Dallas Willard on “What a Disciple Is”

Dallas Willard is without a doubt one of the most important thinkers and writers of recent time on the Sermon on the Mount and the nature of discipleship. When working on my most recent message, “Real Response: receiving the invitation of Jesus,” as well as the entire series, “Becoming Real: The Sermon on the Mount,” Willard’s writing was incredibly helpful.

His book The Divine Conspiracy: Rediscovering Our Hidden Life in God is in my top ten books of all time on the Christian life. The following excerpt from that book is taken from chapter 8, “On Being a Disciple, or Student, of Jesus.”

Here, Willard summarizes what a disciple is.

Following up on what has already been said, then, a disciple, or apprentice, is simply someone who has decided to be with another person, under appropriate conditions, in order to become capable of doing what that person does or to become what that person is.

How does this apply to discipleship to Jesus? What is it, exactly, that he, the incarnate Lord, does? What, if you wish, is he “good at”? The answer is found in the Gospels: he lives in the kingdom of God, and he applies that kingdom for the good of others and even makes it possible for them to enter it for themselves. The deeper theological truths about his person and his work do not detract from this simple point. It is what he calls us to be saying, “Follow me.”

The description Peter gives in the first “official” presentation of the Gospel to the gentiles provides a sharp picture of the Master under whom we serve as apprentices. “You know,” he says to Cornelius, “of Jesus, the one from Nazareth. And you know how God anointed him with the Holy Spirit and power. He went about doing good and curing all those under oppression by the devil, because God was with him” (Acts 10:38).

And 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 I live within the range of God’s effective will, his life flowing through mine. Another important 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. I am not necessarily learning to do everything he did, but I am learning how to do everything I do in the manner that he did all that he did.

My main role in life, for example, is that of a professor in what is called a “research” university. As Jesus’ apprentice, then, I constantly have before me the question of how he would deal with students and colleagues in the specific connections involved in such a role. How would he design a course, and why? How would he compose a test, administer it, and grade it? What would his research projects be, and why? How would he teach this course or that?

Dallas Willard, The Divine Conspiracy (San Francisco, CA: Harper Collins, 1998), 282-283.

The Weekend Wanderer: 10 April 2021

The Weekend Wanderer” is a weekly curated selection of news, stories, resources, and media on the intersection of faith and culture for you to explore through your weekend. Wander through these links however you like and in any order you like. Disclaimer: I do not necessarily agree with all the views expressed within the articles linked from this page, but I have read them myself in order to make me think more deeply.


040721ugwu-church“Christian clergy are being kidnapped and killed in Nigeria” – Patrick Egwu in The Christian Century: “On April 24, 2018, Joseph Gor and Felix Tyola­ha were presiding over an early morning mass for about 50 parishioners at St. Ignatius Catholic Church in a village in north central Nigeria. About 20 minutes into the service, gunmen, suspected to be from the largely Muslim Fulani ethnic group, stormed the parish and opened fire on the congregation. Nineteen people were killed, including both priests. The gunmen also razed houses, destroyed crops, and left the community in a state of chaos. After the attack, bishops, priests, and thousands of residents demonstrated to protest the killings. The protesters called on the Nigerian government to arrest and prosecute the killers. Three years later, no one has been arrested or prosecuted.”


“What Is the Good Life and How Do We Find It? A Forum with Dr. Jonathan Pennington” – As I have steadily been working through Jesus’ Sermon on the Mount in a preaching series entitled “Becoming Real” at Eastbrook Church, I have benefited from many works on that part of Matthew’s Gospel. From Augustine to Dietrich Bonhoeffer, from R. T. France to Dallas Willard, many voices have helped me. One new voice that has been particularly helpful this go round with Jesus’ most famous sermon is Jonathan T. Pennington. In this lecture for the Center for Public Christianity, Pennington draws upon his work in two books, The Sermon on the Mount and Human Flourishing and Jesus the Great Philosopher, to speak about the good life from a Christian perspective.


Matthew D Kim“Addressing Racism in Light of the Image of God” – This article by Matthew D. Kim is adapted from “Preaching on Race in View of the Image of God” by Matthew D. Kim in Ministers of Reconciliation: Preaching on Race and the Gospel edited by Daniel Darling (Lexham Press, 2021). He writes: “Race and ethnicity are taboo subjects in many pulpits across the United States. Knowing that some of their congregation will see it as “liberal” talk, a social gospel incongruous with the true gospel, or a ploy of the political left’s agenda, many pastors shy away from teaching and preaching on the issues of race and racism—regardless of their rationale for such avoidance. Two camps emerge out of this salient concern. The first camp wonders why we are still needing to talk about race, while the second camp is exhausted by having to explain to the other why discussions on race and racism are essential.”


08.10-On-Correcting-Children“On Correction and Children” – As I was preparing my message on Matthew 7:1-6 for this coming weekend at Eastbrook as part of our series on Jesus’ Sermon on the Mount, “Becoming Real,” I came across this article by Dallas Willard on the passage. This is really an excerpt from Willard’s fantastic book The Divine Conspiracy: Rediscovering Our Hidden Life in God, which is an extended exposition on discipleship through the lens of the Sermon on the Mount. I also consider that book as one of my must-read books on living with God through Jesus Christ.


“On ‘getting’ poetry” – Both during Lent and now during Easter I have posted a poetry series (see “Poetry for Lent” and “Poetry for Easter”). I know that many people find poetry hard to understand or enjoy. Here is Adam Kirsch in The New Criterion addressing that very challenge. “I hear the same thing regularly from people who love to read novels and biographies, who are undaunted by string quartets and abstract paintings, but find poetry a closed door. No one is more aware of this disconnect between poetry and the reading public than poets themselves. The debate over why poetry moved from the center of literary culture to the outskirts of the academy, and how it can regain its place in the sun, has been going on at least since Dana Gioia’s landmark essay “Can Poetry Matter?” appeared in The Atlantic in 1991.”


“InterVarsity Wins Suit Against Wayne State” – Kate Shellnutt in Christianity Today: “The fight for campus access for faith-based student groups scored another legal victory this week. A district court judge ruled on Monday that Wayne State University violated the First Amendment with a 2017 decision that temporarily denied InterVarsity Christian Fellowship its status as a student group over the chapter’s requirement that its leaders be Christian. Wayne State’s nondiscrimination policy, according the 83-page opinion by Robert Cleland, ‘violated plaintiffs” rights to internal management, free speech, freedom of association, freedom of assembly, and free exercise as a matter of law.’  The judge ruled that the First Amendment protects religious organizations’ rights to select their own ministers, and that the InterVarsity chapter’s student leaders qualified as ministers. While InterVarsity is open to all students, it asks leaders to sign a statement of faith.”


Music: Jpk. (featuring Nemetz), “Patience

Dallas Willard on the Kingdom of God: insights on what it is and how God rules

Dallas Willard’s book, The Divine Conspiracy: Rediscovering Our Hidden Life in God, is one of my favorite books of all time. In this book, Willard explores what discipleship is all about through the lens of the Sermon on the Mount. Much of Willard’s work in the book builds from the accessibility of God’s Kingdom through Jesus Christ. This is at least part of what I was trying to speak about in my message this past weekend at Eastbrook, “The Holy Spirit in Us: Living in the Kingdom of God Now.” Here is an extended quotation from Willard on the kingdom of God that I find particularly helpful.


“Now God’s own ‘kingdom,’ or ‘rule,’ is the range of his effective will, where what he wants done is done. The person of God himself and the action of his will are the organizing principles of his kingdom, but everything that obeys those principles, whether by nature of by choice is within his kingdom.

“The Old Testament book of Psalms comes to a joyous, breathtaking celebration of God’s kingdom in Psalms 145-150. The picture there presented must be kept in mind whenever we try to understand his kingdom. Then we will not doubt that that kingdom has exited from the moment of creation and will never end (Ps. 145:13; Dan. 7:14). It cannot be ‘shaken’ (Heb. 12:27f.) and is totally good. It has never been in trouble and never will be. It is not something that human beings produce or, ultimately, can hinder. We do have an invitation to be a part of it, but if we refuse we only hurt ourselves.

“Accordingly, the kingdom of God is not essentially a social or political reality at all. Indeed, the social and political realm, along with the individual heart, is the only place in all of creation where the kingdom of God, or his effective will, is currently permitted to be absent. That realm is the ‘on earth’ of the Lord’s Prayer that is opposed to the ‘in heaven’ where God’s will is, simply, done. It is the realm of what is cut out ‘by hands,’ opposed to the kingdom ‘cut out without hands’ of Daniel, chapter 2.

“Thus, contrary to a popular idea, the kingdom of God is not primarily something that is ‘in the hearts of men.’ That kingdom may by there, and it may govern human beings through their faith and allegiance to Christ. At the present time it governs them only through their hearts, if at all. But his kingdom is not something confined to their hearts or to the ‘inner’ world of human consciousness. It is not some matter of inner attitude or faith that might be totally diconnected from the public, behavioral, visible world. It always pervades and governs the whole of the physical universe—parts of planet earth occupied by humans and other personal beings, the satanic, slight excepted for a while….

“So when Jesus directs us to pray, ‘The kingdom come,’ he does not mean that we should pray for it to come into existence. Rather, we pray for it to take over at all points in the personal, social, and political order where it is now excluded: ‘On earth as it is in heaven.’ With this prayer we are invoking it, as in faith we are acting it, into the real world of our daily existence.”

[From Dallas Willard, The Divine Conspiracy: Rediscovering Our Hidden Life in God (San Francisco, CA: HarperCollins, 1998), 25-26.]

The Weekend Wanderer: 30 May 2020

The Weekend Wanderer” is a weekly curated selection of news, stories, resources, and media on the intersection of faith and culture for you to explore through your weekend. Wander through these links however you like and in any order you like.


George Floyd gospel legacy“George Floyd Left a Gospel Legacy in Houston” – Kate Shellnut at Christanity Today: “The rest of the country knows George Floyd from several minutes of cell phone footage captured during his final hours. But in Houston’s Third Ward, they know Floyd for how he lived for decades—a mentor to a generation of young men and a ‘person of peace’ ushering ministries into the area. Before moving to Minneapolis for a job opportunity through a Christian work program, the 46-year-old spent almost his entire life in the historically black Third Ward, where he was called ‘Big Floyd’ and regarded as an ‘OG,’ a de-facto community leader and elder statesmen, his ministry partners say.”


AND legacy“Statement from The AND Campaign on Racialized Violence in America” – “We mourn the loss of Breonna Taylor, Ahmaud Arbery, George Floyd and all others who have lost their lives due to racialized violence. The grief of their loved ones is our grief and we share in their agony. The riots in Minneapolis are not to be glorified or romanticized, but we must realize that they are a product of a riotous and unjust system. The disorder began when a man’s rights were violated and his life was taken. American racism was rioting against the people long before they took to the streets. We must condemn and address the cause before we can appropriately address the broken reaction.”


DallasWillard-sm

“Becoming The Kinds of Leaders Who Can Do The Job” – Here is some wisdom from Dallas Willard published in 1999, later compiled into a chapter in Renewing the Christian Mind, that connects with the call to spiritual and moral leadership in this moment. “We had read all of Dallas’ books and been deeply impacted by them—not least by his latest, The Divine Conspiracy. But Brian had just finished presenting some thoughts on new models of leadership—leaders marked not so much by conquest and technique, but by spiritual goodness and wisdom. And so we sat there, slumped pensively in our chairs, until someone finally said, ‘Dallas…please talk to us about how we become those kind of people.’ So, during a break, Dallas began listing some of his thoughts on a whiteboard. And then in his gracious, careful way, he challenged us to become the kind of leaders this world so desperately needs. The following is some of what he told us.”


Grief Comes to Church“Letting Grief Come to Church” – Whether we know it or not, we are all grieving different losses that the pandemic has brought into our lives. What does it mean to allow space for grief in the church and how might that help us experience release and healing in our lives? Clarissa Moll writes about this for CT Pastors, sharing five ways we can welcome what may feel unwelcome once the doors reopen at our churches.


Supreme Court Church“Supreme Court, in 5-4 Decision, Rejects Church’s Challenge to Shutdown Order”New York Times: “The Supreme Court on Friday turned away a request from a church in California to block enforcement of state restrictions on attendance at religious services. The vote was 5 to 4, with Chief Justice John G. Roberts Jr. joining the court’s four-member liberal wing to form a majority. ‘Although California’s guidelines place restrictions on places of worship, those restrictions appear consistent with the free exercise clause of the First Amendment,’ Chief Justice Roberts wrote in an opinion concurring in the unsigned ruling.”


balcony church“Balcony church gains popularity in Kenya amid pandemic” – I always enjoy creativity in how churches gather people or reach out to people. Here is one that I have never heard of that seems well-suited for this time of the pandemic, flowing from a children’s outreach in Nairobi, Kenya. “Machira has taken his ‘Balcony to Balcony’ service on the road since Kenya’s first case was found in mid-March. It has become quite popular, the preacher at the All Saints Cathedral of the Anglican Church of Kenya said.”


Washington D.C.'s National Cathedral Webcasts Sunday Mass Due To Coronavirus

“Seeking to Understand the Rise, Fall, and Loss of Young Pastors” –  Robert Stewart writes at Chuck DeGroat’s blog about a serious and hard topic. “At least (five) high profile young pastors of whom I’m aware have taken their lives during these past twelve months alone. As painful as this topic is to discuss I believe that we absolutely must force ourselves to do so if we’re ever understand what’s going on here. We shouldn’t be trying to address this crisis until we better understand all the cultural, characterological, spiritual, and biological issues which influence it. After the space shuttle Challenger disaster stunned the world in 1986 all shuttle flights were grounded until the underlying cause (defective “o-rings” in the right side solid rocket booster) could be understood and resolved. Seven astronauts died unnecessarily in that incident. Almost that many young pastors (or maybe more) have died in this past year. And, the many opinions about why don’t add up to any real comprehension which could guide us towards life saving solutions. It just seems unconscionable to continue on as usual amid the carnage. So, how might we begin the quest to understand and solve this crisis with an inquiry as focused and complete as the one which solved the riddle of the Challenger?”


 

Music: Common Hymnal (featuring Dee Wilson),Rose Petals,” from Common Hymnal

[I do not necessarily agree with all the views expressed within the articles linked from this page, but I have read them myself in order to make me think more deeply.]

Our Mind and Our Choices

This past weekend in my message from Psalm 1:1-2, “Roots,” I specifically mentioned the power within our thoughts and interior life in relationship to discipleship. Here are some further comments on this point from Dallas Willard, one of the most influential writers on discipleship in our current time, in his book The Divine Conspiracy. I am interested to hear your comments on Willard’s words:

Now we need to understand that what simply occupies our mind very largely governs what we do. It sets the emotional tone out of which our action flows, and it projects the possible courses of action available to us. Also, the mind, though of little power on its own, is the place of our widest and most basic freedom. This is true in both a direct and an indirect sense. Of all the things we do, we have more freedom with respect to what we think of, where we will place our mind, than anything else. And the freedom of thinking is a direct freedom wherever it is present. We need not do something else in order to exercise it. We simply turn our mind to whatever it is we choose to think of. The deepest revelation of our character is what we choose to dwell on in thought, what constantly occupies our mind – as well as what we can or cannot even think of….

When we come to the task of developing disciples into the fullness of Christ, we must be very clear that one main part, and by far the most fundamental, is to form the insights and habits of the student’s mind so that it stay directed toward God.