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The Divine Conspiracy: Rediscovering Our Hidden Life in God

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The Divine Conspiracy has revolutionized how we think about the true meaning of discipleship. In this classic, one of the most brilliant Christian thinkers of our times and author of the acclaimed The Spirit of Disciplines, Dallas Willard, skillfully weaves together biblical teaching, popular culture, science, scholarship, and spiritual practice, revealing what it means to "apprentice" ourselves to Jesus. Using Jesus’s Sermon of the Mount as his foundation, Willard masterfully explores life-changing ways to experience and be guided by God on a daily basis, resulting in a more authentic and dynamic faith. 

448 pages, Hardcover

First published March 24, 1998

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About the author

Dallas Willard

127 books812 followers
DALLAS WILLARD was a Professor in the School of Philosophy at the University of Southern California in Los Angeles. He taught at USC from 1965, where he was Director of the School of Philosophy from 1982-1985. He has also taught at the University of Wisconsin (Madison, 1960-1965), and has held visiting appointments at UCLA (1969) and the University of Colorado (1984).

His undergraduate studies were at William Jewell College, Tennessee Temple College (B.A., 1956, Psychology) and Baylor University (B.A., 1957, Philosophy and Religion); and his Graduate education was at Baylor University and the University of Wisconsin (Ph. D., 1964: Major in Philosophy, Minor in the History of Science).

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Displaying 1 - 30 of 774 reviews
4 reviews1 follower
January 6, 2008
If you are uncomfortable with the theology of the Fundamentalists and their emphasis on "getting into heaven is the most important thing, and the only way to get there is to believe what we believe"...

and if you find that there is something lacking in the Liberal's theological conclusion that it is all about social justice...

then here is a book which digs into the heart of Jesus's message and challenge to us living in the world today.

We can never pass enough laws to force people to be good people--we cannot legislate morality. Our actions (both good and evil) come from what lies in our heart. How do we change our heart? That what's Jesus message was about--changing people heart's to come into harmony with the will of God (the kingdom of God).
Profile Image for Amanda Tranmer.
135 reviews10 followers
July 9, 2016
Update: Even better the second time. I read it with a Calvinist's (I am personally somewhat undetermined) eyes this time, and see why Willard makes some people uncomfortable. I say it's worth getting over it, because this book is SO good. Life changing. Revelatory. I will never look at life, eternity, Jesus, Christianity the same, ever again. I won't be throwing out the baby with this one.

Not since my first experiences with C.S.Lewis have I been so impacted by a writer, Christian, theologian, philosopher. I really can't recommend this book enough. It has changed me. It has changed my mind. It has clarified and reordered things I thought I knew. It has made more sense of life than I ever expected, both on a philosophical level and, more importantly, on a real life heart and soul level. It has made me love Jesus more, want to know him more, enlivened me to his purposes, given me guidance about how to go on from the reading and actually live it. It has given me a new kind of hope.
The first thing I did after finishing my Kindle copy was buy a paper copy. This is a book I expect to reference my whole life, starting with a second read right now.
It isn't easy reading. Expect some grueling uphill climbs, some disorientation, some re-reading of paragraphs. I'm a fast reader and this one took me a couple of months to get through. Marinate in it. It's well worth it.
Profile Image for James Korsmo.
463 reviews20 followers
October 25, 2020
In The Divine Conspiracy, philosopher Dallas Willard paints a compelling picture of the Christian Life by investigating what God is doing in the world, and how humans can experience it.

Willard begins by laying out some of the problems he sees in our world, and in Christianity, today. These include the erosion of "truth" and abosolutes in our culture, and the loss of the depth of the meaning of the gospel message. He then sets out to reconstruct a clear picture of what it means to be a Christian, and what that type of Christ-life should look like. To do this, he gives us a prolonged reflection on the Sermon on the Mount, Jesus' in-depth discussion of what life in his Kingdom is like. Instead of letting the Sermon be a pie-in-the-sky ideal, Willard fleshes out the deep logic behind it, and makes it something that we live. The insight of these reflections alone, and the recovery of the power of Jesus' teaching make this book worth reading. But Willard doesn't stop there.

One of the basic insights that undergird Willard's discussion is that if Jesus was who he said he was, and who we say we believe he is, then he was and is brilliant. We should listen closely to what he says, and learn to follow it. This insight takes him through a careful reading of the Sermon on the Mount, and also leads him into an investigation of Christian discipleship. More than just being a Christian who "grows," discipleship is acknowledging Jesus as brilliant, and then resolving to really become his students. We seek to learn from Jesus about the true nature of reality and of our own existence, and then resolve to actually obey, to actually live as if these things were true. Disciples delve into the deep reality of God, and constantly strive to keep him before their minds. This results in a true knowledge of God that effects our entire lives. And it brings us deeper into the eternal life that we have been given, kingdom-life. And all throughout the book, Willard stresses that "eternal life" isn't merely a life that never ends, "fire insurance" against future judgment, but is instead true, abundant life in God's kingdom that starts here and now.

He concludes the book by discussing the "Restoration of All Things," the final coming of the kingdom in its fullness. Truly appreciating the end means acknowledging the present in its truest reality and purpose. And Willard helps us to see that as we understand God's plans and intentions, we appreciate him more and understand our own lives more fully within God's plan.

The Divine Conspiracy is one of the best books I've ever read, and one I highly recommend. When I finished reading it, I just put my bookmark back in the front and started over. There are so many deep and profound insights into what it means to live a life devoted to God. Eternal life is here already, and Willard has helped me to see and appreciate it, and helped me to pull so many threads of Christian thought together into a coherent and compelling vision of life in God, kingdom-life, a life as a devoted disciple of Jesus Christ.
Profile Image for Barnabas Piper.
Author 11 books942 followers
April 22, 2017
Reading this book is a labor of love. Or maybe just a labor. I really struggled with Willard's writing style, but there is no denying the wisdom, richness, and depth in these pages. Some passages were worthy of reading 3 or 5 times repeatedly to soak in them. The scope is expansive and it's a true classic. Just be patient and prepared to grind through parts.
Profile Image for Letitia.
1,096 reviews86 followers
December 20, 2018
This is another one of those books where I am not the intended audience, so I have a hard time rating it. My dad said this book challenged him more than any other book he had ever read and, being a good sport, I decided to read it and discuss it with him. This does not mean I have much to contribute to the conversation, but at least I participated.

Some good stuff: I really love the section on the Lord's Prayer. I think this is the most important part as far as exegetical prowess and spiritual insight. Also, Willard is a beautiful writer. The writing is lyrical, clear, and intelligent. Not easy to find in a nonfiction tome like this one.

Some of my issues with the text arise from Willard's mysterious inconsistencies, and apparent cluelessness, which I will explain below. Firstly, Willard definitely comes across as the disillusioned grandpa, moaning about "kids these days" and "this generation." But he is incapable of being self-reflective on this. Even while he unravels Messianic wordgames, he bemoans children who sing "I wish I were an Oscar Meyer Weiner," grieving a generation who would ACTUALLY wish to be a hot dog, rather than a child. At the same time, he is capable of completely unpacking the "pigs before swine" metaphor into an intricate, multi-layered meaning. Mr. Willard...the Oscar Meyer song is not meant literally. I don't know why I have to explain that. For a man who has made his living extricating the deeper meaning of language, I don't know why this particular jingle stumped him and was interpreted in the most literal way possible.

The second issue comes with the biggest and arguably most important section in the book: that on discipleship. The plea for discipleship that Willard offers does not offend me on an intellectual level, because if you are already a Christian and accept the premise of his writing about discipleship, there's nothing wrong with it. But the more it went on, and the more I heard him explaining how no one practices discipleship in this way, with this level of dedication, I kept thinking "But I did. I was steeped in this kind of theology. This WAS taught, contrary to what he's saying. And people did it, hard core. Why does he keep claiming that his call is to something utterly unpracticed within the Christian community?" And finally, chapters later, I think I may have deciphered it. Willard, an older white man, probably did NOT receive the sort of training in discipleship, nor dedication to spiritual practice, that I did. When I think back on those years of thrice-a-week churchgoing, I have vivid images of women killing themselves to be the best Christian they could. Poring over scripture. Praying, meditating, reading. Going to studies, prayer meetings, revivals. It was their life. This is precisely the kind of dedication to discipleship that Willard is describing, and says doesn't exist. Maybe men in the church are NOT taught this, taught to be aloof and intellectual rather than spiritual. But women are most DEFINITELY adhering to the sort of obsessive discipleship he's describing. I know. I was one. My mom and most of my female relatives still are. And perhaps this is at the heart of why my dad was so challenged by this book. His gender context obscured the kind of experiences that are really being had by the majority of church-goers. So I find Willard, in the end, a bit out of touch and probably without the counsel of too many female colleagues.
Profile Image for Chauncey Lattimer.
47 reviews1 follower
August 9, 2011
It was as early as the introduction that I realized I was in for a good read when Willard stated, "Whatever the ultimate explanation of it, the most telling thing about the comtemporary Christian is that he or she simply has no compelling sense that understanding of and conformity with the clear teachings of Christ is of any vital importance to his or her life, and certainly not that it is in any way essential." There is no doubt that the influence of the church has been weakened in the western world; discussion of this issue usually revolves around the question as to why. In his own words, this book 'complete(s) a trilogy on the spiritual life of those who have become convinced that Jesus is the One." The intent/purpose of the book is to "present discipleship to Jesus as the very heart of the gospel." This is accomplished more than once in the 419 pages. [Though I prefer footnotes, I even found myself highliting items in the "Notes," which are located at the end of the volume.] For those who have struggled with the practicallity of the "Sermon on the Mount," this book now occupies a place in my library alongside Glen Stassen's book - Living the Sermon on the Mount.
Profile Image for Meghan Armstrong.
101 reviews14 followers
July 19, 2019
I don’t think I’ve ever read someone who takes Jesus and his words as seriously as Dallas Willard. This is mostly a treatise on the Sermon on the Mount, and instead of towing a denominational interpretive line, many of which in my limited experience skirt this very difficult text, he dives in and finds a Jesus who is both the most brilliant philosopher of all time, while also being the most effective human practitioner of life. He gives the sermon the credit of actually having an intentional structure, which forms the basis for a progression of the human person into full life in the Kingdom. I have needed Jesus’s words so badly in 2019, and I’ve needed them to MEAN something. Not a single word of the sermon is wasted in Willard’s interpretation.

This is technically a 4.5 star review, because I think the reader would be better served if it were two companion volumes, one on the Sermon and another on spiritual formation and Christian discipleship. It’s dense and took me forever to read, which has made me hesitant to recommend it to anyone, even though I think any Christian of any stripe would benefit from some time with Dallas Willard.
Profile Image for Kris.
23 reviews6 followers
December 3, 2008
Perhaps the most formative book of my adult life. I remember the first time I read this how unimpressed I was. But some kind of switch was flipped and the second, third, fourth.....it became my handbook. No one in our day has more important things to say than Dallas Willard concerning discipleship and spiritual formation. I see him as my grandfather, at least spiritually. His book inspired me to memorize the Sermon on the Mount. I led near twenty college students through this book over a 5 year period. Willard has such a unique, yet historically proven view of Jesus' intention of calling others to walk with him. What if Jesus wanted to actually call others to be like himself? What if there's more to being "saved" than simple forgiveness of sins and management thereof? Could God possibly be interested in who I am and eventually become? This book and its contents were truly the source of the greatest paradigm shift in my life. I recommend this book unequivocably.
Profile Image for Anne Hamilton.
Author 46 books149 followers
January 12, 2019
I don't know what it was about this book - the length of the paragraphs, the density of text on the page - but I couldn't really get with the flow until the last chapter or so. Instead of reading and meditating, often normal for me in a book like this, I found myself skimming in the hope of finding a way in.

I don't doubt I will read it again. I made quite a few notes on the way through. But there isn't a forest of bookmarks jutting out of the book as there normally is for something like this.

2019 -
I finally got around to reading this book again - and it was a struggle, as before. Not sure why this is - but I have made notes this time:

The familiar stories, traditions and rituals of Israel enabled them to know the practical significance of this. They were stories and traditions of individual human beings whose lives were interlaced with God's action. Abraham, David, Elijah were well known to all. And the routinely practised rituals of Israel were often occasions when God acted. Everyone knew that whoever trustingly put themselves in his hands as this poor scandalous woman did, were in the hands of God. And God's deeds bore out his words.

When he announced that the 'governance' or rule of God had become available to human beings he was primarily referring to what he could do for people God acting with him. But he was also offering to communicate this same 'rule of God' to others who would receive and learn it from him. He was himself the evidence for the truth of his announcement about the availability of God s kingdom, or governance, to ordinary human existence.

This explains why, as everyone saw, he did not teach ‘in the manner of the scribes’ but instead as ‘having authority in his own right’ (Matt. 7:29). Scribes, expert scholars, teach by citing others. But Jesus was, in effect, saying, ‘Just watch me and see what I say is true. See for yourself that the rule of God has come among ordinary human beings.

'Already during Jesus’ earthly activity,’ Hans Kung has pointed out, ‘the decision for or against the rule of God hung together with the decision for or against himself.’ P27

The human job description (the ‘creation covenant’, we might call it) found in Chapter 1 of Genesis indicates that God assigned to us collectively the rule over all living things on earth. We are responsible before God for life on the earth (vv. 28-30)

However unlikely it might seem from our viewpoint God equipped us for this task by framing our nature to function in a conscious, personal relationship of interactive responsibility with him. We are meant to exercise our 'rule' only in union with God, as he acts with us. He intended to be our constant companion or co-worker in the creative enterprise of life on earth. That is what his love for us means in practical terms.

Our 'lives of quiet desperation’, the familiar words of Thoreau, are imposed by hopelessness. We find our world to be one where we hardly count at all, where what we do makes little difference, and where what we really love is unattainable, or certainly is not secure. We become frantic or despairing.

In his book, The Doors of Perception, Aldous Huxley remarks, 'Most men and women lead lives at the worst so painful, at the best so monotonous, poor and limited that the urge to escape, the longing always been one of the principal appetites of the soul.’ They are relentlessly driven to seek in H. G. Wells's phrase, 'Doors in the Wall' that entombs them in life.

Huxley was sure that 'the urge to escape from selfhood and the environment is in almost everyone almost all the time.’ Therefore the need for frequent 'chemical vacations from intolerable
selfhood and repulsive surroundings' would never change. The human need could only be met, in his view, by discovery of a new drug that would relieve our species without doing more harm than good in the long run.
P 95

Some of the more significant passages stressing the transformation of status under God are the 'Song of Moses and Miriam' in Exodus 15, the prayer of Hannah in 1 Samuel 2, the story of David and Goliath in 1 Samuel 17, Jehoshaphat's prayer and battle in 2 Chronicles 20 and the 'magnificat' of the virgin Mary in Luke 1. Psalms 34, 37,107 and others celebrate this theme of God's hand lifting up those who are cast down and casting down those lifted up in the human scheme. The reigning of God over life is the good news of the whole Bible: 'How beautiful upon the mountains are the feet of him who brings good tidings, who publishes peace, who brings good tidings of well-being, who publishes salvation, who says to Zion, "Your God reigns!'" (Isa. 52:7)
P 137

Some attention has recently been paid to twelve-year-old or fourteen-year-old children who kill people for no apparent reason. Commentators have remarked on the lack of feeling in these young killers. But when you observe them accurately, you will see that they are indeed actuated by a feeling. Watch their faces. It is contempt. They are richly contemptuous of others—and at the same time terrified and enraged at being ‘dissed’ which is their language for contempt.
P 170

The first and second requests directly concern God’s position human realm. The first one asks that the name of God should be held in high regard. ‘Hallowed be thy name,’ the old version has it.
In the biblical world names are never just names. They partake of the reality that they refer to. The Jewish reverence for the name of God was so great that especially devout Jews might even avoid pronouncing it. Thus we do not really know how Yahweh, as we say it, really is to be pronounced. The pronunciation is lost in history.

Today very few people any longer understand what it means to ‘haIIow’ something and are apt to associate hallow only with ghosts and Hallowe’en. So we would do better to translate the language here as ‘let your name be sanctified.’ Let it be uniquely respected.

Really, the idea is that his name should be treasured and loved more than any other, held in an absolutely unique position among humanity The word translated ‘hallow’ or ‘sanctify is hagiastheto. It is basically same word used , for example, in John 17:17, where Jesus asks the Father to sanctify his students, especially the apostles, through his truth. And it appears again in 1 Thess. 5:23 where Paul expresses his hope that God will ‘sanctify’ the Thessalonians entirely, keeping them blameless in spirit, soul and body until Jesus returns. In such passages too the term means to locate the persons referred to in a separate and very special kind of reality.
P 284

In the distant outworkings of the Protestant Reformation with its truly great and good message of salvation by faith alone—that long-accepted division has worked its way into the very heart of the gospel message. It is now understood to be a part of the ‘good news’ that one does not have to be a life student of Jesus in order to be a Christian and receive forgiveness of sins. This gives a precise meaning to the phrase ‘cheap grace’, though it would be better described, as ‘costly faithlessness’.

The fifth of the Ten Commandments says: ‘Honour your father and your mother,’ and then adds ‘that you may enjoy a long life in the land the Lord your God gives to you’ (Exo. 20: 12). And Paul notes that this is ‘the first commandment with a promise attached to it’ (Eph. 6:2)

The promise is rooted in the realities of the human soul. A long and healthy existence requires that we be grateful to God for who we are, and we cannot be thankful for who we are without being thankful for our parents, through whom our life came. They are a part of our identity, and to reject and be angry with them is to reject and be angry with ourselves. To reject ourselves leads to sickness, dissolution and death, spiritual and physical. We cannot reject ourselves and love God.

When the breach in the human soul that is self-rejection remains unhealed, the individual and thereby society, is open to all kinds of terrible evils. This is where the Hitlers come from. And for every Hitler who rises to power, there are millions who consume themselves and die in quiet corners of the earth. The final words of the Old Testament address this profound problem. Speaking of an ‘Elijah’ to come they state that ‘he will turn the heart of the fathers to the children and the heart of the children to their fathers lest I come and smite the land with a curse.’

Consumer Christianity is now the norm. The consumer Christian is one who uses the grace of God for forgiveness and the services of the church for special occasions but does not give his or her life and innermost thoughts feelings and intentions over to the kingdom of the heavens. Such Christians are not inwardly transformed and not committed to it.
P 375

Now in fact, the patterns of wrongdoing that govern human life outside the kingdom are usually quite weak, even ridiculous. They are simply our habits, our largely automatic responses of thought, feeling and action. Typically, we have acted wrongly before reflecting. And it is this that gives bad habits their power. For the most part they are, as Paul knew, actual characteristics of our bodies and our social context, essential parts of any human self. They do not, by and large, bother to run through our conscious mind or deliberative will, and often run exactly contrary to them. It is rare that want ro do wrong as the result of careful deliberation.

Instead our routine behavior manages to keep the deliberative will and the conscious mind off balance and on the defensive.
P 375-376
Profile Image for Silvia Cachia.
Author 8 books74 followers
January 14, 2019
I'm not prepared to review this long and well written book. As with all books on theology, you probably guess I'm going to say that I had reservations to some of the teachings. Aside from that, the book was for the most part, a compelling call to exactly what it claims in the title, Rediscovering Our Hidden Life in God.

I took my time to read it, thus by the final chapters, I forgot about the beginning ones, what tells me this will be re-read. But the last chapters are fresh in my head. And they were the culmination of the point Willard tried to make in the book. It was a huge surprise to me to find the last chapter devoted to heaven, and how it will be like. It was enlightening and different. The last two books on christianity, both had some part devoted to this, which I found rewarding. Willard mentions many other authors, he talked about The City of God, by Agustin, and it made me interested. I'm looking forward to other of Willard's books, and, as I said, to re-reading this rich book.
Profile Image for David .
1,266 reviews160 followers
July 31, 2020
This summer my fellow staff and I read this book together. Most of us have read it before. It is brilliant and definitely a modern classic. I was a bit more critical my second time through, as I’ve learned a lot since the first time and saw a few points where I thought Willard could be clearer or where he made assumptions perhaps he shouldn’t. But overall, this is a fantastic book. Further, though its been around a while now, the problems he diagnoses remain. We need to realize we can actually grow and mature, become more Christlike, and to do so we need to be intentional about spiritual discipline and practice.

This is a must read. Its a feast. Its brilliant.
Profile Image for Nathan.
124 reviews14 followers
May 9, 2013
Willard continues to challenge me: from ministry, to the importance of Christ's bodily (not just spiritual) resurrection. A difficult read though, and his "program for discipleship" was not among my favorite features. Overall, a thought-provoking, enlightening book.

First review: I just began reading Willard's book, but already it has me thinking. Within the first paragraph, he lays out his philosophy: "Presumed familiarity has led to unfamiliarity, unfamiliarity has led to contempt, and contempt has led to profound ignorance." I hope this book continues to challenge what I think I already know about faith and life...
Profile Image for Emily Murphy.
Author 3 books442 followers
November 13, 2021
Masterful. One of the greatest and most meaningful books I have ever read. This will be the first read of many. Thank you, Dallas Willard.
Profile Image for Kyle Hall.
10 reviews
July 24, 2023
I love when an evangelical:
- Approaches the text honestly and faithfully and comes out with a somewhat bold yet faithful take on scripture
- Can use language that differs from the norms of Christian culture (which suffers from a lack of vocabulary)

Willard did both, and although he didn’t substantiate all of his takes to the degree I felt he should have, this book will stick with me for a long time, and I think I’ll always remember the summer I read this book and Jesus introduced more of himself to me.
Profile Image for Naum.
156 reviews20 followers
May 21, 2013
Some tidbits in here had me wincing as the author is laden with fundamentalist assumptions and presuppositions and/or cultural mores -- that he appears to be oblivious to, all the while evincing a wondrous text.

But this is an epic work that should occupy the reading list of every Christian in America (and non-Christians interested in philosophy or spirituality). In a gracious, humble manner, Willard pokes and prods at the western religion of Christianity and expounds upon what the Jesus Gospel says about how to follow the words and deeds of Jesus. That imposing a legalistic or rule based or external checklist modality is an exercise in absurdity, as is the point of The Beatitudes spelled out by Jesus. That the Gospel more about the inward heart shaping that transforms a blessed child of a heavenly creator to manifest love for fellow brother and sister in Christ. However I am not doing this book any justice with this condensed TL;DR -- read and parse out for yourself!

A lot of the material here resonated with me as it seemed in alignment with other Christian voices I have digested in recent years -- N.T. Wright *After You Believe (Virtue Reborn)*, the writings of Richard Rohr (oddly, and coming at it from a moderately different tilt), etc.…

The chapters on The Beatitudes and The Lord's Prayer are alone 10X+ the value of the cost of the book.
72 reviews
June 13, 2022
Recently my Dentist finished this book, which was his first Dallas Willard book. He raved about it saying that Willard was a genius. A few years ago I almost finished it, however I really wasn't ready for it at the time. I challenged myself to reread it. Well, it was magnificent! I had been reading for a couple months at the same time "The Renovation of the Heart" by DW for the second time with Renovare book club and loving it. They went together beautifully. My heart was so very touched this time but also my mind with more clarity than ever before. I would look up every scripture, ruminating on God's truth. It was like a retreat with Jesus. May all who read these
two books be blessed with the revelation of God's truth. Only exception was the last chapter in TDC, it was Willard's ideas of what life after death would be like. I think various ideas could have been discussed but it did not take away from the book in any way.
Profile Image for Bradley.
32 reviews1 follower
March 19, 2016
If you like concepts and ideas, this book is for you! If you like concrete examples on how the kingdom of God here on earth is lived out, well there are very few in this book. Those of us who are kinetic learners, who need a feel for how things work before we understand the overall concept of what it is we are viewing, don't get a lot out of this book. If you love academics and love listening to professors all day long, then by all means read this book.

The concept of the Kingdom of God here on earth now, sounds very appealing to all of us. Unfortunately I have no idea what Mr. Willard really means by the words "Kingdom of God here on earth now." What he says rings true, but this practical down to earth person got very little from the book, even when we discussed it in a group. The group finally abandoned further discussion of the book about 1/2 way through.
Profile Image for Mitchell Springfield.
35 reviews1 follower
May 19, 2021
Is the quote “Sometimes important things can be presented in literature or art that cannot be effectively conveyed in any other way” too long for a thigh tat? Asking for a friend.
Profile Image for Lisa.
211 reviews230 followers
December 15, 2022
one of those books that took me days to read but also everyday I faithfully came back to read it which is so so rare for me. these days, I either read something in one to two sittings or never finish.

really enjoyed it and I feel like my horizons have been widened, my mind expanded.

the divine conspiracy has absolutely haunted me for years, the number of times it's been mentioned in other books I've read, and FINALLY I actually got to some Willard. it's been years in the making xD
65 reviews
March 13, 2023
Well worth a slow read. Many significant questions raised about the limitations of many present forms of discipleship. Written with great optimism regarding the possibility of real, tangible success in true discipleship to Jesus, and paints a compelling picture of what kind of person, and community, could be formed through such transformation.
Profile Image for Josh Kimmel.
12 reviews
May 29, 2023
A beautiful vision of Life in the Kingdom of God. Not just written, but faithfully lived out by Willard himself. His final words are said to have been “Thank You”. I believe he was responding to Christ saying, “Well done, good and faithful servant, Welcome home” and this book is a handbook for that kind of life (and death).
Profile Image for Neil R. Coulter.
1,092 reviews117 followers
April 6, 2020
Twenty-three years after its initial publication, I can see why The Divine Conspiracy made such a splash in American Evangelical Christianity. Dallas Willard serves up a challenge to the status quo of the time, drawing people back into the history of the church and a slightly different perspective on some key passages of Scripture. (The most time is spent on an interesting interpretation of the Beatitudes, which remains puzzling to me; it doesn’t seem that Willard’s approach has been taken up by translators and teachers in the years since. I’m left wondering what to think about all of it.) As N. T. Wright and others have taught often in the past couple of decades, so Willard also emphasizes that Jesus came to launch the Kingdom of the Heavens now, not merely a promise of paradise after we die. That must have been a little startling to an Evangelical Christian culture that had been very focused on the moment of conversion as the point at which someone’s post-death citizenship transferred from hell to heaven.

Woven into the big themes of what the point of all life is, Willard challenges readers to take seriously the spiritual disciplines, really welcoming Jesus into their midst as a fellow traveler and guide. The book confronts a number of dominant areas of culture and lifestyle that are counter to what Jesus taught in the Gospels.

I like all of this, and there were too many good points in the book even to highlight just a few. It’s a weighty volume, and our Bible study group has spent some months working through it together. However, the book’s age is showing. The American culture that Willard wrote to in 1997 is now quite different. In the case of American church culture, much of the change in fact has a lot to do with Willard’s influence, and The Divine Conspiracy specifically. It’s great to see those changes, but it means large sections of this book now feel like something from a very different time.

In addition, Willard’s prose often seems to me rambling and convoluted. He takes a long time to say good things that could be said more concisely, with less repetition and fewer mildly related tangents. Overall, the book could easily be cut by at least 30% and still be fine. Much improved, actually.

For those reasons, I recommend that readers pick up either a more recent book on a similar topic of “kingdom living” (Wright, of course, has a number of books that are right in this area), or another book by Willard (I’ve enjoyed his posthumous Life Without Lack, and his book The Spirit of the Disciplines may have aged better for current readers interested in practicing the spiritual disciplines). Regardless of how this particular book has aged in the past couple of decades, however, Willard’s influence on Christian thought and practice is enormous. In his life he pointed out many, many ways that Christians were “flying upside down” without realizing it. I know my faith is better because of Willard’s guidance.
Profile Image for Matthew Hudson.
62 reviews11 followers
September 19, 2019
Brilliant. Dalas Willard is probably the most insightful protestant author I have ever read, and certainly the wisest to come out of his particular tradition.

Willard is not trying to discover anything new, but rearticulate ancient Christian truths to an age that had lost them. He does this well, and perhaps his greatest value is the language that he uses. He neatly defines and redefines words so that we see the gospel again, free from the sentiment and tired phrases that have lost all meaning.

The book works in three basic sections. In the first, he sets out the current cultural situation, both in the religious and secular world. This section has aged well, but I feel that it has likely gotten worse than it was in the late 90s when Willard wrote this book.

The second, and largest, section is a detailed reading of the sermon on the mount. Willard's primary goal is to stop us thinking that the Sermon on the Mount is a new set of laws for us to follow. He succeeds in this, and I am sure to return to this part of the book again.

The last section is a guide to a "curriculum for Christlikeness." This reads as an abbreviated version of his book "Renovation of the Heart." Its all good stuff. He caps off his discussion with a brief look at ehat life beyond death will look like, and its a beautiful conception of it.

I have two objections to this book, and they are comparatively minor. First, Willard takes a rather free hand in translating the Greek. I don't know greek, so I cannot check his work, but his rendering of a few of the beatitudes struck me as strange. But I will give him the benifit of the doubt.

Second, Willard has a habit of citing the "great Christian thinkers" of the past, rattling off Saints Athanasius, Augustine, Anselm, and Thomas Aquinus, alongside John Calvin, Martin Luther, Deitrich Bonhoffer, C.S. Lewis and George Macdonald. I do not think I will need to point out the problem with this. While all these men had a great deal in common, and I do not question their devotion to God, their fundemental theology is radically different. That being said, I think Willard manages to create a vision they would all loosely agree on, and his point is not to synthesize them, but to draw out the points where they agree. In this, he does well, but the less well read Christian might be lead to believe all those people taught the same thing, and they would be sorely dissapointed.

I highly reccommend this book, especially for those protestants who are becoming burned out by a dumbed down, consumer Christianity. I plan to this book again soon.
Profile Image for Haiko Eitzen.
10 reviews2 followers
May 10, 2017
"My hope is to gain a fresh hearing for Jesus, especially among those who believe they already understand him." This is how Dallas Willard begins his introduction, and he certainly inspired me to take a new good look at the Jesus I claim to follow. The Divine Conspiracy is the most thorough, structured and comprehensive book I have read on Christian faith and practice. This book encases a (in my limited experience, unrivaled) wealth, breadth, and depth of theological knowledge for every follower of Jesus. However that shouldn't scare or come across as being too academic and therefore lacking in life. The author makes an important point of the passion and joy that must accompany our journey of faith, and I found the pages to be full of it. This book describes our eternal life now taking the Sermon on the Mount, mainly, among many other texts and provides rich ideas on developing a culture of discipleship in Church. Interestingly enough, in Willard's own words, "there is very little that is new, though much that is forgotten." Nearly every area of my spiritual life was somehow approached by this book and much of what it said wasn't necessarily new, just restructured and rewritten in a way that enlightened and made new sense, and left me occasionally awestruck. Willard's use of paraphrased and freely translated scripture also really helped to better understand certain biblical passages. I would give the Divine Conspiracy six stars if I could, because of how much more it is than other books I have given five stars. Richard Foster writes in the foreword "I would place the Divine Conspiracy in rare company indeed: alongside the writings of Dietrich Bonhoeffer and John Wesley, John Calvin and Martin Luther, Teresa of Avila and Hildegard of Bingen, and perhaps even Thomas Aquinas and Augustine of Hippo" and although I have yet to read the works of these, I doubt I will disagree.
Profile Image for Hannah Ross.
25 reviews1 follower
May 16, 2020
I really don’t know if I’ve ever been as enthralled with God as reading this book has made me feel. In the introduction of this book, Willard says his hope is to “gain a fresh hearing for Jesus,” going on to describe that, “He (Jesus) is not generally regarded as a real-life personality who deals with real-life issues but is thought to be concerned with some feathery realm other than the one we must deal with.”

I found Willard to be quite effective in that goal; truly, I have never experienced a more meaningful understanding of (or at least vision for) what it looks like to engage in the ordinary moments of my ordinary days in a distinctively Christ-centered way. Moreover, Willard portrays many aspects of the Christian life (praying, evangelism, the spiritual disciplines, etc.) in a way that made me feel genuinely excited to engage in them, rather than pursuing them primarily out of a sense of duty.

I could see how Willard’s writing style could be unappealing to some, in that it is very dense and could seem a little scattered. I think I enjoyed and appreciated it so much because He writes in a way where He connects almost every Biblical and theological insight to something that embeds that truth in the actual world we are living in. In the foreword, Richard Foster describes Willard as possessing “so penetrating an intellect combined with so generous a spirit.” I found that endorsement to be quite true, in that he is able to discern which moments call for referencing a scientific study vs. which passages are better enhanced with the words of a well-known poet or philosopher.

I loved this book and am so glad Dallas is in my life now <3
Profile Image for Andy Love.
35 reviews4 followers
June 7, 2016
Too much to say about this one, so a few key quotes I stuck on will have to do:

"Draw any cultural or social line you wish, and God will find his way beyond it."

"When we see Jesus as he is, we must turn away or else shamelessly adore him. "

"The acid test for any theology is this: is the God presented one that can be loved, heart, soul, mind, and strength? If the thoughtful answer is; "not really," then we need to look elsewhere or deeper."

"Kingdom obedience is kingdom abundance."

"As a disciple of Jesus I am with him, by choice and by grace, learning from him how to live in the kingdom of God. This is the crucial idea. That means, we recall, how to live within the range of God's effective will, his life flowing through mine. Another way of putting this is to say that I am learning from Jesus to live my life as he would live my life if he were I."

"We project upon God the sadistic tendencies that really are present in human beings. Given the anger, hatred, and contempt that pervades human society, it is not uncommon that individual human beings actually enjoy the suffering of others. One of our worst thoughts about God is that he, too, enjoys human suffering. This gives rise to the image of the Marquis de God, a divine counterpart to the Marquis de Sade, after whom sadism his named."

"To handle the things of God without worship is always to falsify them."

Challenging read, a ton of thought to digest, but I now get why a lot of folks whose spiritual journeys I greatly respect recommend this one.
Profile Image for Benjamin Sullivan.
32 reviews2 followers
February 27, 2022
For me, this book has been nothing short of a personal and spiritual journey. It is curious and fantastic how exactly things we experience speak to, and touch, our souls. And experience is the right word. Because if you try to explain it too much you sense that you have extinguished the flame that you hold in your heart and mind.

Dallas Willard, through this book, has brought me closer to the heart of God manifested in the person of Jesus Christ. He examined in great detail perhaps the biggest struggle I have had in faith-the massive disconnect we see in American churches between faith in Jesus and discipleship to Jesus. His treatment of the Sermon on the Mount, which sits at the heart of this book, was one of the most refreshing and clarifying experiences as a student of God’s Word that I have ever had. Indeed, it has changed my life.

I feel like I have an actual framework to go out and build my life upon the rock, to hear and to do. In my life, there have been only a few times I have ever been so excited, and had so much clarity, in regard to being a disciple of Jesus.

I have yet to find anything in this world even remotely as compelling as the person of Jesus Christ, His gospel, and the Kingdom He proclaimed. The more I seek Yahweh, the more I come to understand He has sought, and is seeking me. And the more I forsake the American dream, the more I come to find myself living in and experiencing the Gospel dream, the eternal kind of life, the kingdom among us. For such is the power of the Divine Conspiracy.
Profile Image for Traci Rhoades.
Author 3 books90 followers
March 16, 2021
Warning: don't read without a pen or highlighter nearby. Mine is marked up. Some of Willard's insights were entirely new to me. They made a ton of sense and the heart of the message in the sermon on the mount will stick with me, Jesus' words here aren't about salvation per se; they are about how to live as one sold out to Christ.

I'm glad I own this one as an ongoing reference.
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