In “Renovation of the Heart – Putting on the Character of Christ” Dallas Willard supplies such a plethora of information that it is difficult to sortIn “Renovation of the Heart – Putting on the Character of Christ” Dallas Willard supplies such a plethora of information that it is difficult to sort through everything and find a place where to begin to respond. Usually I like to pick out ideas that have an impact on me—either positively or negatively, but the abstract concepts Willard presents are not easily digested in one reading even at a stayed pace.
I want to start with a discussion on the will but I can’t decide whether it is my thoughts directing my will or my feelings so it is probably best to start with an overview (I’m trying to be funny), or simply, discuss Willard’s main thesis, then to deal with the devil in the details. The “heart” of this matter is the six dimensions of the human self: soul, social context, body, mind, and spirit; their interaction with each other, and how we can transform each to become a true human—a human as God planned. Understanding these six dimensions of self is essential for comprehending the entire book. And yet it is here one can get lost in the metaphysical especially in understanding the soul.
In common parlance there usually is no distinction between the spirit and the soul—the words are used almost interchangeably. But here Willard treats the soul as an abstract concept as if the other dimensions of the self bring into existence the soul. Since it is in their interaction that we find the soul it is almost like a dance with the soul of the person providing the beat. Music and dance seems like a good metaphor to picture the choreography going on that the soul is orchestrating and defining the type of music we are as a person: classical, baroque, jazz, pop, etc.
Concerning the will Willard defines this will, or spirit as “that which is self-initiating and self-sustaining” (pg. 34) and indicates that only God is purely spiritual. In chapter 8 on transforming the will Willard discusses that the will “is the one thing in this creation that God does not override” (pg. 146). Here some discussion has to be made on how the human self is different from God. Is God’s self not influenced by a social contest and body, having a soul, mind, and will? Is man also not purely spiritual concerning evil things and if not how is man then responsible for his own sins? Proverbs indicates that God turns the hearts of Kings: Proverbs 21:1 “The King’s heart is in the hand of the LORD, Like the rivers of water; He turns it wherever He wishes,” so He must override the will of some people then sometimes.
How does Willard know God does not override the will? If that’s the one thing He does not override then He can override the body, soul, social context, thoughts, and the feelings all of which Willard has already indicated influence the will so therefore God does influence the will, albeit indirectly, even in Willard’s context so is all this just to be able to say “we have a FREE will?” Probably so. I remember reading somewhere in the book Willard commented briefly concerning the issues between Augustianism and semi-palagianism and that his book wasn’t going to cover that issue but here I don’t think he can be that silent. ...more
On the back cover of the book I found this statement: “Robbie Castleman believes reclaiming God’s plan for sexual relationships is a journey toward hoOn the back cover of the book I found this statement: “Robbie Castleman believes reclaiming God’s plan for sexual relationships is a journey toward holiness. In sprightly, straight-for-the-target prose, she shows how unmarried Christians can wait until marriage without turning into prudes or wallflowers. She helps us see how we can mold and groom our desires, preparing for a lifetime of joyous and responsible sex within marriage.” No credit is given for this statement so I assume this was contrived by the editor or publisher to give a quick summation of the content of the book. While I did find the book to be written sprightly, very easy to read, and did give a plethora of real, and not so real, life examples to follow or avoid that could prepare a couple for blissful life together, the analogies she uses in her method of storytelling sometimes were confusing and unnecessary. The fact that this book was written with Christians in mind at times also seems to get lost in the middle of some of her real life examples and her attempt to be practical. While I recognize the necessity to be practical when addressing young Christians regarding this subject matter I still would think more mention should have been made to the individual spiritual lives of the two persons considering spending the rest of their lives together.
Now I don’t want you to get the impression that this book is a waste of time because it’s not. Castleman brings her life experience in counseling young people to this issue and she does give some very wise and practical advice that I also would recommend to the young person looking for God’s gift of a mate. Her stories of real life examples reminds us that we are not alone when we have certain feelings and desires and they give real tangible concepts that young people can apply to their own relationship. The way Castleman presents her stories to highlight the point she is making does make this book a very easy read. I found myself wanting to keep on reading to the next story. I would recommend a young couple take this book and read it Saturday and then discuss it Sunday.
While I would recommend this book I would not suggest this be the only book a couple read. This book would be a good compliment with Dr. Neil Clark Warren’s “Finding the Love of Your Life: Ten Principals for Choosing the Right Marriage Partner” and other similar books. The reason for this, as I have already stated, is that Robbie only indirectly references the need of prayer, bible study, and church attendance in the lives of two Christians seeking God’s will in their lives together. Since the book was written for Christians perhaps this was assumed. However I don’t believe this is something that should be assumed considering the statistics of divorce in our society. I believe the statistic on the divorce rate of a couple that attends church, and prays together, is around five percent compared to fifty percent for the general society. Castleman does mention her acronym KYEOJ (Keep Your Eyes On Jesus) in chapter 3 so I guess it isn’t fair that I say she didn’t mention that our focus should be on God at all. But KYEOJ is the last printed word in the book and by the time I got there I didn’t remember what KYEOJ meant until I thought about it some more! K. Y. E. O. J.—what was that…..oh yea, you get the point.
One of the problems I had with Castleman’s book was the analogy between the Grand Canyon and love. I’m still a little puzzled by this even after finishing her book! First I have to mention that Castleman raised my ire in chapter 4 when she first used the Grand Canyon analogy. Here she was trying to compare the “humble” beginnings of the Grand Canyon with the beginning of love. The mention of the Grand Canyon beginnings as a simple river implying millions and millions of years of erosion almost caused me to flick this book out my window. Thankfully I was able to keep my emotions in check and continued reading. However here she began talking about the deepness of the canyon and comparing that, or so I thought, with the deepness and the depths of love we have to look forward to exploring with our spouse. Cool, I like that. But the next thing I know I’m in a different chapter and all of a sudden God is on one side of the canyon, we’re on the other, and we have to build a bridge to avoid the dangers of sexual temptation. I must have missed something somewhere, and you probably will too.
Another issue I have with Castleman’s book is her concept of speaking the truth in love. Castleman states, “We need to tell each other the truth and trust God to give us all the grace we need no matter how the other person responds.” In a sense I agree with her but there are times when we shouldn’t tell the truth, in love or not, and just keep our mouths shut. In this section Castleman was relating how she informed her future husband, boyfriend at the time, that she believed she was falling in love with him and that he should be careful with her feelings at this time. Well okay…that is the truth I’ll give her that. Talk about a “sure thing” though. What does a guy do with this? Male translation: “I love you and want you and if you break up with me I’m going to have a fit.” The conquest is over. But instead of letting the male take the lead in pursuing his own desires and deciding on his own that she is the one he wants for the rest of his life this man is presented with a sure thing. Not many men have the will power to resist a sure thing. Maybe she was the one he wanted even before she said it but if that was me I’m going to think, for the rest of my life, maybe, just maybe, I should of considered someone else, after she pursued me. Women have to let men be the pursuer regardless of their feelings. Trust God? Where’s the trust when a women takes the initiative for a deeper commitment? Keep your mouth shut and trust God to allow Him to work in and through your boyfriend. If your boyfriend really does have the same feelings for you then you shouldn’t need to vocalize how you feel because he will have already sensed it and acted upon his own feelings in expressing his desires for you. Let men be the conquers.
On page 69 Castleman continues this truth in love theme with Carmen and Earl. “Speaking the truth in love is essential in a married relationship. Why don’t we practice this pattern in friendships and dating relationships? It can be done. It needs to be done.” To which I reply: “To every thing there is a season, a time for every purpose under heaven. In a covenant relationship between a man and woman speaking the truth in love as soon as possible is a necessity. However this necessity does not immediately translate to a non-covenant relationship. There is a major difference between being married and being a couple outside of marriage. Speaking the truth in love does not necessarily need to be done and careful consideration should be given before one opens their mouth. This whole speaking the truth in love is summed up in Chapter Six that is titled “Let’s Talk.” We joke about this in our single’s group and we call it the “DTR” talk (Define or Determine The Relationship). There definitely is a point in a relationship when the two persons spending a lot of time together need to define the relationship. However I believe it is better for the woman to use non-verbal communication to allow the man to initiate the conversation, such as withdrawing a little from the relationship, instead of coming right out and expression her feelings. Guard your heart would be my motto for the ladies.
On a separate note I appreciated Castleman’s rules for dating:
1. Four feet on the floor (not to be confused with four on the floor). 2. No clothes off. 3. No erotic foundling. 4. No French kissing.
Her analysis of French kissing as an act of penetration is especially insightful and made me pause. Conformation to this rule could have saved me a lot of time, aggravation, and hurt feelings in some of my past relationships. I must admit however than I did find a hearty laugh when Castleman advises “When in doubt, ask!” to men regarding touching a women when we give them a hug. I don’t know many men who would ask a woman: “I would like to hug you, you know, comfort you—that’s my only intention. Is that okay?” I’m laughing while even just typing that! Give me a break. Sounds like the advice should go to the women in this case: stop overreacting!
Another issue I have with Castleman’s book is the sense of the American Feministic influence that sometimes seems to permeate her thought process. There were several instances during my reading that had vague undertones of feminism but it was clearly evident on page 175 when she interprets the husband’s headship as not implying “superiority or hierarchical authority as much as it implies being, through Christ, the source of satisfaction in the married relationship.” What! If the husband is the source of satisfaction with any marriage look out, for soon there will be no marriage. I agree scripture is not saying the husband is superior to the wife but it definitely is defining a hierarchical relationship. The analogy is as Christ is the head of the Church. Certainly we are to find our source of satisfaction in Christ as head of the church but do we really want to say that Christ as head of the church is not defining a hierarchical relationship? There are no 50/50 marriages. If both partners have an equal vote on a subject who wins? The one who wins is the one who caves in, the one who will let the other have their way…until the breaking point is reached. Every compromise stretches the relationship and as a rubber band soon will break the more you stretch it so will the marriage. One vote has to weigh more than the other and scripture clearly gives the weighted vote to the husband. The husband who truly loves his wife as Christ loved the church will exercise his God given authority in a way that his wife should love to allow him to make the decisions for the family.
With these caveats in mind Castleman’s book is worth one weekend of reading if you’re a young Christian seeking to find if he/she is the right one. KYEOJ. ...more
“The failure of this dispensation comes when the church thinks that it has an earthly purpose, when it begins to think of itself as an earthly people“The failure of this dispensation comes when the church thinks that it has an earthly purpose, when it begins to think of itself as an earthly people and becomes preoccupied with earthly things.” (p. 25). This quote strikes early in the book in the history of classical dispensationalism and it makes me wonder if it is statements like this that have caused others to rethink about their position within dispensationalism. Maybe it’s me, and I don’t like to start a review of a book on a negative basis, but this is the characteristic of progressive dispensationalists, at least Craig Blaising that wrote that section, on classical dispensationalism. The stark dualism demonstrated by classical dispensationalism causes me to wonder what exactly the difference is between an earthly purpose and a heavenly purpose. Yes the quote does indicate that its looking to materialism, when the church is focused on the material position of this world or at least that is what I think they want us to think; but that is a far cry from thinking that its “purpose” is earthly and it really doesn’t feel like it’s the meaning trying to be conveyed. It’s very allusive to determine what exactly classical dispensationalism is trying to say without thinking that they really do believe the whole of Christianity is apostate except for those who believe like they do. Is it that they have become so reductionistic in trying to determine the fundamentals of Christianity that all they can do is polarize the issue as an either or consideration. Is there some middle ground, a synthesis, between Covenant theology and Dispensationalism? And more importantly is that what Blaising and Boch are attempting to do in their book “Progressive Dispensationalism.”
For now my third review of a book on dispensationalism I am starting to see a pattern develop. First there is always a need to bring the reader up to date and present a history of the subject matter. Craig Blaising is assigned this task in the first chapter titled “The Extent and Varieties of Dispensationalism.” Blaising begins with Darby and Scofield and assigns their variety as classical dispensationalism. He notes that there is no real consensus within dispensationalism about dispensationalism and that the dispensationalism of today is not like that of classical dispensationalism although he attempts to define common issues within that tradition. As a parenthetical note I wonder if it is too soon to start calling dispensationalism a “tradition?” Not quite two hundred years old now against two thousand years for all of Christianity and still the new kid on the block—ah but then perhaps just my bias? The common features Blaising finds in all dispensational theories are: authority of scripture; dispensations; uniqueness of the church; practical significance of the universal church; significance of Biblical Prophecy; futurist premillennialism; the imminent return of Christ; and a national future for Israel. That’s eight common features and within each of those eight features disagreement exists within dispensationalism thus accounting for all the different forms of dispensationalism which Blaising appears to identify as: classical (Darby, Scofield, and Chafer); revised (Walvoord, Ryrie, Pentecost, and Toussaint); and progressive dispensationalism (Blaising and Block—they list no others).
The fact that Blaising and Block do not, or cannot, list any other theologians holding to their view of dispensationalism indicates that there are presenting a new form of dispensationalism, or at least what they think is dispensationalism. But latter in the book when they finally get into what exactly progressive dispensationalism is I wondered why they didn’t just call it progressive revelation? In fact the second part of the book and the second pattern in books of dispensationalism is the need to provide a lengthy discussion of hermeneutics. Darrell Bock weighs in on these two chapters, in fact the only time in the book we hear from Bock, and breaks hermeneutics into two subsections on how we read texts and how the text speaks to us. And after reading both of these chapters I wondered where exactly the disagreement between Dispensationalism and Covenant theology is. Bock seems to have an understanding on how one’s hermeneutics effects ones interpretation that is the same as Covenant theology—at least from what I know of Covenant theology to this point. In fact Karl Barth might even agree with Bock in these two chapters! Now I wonder if Blaising and Bock can take the next step in their progressive dispensationalism and their understanding how hermeneutics effects our interpretation and consider other cultural influences on our hermeneutics—our hermeneutics is in a context which is dictated by our world view so will they be able to join the emerging church movement? I have a feeling they can’t because of dispensational insistence on a literal interpretation of scripture that seems to suggest that if you don’t end up with a dispensational theology then something is wrong with your hermeneutics so therefore you are not interpreting the scriptures literally. It does seem circular how they are going about this. But since there doesn’t appear to be any problem with how Bock defines his hermeneutics what is the reason that we come to different interpretations? Even within dispensationalism Blaising and Bock indicate the many differences with it that one would think they would have discussed this issue rather then defining the what and how of hermeneutics.
While I did agree with Bock for the most part on his hermeneutics there were several buttons he pushed with me that I can’t let pass without discussion. His distinction between presupposition and preunderstanding appears tenuous at best. It appears to be the same as the difference between dogmas and conviction, or better yet the difference between conviction and opinion. It may have been better at this instance if he had discussed presuppositions like a web, belief’s closer to the center of our web are going to be harder to take out without destroying the web while links in our web farther away from the center of our web are going to be easier to take out—the line between presupposition and preunderstanding is just too vague. In any event while describing how our presuppositions effect our thinking regarding a text he uses Psalm 19:4b-6 as an example: “In the heavens He has pitched a tent for the sun, which is like a bridegroom coming forth from his pavilion, like a champion rejoicing to run his course. It rises at one end of the heavens and makes its circuit to the other; nothing is hidden from its heat (NIV)” (p. 59). Bock informs us now that the medieval reader, steeped in their Ptolemaic presupposition of the universe would have advised us that this passage describes the movement of the sun through the sky. What is it about our current presupposition in our model of the universe that would make us not say the same thing? It does describe the movement that we sense with our vision which and, setting aside epistemological issues, we can assume the same thing that the medieval reader sensed with their senses. And I think both we and the medieval reader would have said this passage means more then just that! Why do so many people have the presupposition that people in ages past were dense idiots? How did we ever get this wonderful sense of knowledge that we are now at: thanks be to God can be our only response. And in my sarcasm I think Bock proved his point in his own presupposition of this analogy; that we all need to be humble and cry out to God for mercy and His help as we seek to hear Him through His Word as we listen to Him through the testimony of the witness’ He has provided for us.
The heart of the book begins in part three: Exposition. And if you are already familiar with the history of dispensationalism and have an understanding of hermeneutics you may want to start your reading here. For brevities sake the remainder of the book from this section forward is a discussion on dispensations, how God deals with humanity throughout history; how God uses Covenants prior to Christ and their fulfillment in Christ; and a discussion on the Kingdom of God in both the Old and New Testaments. So just from the table of contents we can see the two main issues: How do the Covenants relate to how God deals with His people (dispensationally) and what is the form and function of the Kingdom of God? The main feature of progressive dispensationalism which distinguishes it from classical dispensationalism is that they see the dispensations as progressive, still related to the past dispensations through the covenants. They find the fulfillment of the covenants, and therefore the progression of dispensations, in the eschatological kingdom of God, which is now but not yet. Now if they could just see the fulfillment in Christ and the establishment of His Kingdom at the ascension I think we can welcome them back to Covenant theology, and perhaps why other dispensationalists think they are covenant theologians. ...more