The Divine Conspiracy by Dallas Willard - My Book Notes - Part 1 - Entering the Eternal Kind of Life Now


I am a huge fan of Dallas Willard. He has helped me immensely in my faith journey. Recently I decided to read through his book 'The Divine Conspiracy' again; but this time taking quite comprehensive notes (a lot more notes than I initially realised!) I thought I would publish these notes for anyone who has already read the book and wants a refresher, or for anyone who wants to read Dallas Willard but wants to get a feel for it first.

Why Read Dallas Willard

If you are unsure of who Dallas Willard is or why you should read him then here is a quick primer. Dallas was an American philosopher who taught at USC and passed away in 2012. For our purposes we are interested not necessarily in his philosophical work but his work on Christian Spiritual Formation (although those two cannot be separated as his theology was greatly influenced by his philosophy).
Christian Spiritual Formation is understood as the process that we go through in order to become more like Christ, and move into spiritual maturity. 
Dallas looked at the christians around him, and at the statistics that showed that christians were not much different from the world, and set about asking why this was. His life's work is essentially aimed at addressing this problem: How do we become more like Christ.
Dallas talks about the idea that God CAN transform us into his likeness in an instant, but that God CHOOSES to transform us with our cooperation through systematic processes and disciplines (with a WHOLE load of grace).
Dallas argues that we must not focus on what God CAN do, but on what God has CHOSEN to do (with regard to our spiritual formation) and act accordingly.
The Divine Conspiracy is the third book that Dallas wrote to this end (it does not particularly matter which book you start with; they are all amazing.

As mentioned earlier, I made a lot of notes, and so I will be posting a seperate blog post per chapter. I will list the chapters below and update the chapter with links when the new post is released.

What Did I Learn From This Chapter?

The main takeaway for me from this chapter was the idea that God did not create the bible so that it could only be understood by some scholars in the 20th / 21st century. Personally this added a new dynamism and energy to my approach to scripture as something that could speak to me and was in many senses alive (doing a degree in biblical theology certainly has a way of dampening this kind of understanding).

Chapter List

Introduction
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

Introduction

God's words are spirit and life, and invade our real world in a reality that is more real.
Dogma and law have come to have about them an arbitrariness - what God has willed. This breaks any connection with how things really are: with truth and reality. Our lives are defined by truth and reality.
Early message not something people HAD to do, but that they would be fools to disregard it. Jesus therefore was thought to have been someone of great ability: prince of life, lord of glory etc.
We disassociate ourselves from the ethical teachings of Jesus.
Obedience is thought of solely in terms of law.

The Bible

Human side - produced and preserved by competent people.
Divine side - God has been competent to communicate His purposes through it.
God did not and would not leave His message so that it could only be determined by biblical scholars (it is God's word to the church, not to scholars).

His Trilogy

- In Search of Guidance - intimate quality of life with Him in terms of a relationship with God.
- Spirit of the Disciplines - effectively interact with the spirit of God to access fully the gifts God has for us.
- This book - discipleship to Jesus as very heart of the Gospel.
These three books do not create anything new. It is all very old, and recently forgotten. If it was new I would not write it.
Compare with P. T. Forsyth, C. S. Lewis, Frank Laubach, E. Stanley Jones, and George Macdonald.
Then compare to Athanasius, Augustine, Anselm, Thomas Aquinas, Luther and Calvin.
Then finally to the Bible itself.

Chapter 1 - Entering the Eternal Kind of Life Now

Kingdom of God had come and Jesus was the herald and expounder, he was the kingdom - Malcolm Muggeridge.

Life in the Dark

We live at high speed with no idea whether we are flying upside down or right side up.
Derek Bok - president of Harvard for many years - he said that courses on ethics do not convey ethical truths but rather that people must think about the problems (not to impart right answers, but to acquaint them with moral thought and equip them to reason).
There is now no single moral conclusion that can be reached.
There are other conclusions that are objective (math etc.) but this is not true for ethics.
There is no body of moral knowledge in our culture.
Less one of connecting character to intellect, more one of connecting intellect to realities.
What is good and right is not a subject of knowledge.
Ideas not vested interests are powerful for good or evil.
The truly powerful ideas are the ones that never have to justify themselves.
We are not in a political battle, nor a conspiracy. Secular humanism is an idea movement.
Seeming triviality of academia is what misleads us.

Merely Academic

Paul Bourget, 1889, the Disciple.
Killing fields of Cambodia come from philosophical thoughts from Paris.

Tolstoy's Journey

Confession most important document for understanding plight of last 2 centuries.
Dogmas of upper-class elite destroyed his life. In these dogmas two things are real: particles and progress.

The Lump Dreams of Progress

Same position today - particles and progress.
A glorious accident - TV series - faith that passes as scientific is available to all.
Tolstoy observed the mass of peasants who found meaning in life in spite of their lack of knowledge.
We are immersed from birth to death in a wall of noise.
Our desire to be loved and accepted make us accept all these things and bumper slogan stickers (like practice random acts of kindness. or everything i needed I learnt in kindergarten). You cannot base a life on these things.
What is really profound is thought to be stupid or trivial. And what is stupid and trivial is thought to be profound. This is what it means to be flying upside down.

Word from a Different Reality

We are invited to make a pilgrimage into the heart of God.
Major problem with invitation is overfamiliarity, which leads to unfamiliarity, unexpected unfamiliarity, and then contempt.
Genius is the ability to scrutinise the obvious.
God's desire for us is that we should live in Him. And He has sent amongst us the way to himself.
In its deepest nature and meaning our universe is a community of boundless and totally competent love.
God makes Himself and His kingdom available, not in every way we have imagined, but in a simple way. In a way that paradoxically is familiar to billions of people. Paradoxically because although we have heard it, we still live "in a faraway country".

A World Historical Force

Jesus offers himself as God's doorway to life. We can become his apprentices in eternal living. They will be safe, go in and out and have all they need.
Entrance blocked by misinformation (like preparing to die or correcting social practices and conditions - these are matters of great importance but not the most important things).
It is good to know that all will be well when I die, but what about life now?
How does social change empower me to be the person I want to be?
Jaroslav Pelikan - Jesus is most dominant person in history of western culture. If it was possible to pull up every scrap of metal bearing his name, how much would be left?
What explains the enduring relevance of Jesus?
To be the light of life and to deliver that life is the secret of the enduring relevance of Jesus.

Entering the Ordinary

If Jesus were here now he could very much do what I do.

Habitation of the Eternal

The ordinary is a receptacle of the divine.
The drive for recognition is not egotism - it is a form of acute self-consciousness. It is our desire to have significance and to be worth something.
We were built to count.
Our hunger for significance is a signal of who we are and why we are here.

God's Kingdom Opened to All

Repent for the kingdom of the heavens is at hand - this is a call for us to reconsider how we have been approaching our life. It is a matter of taking our life into his life.
Preaching in the synagogues allowed him to penetrate into the fabric of society.

Proprieties Aside

Since John we no longer stand on proprieties. The rule of God now present submits to approaches previously not possible.
How does this look?

A Harlot Crashes the Party

Story of anointing (Mark 14:3-9).
Jesus knew who the woman was, and also knew what Simon was thinking. Then told story of the forgiveness of debts.
Must not overlook interaction of faith and love.
When we see Jesus as he is, we must either turn away, or shamelessly adore him.

The Presence of God in Action

Hans Kung - the decision of for or against God is bound up in the decision of for or against Him (from early on in his ministry).
Karl Barth - started thinking that Jesus was the prophet of the kingdom - later came to see that He WAS the kingdom.
Like messiah, the kingdom was an Old Testament phrase which served to enclose what he Jesus Brought in himself. The gospel of the kingdom was Christ in essence. Christ was the gospel of the kingdom in power.
He was the truth of his own greatest gospel, it is wherever he is, and to have him is to ensure it.

God's Rule Extended Onward Through Us

Jesus was not just acting for God, but with God (like power steering); this is projected onwards through those who receive him (God acts with us).
We rely on him in our actions (this is why least in kingdom is greater than John the Baptist. the "greater" is not inherent (a matter of our own substance), but relational.
C. S. Lewis - our faith is not a matter of hearing what he said 2000 years ago and trying to carry it out. Rather the real son of God is at your side. He is beginning to turn you into the same kind of thing as himself. He is beginning to inject his kind of life and thought into you, beginning to turn the tin soldier into a man. The part of you that doesn't like it is the part that is still tin.
He was the exact picture of God's substance.

Made to Rule, What a Kingdom Is

All of us has a kingdom (a realm that is uniquely our own).
We are made to have dominion within an appropriate domain of reality. This is the core of the image of God in us and is the basis of the destiny for which we were formed. We are all of us never ceasing spiritual beings with a destiny to count for good within this universe. Our kingdom is the range of our effective will. Whatever we have the say over is in our kingdom (and having this say is what places it in our kingdom).
Having being with no say over anything is not a person.
Control is a vital factor in mental and physical health.
Having a place of rule goes to the heart of where we are.
Thought control most heinous example of dominion.

God's Creation Covenant with Human Beings

What we can do in our own strength is small. But what we can do assisted by mechanics is much bigger. Equally, what we can do assisted by God is much bigger still.
Deepest longings still confirm our destiny in spite of call.

Redemption of Our Rule

God pursues us redemptively.
If we are faithful to him here then we learn his cooperative faithfulness to us in turn.
Frank Laubach - fine texture of his work and life experience was transformed.
"I must work to be sure, but there is God working alongside me".

Our Rule Extended - Into Eternity

When we submit to God, our rule increases (faithful with a few things, I will put you in charge of many things).

God's Kingdom

Effective range of God's will.
Everything that obeys those principles is within his kingdom.
"The greatness of the kingdom" - Alva McClain
1st Ruler
2nd Realm of subject to be ruled
3rd the actual exercise of the function of rulership.
Kingdom will not end, cannot be shaken, is totally good, not something we can hinder. We have the invitation to be a part of it.
Not a social or political reality at all (these are the only realms that are permitted to be absent).
Kingdom of God is not primarily something that is in the hearts of men.
Jesus' proclamation was not that the kingdom of God was about to come, rather that the new invitation to be a part of it through him had come.
"Thy kingdom come" - we pray for it to take over at all points where it is excluded.
God has given us all a range of will.
We must mesh our kingdom with others (loving our neighbor).
But we must take as our primary aim the integration of our rule with God's (why love of neighbor is second, not first commandment).

The Kingdom Is Now At Hand

Restating certain points
- Jesus came among us to show and teach the life for which we were made. He came very gently opened access to the governance of God with him and set afoot a conspiracy of freedom in truth among human beings.
- Having overcome death he remains among us. By relying on his word and presence we are enabled to re-integrate the little realm that makes up our life into the infinite rule of God - and that is the eternal kind of life.
He inducts us into the eternal kind of life that flows though himself.
He does this first by bringing this kind of life to bear on our needs, and then diffuses this through our deeds.
Deeds done through expectation that God will act in and through us in these deeds.
Ladd - balanced the now and not yet of the kingdom.
Kingdom not something to be accepted now and hoped for later, but something to be entered now.

In the Midst of Many Kingdoms

James S. Stuart
One confusing thing - other kingdoms are present at the same time as God's kingdom. (As well as kingdom of darkness).
God permits this.
Our incoherence and inability to work together hampers our ability to work together effectively.
The interior castle of the human soul has many rooms, and they are slowly occupied by God. This is a crucial aspect of the conspiracy.

Electricity Is At Hand

The movement of electricity into rural areas was life changing. However it had to be trusted in to be used.
A few did not accept it (did not enter the kingdom of electricity).
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