A Disciple in Any Discipline

Dallas Willard

A contribution to the book College Faith

ONE STRONG CURRENT in the Christian culture of my youth was mistrust of thought, study, and research as merely human pursuits and, therefore, essentially misguided. At best they weren’t the main work of God. A similar mistrust extended to all kinds of art—literature, painting, music, etc.

Human endeavors were not thought of as domains of grace in themselves. With enough grace superimposed, a Christian might undertake them as a service. They just weren’t inherently acts of grace nor primary expressions of the Kingdom of God. Certainly they weren’t to be trusted. The devil was their true master.

So the real question to me in higher education was, How could one give one’s best in a pursuit of something that really belonged to the devil? Is it all just “fleshly” and “worldly”? Shouldn’t one do academic or artistic work only as a means to winning souls or promoting the church?

In a period of intense prayer and thoughtfulness during the early days of my graduate studies in philosophy and the history of science, God spoke to me in a way that made it clear that Jesus is Master of all that is good, including the works of intellect and art. Specifically, He told me that if there really was a better way than the one I was following as a disciple of Jesus, He would be the first to tell me to take it. I realized that I couldn’t say I had confidence in Jesus unless I had confidence in Him for that.

This understanding freed me from the need to “protect” my faith in Christ. My faith would protect me. I could now put the best possible construction on any line of thought without fear that, if I did it justice, it might defeat Christ.

Later I finally came to understand that Jesus was the smartest person who ever lived on earth, and the greatest artist as well. Of course He was! How could He be anything else, given all the other things we believe about Him? Whatever one’s field may be. Christ is the best Man in that field. That’s why one can be His disciple in any discipline.

How precious is Your loving kindness, O God? And the children of men take refuge in the shadow of Your wings. They drink their fill of the abundance of Your house; And You give them to drink of the river of Your delights. For with You is the fountain of life; In your light we see light. Psalm 36:7-9 NASB

Dallas Willard. “A Disciple in Any Discipline.” College Faith: 150 Christian Leaders & Educators Share Faith Stories from Their Student Days, Berrien Springs, MI: Andrews University Press, 2002.