(Literary Essentials: Christian Fiction and Nonfiction)

According to Dallas Willard, part of our nature as human beings is to want to live lives that have deep significance, which is a reflection of our God-given creative impulse. Modern society contains several hindrances to experiencing this type of significance: skepticism about the possibility of moral knowledge, scorn for the profound, and the belief that the only two elements of reality are particles and progress. That is, reality is ultimately physical, and all that matters socially is that we make progress, whatever that may be. Absurdity and cuteness are admired in society. For Willard, they are fine to laugh and even think about, but absurdity and cuteness fail to lead us into lives of satisfaction and significance. Jesus, however, possesses enduring relevance because he relates to human beings in ways that produce wholeness.

The Church also erects barriers to human flourishing, especially in its espousal of what Willard calls the gospels of sin management. Christians of a conservative theological persuasion hold that Christianity is about only forgiveness of sins and eternal life after death. This is problematic, because it seems impossible to trust Jesus to provide eternal life in the hereafter but not trust him for new life, an eternal kind of life, in the here and now. For the more theologically liberal, the Gospel is not about securing life after death in heaven with God, but rather the focus is on social ethics. In recent times, the idea is that the good news is that Jesus died to promote liberation, equality, and community and that this was his message.

In Willard’s view, the true good news communicated through the Scriptures and displayed in the life of Jesus is that we can have our lives and characters transformed now, as we seek to live under God’s rule. Both privatized forgiveness of sins as well as the social Gospel have failed to produce deep and lasting transformation of either individual human lives or of our lives together. The Gospel is about...

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(Literary Essentials: Christian Fiction and Nonfiction)

Sources for Further Study

Foster, Richard. Celebration of Discipline. San Francisco: HarperSanFrancisco, 1998. Contains a description of many of the classical spiritual disciplines, as well as several practical applications for each of them.

Moreland, J. P., and Klaus Issler. The Lost Virtue of Happiness. Colorado Springs, Colo.: Navpress, 2006. Discusses how the worldview assumptions of modern culture undermine the Christian pursuit of true happiness and offers practical guidance in how to experience such happiness in life.

Van Der Wheele, Steven. Review of The Divine Conspiracy. The Christian Century 116, no. 20 (July 14-21, 1999): 719-721. Praises Willard’s work for its command of Scripture, comprehensiveness, and accessibility.

Willard, Dallas. Hearing God. Downers Grove, Ill.: InterVarsity Press, 1999. Focuses on developing a conversational relationship with God. Useful as a guide for practical spirituality but includes theoretical content as well.

Willard, Dallas. Renovation of the Heart. Colorado Springs, Colo.: Navpress, 2002. Contains a discussion of human nature and how true discipleship to Jesus affects the character of human beings.

Willard, Dallas. The Spirit of the Disciplines. San Francisco: Harper and Row, 1988. A biblical, theological, and philosophical case for practicing the classical spiritual disciplines, such as solitude, fasting, and silence.