July 16, 2007

Dallas Willard, The Divine Conspiracy

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. It is valuable simply as an extended reflection on the Sermon on the Mount, but its value extends so far beyond that. It also demonstrates how that important NT category, "the kingdom of God," is more than just an archaic phrase that isn't important for the lives of disciples today, but instead gets to the very core of living the Christ-life. 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.