I just finished reading Dallas Willard’s The Divine Conspiracy, and I would recommend it to everyone who is open to digging deeper into some of the truths of the Bible. It was a book that was personally self-affirming because it approaches the truths of the Bible in the same way I see it. Reading the book, I realised that I am not just a lone voice in the wilderness! It is very comforting to know that there are other people out there who understand the powerful truths of Scriptures in a similar way.
In the book, Willard challenges many of the notions of Scriptures that we have long-held as true and provides a deeper understanding and a practical application. For example, he argues that having sexual desires is not wrong. That is normal, but, we have a choice not to indulge mentally. It is when we choose to indulge and play out the sexual desire without regard to the other as a person that it becomes sin. Willard writes on page 165, “Therefore those translations of Matt 5:28 that say, ‘Everyone who looks at a woman and desire her’ or ‘everyone who looks at a woman with desire.’ are terribly mistaken. They do much harm, especially to young people. For they totally change the meaning of the text and present ‘adultery in the heart’ as something one cannot avoid, as something that just happens to people with no collusion of their will.”
In the same vein, Willard exposes the traditional way of looking at the exhortations in Matthew 5, and especially the Beatitudes. He acknowledges what is human nature, but always stresses that the person has the will to make the choice to do the right thing.
As he discusses the alternative view, Willard shows that the inner person has to be transformed first and fulfilled. This, to him, is how the kingdom of God comes to dwell in our midst. “That is a matter of the heart. There alone the kingdom of the heavens and human kingdoms great and small are knit together.” (pp 112) He discusses many examples from the Bible and exposes the perspective of “consumer Christianity”. He stresses that the kingdom of God is right here on Earth, around us and we realise it by choice in faith.
Willard also devotes a portion of the book on how to teach these truths to others. He encourages the development of a curriculum based on what he calls the “spiritual disciplines” — basic truths to incorporate into our lives.
The book is easy to read but hard to understand because the author is opening up new avenues of thought that we may not have any concept of. But, he breaks the text into discrete sections, so each section can be read slowly, and mulled over before you go to the next. That is also why it took me a few months to finish reading the book! But, it was worth the effort. His description of life after death at the end of the book is also worth reading about! The book has a strong foreword by another well-known Christian writer, Richard J. Foster, author of Celebration of Discipline
This is a book for every mature Christian and Christian leader. It opens new dimensions of thought that would definitely enrich the walk of faith. Willard was a Christian thinker and a professor of philosophy at the University of Southern California, US. He is known for his writings on Christian formation and has written a number of books on the subject, including the acclaimed The Spirit of the Disciplines. He was a voice for the relevance of God in modern life. He died in 2013, and, I am so glad, his books live on!