The Divine Conspiracy by Dallas Willard - My Book Notes - Part 9 - A Curriculum for Christlikeness

Welcome to part 9 of my blog series on Dallas Willard's book "The Divine Conspiracy". Please look at the chapter list to move between the other parts of this series.

What I learnt From This Chapter

This chapter is a wonderful summary of the life of discipleship. Reading this chapter made me realise that the extent of my trust in God had been one that was purely eschatological or soteriological (i.e. not really about now, but about something that would take place in the future), and so I felt that in the present I was ultimately at the mercy of either nature or of the wills of others. Therefore this chapter made me realise that the discipleship of the Bible is one permeated by a trust in God at every level (a Psalm 23 life). Trust precedes obedience, and our sins stem from a lack of trust in God. This does not mean that life will go our way, but what it does mean is that nothing that happens to us is beyond redemption by God.

Chapter List

Chapter 1 - Entering the Eternal Kind of Life Now
Chapter 2 - Gospels of Sin Management
Chapter 3 - What Jesus Knew: Our God-Bathed World
Chapter 4 - Who is Really Well Off? - The Beatitudes
Chapter 5 - The Righteousness of the Kingdom Heart: Beyond the Goodness of Scribes and Pharisees
Chapter 6 - Investing in the Heavens: Escaping the Deceptions of Reputations and Wealth
Chapter 7 - The Community of Prayerful Love
Chapter 8 - On Being a Disciple, or Student, of Jesus
Chapter 9 - A Curriculum for Christlikeness
Chapter 10 - The Restoration of all Things

Chapter 9 - A Curriculum for Christlikeness

The Course of Studies in the Master Class

It must be possible to do what Jesus said.

Obedience & Abundance - Inseparable Aspects of the Same Life

Kingdom obedience IS kingdom abundance. They are not too different things.

Where Are the Training Programs?

Might be self-administered, but must always be needed. Must be made available to us by those further along in the path.

We need effectual programs of training.

The Necessity for a Curriculum of Christlikeness

The emphasis is often on some kind of behaviour change- but this is not the root of the problem.

Not Just More Information

The student will already know almost all of the correct information.

Getting the Answers Right; and Believing Them

To transform right answers into automatic responses to real life situations.

The Disciple is Not Perfect, Yet

We must share His beliefs.

From having faith IN Christ, to having the faith OF Christ.

Getting Clear on Objectives - 4 Things We Must NOT Take as Primary Objectives

  1. External conformity to Jesus’ teaching
  2. Profession of correct doctrine. 
  3. Special Experiences
  4. Faithfulness to the Church
These things come along as the self is transformed.

The Two Primary Objectives

  1. Bring apprentices to the point where they dearly love and constantly delight in God.
  2. Remove our automatic responses against the kingdom of God.
Automatic patterns of response ground into us in our long life outside of the kingdom.

Very little of our being lies under the control of our conscious minds.

Very little of our actions runs from our thoughts and consciously chosen intentions.

Our minds on their own are extremely feeble instruments, whose power over life we constantly tend to exaggerate.

We are incarnational beings by nature and we live from our bodies. If we are to be transformed, our bodies must be transformed.

The training that leads to doing what we hear must therefore involve the purposeful disruption of our automatic Thoughts and feelings and actions by doing different things with our body. Placing the body before God in such a way that our whole self is transformed.

The two primary objectives of the curriculum must be pursued simultaneously (to learn to love God and to be changed in our patterns).

Enthralling the Mind with God - Turning the Mind Toward God

How do we help people to love what is lovely?

We cause them to place their minds on the lovely thing concerned. We assist them to do this in every way possible.

Emotional response aroused in the will by visions of the good.

Love cannot exist without some vision of the beloved.

We are always asking; asking them, asking God. The key to the soul always belongs to the person whose soul it is.

To "smell the roses" we must get close to them, hold them in mind, take in the fragrance.

God must be brought before the mind and kept there in such a way the mind takes root and stays fixed there.

Our Mind and Our Choices

What occupies the mind sets the emotional tone for the actions that we do.

Corruption of the will is primarily a matter of our refusal to dwell on the right things in the right way.

The Three Areas of Necessary Intellectual Clarity

  1. Creation
  2. Public acts in human history
  3. Individual experience

1 - God the Almighty, Maker of Heaven and Earth

El Elyon - God most high.

For lots of people, God is more sensed through nature than inferred.

Our seeking and teaching must be thorough and completely honest

Theology Test in the Love of God

The question is "is the image of God that we are presented with one that we can love with heart, mind, body and soul?" If the answer is "no" then we need to turn around and find a different path.

Two Harmful Myths

  1. God as creator has been settled scientifically in the negative. Based on a socially enforced readiness to disbelieve.
  2. One has to be a scholar to deal with questions of God as creator. It is basic pastoral work.

2 - The God of Jesus and His People

God interacts with every single human being: Romans 1:14-15, John 1:9, Acts 10:30-31, Acts 14:17

Public presence through Israel.

Nehemiah - creation and covenant comes together.

Acts 4 - appeal to creation and covenant.

Knowledge of the Glory of God in the Face of Christ

The key to loving God is to see Jesus - to adore him.

1st - Teach his beauty and truth as one human being among others - the gospels become a permanent presence.

2nd - How Jesus came to be crucified as a common criminal on our behalf.

3rd - Teach the reality of Jesus risen - his actual existence as presence with us.

4th - Teach the Jesus who is the master of the created universe and of human history - in charge of atoms, quarks etc.

Satan was lying when he said that he had the kingdoms of the earth to give.

3 - God's Hand Seen Through the Events of the Disciples Life

The path appointed for us is good. And nothing irredeemable can happen to us.

Moral failures based on the idea that they must take care of their own needs rather than be provided for by God.

Joseph - you intended evil for me, but God used it for good.

Honouring Father and Mother - a Vital Need

We cannot be thankful for who we are, unless we are thankful for them.

The promise is rooted in the human soul - being thankful for who we are.

Elijah to come - turn hearts of fathers to children and children to fathers.

We must be thankful to God for our lives. Therefore we must be thankful for those who gave us life.

When Job stood before God he was completely satisfied, even though God had not answered any of his questions.

You cannot think what life would be like if it had been different.

There is no you apart from your actual life.

In that life you must find the goodness of God, otherwise you will not believe that He has done well by you, and you will not truly be at peace with Him.

Acquiring the Habits of Goodness - Breaking Bondage to the Sin in our Body

We must learn to recognise the habitual pattern for what they are and eradicate them

Specifically inner formation of self into Christ likeness, rather than destroying the sinful nature.

Often assumed that Romans 7 is a reflection of Paul's life, it's not.

People continue to make provision for the desires of the flesh.

What the Sin in Our Members Is

What dominates us is not some invincible overpowering force, or a metaphysical necessity that we are under, but a personal or moral restraint.

We still have to deal with the consequences of our sin.

The patterns of wrong doing are usually quite weak. They are our habits. Largely automatic responses of thought, feeling and action.

Typically we have acted wrongly before reflecting. This is what gives our habits power.

For the most part they are characteristics of our bodies and social contexts. They often do not run through our conscious Minds or deliberative will. Often run contrary to them.

We often do not do wrong through careful deliberation.

Instead our routine behaviour keeps our deliberative will and conscious mind off balance and on the defensive.

Leaves us constantly dealing with what we have already done. Then we do further wrong to cover up what we have done.

In the body and social context is where the work must be done to replace wrong habits with automatic responses of the Kingdom and sustain themselves from its power.

First repentance, then replacement of habits.

Direct efforts will seldom succeed without habit changes.

A Matter of What Is In Us

We will never be able to deal with evil as long as we externalise it to something other than self.

John 14:30 - there was nothing in him that could be tempted.

Nothing has power to tempt me or move me to wrong action other than what I have given power by what I permit to be in me.

The most dangerous things that are in me are the little habits of thought, feeling, and action that I regard as normal because everyone is like that, it is only human.

We must not do what normal people do.

Habits can be changed, and God can help us to do it, but he will not do it for us.

We can use the queues of our habits to activate thoughts feelings and actions that will rule them out.

The Training Will Not Be Done For Us

But we cannot do it by ourselves - life in all forms must reach out to what is beyond it to achieve fulfilment - so it is with the spiritual life.

Without me you can do nothing John 15:5

If we do nothing, it will certainly be without him.

We cannot put off the old person and put on the new without help.

Philippians 2 - called to have the same mind of Christ.

I.e. loving servant for the good of others.

He is the maestro / lord.

God is at work choosing and acting on behalf of his intentions.

The Threefold Dynamic - The Golden Triangle of Spiritual Growth

Intervention of Holy Spirit placed at apex of triangle as he is involved at every point.

Trials of daily life placed at the bottom (where our real life is).

Choices go hand in hand with the trials.

Spirit moves within our soul and mind to bring us towards the kingdom of God.

Spirit continues to move in us to do the kinds of works Jesus did, and to grow spiritually (fruit of the spirit).

Action of spirit must be accompanied by our response.

The Indispensable Role of Ordinary Events - Tests

We must accept the circumstances that we constantly find ourselves in as the place of God's kingdom and blessing.

God has yet to bless someone other than where they already are.

Our life presents itself to us a series of tasks, with tribulations being the most serious of them.

Knowledge of the kingdom puts us in a position to welcome all of these.

James tells us to rejoice in trials (James 1:2-4).

All three points are absolutely essential.

We must accept the trials as the place where we are to experience the rule and reign of God in our lives.

We must not catastrophize them.

Few disciples will be able to respond to the trials in this way. They will have to adopt certain practices to allow them to respond appropriately (practices in the lower right corner of the triangle).

We Are Not Told Precisely How to Develop Kingdom Habits

Progression in the kingdom not under our control, neither are we told how to in precise terms.

This is because what is needed is an individual matter (as a walk).

Paul's letter to Colossians is the most precise outline of spiritual formation.

Chapters 1 & 2 corresponds most closely to a curriculum of Christlikeness.

Chapters 3 & 4 cover the secondary primary objective.

Chapter 3 - shifts from acts and attitudes to character formation.

And Yet Everyone Knows

In other letters Paul says "imitate me like I imitate Christ" (1 Corinthians 11:1).

These words are not a personal oddity, but a core practice.

Jesus above all shows us how to live.

Jesus is the ultimate object of imitation.

But also those who come after Jesus.

We notice not just what he said, but what he did.

He spent extended times in solitude and silence.

He knew the scriptures.

He utilised worship and prayer.

We must follow an order of life as a whole.

Planned Disciplines to Put On a New Heart - What Spiritual Disciplines Are

They are disciplines - any activity within our power that we engage in that will allow us to do what we cannot do by direct effort.

Practice is discipline, but not all disciplines are practice. - Rest and sleep can be disciplines.

Also spiritual; disciplines that help us to be effective in the spiritual realm of our own heart.

I fast from food to know that there is another food that sustains me.

Centrality of Our Bodies

Almost all spiritual disciplines involve bodily behaviours. This makes sense as the body is the main thing that we have control of, and the chief repository of our habits.

Main task is to disrupt and conquer habits.

The deeds of the kingdom arrive naturally out of a certain quality of life. We cultivate that life by directing our bodies into activities that transform our inner and outer self for God and through God.

Hand in hand we shift to the positive to develop positive habits.

Modelled Upon Jesus Himself

Learning to structure our lives around the same activities of Jesus and those who followed him.

If he needed 40 days in the wilderness, I could certainly use 3 or 4.

One must enter them with Jesus the teacher.

Doing the Same Thing Differently

Not so much a matter of doing things that we have not done before of doing things in a different way.

Little dribbles of scripture are not enough to change one’s life. Just like a constant dribble of water will not constitute a shower.

Prayer and scripture reading need to be engaged in for long periods of time, not being agitated, hurried or exhausted.

Some Specific Disciplines in the Curriculum

No complete list.

Disciplines of Abstinence:

  • Solitude
  • Silence
  • Fasting
  • Frugality
  • Chastity
  • Secrecy
  • Sacrifice
  • Watching

Disciplines of Engagement:

  • Study
  • Worship
  • Celebration
  • Service
  • Prayer
  • Fellowship
  • Confession
  • Submission
Disciplines of abstinence - designed to weaken or break the power of life involvements that press against our Involvement in the kingdom of God

Disciplines of engagement - designed to immerse us ever more in to the kingdom of God.

Some framework of disciplines is needed to form a life plan for spiritual growth.

A small number are absolutely essential for spiritual growth:

Solitude, silence, study, worship.

Two Disciplines of Abstinence: Solitude & Silence

Contact lingers long after it is over.

Second primary objective - to break power of the bad things in our life.

These bad responses are at epidermal level of self and are automatic. They are the buttons by which our surroundings control us.

Silence and solitude allow us to escape the epidermal responses and to change the buttons.

They break the rush through life and create an inner space where people can become aware of what they are doing and about to do.

The person capable of doing nothing is capable of not doing the wrong thing.

God will not compete for our attention.

Every person should have regular periods of life where they have nothing to do.

The Sabbath dictates that we should have 1/7th of our life dedicated to doing nothing.

As long as you are doing things to get done you are not in solitude. Just be there.

Be relatively comfortable, don't be a hero in any spiritual discipline. Sleep until you wake up.

You will discover that you have a soul. That God is near, and that the universe is brimming with goodness.

In solitude and silence you find that you are more than what you do.

Also answer to loneliness, you will find out that you are not alone.

Muddy water becomes clear after you leave it for a while.

You will have an increased sense of who you are.

That feeling of "have to" comes from the vacuum in your soul, where you ought to be at home with your father.

Liberation from your own desires is one of the greatest gifts of solitude and silence - then you will know that you are close to God.

Two Disciplines of Positive Engagement: Study and Worship

Once solitude has done its work, the key to the progression is study. It is in study that we place our minds fully on God and his kingdom, and study is brought to its natural completion by worship.

The order that I took into myself by study gave me the power to do many great things that I could not do until by study it had become mine. True for theoretical to practical. Also true when we study what is evil, we take on what is evil.

Students of Jesus wish to take on the order of the kingdom.

Study is the chief way of taking into ourselves the order of the kingdom. Through study of scripture, others and every good thing in nature, history and culture (Philippians 4:8).

Philippians 2 - 4.

Study is not just gathering information - rather it establishes good epidermal responses which integrate ourselves with the flow of God's reign.

We cannot worship without study (Romans 10:2).

Study without worship is dangerous.

In worship we ascribe goodness to God.

To build our house upon the rock we must have a definite plan for doing so, which must incorporate all areas of the golden triangle.

They are not deeds of righteousness, but wise councils. We must ask, what is my plan?

Practical Steps for Attaining the Two Curricular Objectives: an Illustration of Training to Do

Always aim at the heart and its transformation.

The Pattern or General Form of the Teaching

The pattern can be applied to all cases.

Two main elements:

1 - Clearly positioning the context before the heavenly fathers rule through Jesus.

2 - Walking the individual through actual cases in their own lives to give them experience based understanding and assurance.

Overview of Progress from Here to Forever: 5 Dimensions or Stages of the Eternal Kind of Life

The situation of the disciple is one of change or growth.
  1. Confidence in and reliance on Jesus as the son of man, the one appointed to save us (Romans 10:9-10)
  2. Desire to be his apprentice in living from and for the Kingdom of God.
  3. Obedience - the teaching that we have received brings us to love Jesus and the father with our whole being and we love to obey him, even though we do not yet understand or like what it requires.
  4. The pervasive inner transformation of the heart and soul. One of love joy peace etc.
  5. Power to work the works of the kingdom.
Great power requires great character, and that character is something that we grow towards.

We must be active participants in these stages, through study etc.

The Curriculum and the Life of the Church

Some may see curriculum as radical and new, but it is not new.

Consumer Christianity has seeds in NT church.

And comes to prominence with monastic Christianity which creates a two tier system.

Book 3 of Calvin's Institutes is a treatment of the Christian life.

Some Practical Points about Implementation - Especially for Pastors

It may be vital to just do some things, and not talk about them.

We must make sure that these things are a part of our own life.

2nd, prayerfully observe those around us to see who is ready to become a disciple.

Finally, teach and speak the kingdom.

People will respond generously if the message is delivered rightly (with love, generosity, trust etc.).

Willard calls it "church growth for those who hate it".

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