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The Divine Conspiracy: Rediscovering Our Hidden Life In God Hardcover – March 24, 1998
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Dallas Willard, an acclaimed theologian and professor of philosophy at the University of Southern California, fulfills the longing of many Christians who want to live as true disciples of Christ rather than distant dabblers. Likewise, he scoffs at consumer Christians who are simply banking on admittance to heaven as their payoff for attending church. Or worse still, those who use Christianity to advance their political agendas rather than their spiritual ones. But this is not a scolding book. Rather, Willard devotes his efforts to discussing specific and inspiring ways to develop a discipleship to Jesus--not as an act of sacrifice or even one of spiritual luxury--instead, as everyday people committed to the teachings of Christ. "The really good news for Christians is that Jesus is now taking students in the master class of life," writes Willard. "So the message of and about him is specifically a gospel for our life now, not just for dying. It is about living now as his apprentices in kingdom living, not just as consumers of his merits." --Gail Hudson
From Library Journal
Willard (philosophy, Univ. of Southern California) considers popular Christian belief to be missing out on the essence and origin of its true meaning. Since "consumer Christianity" mistakes the logo for the logos, today's brand-name Christians have jumped on a bandwagon that has run off without its true leader. The imitation of Christ has lost its central importance in Christianity, according to Willard. He examines reasons why this is so and sets out a detailed plan for reawakening such commitment, which requires a genuine willingness to die to self in contrast with mere consumption of Jesus' merits as an insurance against death. Willard's passionate insights are thoroughly argued, though not all may agree with his curriculum for changing people's beliefs. Most suitable for pastoral collections.
Copyright 1998 Reed Business Information, Inc.
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I first picked up this book when it came out in the late 1990s. Back then, I think I got about 50 or 100 pages in, and gave up. I couldn't take it. Its truth; its perceptiveness; its vitalness. Twenty years later I regret not sticking with it.
This book is a heady read. The breadth and depth of Dallas Willard's insights into human psychology is simply and plainly ... amazing.
The Divine Conspiracy is one of the richest spiritual reading experiences I've had in my life. There is not a page that goes by--really, hardly a paragraph--where I wasn't putting the book down and musing over what I'd just read, or making a note, or underlining something in the text or in the footnotes.
His explication on correction love .... left me appalled and disappointed...at how we live.
His exposition on corrective love in Chapter 7 will leave you sad and wondering if there is any Christian community in the U.S. practicing such techniques. I've read that house churches in China are close-knit communities. Where else are they?
Some gems to share:
"God has paid an awful price to arrange for human self-determination. He obviously places great value on it. It is, after all, the *only* way he can get the kind of personal beings he desires for his eternal purposes." (p. 220)
"Human life is not about human life. Nothing will go right in it until the greatness and goodness of its source and governor is adequately grasped. His very name is then held in the highest possible regard. Until that is so, the human compass will always be pointing in the wrong direction, and individual lives as well as history as a whole will suffer from constant and fluctuating disorientation. Candidly, that is exactly the condition we find ourselves in." (p. 259)
"Who teaches you? Whose disciple are you? Honestly. One thing is sure: You are somebody's disciple. You learned how to live from somebody else. There are no exceptions to this rule, for human beings are just the kind of creatures that have to learn and keep learning from others how to live." (p. 271)
As other reviewers have noted, Willard has problems with both the Christian Left and the Christian Right in America. The Left, for its push of social activism (the "social gospel") bereft of the active person of Jesus Christ; the Right, for its "faith alone" approach that abandons any active work in the Christian community and world at large here on earth.
If you're not near tears in many passages while reading this book, your heart is too hard.
Richard Foster provides the Foreword and compares The Divine Conspiracy to the writings of Dietrich Bonhoeffer, John Calvin, Martin Luther, and even Thomas Aquinas and Augustine of Hippo. I have to agree.
The Divine Conspiracy is that rare book where the standard rating system's words actually meet stars: I did love it, and it was amazing.
I loved it/It was amazing
I like how Willard describes the two prevailing views of what the Gospel is in modern day Christianity. Namely, a gospel of sin management that emanates primarily from the conservative Christian camp. And, a social gospel of liberation that often emanates from the liberal Christian camp. But, while Willard does a great job telling us what the Gospel isn't, he fails to clearly describe what it is. It seems to me he may be trying to bridge the gap between the two divergences by saying that the gospel is a yielding to Jesus as Teacher while living in the Kingdom of God.
Willard introduces the premise that heaven is here and has invaded human space. The kingdom of heaven is not only in us, but God occupies the very space around us. He is not some celestial voice or vision in our head, but he is very real, talking with us and guiding us every moment of the day if only we avail ourselves to Him. Willard gives plenty of scriptural support for this premise including how God regularly spoke and interacted with Abraham, Moses, David and many other figures in both the Old and New Testaments.
Willard enters into an understanding of the Beatitudes. He makes it clear that obeying the Beatitudes do not make for God's approval, salvation, or blessing. In other words, they are not a means to an end. Rather, they serve to clarify Jesus' fundamental message that the free availability of God's rule and righteousness extends to all of humanity through reliance upon Jesus himself.
The Sermon on the Mount, or as Willard likes to call it, "Discourse on the Hill" is explained in great depth. He explains that the Sermon should be taken as a whole, rather than piece by piece, nor is the Sermon to be construed as more rules or laws. Rather, the Beatitudes are to "help people come to hopeful and realistic terms with their lives here on earth by clarifying, in concrete terms, the nature of the kingdom into which they are now invited by Jesus' call to repent, for life in in the kingdom of the heavens is now one of your options."
Willard goes into great details about the subject of condemnation. That, when we condemn someone, we are essentially telling that person he or she is in some fashion or another irredeemable and to be rejected. And, nobody generally responds well to condemnation. He explains that rarely does anyone who is condemned will respond in such a way that is desirable to the condemner. Instead of driving people to change their ways Willard proposes that we instead walk with them in kingdom fashion.
Prayer is addressed. Willard proposes that our prayers are in fact heard by God and He acts accordingly. Prayer really does make a difference in what God does or does not do. Willard provides many examples throughout Scripture of how God in essence changes His mind due to the prayer of righteous men and women. Interestingly, Open Theism ascribes to this premise as well to which I ascribe.
Willard describes tangible ways in what it's like to become more of a disciple and student of Jesus. Proposing ways to learn what it means to truly live with Christ. Willard uses the term of curriculum, developing objectives of kingdom values to teach and model. Not in order to merely gain more knowledge, but to turn the mind toward God, actualizing and experiencing the true kingdom life for the believer. Willard proposes there are three ways that God comes before the mind where we can lose ourselves in love of Him: 1) through His creation; 2) through His public acts on the scene of human history; 3) through individual experiences of Him. Willard goes on to explain some of the disciplines that we can adopt in order to walk with Christ on a daily basis: abstinence, solitude, silence, study, and worship.
Willard concludes the book with an eschatoligical glimpse of the future. He calls it the redemption of all things. Ironically, he references George McDonald who is a proponent of universal salvation. A theological ideology that I myself am currently wrestling with to some degree.
In summary, The Divine Conspiracy is, in many ways, a difficult and challenging book to read. Willard does at times seem to ramble on. The book is long and was difficult to push through. But, this book is so full of spiritual meat that transformed the way I look at my own walk with Christ. It offers a lot of practical ways that, when implemented, can indeed bring us into a much more intimate and closer relationship with Jesus. However, because of the depth this book contains, it is one of those books, similar to "Mere Christianity" by C.S. Lewis that I will likely need to read again in order to better grasp. I highly recommend this Christian classic especially for those who are seeking a deeper relationship with our King Jesus and who want to know more about what it looks like to walk and live with him on earth today.