Biblical and Theological Foundations for Spiritual Formation in Christ 1

Dallas Willard Part 1 of 22

Dallas agreed to teach two separate weeks for the Renovaré Institute in Atlanta, a cohort of 40 students, mostly in ministry positions. He rehearses many of the themes from his speaking ministry elsewhere, so there is little new to be heard, but with more time with the group he is able to be more comprehensive than usual.


Well, thank you! I have been looking forward to being here. Gary has been telling me about you all and I am thankful to have the opportunity to talk with you. I believe you have done a lot of reading and a lot of preparation and so, I will proceed conversationally and hope that you will feel free to ask questions and make some points because we are here together to learn from one another and I will do my best to say some things that might lead us in a fruitful direction but basically, this is going to be conversational and I will put up concepts and scriptures and then talk about them but our hope is that the Lord will be among us as our teacher and help us understand the things that we really need to understand.


You have a section in your notebook that has outlines for each day. [It’s the second blue section.] The second blue section—thank you, Keith. That will give us some guidance. I will be talking about quite a number of things that aren’t really on your outline and especially here at the outset—we want to talk a little bit about—[Can yal hear okay? –they work on the microphone a bit.] [2:23]


I think I want to begin by just calling attention to a situation that has come to pass around our work as teachers and leaders and pastors, writers, and that is, that the church—I’ll speak generally—the church has been set aside as a source of knowledge of life. It is not treated as something that brings knowledge of anything important. It has been re-classified by the culture so that it deals with faith and not with knowledge. We want, in these sessions, to challenge that and to present the life that comes through Christ as a field of knowledge of reality within which faith plays a part. We need to be clear about the difference between knowledge and belief or faith, between commitment and profession and a very great deal of what we have in our churches today is the last and that is profession. We baptize people and receive them into our fellowships on their profession of faith. [4:18]


Now, profession is a good thing but the question is, do we believe it? Belief is different from profession and different from commitment. You believe something if you are ready to act as if it were true. That’s belief. That works in every area of life. You believe something if you are ready to act as if it were true.


You commit yourself to something by action without necessarily believing it but you have to do something so commitment is an act of will and it may or may not be supported by belief. If it is not supported by belief, it will not carry you very far and we make a big deal of commitment in our churches and in our efforts at evangelism, and commitment is good if it’s based on belief. Now, sometimes, we have to step out in commitment beyond our beliefs and that is one good way of testing and growing our faith or belief. But, suppose your belief is not backed up with knowledge? And, often today that is presented as a kind of ideal situation. Knowledge sometimes is presented as if it were independent of faith and this is what leaves us in a very unfortunate circumstance and so I want to—and these by the way are all in the back of your sheet and I recommend you just go through and number those pages so that we can refer to them in the future. I don’t really know what the page number is on this one and it wouldn’t help anyway because fortunately, you don’t have yours numbered yet but I would just go through and number those and in future sessions, we can refer to them by number. Is it way in the back? [Yes] [7:27]


Let me give you a concept of knowledge and then just talk a little bit about how that fits into our understanding of scripture and of the life that we are living because the Renovare Institute is directed toward knowledge and practice interacting. Practice based on knowledge and knowledge based on practice and the emphasis that we place on this is seen in the kinds of requirements that you have and have been studying. We are hoping that the outcome will put your faith in a proper connection with knowledge with commitment and with profession so we need those things all together and in the right order.


I just say here that knowledge is our ability to represent things as they are on an appropriate basis of thought and experience. So, for example, we should know that God exists. We should know that and if we don’t know that, our faith is going to be shaky and irregular because we don’t have knowledge upon which it is based. Now, don’t worry! Knowledge comes by grace as well as faith so don’t make the mistake that is often made today that knowledge is a work, not grace. We have a lot to say about grace as we go along here but knowledge is our ability to represent things as they are on an appropriate basis of thought and experience. [9:36]


Now, that’s what you require of your plumber. You want your plumber to be able to represent your pipes as they are.  See? The test of this definition is real life. This is what we require in real life. Knowledge is not rare and it’s not esoteric. If you go to school and pay a lot of money and in a lot of money, you are apt to come away with that impression and that’s a topic in itself. We may want to talk about that and why that is but in real life, we want people to know what they are dealing with and the basis for it and knowledge actually frees people up to interact with one another. Knowledge is not the same as dogmatism. It isn’t the same as certainty. It’s just a bedrock understanding of reality and that’s what we want in the spiritual life. [10:46]


In many of our religious circles, the spiritual life is often presented as if it were a matter of kind of lightning striking here and there and we look at the great exemplars of the spiritual life and we think that’s wonderful; perhaps, we look at Loyola or John Wesley or some of these people that just really did it and we don’t understand that what they did was, they acted on the basis of knowledge. Ignatius of Loyola was a man who had knowledge of the spiritual life. He practiced it and he passed it on to others. See, now, that’s –I would think is what we should be thinking about in all of our churches and in all of our associations. It is knowledge that is used to define eternal life. Eternal life is knowing YOU, the only true God and Jesus Christ, whom you have sent. Knowledge; and the warning that we have in Hosea—“my people perish for lack of knowledge” and in that case, it was the lack of knowledge of the law which represented the life with God as they had it. [12:25]


Knowledge is the key. Knowledge is always based on interactive relationship—interactive relationship. You don’t want someone who has just read a book about plumbing. You want someone who has an interactive relationship and it’s only in that kind of relationship that you come really to know how to do what they need to do; and that’s also true of our walk with Christ. It’s interactive relationship and that is the
Biblical conception of knowledge.  Adam knew his wife. He didn’t just read a book. He was in an interactive relationship.

The prophet says to Israel, “you only have I known of all the peoples, all the nations of the earth.” Well, you know, he knew about the Etruscans and he knew about people all over the world but they were the only ones that he had entered into an intimate interactive relationship with—a covenant relationship. So, when you see him picking up Abraham, what you are seeing is an ongoing interactive relationship. [14:08]


So, when we talk about knowledge, we are talking about something that is based on that kind of relationship and so then a lot that you have been reading about, and we will be discussing in later sessions has to do with the interactive relationship. Is it something that people can actually understand and know how to conduct and pass on to others by example and teaching? The great problem has been that in the last 100 years, what had been presented as knowledge for millennia has been shifted by the culture over into another domain and you call it today. See, that’s a part of the world that you and I live in and as preachers and teachers and leaders and writers and so on, we have to confront that. I call it simply the displacement of the knowledge content; the displacement of the knowledge content of Christian-like teaching into the domain of faith. [15:33]


We are not setting faith aside but we are talking about what faith amounts to if it is not environed in knowledge. That’s the biblical picture. The biblical picture is—I’m sorry? [Please repeat the statement.] The displacement of the knowledge content of the Christian faith—see you want to keep those always together, knowledge and faith—from the domain of knowledge into the domain of mere faith. That’s what has happened.


So, that’s a part of our language now and when you say someone is a person of faith, you have categorized them out of the battle. There is no context now and faith is treated as if it were an arbitrary domain and if you would like to make the leap, you can make the leap. So, faith involves leaps and people will tell you, “Well, I admire your faith but I just can’t make that leap.” So, we say to them, “Well, how about making a look before you leap?” Right? A look will give you something that you can stand on while you leap. I don’t know if you have ever tried to leap without standing on something. It’s quite a trick. You might try it while you are out here where no one can see you. Faith is meant to be based on knowledge. [17:26]


Abraham went out not knowing where he was going but he knew who was with him.  See?  That’s the way that works. David when he went out against Goliath acted in faith but as he explained to everyone standing around it was based on knowledge. He knew how this was done. He had practiced it and you remember he tells people, “This is not a big deal. I’ve been over this road before. I know how God works.” Faith environed in knowledge. Faith goes beyond knowledge but it’s based on knowledge and in the Institute, we want to really try to bring that all home and to give a solid foundation for working with Christ in our lives in the Kingdom of God and so we approach spiritual formation as a field of intellectual study. Now, this may worry you because it is contrary to our general Christian culture so I’ll say it again. We approach spiritual formation as a field of intellectual study.  We try to think about Jesus in a different way, for example. We try to think of Him as a person of knowledge who communicates knowledge of God. That’s what he said, in effect, “forget what you think you know about God and I will bring you to a knowledge of Him” and then of course that knowledge is interactive relationship in the Kingdom of God. So, His basic message, “Repent for the Kingdom of the Heavens –the Kingdom of God—is at hand” was the invitation to step into an interactive relationship where knowledge is provided on a basis of thought and experience. We may have to re-adjust our thinking about Jesus who is normally thought of as someone who is simply not in the game and think of Him has someone who brings knowledge of the basic questions of life. [20:25]


I’ve put on your sheet there—truth. Truth—a thought or statement is true if what it is about is as that thought or statement represents it because truth is involved in knowledge. That’s an important thing to keep in mind. [20:43]


You can believe and be wrong and that’s one reason why you need to bring your beliefs in conjunction with knowledge and knowledge hides you then in your exercise of belief and you are not closed-minded; you are open. You are not dogmatic. You welcome others to talk about anything and you point them to the sources of your knowledge and your faith and of course, God works that out.


So, these are important things to understand as we sort of go into our studies now and that’s why we have some unusual requirements for you in your reading and your writing. One might think that what we are asking you to do and have asked you to do here would be standard procedure for our churches and if it were, we would see an entirely different outcome but because so much of our work has to presuppose only profession, we don’t have many requirements. It’s a stunning thought to realize that you rarely ever have anything in a church that has a prerequisite. Have you ever thought about that? And, so, the idea is not progress but sort of going around in a circle. And then some people catch and begin to grow but by in large most people just sort of go around in that yearly circle and the preacher sometimes goes with them and plans the sermons for the year and all of that but not with the idea that the people I am speaking to this year are not in the same place as the people I spoke to last year. And that’s one of the things we lose when we lose the conception of the Christian way as a way of knowledge because knowledge is always progressive. It builds on what you already have; faith doesn’t. Now, if you add knowledge as the foundation for faith, then faith will progress and commitment will progress and profession will be loud and strong. [23:51]

So, that’s the thing we are keeping in mind as we go through these sessions together. We are building knowledge and the knowledge is tied to practice and so you will have Jan and Keith and Glandion will be leading you in various practices but always think of those in terms of knowledge—your coming to know and the interactive relationship—see, everything they will do is key to the interactive relationship and that’s the foundation for your knowledge. OK. [24:37]


Now, the important thing is always to center on God. [What is the title of that slide?] That slide is “Advice to a Son.” [Are all the slides in the book?] All of the slides are there for this session—there will be one or two for later. [First page of the notebook] It’s really the first page, I think. Yes, you’ve got it.


Now, everything turns on how we think about God. All of the troubles of humanity come from thinking about God wrongly.  That was the original temptation, wasn’t it? You remember how that story went? “Has God really said this?” And the idea was that God could not be trusted and that’s really the essence of all temptation.


Thinking about God—how we think about God is the big issue and that’s going to be tied to how we think about us; in particular, this idea of spirituality which we have to spend most of our time on in this first session. So, this is exertive (condensed from Chapter 18 of William Law’s Serious Call to a Devout and Holy Life. It is a father that is speaking to his son about going on in life and he says, “First of all, my child, think magnificently of God”—and that’s really the bottom line. Now, you have to have knowledge and he goes ahead and he has some things to put in the knowledge bucket. “Think magnificently of God, magnify His providence; adore His power; pray to Him frequently and incessantly.  Bear Him always in your mind.  Teach your thoughts to reverence Him in every place for there is no place where He is not.  Therefore, my child, fear and worship and love God; first and last, think magnificently of Him!” [27:34]


That is the challenge. You can put it in many ways but for example, the place of genuine worship is a place of complete safety from all temptation. Temptation to fear, temptation to take things into ones own hands in the various ways that we enumerate the particular sins that we might be drawn to but also not just to get away from sinning but to keep what is good and great before our minds because the task of human living is not just to avoid sinning and you might get that impression, I am afraid from what you often hear that actually that’s the subordinate task and it ceases to be a task if we take care of what is good and what is right. If you take care of what is good and what is right, all the other stuff will take care of itself. So, having God positioned before us in worship is the place of complete safety because we have everything in place when we do that. Everything is in its right place. [29:14]


Now, worship is an attitude, which we train ourselves to; it’s not the time in a service before the man or woman stands up to talk. Right? We have a real problem in our time and in many cases, you have people who have come to worship “worship,” except it wasn’t worship. Well, maybe it was but it’s not the whole thing by any means. Worship means to have God set before our minds in His proper perspective—to see Him as He is—to see Him as this statement suggests. When we do that, then who we are fits into place. We have the proper view of ourselves and because we then have that knowledge, we can teach others. [30:21]


So, now, let’s begin to talk a bit about this idea of spiritual formation and especially in contrast to Christian formation because the first thing we have to understand is that spiritual formation is not something that only happens with Christians. Spiritual formation happens to everyone.  Spiritual formation happens in games, for example—a person in a game has accepted a spiritual formation. It’s usually imposed on a lot of bad formation that went before that but everyone has a spiritual formation—a good one or a bad one or something in between.  Spiritual formation is the formation of your spirit into the character that you actually have. It’s the formation of your spirit into the character that you actually have.  So, now we have to really dig into this idea of spirit. [31:52]


Spirit, first of all, is generally understood to be something other than the physical, and that would include your thoughts, your choices, your feelings; none of that is physical, it is spiritual. In that sense, spiritual just means non-physical.


Now, you have to be careful with that because there is another use of spirit where it refers to the spirit of the human being and that is their heart or their will. That is what enables them to be creative; to initiate courses of events and conditions in the world and this is very, very important to understand because this is something that is integral to God’s creation of us. He created us to be creative beings and that creativity is the exercise of our will. Your will is your spirit. You have a spirit and you have a spiritual side, which is bigger than your will.


Of course, you have a body and that has to be integrated into that whole picture.  But, you are not your body. You are your experiences. Your experiences make up you. Now, your body is an important part of that. Your body is how you get injected into the world. I discovered America in Buffalo, Missouri on September 4th, 1935. I got inserted into the world. Well, you know in some cultures, they count conception as the beginning and that makes a lot of sense but in our culture, we generally treat birth as the beginning so I don’t think we need to finesse that just to say that our body is how we are inserted into the word. It’s how we get to be who we are. We take up our little place in time and space. God has called us into that period in His eternal work in creation and the ongoing history of the world. So, whenever you were born, it’s like you got introduced into the orchestra and you started playing and you contributed your part. [35:05]


Now, God has made it very important that our will be the executive center of our life. Now, later, we are going to spend some time going over this in a more systematic way. Right now, I am just interested in emphasizing the sense in which you are a spiritual being and the center of that is your will but you are much more than that. You are your thoughts. You are your perceptions and you treasure those so you go to places just to see things and then you take a picture or two and bring that home with you and you look at the picture. Why do you do that? Experience! You are cultivating your experiences and we feel that people who have not been able to cultivate their experiences have been deprived and they have and the whole issue of education, what is that about? See, that’s about enlarging your experiences, enriching yourself as a personality, right?


Now, as you grow, your will is meant to take greater direction over that and if you integrate your will under God, that will actually happen and your life will be a progression, as the movie goes, “From Here to Eternity.” The movie doesn’t quite make it to eternity. [Laughter] So, now, that’s really important for us to understand, folks because we are going to be talking about spiritual formation and when we talk about it, we are really talking about spiritual transformation because the formation has already happened and that’s usually the problem; it’s already happened. [37:29]


Now, transformation comes as we submit ourselves to Christ in His Kingdom and then He takes over the process of working with us as our thoughts, our choices, our habits, our bodily behaviors, our emotions, and all of that is changed. But, we have a part in that and the fact that it is the spirit of God that actually enables us must never mislead us into the idea that we are passive. In spiritual transformation, we are active. The key to formation in Christ is intelligent, informed activity in interaction with God through all of the instrumentalities that come with Him. That’s where of course we go into spiritual disciplines and how they work but let’s set that aside for the moment and just concentrate on understanding what spirit is.


So, where do you primarily experience spiritual reality and the answer is in yourself. That’s where you start. Your life is made up of experiences, not of matter and in that sense, you are a spiritual being. In many of our context of education especially, people really don’t want to talk that way because they sense that somehow this doesn’t do justice to the fact that we are embodied beings and I just acknowledge that because some of you may want to discuss that as you go along. Many of our seminaries and schools of education are very reticent to talk about spirituality and usually that turns out to be farmed out if it’s dealt with at all in some marginal program. Things are getting a little better but generally speaking, we think that training for a living and ministry is mainly cognitive and that, if you know your doctrine well and you know your Bible in some settings and some settings not, then that’s all you need. The saying that comes out of the Protestant reformation that the word of God is the only sacrament is practiced and it’s easier to have scholarship in areas of education that don’t involve a spiritual body. And so, there are a lot of things that I just want to acknowledge here and then to go back and insist, you are a spiritual being. You have a body and your body is a part of your identity and we will come back to discuss that later but your identity lies in your experiences. [41:15]


Now, that’s not true of God or angels but its true of me and its true of you. God does not have a body. He doesn’t seem to need one and that’s what we have to keep in mind when we try to think about God. Remember, John 4, Jesus is giving an extended lesson to a lady there and she’s trying to get Him in a theological controversy. “Well, you Jews usually say Jerusalem and we say here in Samaria. Which one is right?” Well, she was really trying to avoid what she sensed He was getting at which is who was she? Because He had already begun to work in some pretty dangerous territory so you know, when you are in that situation—it’s like we used to joke about it in graduate school; if you were in your examination—your oral exam—be sure to get the faculty arguing with one another. It will be smooth sailing. [Laughter] So, Jesus—some of the deepest teaching that He gave; He gave to this woman. It’s not difficult. It’s not in Samaria. God is spirit and He’s looking for those who will worship him in spirit and in truth. [43:22]


See, spirit and in the place of spirit, you can’t lie. You have to use your body to lie. Did you ever notice that? That’s why little children have a hard time lying. It’s because they haven’t learned how to use their body to hide. We like to say they are transparent and then when you get old enough you enter your second childhood and you don’t care what people think. God and Spirit—space, time; it doesn’t make any different to Him. He has some concessions to space and time for our benefit but we have bodies and then we bring our spiritual life—the experiences that we have—we bring that into our world and we are accessible in our world to our body. If someone wants to talk to you, they have to manage somehow to get to your body. That’s an important thing about who we are. God is not restrictive. Now, we have some say over our experiences and some direction if we are not totally “bombed out” and blasted by what has happened in our world, we have some power of directing our experiences and often, that is through directing our mind and what happens then, as we live as a spiritual being in our bodily world where God is accessible, but where we can also hide from God or we think we can. Actually, He hides from us because He wants to give us the option of hiding from Him and He’s so great that if He didn’t hide from us, we couldn’t hide from Him. So, He gives us these options because our will is what is most important to Him. It’s how our will is sent; what we truly want that matters to God. [45:48]


You may have been puzzled by the passage where Jesus’ students are asking, “Why do you teach in parables?” And He says something that can be quite puzzling. He says, “I teach in parables lest they hear and understand and be confirmed.” Well, you say, “For goodness sakes, isn’t that what we want?” I hope you will meditate on that passage in the Gospels because it goes very deep into how God looks at us and how He has made space for us. What was Jesus possibly talking about? He was talking about leaving space for those who don’t really want God—to avoid Him.


You remember that passage where He says, “Be careful how you hear because to the one that has, more will be given and to him that has not will be taken away even the little bit that they have.” You say, “God is mean.” No, He’s just making space for our will and the set of our will is the most important thing in God’s eyes. It lays a foundation for His work with us. The deepest question, you see is “What do you really want?” And the deepest answer is, “I would prefer to be God myself.” Thank you, and the visible world is so attractive because it gives the appearance that in this world human beings can do what they want and it’s just a question of details and progressively over time, human being can learn more and more and more. They start out just with their own physical strength and then they learn about things like wheels and fire and then they keep moving up that ladder until you have our world today. Pretty dangerous world, don’t you think? Terrorism as we know it today was not possible when we just had fire and wheels but when they’ve got airplanes and all kinds of explosives and someone—you see, now what is that? That’s the drive of the human will to be God. That’s what that is. [49:05]


Now, many people have heard a word. They have perhaps been approached by grace in ways that keeps them from wanting to be God but still that is the biggest choice that human beings make. Will I be God? Or is there someone better qualified to be God in my world? Deep question and it affects everything that we do in every trade in every family in every community. The real question is, “Will I let God be God?” or do I have someone else in mind for that job? [50:00]


Now, God acts on us and has access to our experience so He can say, “If with all your heart you truly seek me, you will surely find—no matter how far back in the race you start, no matter if the heart is there,” really, and to put it in a lovely way in many of the Old Testament passages—in 2 Chronicles it says, “They sought for God and He allowed Himself to be found by them.” Now, that’s the spiritual realm. It’s in your experiences and of course that comes through your body. If it is well directed, it will be a part of the seeking. God places many things around us as His witnesses—the Bible stands in the herd as kind of like a street address for God. The church—Israel was that for a long while. It was like the street address for God. If you wanted to know God, okay, go to Israel. That was still true in Jesus’ day but then when Jesus comes, He opens up a different door and that you will find that in Matthew 11:11-12 and Luke 16:16 when He says, “Until John the Baptist the law and the prophets were preached. But since then, the door has been thrown open and people of all kinds are rushing into the Kingdom.” That’s the spiritual side of our life where God and the spirit of man and the spiritual side of man comes together and that’s where the spiritual transformation begins is when that happens. [52:24]


Now, there are all kinds of spiritualties in our world today and it’s built into human beings to hunger for spirituality and all of the spiritualties in our world offer two things and one is identity. Who are you? And especially in a world like ours where there is such a huge population—so many things going on and individuals only deal with others through their cell phones and or now, it isn’t even that now; it’s twittering and texting and all of that sort of thing. People lose their identity because the human identity is meant to be built into their relationships to others and that’s because the fundamental issue is love. I don’t text myself but I wonder how loving you can be with texting without some kind of personal relationship underlying, of course but now they are doing lots of studies, especially on young people and how many people they are texting every day and how that shatters identity for them because they don’t really have much of a connection with anyone; at least, that’s not where they are living. So, spirituality looks for identity. Now, if you are a Satan worshipper or an Oprah worshipper or whatever, one of the key issues is, Who am I? Who am I? And human beings only know who they are in appropriate relationships with other people and of course that should begin in the family but often the family is broken and it doesn’t begin there and meaningful connection, especially for the little child when it’s born and comes into a family and if that is not—the connection is not made in an appropriate way—they simply won’t be able to mature. Many people—I was talking to someone as we were driving up and talking about the bonsai. I always feel very sorry for bonsai so I cannot enjoy them because I know many people who have been bonsai and one of the effects of the world we live in is that people do not establish the connections. Now, of course the church—the people of Christ is supposed to be a place where you can bring something in that has been bonsai and it starts to flourish and grow and that can be because of the power of God if it is surrendered to and cultivated but you know our churches have to be places where genuine relationships are established and redemption can flow in those relationships if that is going to happen. [56:12]


The second thing that people look for in the spirituality is power. Those two things—identity and power and in a world where people feel very deprived of those two things, then of course spirituality is on every corner. Right? Our universities have generally gotten rid of Christian knowledge and faith but every spirituality is welcome. That’s a part of the challenge we face as followers of Christ today is to deal with it—that we have a alternative system of knowledge. At least that’s what it claims to be and that alternative system says, “Well, Christians don’t work in that area of knowledge. They have faith and we welcome them at the table along with wicca and whatever else shows up and calls itself spirituality.” So about 15 to 20 years ago, spirituality began to come back into the centers of knowledge and that makes a huge difference. Now, how did it come? Because it offers you identity and it offers you power. Am I making any sense? [Yes] Okay. [57:49]


Now then, what does Christian transformation do in that context? Well, it offers identity and it offers power. Not because all of the others do too. All the others do that because that is the basic human need. Who am I? My identity is I am a disciple of Jesus. I am learning from Him how to live in the Kingdom of God and to live my actual life there as His apprentice. That’s me. That’s my identity and then power. Yes that’s there too. I am learning that; I am learning how to live in the power of God.


Now, back of all of this is the profound teaching about the nature of God. God IS spirit and He always has been that and He always will be that and spirit lives in community unless my God is a community. He is not lonely. People will sometimes ask me. What was God doing before He created the world as if somehow He didn’t have anything to do until He did that. I always reply, well, He was enjoying themselves. The Trinity was and is a wonderful community of persons enjoying one another, participating with one another in the things that they are doing and the great prayer in John 17, you remember, Jesus says, that “He is longing to receive back the glory I had with you before the world was” That’s John 17:5. John 17:23, “You did love me before the foundation of the world.” Now as best we can tell I guess, the foundation of the world goes back about 14 billion years or something like that or—a few million years one way or the other wouldn’t really matter I think—but what has been and will always be as the foundation of all reality is the Trinitarian God and this God has glory flowing out of Him and between the parts of the Trinity and glory becomes a tremendous way of describing, not only God but His people. So, you have to think about yourself in that respect and what is your glory? And, are you actually glorious already? [1:01:37]


Jesus, in Matthew 13, takes a line out of Daniel where He says, “Then shall the righteous shine like the sun in the Kingdom of their Father.” That’s your future. Now, it’s hidden now because obviously you couldn’t go around like that, right? You would scare the dogs and the horses. Jesus didn’t go around like that, but you remember, for a very brief while on the Mount of Transfiguration He appeared in His real dress, if you wish and we are told by Paul in Colossians 3 that “we are different and our life is hid with Christ in God.” God is hid; Christ is hid; we are hid. Again, that’s a part of God’s strategy for allowing us to have choice and others to decide what they want but then Paul says “When Christ who is our life shall appear, then you will also appear” and the translators have a lot of trouble with this—“you will appear glorious.” That’s actually what it says.  You will come out of hiding. Now, the Trinity is a glorious community in which the God who IS forever and will be forever and who controls all things ultimately and HAS a good outcome in mind for human history; that God now exists and is working and we are a part of His life and His world. [1:03:58]


Now when spiritual formation then takes place, it is a process on becoming like Him. Our reality is spiritual. We are united with Christ and through Christ with God. We are never separated. Nothing can come between us. God is completely adequate to everything that we think and need—completely adequate—and when we live in the Kingdom of God, this world is a perfectly safe place for us to be because He is with us. Nothing can separate us from the love of God. Now, that flow of experience that makes up our lives is a place where we can be with the flow of experience that is God’s life and as we learn to surrender and submit and to seek and as we grow then increasingly, we realize the complete adequacy of God.


Now that’s where Eve and Adam slipped up, you see? Their basic problem was they did not count on the adequacy of God and if you get into asking deep questions as to why God let things happen the way He did, well, I think you want to suppose that He has something even better in mind than innocence. There are some suggestions that the world of God is one that was not understood by, not only Adam and Eve, but whoever else was around and there is a wonderful statement here in Ephesians 3:10, I think it is where Paul says that, verse 8 and following, “to me the very least of all saints that grace was given to preach to the Gentiles the unfathomable riches of Christ and to bring to light what is the administration of the mystery which for ages has been hidden in God who created all things.” Verse 10 now “in order that the manifold wisdom of God might now be made known through the church to the rulers and the authorities in the Heavenly places.” In other words, the universe if you wish did not understand God and will come to understand the manifold wisdom of God through the reality of the church. Now, sometimes the way we’ve made the image we have of the church might leave us wondering about that but we have to understand that the church is the outcome of human history. What is God doing? What does God get out of human history? At least, a part of what He gets out of it is the church and the church is the manifestation of the character of God and it has a cosmic role. You are a part of that and that’s a part of what your life is about to be a part of it. And then we say to other people, “Hey, aren’t you worried about missing out on the most important thing that is happening in your lifetime?”
And then of course they might say to us “Well what’s that?” And we would say back to them, “It’s what God is doing in your life today.” [1:08:57]


It’s the people of God that come out of human history that God is after. The meaning of our lives as spiritual beings is to fit into the life that God is living. It’s to be a part of the Trinitarian community in its extensions. I don’t know how big that is. As far as I hear, the physical universe is still expanding and you think theologically about it and you might well say, “Well, what does God have in mind with all of that? Will it ever stop?” That brings us back to the nature of God again and it challenges us to think about God and what is He doing and why He created and why He redeems, see.


Now, the idea that God is love gives you some insight into that because love wants to create as much “good” as possible. That’s what characterizes love. Love acts for what is good and when the Scriptures in Genesis talks about it, several times, He says, “it was good.” It was good and that’s what God is doing in human history. Perhaps you could say that He is striving to create as much good as possible and that one of the things that is involved in Him doing that is to call human beings into that same process so that they are not just created but they are actually creators of good. So, we are called into the same work that God is doing and you will remember the emphasis that Paul repeatedly puts on that, especially in his last we letters about doing as much good as possible. “Be not weary in well doing.” There is a great temptation to be weary in well doing; especially for folks in what we call full time Christian service, right? Strange phrase but there it is. Like, you know, the rest of them are in part time service. [Laughter] So, that spiritual reality now which we are called into and which we step into in Christian spiritual transformation is actually a cosmic process. We are stepping into the work that God is doing by His invitation and we live in that grace by interacting with Him in that process. As a result of that, we are transformed. We find out who we are. We find out what the power is in which we work. Christ invites us into that. We learn from Him. We step into the Kingdom of God and we begin to act with Him so what is salvation then? I want to just conclude this session by talking about that a little bit and then we can come back and spend more time on it. [1:13:02]


Because in the process of spiritual transformation as we know it in our fellowships and in our world today, the greatest barrier is the misunderstanding of salvation and we can put that very simply. What does salvation have to do with spiritual formation? And what does spiritual formation have to do with salvation? Ok, now, I want to be very slow and deliberate here in trying to involve you as deeply as possible into this issue because the prevailing barriers that we face in our churches, in our seminaries and in our culture is that you can be saved and not have any transformation at all—that being saved is a matter of a transaction between you and God and you get that settled and then, you know, you are all “signed up and ready to go.” I don’t know what you are going to do before you go but you are ready to go, okay? So, some patterns of witnessing, as you may know asked a person, “What would happen to you if you died tonight?” And it leaves unanswered the question, “What will happen to you if you don’t die tonight?” [Laughter] What’s that going to be like? Well, most people are not going to die tonight; some are and being ready to die is really a big deal because you are going to be, from the human point of view, dead a lot longer than you are going to be alive for sure. But, the real question is, “What is the connection between what will happen to me if I don’t die tonight and what will happen to me if I do? And the problem is that the theology that is a property, if you wish, the soteriology is one that says, “Being saved has nothing to do with transformation.” And that’s where we get a culture that does not emphasize discipleship because the way things are thought about, discipleship; you can be saved without being a disciple. So, you get saved and that means your sins are forgiven and there won’t be able to find any reason to keep you out of Heaven so they will have to let you in because they’ve got nothing against you. But as far as you becoming Christ-like, being ready for Heaven if you get there, it’s not a part of what we present as a basis for decision and learning that comes out of that decision and so, Christian spiritual transformation does not routinely move along in the way you would expect it to if you simply read the New Testament. If you just read that, you would think, well, that’s what people do. They just grow and become different. They become people for whom 1 Corinthians 13 is how they live. [1:17:07]


OK; let’s take a few minutes for questions now. I talked sort of non-stop this time and I hope by the later sessions, you’ll feel more comfortable in coming by, but this issue of who we are and what is spirit and how it relates to spiritual transformation is something we really need to come to grips with. Anyone?


Q: You said that our lives—our identity is based on your experiences? So would you say that relationships are the primary experiences?

A: I think if you just reflect on the experiences that count, that’s what you would come up with. That’s why love is so central.


Q: How would you answer criticism from a Christian pastor who says that all of this is dualistic? [1:18:10]

A: And this is a very familiar thing and it comes out of seminary training by in large, which is built up. I would just say well, the question is not if it is dualistic but is it realistic? That’s what I would say and then we would have a discussion, right? See, it has become part of intellectual self righteousness to insist upon the fact that dualism is bad and so you have to go into that and acquire about it and of course, the scriptural view of the person is holistic and the point of the dualism objection is often to get rid of the spiritual and so those are things one needs to work into and that’s a very deep issue, very deep.

We are going to talk more about the body later but that needs to be said upfront and I would sort of just suggested that if I went into it because I get that or deal with that very often. And of course in my context, it’s very often, “Well you are just your brain, right?” and there are some person with a huge government grant that knows that that’s true. So, that’s the way we have to go. [1:19:49]


Q: What was the verse of scripture you refereed to about when Jesus was telling the parables and he said, “so that you won’t be converted……..”

A: That is Matthew 13:13. Thank you—verses 10 and following. OK? And this is really important to understand that teaching and that comes up again in verse 34 because the human tendency is to think that if you are going to teach you would just make everything blaringly clear. We teach people now at the universities how to write clearly and how to write even if you don’t have anything to say, you can still write because there is this tremendous hunger for stuff to be said but Jesus doesn’t assume that. Jesus assumes that the response to teaching is to seek.


Q: I’ve always pondered that “worship in spirit and in truth” and I feel like it’s beginning to change because I was always—I’ve got the spirit but the truth thing is like what you said so if knowledge is interactive relationship then truth is that we are interactively relating to Christ who is word and truth.

A: That’s how we gain truth; that’s right and of course you know, He’s always emphasizing truth—the spirit in truth and all of that. You will know the truth if you are his disciple. The truth will set you free. How does the truth set you free? –By enabling you to deal with reality.


Comment:  So there’s that quality of illumination that we can’t really connect the spiritual truth except through Him?

A: Well, truth doesn’t set you free. See, Jesus didn’t say that. He said, “If you live in my Word” and that means if you put in into practice, “then you are my students indeed and you will know the truth and the truth will set you free.” Truth without grace makes you flee and become defensive. Try to secure yourselves and grace has to slip in and that’s why Paul says to Timothy that the church is the pillar and the ground of the (purpose?).


Q: We may cover this later but when we talk about salvation. Talk about being saved— you can be saved without being transformed and you can still get into heaven (which I do believe that) but talk about that in relationship to the scripture where Jesus says, “You even cast out demons in my name and said, “Lord, Lord but it’s going to take more than that.”

A: Well, you remember what He said it would take? “Doing the Will of the Father.” Now, I think that that means as a disciple, learning how and actually then coming to do what he said…….

Comment: Yeah, but its says, “I will say, ‘Depart from me, I never knew you.’ ”

Dallas: Well, exercising the power of God does not indicate that a person has got it made; seems to me to be the plain teaching and we in our thinking are apt to think well, if someone is exercising the power of God and certainly God has forgiven them and they are right with Him but apparently there is something deeper than the power and I would say there is character. Now, you see, there is an issue other than just making it into Heaven which is would you be comfortable if you got there? Would it be a good place for you to be? And I think that’s what He is talking about. My own belief is that God does not actually send anyone to hell but He allows them to go there if they wish and some people will find that more comfortable than Heaven. Now, don’t make a book out of that. [Laughter] But I also describe hell as God’s best for some people. [1:25:26]

Comment: The Great Divorce

Dallas: Well, The Great Divorce is a wonderful depiction of what that might look like in detail.


Q: This thing that you always say about identity in relationship and how important it is, I struggle with mental illness, not myself but I have a daughter who is autistic and so I struggle with the evolution of this sort of illness and, why God would you make someone who has no capacity over what she chooses and it is heartbreaking to see, not just for my own family but for the person.

A: Actually, as you no doubt know, it seems to be something that is on the increase. Not just autism but if you just consider the people who are paralyzed by depression and other forms of afflictions of that sort and I wish I –I’m not sure I want to know but sometimes at least I think I would like to know why that is. I think that for my part I want to try to minister to those by my presence, by my words and by the spirit that I am in contact with and I really would encourage anyone who is in close relationship to someone to do their best to learn how to effectively pray for the individuals and not to suggest that you haven’t already done that but this is a wrenching problem and that’s the only response I know for it. [1:33:20]


Q: Every time I read that verse you quoted in Ephesians about the church being full of the wisdom of God, I have to stop and repent because I have a hard time believing that my experience of the church and I am part of the church and that’s one of the things that but I just always have wondered, really God? Did the translators miss that one somehow?


Dallas: Well, this is where we really need to think about the hiddenness of the church and it will help you, I am sure in this room. Everyone has read Lewis’ sermon on the Weight of Glory and what he has to say about who these people are, you know. He also has some lovely things in Screwtape Letters about this and the church, if you look at it in one way is pretty grinding but that’s where we need to remember that God’s Word in calling a people out of human history is going on and so, I think we need to make a conscious effort to try to think about people in that way.


Last Question: I want to go back to something you’ve said earlier about first of all, think magnificently of God, my question is—How can a person get to a place where they think magnificently of God if they feel like He has abandoned them or hurt them. There is a person in my congregation that feels that way and you can’t even get that close……

Dallas: Well, that requires a long discussion but in general, you have to try to help people in that condition to stop thinking about themselves. Their problem is that they are trying to see God through themselves. They need to learn to see themselves through God and that involves a lot of things including what they are hearing from the pulpit, what they’ve been taught, what their future is, who they are—we will use the language here eventually on, “I am an unceasing spiritual being with an eternal destiny in God’s great universe.” Seeing God and seeing ourselves comes in the same package. So, In particular, you have to know that person well enough to try to identify the things, the thoughts, the emotions, the interpretations of things that have happened in their lives and you can then possibly, if they are willing, put that in a different perspective by bringing before them who God is and what He says. [1:30:58]

Comment: That’s really hard for them because he was…..


Dallas: It is hard. I don’t mean to question that at all. It is not only hard but in some cases it would be humanly impossible..

Comment: That’s how I feel. I just wasn’t sure how to accomplish that….

Dallas: Well, we have to be very careful about our own lamentations and respect them and if we don’t, as minsters, I think you are apt to just be crushed. You are in a battle and there are many factors in that when you are dealing with a person who has been caught and crushed in the middle of their battle. Now, being with them prayerfully, thoughtfully, not trying to fix them, not trying to minister to them, I think has some hope because then you will be working in the power of God but it requires careful attention, thoughtful reflection, study, prayer for that person and I know that sometimes they can be helped.  I think we better break.

Listen to all parts in this Renovaré Institute: Atlanta Cohort series