Dallas Willard on Discipleship

Dallas Willard… Looks like a nice guy.Great article by Dallas Willard called “Why Bother With Discipleship?” Peeps, this dude’s the bi-zomb! Here are some salient quotes that I’ve compiled to give you a 4-5 minutes snapshot of his points (along with my comments [in brackets] along the way):

If we are Christians simply by believing that Jesus died for our sins, then that is all it takes to have sins forgiven and go to heaven when we die. Why, then, do some people keep insisting that something more than this is desirable? Lordship, discipleship, spiritual formation, and the like?

[E]veryone wants to be a good person. But that does not require that you actually do what Jesus himself said and did. Haven’t you heard? “Christians aren’t perfect. Just forgiven.” [How did we get to the place where we thought it’s a good idea respond to the world’s accusation of self-righteousness with bumper stickers instead of our lives? There is now a whole generation of Christian kids who think “standing up for one’s faith” starts at stickers and t-shirts instead of, for example, knowing and loving God’s Word?!]

Now those who honestly find themselves concerned about such matters might find it helpful to consider four simple points:

First, there is absolutely nothing in what Jesus himself or his early followers taught that suggests you can decide just to enjoy forgiveness at Jesus’ expense and have nothing more to do with him. [Boy that’s good. Bring it, Willard.]

Some years ago A. W. Tozer expressed his “feeling that a notable heresy has come into being throughout evangelical Christian circles–the widely-accepted concept that we humans can choose to accept Christ only because we need him as Savior and that we have the right to postpone our obedience to him as Lord as long as we want to!” (I Call It Heresy, Harrisburg, PA. [Willard, I don’t think you need a period after “PA”]: Christian Publications, 1974, p. 5f). [But you do after the parantheses. But not these self-contained sentences.] He then goes on to state “that salvation apart from obedience is unknown in the sacred scriptures.” [Heresy might not be a bad word for it as easy discipleship creates flimsy Christians.]

This ‘heresy’ has created the impression that it is quite reasonable to be a “vampire Christian.” One in effect says to Jesus: “I’d like a little of your blood, please. But I don’t care to be your student or have your character. In fact, won’t you just excuse me while I get on with my life, and I’ll see you in heaven.” But can we really imagine that this is an approach that Jesus finds acceptable? … [Umm, no, I can’t imagine that. The cross was costlier than that.]

Secondly, if we do not become his apprentices in kingdom living we remain locked in defeat so far as our moral intentions are concerned. This is where most professing Christians find themselves today. Statistical studies prove it. People, generally, choose to sin. And they are filled with explanations as to why, everything considered, it understandable to do so. But, even so, no one chooses to be a sinner. It is amusing that people will admit to lying, for example, but stoutly deny that they are liars.

We want to be good, but we are prepared, ready, to do evil–should circumstances require it. And of course they do ‘require’ it, with deadening regularity. [It’s the same mechanism that makes sayings like “those who work hard seem to get luckier more often” true. The circumstances seem to change with our assumptions, and governing conditions, the preparedness to do evil in this case.] As Jesus himself indicated, those who practice sin actually are slaves of it. (John 8:34) Ordinary life confirms it. How consistently do you find people able to do good and avoid evil as they intend? …

Thirdly, only avid discipleship to Christ through the spirit brings the inward transformation of thought, feeling and character that “cleans the inside of the cup” (Matt. 23:25) and “makes the tree good” (Matt. 12:33). As we study with Jesus we increasingly become on the inside–with “the Father who is in secret” (Matt 6:6)–exactly what we are on the outside, where actions and moods and attitudes visibly play over our body alive in its social context. [This previous sentence alone is worth the price of admission of 3-4 minutes of reading.] An amazing simplicity will take over our lives–a simplicity that is really just transparency. …

The Pharisees were in many respects the very best people of Jesus’ day. But they located goodness in behavior and tried to secure themselves by careful management at the behavioral level. However, that simply cannot be done. Behavior is driven by the hidden or secret dimension of human personality, from the depths of the soul and body, and what is present there will escape. … [Which is, of course, scary.]

Finally, for the one who makes sure to walk as close to Jesus as possible there comes the reliable exercise of a power that is beyond them in dealing with the problems and evils that afflict earthly existence. Jesus is actually looking for people he can trust with his power. He knows that otherwise we remain largely helpless in the face of the organized and disorganized evils around us and unable to promote his will for good in this world with adequate power. …

But, someone will say, can I not be saved–get into heaven when I die–without any of this? Perhaps you can. God’s goodness is so great, I am sure, that He will let you in if He can find any basis at all to do so. [Some will have issues with his last statement, as it sounds like less than a complete view of justification, as if we’re judged by our works. His basic point, though, is still clear. That is, in matters of eternal consequence, we don’t have the slightest reason to play around with being immature and depending on “God’s grace alone” to the exclusion of a life that produces fruit in keeping with repentance.] But you might wish to think about what your life amounts to before you die, about what kind of person you are becoming, and whether you really would be comfortable for eternity in the presence of one whose company you have not found especially desirable for the few hours and days of earthly existence. And he is, after all, One who says to you now, “Follow me!”

Bring it, Dallas. Bring it.

“Done.”

Thanks, Dallas.

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Where do they learn these things?

Was talking to a couple from church last evening about how little kids learn language and I commented that, while we were on vacation our 5-year-old Sophie had a good one. I don’t remember the context, but she responded with, “Unfortunately, I’m not a lover of green.” What?! “Unfortunately, I’m not a lover of green”? It’s so funny to see this little 5-year-old girl respond, with this somber, thoughtful look, and come up with a phrase like that.

The couple I was talking with said their 2-year-old granddaughter recently said, “I’m famished.” In the right context and everything! Hilarious.

(I don’t yet have a good link/source for this. I’ll look for something.) I recently read something about a study that said that children learn language better when we don’t teach them intentionally, as if, by confining their learning structures with our directives, we’re hindering their development. Makes sense. Being around a certain linguistic environment and picking up correct habits of speech and good words is better caught than taught. Sounds like discipleship of language.

The Great Omission, pt. 2

Great OmissionSome more good food for thought from Dallas Willard’s The Great Omission. This is my favorite quote from the book. It points out something special about the role of the church to produce disciples and how vital that really is. He says that…

the greatest issue facing the world today, with all its heart-breaking needs, is whether those who, by profession or culture, are identified as “Christians” will become disciples-students, apprentices, practitioners-of Jesus Christ, steadily learning from him how to live the life of the Kingdom of the Heavens into every corner of human existence (p. xv).

This is why I am a pastor. As a high school and college student trying to navigate a world of vocational options, I always somehow knew that the church was the answer. My parents, both directly and indirectly, inculcated in my brother and me a great love for the body of Christ over the years of watching and sharing in their ministry to others. They were, and are still, indefatigable in their service to others.

I’ve heard a number of pastors and thinkers say that the church is the hope of the world. Despite the church’s distractibility and its sinful failings, God has chosen the body of Christ to participate in His plan to redeem the world to Himself. For all its foibles and frustrations, the body of Christ is called to be disciples in a way that means that, when people come into contact with it, they are experiencing Christ. Like C.S. Lewis says, we are little Christs.

So, the most important question facing the world today isn’t about funding education, using renewable energy resources, or curbing terrorism. It is whether the church will be full of practicing disciples. Despite the (somewhat) valuable effort and energy invested in these (temporarily) helpful pursuits, the church is the only body or institution in existence who makes an eternal difference.

Think about it… Even the redemptive product of the family is measured insofar as it participates in the body of Christ. In other words, a kid becomes a disciple in a family because that family is being the body of Christ. It’s not something inherent about biology. It’s only something inherent in being a spiritual family that creates disciples, namely, the presence of Christ.

So, the church is the answer. In Willard’s terms, it’s because the church makes disciples out of Christians. Only God makes disciples, I know, but the church is the only worldly institution that has the responsibility to call Christians to discipleship. What other enterprise would anyone ever want to participate in?! That’s how I see it.

The Great Omission, pt. 1

Great OmissionI’ve been reading Dallas Willard’s most recent book, The Great Omission. It is fantastic and should be read by all Christian leaders. I’m gonna just try to provide a few seminal passages that outline Willard’s thesis.

Its most basic premise, which is a truth that should be clearly understood and fully digested by all Christians, is this: “the governing assumption today, among professing Christians, is that we can be ‘Christians’ forever and never become disciples” (p. xi). The Great Omission, namely, to “make disciples,” which is the guiding verbal thought of the Great Commission, has been erased from expectations of membership in the Church. He writes, “So far as the visible Christian institutions of our day are concerned, discipleship is clearly optional. Churches are filled with ‘undiscipled disciples,’ as Jess Moody has called them. Of course there is in reality no such thing. Most problems in contemporary churches can be explained by the fact that members have never decided to follow Christ” (pp. 4-5). Wow! Willard points us that the word “disciple” occurs 269 times in the New Testament, yet “Christian” is found 3 times. Of course he’s not arguing about semantics, but pointing out that being a Christian is tantamount to superficial believing in stuff while discipleship is, of course, something entirely different. Here’s one way he unpacks this. He says that discipleship during the New Testament was simply. He says, “Primarily it meant to go with him, in an attitude of observation, study, obedience, and imitation…. One knew what to do and what it would cost….. So when Jesus observed that one must forsake the dearest things-family, ‘all that he hath,’ and ‘his own life also’ (Luke 14:26, 33)-insofar as that was necessary to accompany him” (pp. 6-7). Discipleship now, though, is not so easily understood and executed. Willard writes, “The mechanics are not the same today. We cannot literally be with him in the same way as his first disciples could. But the priorities and intentions-the heart or inner attitudes-of disciples are forever the same. In the heart of the disciple there is a desire, and there is a decision or settled intent” (p. 7). So, today, he writes,

The disciple is one who, intent upon becoming Christ-like and so dwelling in his “faith and practice,” systematically and progressively rearranges his affairs to that end (p. 7).

This is good stuff. This has been something I’ve hinted at and talked about in a sort of circuitous manner for some time. It seems to me that intentionality and turning desires into decisions gets at the crux of being a disciple in today’s whatever, go-with-the-flow world. If not, we allow the world to unwittingly mold us. If not, we ensure that we are disciples to the many other priorities that creep into our lives and push God to the margins. Willard goes on to contrast the disciple with “the nondisciple, whether inside or outside the church, [who] has something ‘more important’ to do or undertake than to become like Jesus Christ” (p. 7). Yeow!

Just some preliminary ideas to get the blood flowing. More later…