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Pilgrimage into the heart and life of God

By Pastor Tom Anderson

Dallas Willard was professor of philosophy at UCLA. In 1998 he wrote a modern classic of Christian spirituality, The Divine Conspiracy: Rediscovering Our Hidden Life in God. Coming in at 400 pages this is no lightweight address!

Willard opens with the story of an Air Force pilot who was flying her jet low at high speed. Seeking to gain altitude, she hit her thrusters and went straight into the ground. She had been flying upside down and was completely unaware of it. The tragedy illustrates the crisis in spirituality in the Western world. We are upside down and in our ignorance we’re headed into the ground.

Willard surveys the life of the modern university and concludes “There is now no recognized moral knowledge upon which projects of fostering moral development could be based.” Yet in this gloom a light glimmers. We have received an invitation. We are invited to make a pilgrimage--into the heart and life of God. Willard’s book is about how to make that journey. Willard writes to the nominal, “consumer Christian” who received forgiveness and the various services of the church but is not a disciple or “apprentice of Jesus”, as he puts it.

Our problem is overfamiliarity. People think they have heard the message of Christianity and have accepted or perhaps rejected it when in fact they have not really heard it. Many people assume it’s about hearing what Christ said and trying to carry it out. But the invitation is quite different: The Son of God is at your side and he wishes to turn you into the same thing as himself. He wants to change you from a tin soldier into a live human being. The part of you that doesn’t like this is still tin! “God’s desire for us is that we should live in him,” he writes.

The bulk of his book is an exposition of the Sermon on the Mount found in Matthew 5-7. This alone makes the book worthy of reading and keeping. I got it from the library and upon finishing it realized that this is a book I’m going to want to own so I can return to it again and again. Willard has convinced me once again to apprentice myself to Jesus and allow him to transform my daily living.

The latter part of the book unpacks what Willard calls “the golden triangle of spiritual growth.” At the top of the triangle is the action of the Holy Spirit. The two base angles are 1) the ordinary events of life--trials and tribulations and 2) planned discipline to put on a new heart (Colossians 3:12-17) Scripture doesn’t provide a recipe to follow or a formula to complete. Apprentices adopt the goals of our Lord for our lives and seek the precise details of how to get there from the lives of the saints past and present, the teachings of scripture and common sense.

For all the depth of the book, Willard’s writing is easily accessible to a wide audience. If your spiritual life is lukewarm or flat, this is a place to have your aspirations for holy living reignited!


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