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The Divine Conspiracy: Rediscovering Our Hidden Life In God Hardcover – March 24, 1998
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Copyright 1998 Reed Business Information, Inc.
Top Customer Reviews
The title refers to God's conspiracy to undermine evil with good. Among other things, Willard discusses the fundamental problem of nondiscipleship in the church, what it looks like to be Christlike (with an excellent exposition of the beatitudes and sermon on the mount), what it looks like to be a disciple of Christ, how to become disciples of Jesus and how to make disciples of Jesus.
Prior to reading the book, I thought I was well on my way towards becoming a mature disciple of Christ. After reading it, I've discovered that I'm nowhere close to where I thought I was. I realized that I have a real long way to go to becoming the kind of person who is so secure that I don't seek to find faults and weaknesses with people.
I also have gained tremendous new insight into how I can more effectively make disciples and how local churches could do the same.
The Divine Conspiracy is a comprehensive, practical, meaty, challenging, and extremely helpful book which I pray will be widely read.
Dallas Willard's grasp of the Christian life as exposited by Christ himself, particularly in the Sermon on the Mount, is absolutely compelling. Willard mildly castigates both the theological Right and Left for, respectively, emphasizing saving faith alone in the Christian life as though how we live our lives on earth doesn't really make a difference, and preaching a 'social gospel' bereft of the spiritual or eternal significance that gives it its meaning or moral impetus. He then goes on to put forward a very vivid picture, using a wonderfully consistent and contextual view of Jesus' teachings, of what God intends for our lives here on earth. The author's treatment of the subject seems entirely original and unfettered by the various passing trends of thought that seem to color so many Christian books, and as such also sounds almost radical. But read it for what it is, and you'll find it to be as clear and natural an interpretation of Kingdom living as you'll ever hear.
I can hardly imagine a more welcome book for my own spiritual life, and expect it may be so for others too. I would put this book on a par with C.S. Lewis; perhaps even higher since Dallas Willard has crafted a work of not only intellect, but great applicability. This book seems like a life's work, and if so, then I'd have to say it certainly seems to have been worth it. It can be difficult, out of the deluge of Christian books out there, to pick one out as absolutely essential, but as far as I'm concerned this would definitely be such a one, and I ardently hope others find it too.
The primary source of Willard's theology is the Sermon on the Mount. By examining this sermon of Jesus' in light of Jesus' own perspective of the Kingdom of Heaven, Willard posits a fresh thinking about Jesus' commands and His reasoning behind the carefully chosen words of the Sermon, particularly The Beatitudes.
The conclusion of this examination is not so much that Jesus is adding to the expansive set of Mosaic laws, but that the Lord is merely showing how a person who dwells in the Kingdom of God acts and believes. Legalism brings no life, in short, and Jesus already knew that. He is instead saying that as we come to live more in God's Kingdom and less in the world's corrupted kingdom, what we see in the Sermon is how our lives will be.
The exegesis of the passages Willard covers is not traditional by any means, but as he develops his ideas and looks at them within the context of the Kingdom, his explanations make perfect sense. For instance, "Blessed are the poor in spirit, for theirs is the Kingdom of Heaven" does not mean that we need to become spiritually bankrupt in order to get into Heaven. Willard instead turns this around and says that Jesus is telling those who are already in that state of bankruptcy that now the Kingdom of Heaven has come in Him, and for those that are willing to receive it, it can be theirs. This shift in perspective is then used to examine the rest of the Sermon.
Touching on all the major themes of Christian discipleship contained within Matthew chapters five through seven, "The Divine Conspiracy" is very complete and would serve anyone who is trying to better understand some of the difficult statements of Jesus. Willard's continual reinforcement of Jesus' Kingdom ideals truly does force a shift in thinking and I would recommend this book to anyone, no matter their level of Christian maturity.
Are there sticking points? Yes - not everything works. Some of that may be the intractability of this reviewer, but perhaps not. The author's insistence that Matthew 7:7-8 ("Ask and it will be given....") applies not to prayer but to how we should conduct our interpersonal relationships with fellow humans falls flat. Also, the illustrations used in the book are usually well-suited for Willard's points, but occasionally they have unintended, secondary meanings that don't serve to help their cause.
And while this book is written well and simply, the ideas espoused here are not always easily grasped the first time around. You'll find yourself reading sections more than once in order to catch the subtlety of Willard's arguments. At four hundred pages in length, this is not a breezy, afternoon read, either.
My biggest complaint lies, though, not in Willard's words, but how they are set. I have excellent vision, but found the choice of type and its size to only compound the difficulties in reading this book. Even in its hardback form, the book's format is trade-sized, so you don't have many options. Willard liberally sprinkles the book with italicized text and the font used here has an italic format that further hindered my reading. Pages seemed to contain paragraphs that were scrunched or justified strangely, all due to italicized text. One of the slowest reading books I have ever seen.
Even if you don't buy into Willard's arguments, "The Divine Conspiracy" is still a truly thought-provoking book that will challenge you to break out of your theological molds. Well recommended.