Dallas Willard on Coming to Know Christ

The paragraph below remains one of my favorite from Dallas Willard’s work. The last sentence breaks the flow with its “mainly…Paul” line, but he’s attacking a stream of thought in academia with which he was all too familiar. 

If you really want to know Christ now, you have somehow to set aside the cloud of images and impressions that rule the popular as well as the academic mind, Christian and non-Christian alike. You must try to think of him as an actual human being in a peculiar human context who actually has had the real historical effects he did, up to the present. You have to take him out of the category of religious artifacts and holy holograms that dominate presentations of him in the modern world and see him as a man among men, who moved human history as none other. You must not begin with all of the religious paraphernalia that has gathered around him or with the idea that his greatness must be an illusion generated by an overlay from superstitious and ambitious people—mainly that “shyster” Paul—who wanted to achieve power for their own purposes. (Willard. Knowing Christ Today, 67)

Dallas Willard on the Beatitudes

Dallas Willard’s understanding of the Beatitudes:

It will help us know what to do—and what not to do—with the Beatitudes if we can discover what Jesus himself was doing with them. That should be the key to understanding them, for after all they are his Beatitudes, not ours to make of them what we will. And since great teachers and leaders always have a coherent message that they develop in an orderly way, we should assume that his teaching in the Beatitudes is a clarification or development of his primary theme in this talk and in his life: the availability of the kingdom of the heavens. How, then, do they develop that theme?

In chapter 4 of Matthew we see Jesus proclaiming his basic message (v. 17) and demonstrating it by acting with God’s rule from the heavens, meeting the desperate needs of the people around him. As a result, “Sick folk were soon coming to be healed from as far away as Syria. And whatever their illness or pain, or if they were possessed by demons, or were insane, or paralyzed—he healed them all. Enormous crowds followed him wherever he went” (4:23–25 LB).

Having ministered to the needs of the people crowding around him, he desired to teach them and moved to a higher position in the landscape—“up on the hill” (Matt. 5:1 BV)—where they could see and hear him well. But he does not, as is so often suggested, withdraw from the crowd to give an esoteric discourse of sublime irrelevance to the crying need of those pressing upon him. Rather, in the midst of this mass of raw humanity, and with them hanging on every word—note that it is they who respond at the end of the discourse—Jesus teaches his students or apprentices, along with all who hear, about the meaning of the availability of the heavens.

I believe he used the method of “show and tell” to make clear the extent to which the kingdom is “on hand” to us. There were directly before him those who had just received from the heavens through him. The context makes this clear. He could point out in the crowd now this individual, who was “blessed” because The Kingdom Among Us had just reached out and touched them with Jesus’ heart and voice and hands. Perhaps this is why in the Gospels we only find him giving Beatitudes from the midst of a crowd of people he had touched.

And so he said, “Blessed are the spiritual zeros—the spiritually bankrupt, deprived and deficient, the spiritual beggars, those without a wisp of ‘religion’—when the kingdom of the heavens comes upon them.”

Or, “Blessed are the poor in spirit, for theirs is the kingdom of the heavens.” This, of course, is the more traditional and literally correct translation of Matt. 5:3. The poor in spirit are blessed as a result of the kingdom of God being available to them in their spiritual poverty. But today the words “poor in spirit” no longer convey the sense of spiritual destitution that they were originally meant to bear. Amazingly, they have come to refer to a praiseworthy condition. So, as a corrective, I have paraphrased the verse as above. No doubt Jesus had many exhibits from this category in the crowd around him. Most, if not all, of the Twelve Apostles were of this type, as are many now reading these words. (Willard 99-101)

Works Cited:
Willard, Dallas The Divine Conspiracy: Rediscovering our Hidden Life in God (Harper Collins, 1997)

Tools for Christian Leaders by Dallas Willard

I rarely weep.

When I heard that Dallas Willard died, I did.

Few authors have so helped me see Christ, his goodness, and the greatness of his kingdom.

Since his death various essays, talks, and interviews keep appearing in compilation volumes. In Renewing the Christian Mind is transcript of a talk Willard gave off the cuff in which he gave some principles for how to lead in a Christian organization. Here are some of the principles he outlined in my own words (not in the order of the book):

  1. Write regularly. Willard thought it was imporant for pastors to write because it “is one of the surest ways to hone your sense of what you’re saying. (430)” I’d agree with that. Writing has made me a clearer thinking and speaker. Under this heading he also recommends copying things out of books. This is, in fact, one of the greatest tools for learning available.
  2. “Know your Bible. (431)” This should be obvious. But I’ve been teased by pastors and other seminary students for learning the Biblical languages. So, it seems that some people aren’t very excited about this aspect of ministry. And I admit, that sometimes reading Scripture for extended periods can be difficult. But Willard says some challenging things here, “Set aside time so that you can read the New Testament five times in one week.” Whoa.
  3. “Grow in making distinctions for people. (432)” The idea is that simple distinctions can help people understand what you mean, what Scripture means, and offer ‘aha’ moments for people. For instance, the basic difference between affection (positive feelings toward) and love (intending to benefit) can help many people who don’t know what love is.
  4. Grow character rather than acquiring methods. Willard says that “Many people have tried to substitute results for what they lacked: joy, relationship, and character. (432)” His idea is that switching ministry techniques over and over again without being rooted and grounded in the love of God won’t help you or anybody else come to know the gospel.

Anyway, it’s a really cool book. I highly recommend it.

What does it mean to “have faith in Christ?”

What is faith?

What is Christian faith? I don’t mean “what is ‘the Christian faith’?” I mean, when I Christian has faith in Christ, what does ‘faith’ connote? Many Christians carry a meaning of the word faith around in their heads that leaves them with no actual ground to stand on for living the good life hinted at in Deuteronomy 30, the Sermon on the Mount, Micah 6:8, and Romans 12-15.

Dallas Willard on the most basic form of Christian Faith
I think that Dallas Willard has a very import insight into this specific issue:

“Jesus’ disciples are those who have chosen to be with him to learn to be like him. All they have necessarily realized at the outset of their apprenticeship to him is, Jesus is right. He is the greatest and best. Of this, they are sure.” Willard, Dallas (2009-02-06). The Divine Conspiracy (p. 318). HarperCollins. Kindle Edition.

This is a good way to see things. Christian faith is a particular stance in life vis-à-vis Jesus as he appears in the four gospels and in the preaching of the earliest church. This faith is, of course, a seed that grows up and discovers more explicit answers to hard questions but it must start with the simple admission and recognition that Jesus really is a wonderful, competent, reliable to guide human life, really is clever enough to save you from sin, and really does know what God and his kingdom are like.

Gary Black, in his book The theology of Dallas Willard, elaborates upon Willard’s brief description of Christian faith in Jesus:

Willard asserts that confidence in Jesus should proceed from trusting him as a competent, verifiable master and guide into the vagaries of all human existence and endeavor. This would include placing confidence in Jesus’ own claims regarding his divinity and his resurrection. But belief in only these two propositional doctrines is not, in Willard’s view, positioning confidence in Jesus as the holistic Christ offering a total whole life soteriology proclaimed in Scripture.” Black Jr., Gary (2013-08-06). The Theology of Dallas Willard: Discovering Protoevangelical Faith (p. 123). Pickwick Publications, an Imprint of Wipf and Stock Publishers. Kindle Edition.

Conclusion
Faith in Christ is not simply right ideas about Jesus. Faith in Christ is a particular way of respecting Jesus as a person in relationship to yourself.