Wednesday, September 10, 2008

A Good Book

I love reading. I love a great book and the inspiration that it can provide. And once in a while, I come across an amazing book - one that just goes above and beyond anything that I have recently read. Dallas Willard's book, The Spirit of the Disciplines is one of these books. I recommend that everyone read this book because he is saying things that I have not heard anyone say in a long time.

First, to provide some background, I have been doing a lot of reading this year on the nature of spiritual discipline and what it means to walk with God. John Ortberg's book, The Life You've Always Wanted:Spiritual Disciplines for Ordinary People and Love Beyond Reason, John Eldredge's book that I just finished, Walking With God, are three books that I deliberately delved into because this is a topic that I have been trying to understand throughout the year. I enjoy Ortberg and Eldredge and I think that they both have great things to say, and it was actually through one of Ortberg's books that I came across Dallas Willard's, as Ortberg references it as the source of inspiration for his The Life You've Always Wanted. I, being a history student at heart, decided to go straight to the primary source and read this book (primary sources being the hallmark of research for history majors :)).

Also, I usually try to read with a critical view, questioning what the author is saying. But sometimes, I cannot help but agree with everything that an author is saying and this book is one of those. I have been consistently blown away, not only by the content of what is being said, but also how it is being said. Willard is a beautiful writer on top of a being a brilliant thinker. I am only about 30 pages into the book as I have to slow myself down to really read and digest what he is saying - he is one of "those" kind of authors, much like C.S. Lewis. If I was underlining this book, it would probably be one of my books that had about every line underlined.

I want to share one of the passages that I read today because of how it struck me. I think there is truth in this, because I see it in my own life - otherwise, I wouldn't be reading about spiritual disciplines!

...But we seem hard put to understand that what is true of the foundations is no less true of the superstructure. The surrender of myself to Him is inseparable from the giving up of my body to Him in such a way that it can serve both Him and me as a common abode, as John 14:23, 1 Corinthians 6:15-20, and Ephesians 2:22 testify. The vitality and power of Christianity is lost when we fail to integrate our bodies into its practice by intelligent, conscious choice and steadfasat intent. It is with our bodies we receive the new life that comes as we enter His Kingdom.

It can't be any other way. If salvation is to affect our lives, it can do so only by affecting our bodies. If we are to participate in the reign of God, it can only be by our actions. And our actions are physical - we live only in the processes of our bodies. To withhold our bodies from religion is to exclude religion from our lives. Our life is a bodily life, even though that life is one that can be fulfilled solely in union with God.

Spirituality in human beings is not an extra or "superior" mode of existence. It's not a hidden stream of separate reality, a separate life running parallel to our bodily existence. It does not consist of special "inward" acts even though it has an inner aspect. It is, rather, a relationship of our embodied selves to God that has the natural and irrepressable effect of making us alive to the Kingdom of God - here and now in the material world.

When our presentation of the gospel fails to do justice to this basic truth about the nature of human personality, Christianity inevitably becomes alienated from our actual everyday existence. All that remains for it are a few "special" acts to be engaged in on rare occassions. The church then is forced to occupy itself only with these special acts and occassions. Through what is in reality an astonishing lack of faith, the church removes itself from the substance of life. Powerless over life, then, it stands to one side, and God is left without a dwelling place through which He could effectively occupy the world in the manner He intends.

...This failure has nothing to do with the usual divisions between Christians, such as that between Protestant and Catholic or between liberal and conservative or between charismatic and non-charismatic, for the failure is shared on all sides. It stems from something the various parties must have in common. They all fail to foster those bodily behaviors of faith that would make concrete human existence vitally complete - taking them as a part of the total life in the Kingdom of God. Just as we mentioned in the opening of this chapter, we've somehow encouraged a separation of our faith from everyday life. We've relegated God's life in us to special times and places and states of mind. And we've become so used to this style of life, that we are hardly aware of it. When we think of "taking Christ into the workplace" or "keeping Christ in the home," we are making our faith into a set of special acts. The "specialness" of such acts just underscores the point - that being a Christian, being Christ's, isn't thought of as a normal part of life.

~ Dallas Willard, The Spirit of the Disciplines, pgs. 30-32

I don't think I have ever really thought of the body as taking part in my
salvation. I have heard the Great Commandment, "Love the Lord, your God, with all your heart, your mind, your body, and your soul", but I don't think I have really understood, or even given much thought to, how to love God with my body. How do you really worship the Lord with your body? So, in reading this, something clicked deep inside of me - light bulbs went off - and I am beginning to get it. I am very interested to discover what other hard truths lie ahead - but I believe that it will be worth it.


Josh said...

hey Lauren,

glad you found Willard. his book Divine Conspiracy was quite influential for me at an important time of shift of theology and philosophy. that book largely focuses on the sermon on the mount and it is freakin amazing. i read renovation of the heart in seminary and it wasn't one of my favorites...but Willard is a smart dude.

another good disciplines book that i have found helpful is Tony Jones' The Sacred Way and Richard Fosters' The Spiritual Disciplines...both good stuff.

there is a new series of books coming out on the disciplines, or spiritual practices that Christianity has inherited from Judaism (as has Islam) that includes some of my favorite authors, Phyllis Tickle, Brian McLaren, Scot McKnight amongst others...may want to check them out too!

i hope you are well friend!

Lauren said...

Hey Josh! Yeah, I am really loving this Dallas Willard book. He references Richard Foster as well, so I will probably check him out when I finish this book.

I hope you, Shey, and Rowan are doing well!! I hope to see you guys soon!