me. It's as relevant now as when originally published. It's more about the necessity for Christians being real disciples of Jesus Christ and the need for spiritual disciplines to train disciples whose character and lives resemble those of Jesus than it is about how to practice the spiritual disciplines. The problem addressed by this book is the tendency to equate being a Christian with holding certain beliefs about Jesus Christ rather than seeking to imitate him in one's whole life and character. The imitation of Christ isn't a matter of our own will power but it does require effort on our part to enable God's grace to do the work of transformation. The chapter on the spirituality of poverty is very well reasoned an balanced while still presenting a tremendous challenge to the way many Christians think (or don't think) about wealth and poverty. The final chapter on the disciplines and worldly power structures effectively argues that personal and social evils are inseparably connected. Remedies that focus on one while ignoring the other are bound to be ineffective. This is a philosophical book, written by a philosopher, not an "inspirational" one (unless you're inspired by philosophical thinking). Those first coming to it might want to read the 2nd appendix first as an introduction. The audio version of this book is very well read by Robertson Dean. It takes a very skilled narrator to read aloud and well a book like this. (less)