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The Divine Conspiracy: Rediscovering Our Hidden Life In God Hardcover – March 24, 1998
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From Library Journal
Copyright 1998 Reed Business Information, Inc.
- Item Weight : 1.39 pounds
- Hardcover : 448 pages
- ISBN-10 : 0060693339
- ISBN-13 : 978-0060693336
- Dimensions : 8.3 x 5.9 x 1.5 inches
- Publisher : Harper; 1st edition (March 24, 1998)
- Reading level : 18 and up
- Language: : English
- Best Sellers Rank: #44,286 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)
- Customer Reviews:
Top reviews from the United States
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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
…you lead people to become disciples of Jesus by ravishing them with a vision of life in the kingdom of the heavens in the fellowship of Jesus. And you do this by proclaiming, manifesting, and teaching the kingdom to them in the manner learned from Jesus himself. You thereby change the belief system that governs their lives.
Willard’s emphasis on personal transformation through Christian discipleship avoids legalism and preoccupation with the relationship between the faith of justification and the works of sanctification. Instead of following others in obsessing over what he calls “sin management,” Willard treats deliverance from the penalty and power of sin as something that happens along the way when a person recognizes Jesus as the King and embarks on kingdom living. Instead of worrying, as many do, about whether a carnal Christian can have assurance of salvation Willard recognizes that there are bad disciples as well as good ones, and he focuses on compelling reasons to be good disciples.
The freedom of this positive approach to faithful obedience is winsome and welcome to those weary of theological controversy. He saves his powder for salvos against the modern church that is, in many cases, highly successful in marketing its programs to increasing numbers of consumer-Christians that never hear Kingdom Truth proclaimed and whose lives are not being changed from the inside out.
But, if the Sermon on the Mount, Matthew 5-7, is routinely misunderstood or neglected, Willard’s view of it may overcompensate. He appears to regard the Sermon on the Mount as the apex of instruction on Kingdom living. In doing so, he seems indifferent to a tenet of biblical interpretation known as the progress of revelation. That is, God’s self-revelation progresses from foundational truth in the Old Testament and Gospels to the new covenant superstructure of the Acts, Epistles and, finally, the Revelation.
Moreover, while I doubt that he would plead guilty to the charge, Willard seems to treat the “words of Christ” recorded in the Gospels as having greater authority or relevance than the “Word of Christ” which is the entirety of Scripture. This almost “red-letter-edition” approach leaves one wondering why the emphasis of the New Testament Epistles is on the Church rather than the Kingdom. A plausible explanation is that the Church is the primary agency through which the inter-advent rule of Christ is realized in the present age. This would explain why the word “church” (ekklesia) is not mentioned in Matthew until 16:18, long after the account in chapter 12 of the mutual rejection of Christ and the national leaders of Israel to whom He offered the Kingdom. In 16:18, the Church is something Christ will build in the future.
If the Church is the mystery-form of the Kingdom; if it was inaugurated in Acts 2, after Christ’s offer of Himself as king was rejected in the Gospels (Matt. 12), then it is hard to see the Sermon on the Mount as an apex of revelation on disciple-making. It seems preferable to view the Sermon on the Mount as central teaching on principles of sanctification that now must be viewed in light of the rejection of Christ; His rejection of the nation of Israel (partially and temporarily); the death, burial and resurrection of Christ; His ascension and promise to return. This dispensational orientation helps distinguish the Gospel of the Kingdom proclaimed by John the Baptist and Jesus from the Kerygma of apostolic preaching that stresses the need to believe in Christ in His death, burial, and resurrection for a right standing with God.
But Willard seems to be in serious reaction to dispensational theology as well as to the way most covenant theologians have understood Scripture and the mission of the Church. This does not mean that he is necessarily in error, but it serves to caution the reader of potential overreactions. As alluded to above, in apparent reaction to those who emphasize “getting saved” and “slight discipleship,” he seems to emphasize discipleship as if the sin-problem will take care of itself for anyone who decides to follow Christ as His apprentice.
If he does write in reaction to conventional views this may help explain his penchant for paraphrasing, or using his personal translation of almost every text of Scripture he cites. In addition, he coins his own terms for use in place of terminology that has become standard. Such techniques indicate that he means to be fresh and bold, as if to shock his readers with the novelty of his ideas and originality in expressing them. At times this approach is effective to these ends, and at times it is distracting to the point of annoyance.
In his final chapter, Willard makes mention of ruling with Christ in the future. But he but treats this prospect as the destiny for all of Christ’s followers. My understanding is that Scripture reserves this privilege for those who are faithful in contrast to those who are not. Some “bad disciples” will experience the temporary anguish of eternal loss not mentioned in The Divine Conspiracy. For Willard, reigning with Christ in the future is simply a continuation of His apprentices’ participation in His present rule, an idea with some real merit. For him, it is the present that gives meaning and importance to the future. By contrast, for dispensationalists, it is the reward of ruling with Christ in the future that gives meaning and importance to the present. If this seems like “a distinction without a difference,” as if there is no need to choose between equally valid emphases, here is the question: Are eternal rewards incidental or incentives? Will all disciples or only those who distinguish themselves enjoy them?
The Sermon on the Mount should be regarded as an instructive and motivational description of the blessed life, the life that fulfills the Law’s intent by the power of the Holy Spirit on the part of those made spiritually alive through faith in Christ. Because the Sermon on the Mount was given prior to the death of Christ it does not mention the death, burial and resurrection of Christ as the content of the Gospel. Because it addressed people living under the Old Covenant it does not confront sinners with the way of initial salvation. Rather, the King is clarifying the true intent of the Law, the blessedness of which is fulfilled in any regenerate person willing to follow Christ. Therefore, from the standpoint of believers today, the Sermon should not be: Dismissed as relevant only to a future Millennial Kingdom; read as “God’s plan of salvation” by which sinners may be justified; or allowed to eclipse the need for presenting the Gospel to sinners who must be born again in order to see the kingdom. It is sanctification-truth that does not replace justification-truth as the content of Gospel, but that must not be omitted as the way of the life we’ve been regenerated to live. Obedience is, as Willard teaches, the by-product of realized abundance.
Top reviews from other countries
His chapter on “Gospels of Sin Management” is a pungent critique of today’s churches’ obsession with what he calls a “bar-code faith” – how to get your ticket to heaven. Willard shows a different, and altogether more gripping way. If we change the focus of our gospel to Jesus and his invitation to enter the kingdom of God by faith and repentance, then people will hear a message about *how heaven can get into them*!. They can hear a message about the availability of eternal and abundant life, with Christ, that begins right now.
This is not an easy read, partly because Willard thinks things through and encourages us to do the same, and partly because his book challenges deeply held complacencies in us all and points us to the true, biblical way of following Jesus in today’s world. I highly commend it.
It has a cohesion which is often missing when just one part of the passage is taught without reference to its place in the logic that is being unfolded in the discourse.
It's not a quick read, but one which is invaluable, and one worth returning to, full of integrity with each part of the sermon on the mount and with the other New Testament teaching.
It is well referenced and practical.
I highly recommend this book and we'll definitely read it again and probably again and again.