Q & A with Jan Johnson

Dallas Willard Part 11 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.


Dallas: Here we go again!


Q: I have been wanting to ask you this for a long time because you have been misrepresented in a certain circle. I have a friend who wrote his dissertation about the idea that when we make “character” formation the focus of our attention—and I think his big idea is the focus of our attention—is that we are really making ourselves and our progress, in the process the focus. Then the focus is on “how am I doing” and there’s that constant turning the “eyeballs” back on myself and in effect that—well, one of the phrases I like to use is—that “I become the star of my spirituality” instead of God assuming that He—wherein in his dissertation that he believed—that the primary focus of the attention is the desire throughout the formation process is to be an ever deepening union with God so I am always showing him where you talk abut the deep union with God and of course, you talk a lot about Paul’s phrase “in Christ.” Would you just kind of address that tension of what is the focus of our attention? [1:19]


Dallas: Well, the focus of our attention should be God and Christ as the doorway. That’s what the focus of our attention. Now, what’s the next step? See, that’s the question. What does that mean? You roll your eyeballs on God or what? Is there something wrong with that? The question is how do you do it? And that’s where, in my experience, people who say that kind of thing simply don’t have an answer. They may say, “Well, find a church, go to church, read the Bible or something of that sort but it’s simply a question of how you do it. If they’ve got a way of doing it that leads to Christlikeness in their whole character and life, that’s it. They don’t need anything else.


Comment: He went on to say that the character transformation would be as natural as salt. Now, I am thinking that you would say, “Well, yeah but there is and the Holy Spirit is at the top of the Golden Triangle, but there is effort that God invites us into.


Dallas: And He invites us to obey Him, right? Again, the only question is how do you do that? And if you are satisfied with what you’ve got, then you don’t need anything else. Now this individual should look at the churches where they practice what he is preaching and ask himself, are we getting the result? There’s nothing to say beyond that. If you are getting the result that you believe should come out of the Christian life, you don’t need anything else and such a person needs to look honestly at the result. [3:18]


Now, his character is going to be formed and it will be formed by something and so there is the further question, what would he like to form it if he is not going to pay attention to it. How would he like to form it? How is it formed?


One of the greatest confusions is well if you don’t do what we are talking about here then you are not engaged in spiritual formation. You are engaged in spiritual formation. You do that all the time. It’s just a question of how you do it and what actually happens is people are likely to find a way that leads to inaction or into action that falls into certain accepted categories. So, really, the response to this is simply, “Well, pay attention to what is happening and if you like what you’ve got, then there is no burden to change it. [4:26]


Comment: One of the things you’ve said that has been really helpful to me over the years is when you talk about Romans 8, you will often substitute for the word “flesh,” you will substitute “natural capabilities” and I didn’t hear that quite as much this time. It’s been a huge help to me because I can tell when I am doing something if I am living in terms of my natural capabilities or if I am living in terms of the Spirit and it’s been a huge help to me. I have several directees that are Associate Pastors of large churches where really the whole thing there is excellence. Everything there has to be done with excellence. So, I mess with that! [Laughter] I’ll say, “Well, okay but at what point is all that excellence living in terms of my natural capabilities versus living in terms of the spirit? Would you just roll that out like you often do because that’s just been so helpful to me. [5:30]


Dallas: Well, God, more or less I mean to say watches us to see if we need Him or we think we need Him and if we think that we have it in charge, then I believe His practice is to let us have that and we can define like I really think it’s not difficult to know how you build a church that is regarded as successful. You have to know what to do. You have to have a certain personality and appearance and then you can attract people and raise funds and all of that. Now, is God involved in that? Well, could be, you know? But along with a big successful church in terms that are easily recognized but then again, you look at what comes out of the end of the pipe. What is happening with the people? What is happening especially to the staff? How is their life going?


Then you may begin to see that they are basically excellent people who are doing an excellent job and getting an excellent result. Of course, that’s better than some other alternatives. [Laughter] So, I think you look to see—and I would say, in Biblical terms, you have people coming out at the end of the pipe who are comfortable in the Sermon on the Mount and comfortable with 1 Corinthians 13 and so on. They say, “Yea, this is what is happening in my life and if that’s there, then I would say that’s the work of God because I don’t think human identities can produce that. If that’s not there, well, then I would say the success we are having as good as it may look and be is not the success that is had in mind by God, by Jesus, by the Bible, by the movements of the church at its best in the ages and perhaps we should make a place for God’s action in what we are doing. [8:10]


You know, I always say, “We do our best but we don’t trust our best” and that is the key. We don’t want to be shabby but what we can produce in terms of our natural abilities will always fall far short of what God has in mind. And what God has in mind for us is actually, I believe, building roots of people of such transformed character and power that the larger community cannot remain the same. It cannot be any different though. It cannot run their business in the same way because for example, they have been poised to not do what is right.


That of course is something that has huge implications for our communities, our towns, our businesses, our schools and so on so that’s sort of how I would look at it. Of course, there is a group of people who can talk about Abraham and Hagar and Jacob and Sarah—all sorts of illustrations in the scriptures—and the language of God with this and all of them. It’s the blessing of Abraham, which was “God was with him in everything he did.” That was the blessing of Abraham. It made him scary as I mentioned and his neighbors didn’t know actually what to do with him but they decided they better get with him because he was dangerous. And it was because God was with him because he was being blessed. That blessing of Abraham is supposed to come through us as followers of Christ. Galatians 3:13 says that same thing so you look at the result basically—short answer—look at the result. If the result is what you believe should be there, then do what you are doing. [10:13]


Q: Can I ask a quick question?  [This lady is in charge.] [Laughter] The NIV translates “flesh” as “sinful nature.”


Dallas: Yes, it does but unfortunately. it isn’t a translation. It’s their idea of something. [10:31]


Comment: So, you don’t……


Dallas: Flesh does not mean sinful nature. Flesh is not bad. The spirit will be poured out upon all flesh. David said, “My heart and my flesh cry out.” Flesh is not bad but you see, there is a theology here—a very pervasive theology and you have to watch the translations because very often it doesn’t fit the theology. They just more or less say, let me print what I think and who cares what they think? [11:03]


One of the versions I have used most is the New American Standard and it’s one of the worst offenders of this. You take Colossians 3:5 and take it and look at the Greek and look at what they do to it. They don’t know what to do with mortification. They just think up something. One of the good things about it is that they tend to put it in italics, though they don’t in that case.


I was speaking somewhere—I guess at Westmont’s Chapel and Romans 5 talks about how if we are saved from sin and guilt, by the death of Christ, how He will save us from wrath by His life. Now, that version slips in there the wrath of God. It doesn’t say that. It says wrath. Our wrath! The wrath of others! We are children of wrath! A difficult way of speaking is, you are a child of something if you are like that. Jesus nicknamed John and James the “sons of thunder” because they were always thundering. “We are children of wrath,” Paul says, “because we have that nature and his life saves us from wrath.” Well, that’s wonderful news. There you have it—a certain theological cast. You can’t say that so you have to say, “God’s wrath,” and supposedly you can keep yours. [Laughter] [13:04]


Q: I wonder if you could elaborate on Page 320 of The Divine Conspiracy in referring to Galatians 2:16-20. You have made a very intriguing comment there.


Dallas: You will have to remind me of it. [Laughter]


Comment: “As His apprentices, we pass through a course of training from having faith in Christ to having the faith of Christ (Galatians 2:16-20)” and I said, “How do you do that?” [13:40]


Dallas: Well, the obvious is you look at the Greek. Understand that faith in Christ is very different from having the faith of Christ. You come to believe what Christ believed. That’s having the faith of Christ and it’s really transforming. Now, faith in Christ is probably where it will have to start. That’s good but don’t stay there! Go on! And come to a place where by grace and nature, you now believe the things Jesus believed.


Many people don’t think that Jesus had faith. He’s a kind of magical person and all of that but He actually believed in the Kingdom of God. He believed the stuff He taught so when we come to believe what He believed, then our lives will be growing steadily into conformity with His life. [14:48]


Jan: Jim, there’s a book called Timeless Cruci-formity and I can’t remember the author. He takes those two phrases and just does all kinds of great stuff with them and that really showed me the difference between faith “in” Christ and faith “of” Christ. He shows why the translation would be “as good or better” if it was faith “of” in case you really want to delve into that.


Dallas: I think this is a case where James translates it that way.


Q: What was the name of that book?


Jan: Timeless Cruci-formity. I wanted to ask you—one of the statements that is in The Divine Conspiracy that took me awhile to understand was when you said, “the fires of Heaven would be hotter than the fires of hell,” and so you are talking there about a refining process and you’ve made me wonder over the years because it seems like you talk to people and they don’t care about transformation because they seem to feel like, “Oh, I’ll get to Heaven and God will make me perfect and everything will be wonderful,” and yet I keep thinking about The Great Divorce and putting that together with the things you’ve said so would you comment on that? What happens with these fires of Heaven? [16:10]


Dallas: Well, if you have been living eternally, you are now a part of that and so you are comfortable with the “fires of Heaven” which reach their apex in God. [Comfortable with?] Yea, comfortable in the fires of Heaven because you are not opposed to what is going on in Heaven.


Mainly, in Heaven, God gets to be God. You don’t get to be God and you know that little saying in Alcoholics Anonymous, “not God.” If you haven’t got that worked out very well so that you now have been investing in stuff that will stand the fire, as Paul in 1 Corinthians 3 is talking about—you know, that you “build your foundation on Christ. Now then the question is what are you going to try to put on that and so that will be tried by fire and if it’s wood, hay and stubble, it will burn up and if it’s gold, silver and precious stones, it will hold up in the fire.” So, it’s what your life has become now. [17:46]


One of the interesting things about that passage in 1 Corinthians 3 is Paul thinks there will be a lot of people who will come through smelling like smoke but they will get through. They will be saved “though as by the fire” but their life will be lost because it was hay and stubble. That’s why we want to think of eternal life in terms of eternal living. Eternal living means that what we are doing is a part of what nobody is doing.


Jan: OK, go back to when you said, “but their life will be lost.”


Dallas: it will be burnt—in other words, what they have invested in, in their life will not survive the fires. It can’t come near to God.


Q: So, what will be left of their lives?


Dallas: Well, I think it’s a matter of degree. That’s a very fascinating passage and this is one of the things you are apt not to hear talked about much and that is the issue of rewards is one way of putting it—because Paul says we will all stand before the judgment seat of Christ. It isn’t like if we are not going to go to Hell, everything is saved. You lose your investment in the flesh. That’s a part of your life and you take your life with you before God and as you draw near to God, the stuff that is just flesh will disappear. [19:23]


Jan: But the people you’ve invested in, that’s what survives?


Dallas: I think so. I think that’s a part of what—“you lay up your treasures in Heaven” as Jesus says. Probably that’s people—they’re the only thing, I guess that’s going there—so you invest in people and that is something that is a treasure and that fits in with the whole picture of love and community and so on.


Jan: Ok now, connect that with what you often say about Heaven and Hell when you say, “God’s going to let everybody in Heaven who can possibly stand it.” OK….


Dallas: Right, and I think that that is—I don’t think God is trying to keep people out of Heaven—many people have that picture that He is standing there with His foot against the door. [Laughter] I think He is standing there with the door wide open saying, “Come on in! Come on in!” But some people get where they realize what’s going on and they say, “I don’t really want to go there.” And God says, “Ok.”


Jan: And that’s the picture that is in The Great Divorce.


Dallas: Well, it is and we need various ways of putting it and one way that I like to put it is that, “Hell is God’s best for some people.”


Q: Given the fact that the Bible doesn’t have much to say about life after this life, how do you create a vision of that?  [Of death?] No, of life after this life. [21:08]


Dallas: Oh, well, reigning! We are going to be reigning—not singing—reigning! Now, how do I get that? Well, I start at Genesis 1:26 and go to Revelation 5:25 and fill in the gaps. It’s all about what are we here for and that’s what your future is. Now, I don’t know all of the details about that but I believe it would be productive.


Jan: And you usually bring in the “ruling the five cities” passage.


Dallas: Yes, and I mean there is a whole lot to do there. Keith, do you have The Divine Conspiracy there with that sentence that I use at the end? [I don’t. I know where it is.] [I have it.] You have that sentence? [Around 394 or 395?] Yes, it’s right around there where I try to describe this. [Do you want the book?] Yes, can I see if I can find it? I tried to actually—this last chapter in The Divine Conspiracy attempts to say, “What the “wind up” going to be?


Q: So, when you are talking about the “wind up,” are you talking about like—do you not make such a big distinction between the intermediate state and the final resurrection? [22:30]


Dallas: I don’t; no. [OK] And the reason I don’t, for example is Jesus said to the guy, “Today you will be with me in Paradise.” Paradise is not later; it’s a business now. Right? Now, I know there is a whole lot of stuff and some people better than I don’t say those things but listen to this, “Thus we should not think of ourselves as destined to be celestial bureaucrats, involved eternally in celestial ‘administrivia.’ That would be only slightly better than being caught in an everlasting church service. [Laughter] No, we should think of our destiny as being absorbed in a tremendously creative team effort, with unimaginably splendid leadership, on an inconceivably vast plane of activity with ever more comprehensive cycles of productivity and enjoyment. This is the ‘eye have not seen, neither ear heard’ that lies before us in the prophetic vision.”(Isaiah 64:4)


And the next to the last paragraph on page 400 – “Repose? Yes!” I am referring to St. Augustine’s’ wonderful statements about the City of God. “Repose, yes. But not as quiescence passivity, eternal fixity. It is, instead peace as wholeness, as fullness of function, as the restful but unending creativity involved in a cosmos-wide, cooperative pursuit of a created order than continuously approaches but never reaches the limitless goodness and greatness of the Triune personality of God, its source.” There you are! [Amen!] [24:29]


Q: So, this is what is going on that we don’t perceive with people who have already died?


Dallas: I think so. Paul says, “To be absent from the body is to be present with the Lord.” Now, you can imagine that’s sleeping in His arms or however you want to do that. He actually said that He is preparing a place for us. I don’t read that as “I am fixing you a bed.” [Laughter]


Now you might look at those sentences. You know, you can do some things with long sentences and big words that you can’t do with anything else. Maybe inspired by old what’s his name? Faulkner, right? You can’t do everything with any kind of language. You have to have language that is capable of “piling up”—like Faulkner writes sentences that are a page and a half long. Hemingway can’t do that and you can’t get Faulkner out of Hemingway.


So, that’s a part of what we have to think about as we are presenting this.


Q: I can slowly embrace full discipleship, investing in all of those works in Christ—being tried by fire or works not being in Christ and Heaven—I cannot get my head around how is God’s best for anybody?


Dallas: Which one?


Comment: How is hell God’s best for anybody? I cannot—I mean, how could hell be God’s best?


Dallas: Well, because God is limited by the will of people and He will not override them. [26:34]


Comment: He might not override their will but it doesn’t—that whole word best. I have best in mind for my children. They might not choose it but it doesn’t mean that what they are doing is best or best for them. I don’t know. I cannot get my head around that statement. What about…….


Dallas: You know, I sympathize with that. It’s not easy.


Comment: And the work of the church to snatch; I mean, that’s Jude. Do what you have to do. Snatch people from that.


Dallas: It’s not a good thing. It’s a bad thing. [Bad “best” thing?] Best can be bad. Best is comparative.


Comment: So, it would be the worst thing?


Dallas: Well, I have a hard time getting my mind around that. [Laughter] Really. See, many people do think that hell is the worst thing that God can do and that He does it because it’s the worst thing He can do.


Now, you know, I just think—and I really sympathize with what you are saying. This is just very difficult to think about.


Comment: And it’s a never ending—no bridge. No more bridge. No more time for a bridge however you want to— [28:02]


Dallas: But suppose He has a bridge but no one is willing to cross it? Now, I understand this is really tough theology. It really is tough and the reason why I address it is because we have come to the point of where almost no one can make any sense out of Heaven or Hell. So, we need to think about it and now many people, like this book of Rob Bell’s—see, he is trying to coming to grips with this issue and think about what is going on here and there is the temptation to think that God’s best would be that everyone makes it in and that’s why universalism is such a tempting position for many people today.


My own view is that God has created us in a way with a will that He will not override. He still does the best He can for everyone and that’s why I say that the fires of Heaven would be hotter than the fires of Hell because God is the “big fire.” Now, He doesn’t need to do that because He wants to burn people; it’s just that that’s who He is. So, now if you don’t like God, you don’t want to go to Heaven because—I mean He allows us to avoid Him now to some degree but He’s the big deal in Heaven. I heard someone say the other day, “If you don’t enjoy worship, you don’t want to go to heaven.” [30:00]


Jan:  JoAnn, I think for me one of the things that helps me understand what he is saying is the chapter in the Renovation of the Heart on the will and the idea that the will and choices you make are what make you, “you” and God’s tremendous respect for that is the unwillingness to override that. Now, I think especially having adult children who make interesting decisions—and I stay 20 miles away for overriding their will—but that chapter really helped me see God’s tremendous respect for each person and the choices that they make.


JoAnn: None of that do I have any issue with. That I embrace fully but the idea of it being God’s best just–honestly, just in my spirit—it’s like, “ugh. No! That cannot be the case.” I don’t think God sends us to hell. I do believe we choose it. I just do not understand how hell could be—anyway. [31:21]


Dallas: Remember that the best is not always good. You are dealing with comparatives here and we say for example, “making the best of a bad situation.” That may not be very good. It’s comparative and so, that may help us a little bit.


JoAnn: I’ll work on it. I’ll work on it.


Dallas: Well, I mean, the best is not always good.


Q: I don’t know if this is a good analogy but it’s something that came to me. Maybe a way to think of it would be, and no offense to you but if you didn’t like Dallas Willard, would you want to go on an internal Renovare retreat with Dallas Willard? [Laughter]


Dallas: No, that’s appropriate. That’s a good way to think about it and you have to believe that God is like that. He doesn’t want to come to a party that He is not invited to. I think that’s just the nature of personality. It’s the nature of will. It’s just the whole picture.


Q: What always helps me with that is to remember that when Jesus looked out over Jerusalem, He wept. God really grieves for what happens to us.


Dallas: I think He grieves over Hell. He doesn’t want anyone to go there.


Comment: In light of JoAnn’s question since we are on this, I just wanted to ask you about your thoughts about the possibility of the cessation of existence?


Q: What was the question?


Jan: The possibility of cessation of existence?


Comment: Can I make a comment before you leave this topic? [This is the topic.] I know but I just wanted to make a comment on the analogy part. [OK] I told you about my headaches the other day but for me, light hurts so when I am in the presence of light, it’s painful so the best place for me is away from the presence of bright light and so in the presence of God, it will hurt. It would be painful there and so I think maybe a choice that’s best for that person would also be a place away from God.  [Wow! That’s good!]


Jan: Now, the cessation of existence!


Dallas: Well, everything that exists is upheld by God and anything that is not held into existence by God will stop existing.


Comment: Say that one more time.


Dallas: The picture—at least the Biblical picture—is that everything that exists is held in existence by God so now coming as close as I can to what I think the point is, people in hell are held in existence by God and so then someone might say, “God’s best for some people would be that they don’t exist.” That’s a familiar theological position. [35:11]


Q: But it’s not your position? [I’m sorry?] But it’s not your position?


Dallas: Well, you know and in this whole area, I hope you are not trying to make a theology out of the things I say but I think that human personality is of such value that God holds it in existence because even the person away from G d is something of great value. I think that’s—again, that’s the nature of personality.


Now some people, they don’t want to put their dog to sleep because they value the dog and if they could, they would keep that dog in existence. Some people think dogs are of greater value than people so these are questions that come up. [36:14]


Now, it’s like this is mild related to the issue of putting people out of their misery. If you think that pain is bad enough, then you will be prepared to put people out of their misery because of their pain. I’m not saying that’s wrong. I’m just saying that’s the way you think about it. If you think that the person is operant value, you may think that it is the right choice not to eliminate them and so, that’s the kind of choice we make here.


Does God stop loving people who are in Hell? I don’t think so. Again, you may need to try that on a little bit because the picture so often is, “Well, He just hates them” and He’s got them down there on a rotisserie. The Devil is punching them. [37:24]


Q: Do you think people can change their mind in Hell and cross that bridge?


Dallas: I think they could but I don’t think they will. Now again, please don’t try to make a theology out of this. I am just trying to suggest some ways of thinking about this that might help us deal with what is a really horrendous issue. I don’t like hell. I don’t like death. I don’t like old age. Nobody asked me [Laughter] and you know, I wouldn’t really probably know what to say if they did but I don’t like it. I really don’t like it. I wouldn’t want anyone to go to hell. I am not sure I would want to room with some of them in Heaven. Maybe I would get better or Brother Hitler and I would hit it off. [38:19]


Jan: Now, since you’ve just said that—see, I’ve always wondered if—I somehow sometimes get the impression that you think transformation continues in Heaven but what you just said might be better.


Dallas: Yes, I think growth occurs in Heaven. I don’t think it ever stops. [A little bit more!] We become more creative, more competent, more knowledgeable as the ages roll and I think that’s one reason why the physical universe is so big is because its space will be occupied by people who are living in God and beauty, truth, and goodness will continue to expand. [39:11]


Jan: So, you are talking about expanding the compassions. What about the expansion of character?


Dallas: Yes, I don’t think you will tell less lies. Some things you get past. After all, the main thing is not just avoiding what’s wrong; it’s doing what’s good. That’s what is really important and in that, I think we’ve grown. Like your best day at work probably is more like what Heaven will be than anything else.


Jan: Oh, that’s good!


Q: What did you say about lying?


Dallas: I said we don’t progressively tell less lies [In Heaven?] in Heaven because we are past that. [Oh, okay.]


Jan: So, in the thinking of people who say, “It really doesn’t mater what I do here because when I get to Heaven, I’ll go through the car wash.”


Dallas: Well, um, there is something to that. I do think probably we will be past a lot of stuff, you know—we are not going to be thinking about getting drunk and how wonderful that would be or how it would be wonderful to roll around in sex and so on. I think the car wash will take care of a lot of that but actually, I suspect that will be because we pretty well worked that out here. Now, this is all just time to think about it but we weren’t created to avoid sinning. We were created for a creative existence as disciples living with Jesus here in our whole life and I’ve not really had an adequate shot at emphasizing work and so on but work is creating value and that I think is what we do…


Jan: And this is image of God stuff? [41:32]


Dallas: Yes, indeed and that’s what we are meant to do. That’s why it’s important to know that the Bible begins in Genesis 1 and not Genesis 3. See, for most people, the way they approach religion is Genesis 3—sin and what are we going to do about it? Well, that’s an important question but it’s not a picture of what life is about.  I think Mike has had his hand up—don’t give up now.


Mike: I am thinking of the thief on the cross and if he made it—made the cut for the person virtuous or not that died and at the moment of death “gets it” and heard it all their life but they never embraced it and they get it—did they make the cut and are on their way to Heaven?


Dallas: Yes, right. I believe in deathbed conversions.


Mike: But I am saying after their last breath?


Dallas: I mean that thief surveyed what was going on and said, “I’m gonna put my money on this guy!” He did and Jesus said, “OK.”


Again, I don’t see a problem with this. Many people think, “Well, what a deal that is.” I mean, they are thinking in terms of “deserving it” and I am thinking in terms of “trusting” and trusting being the positive side of giving up. You know, Bonheoffer’s a wonderful guy but he originated for his Cheap Grace and if there is a point to it but actually grace are cheap; it’s cheap to us. So, you don’t want to lose that in the effort to emphasize discipleship and obedience.


That’s just the story of the hours – the parable of the hours. See, you have these people who showed up at 5:00 and got paid as much as the guys who showed up at 7:00 and our sense of justice is outraged but the master knew that the guy that showed up at 5:00 had hungry children at home.


Q: Will they necessarily have more work to do then in eternity?


Dallas: Yes, the reward of good work is more work. [44:30]


Elesa: One aspect I think the body of Christ is missing that I think we really haven’t talked a lot about today is the imitation of God into the community of love—that part of what He is about is relationship. So, in your mind, can you picture God’s invitation to the Kingdom into everlasting life into Heaven? Is there a relational component in your mind?


Dallas: It is all relation as far as I can tell. Entirely.


Comment: So, if we are all about the Kingdom but yet here on earth we treat people as unimportant and we are busy doing our disciplines. “Get out of my way, I’ve got to do my disciplines”—we might be missing some of the Kingdom?


Dallas: We definitely are. That’s why you know the old desert fathers and mothers; if they had someone who came to visit them while they were in the middle of a fast, they always broke their fast. They prepared a meal and they ate with them and that was their practice, precisely what it was.


Jan: Elesa, part of what you are saying about what you are saying that is so important is that formation will be caught as much as taught and I can say that, you know, having read all of his books and all of that kind of stuff, I would say “caught” from this person as much as taught and that’s the lovely experience that all of you are having this week. [Yes! Amen!]


Dallas: …..and when you think about your children, just remember that.


Michael: I was thinking about Revelation 29 in relation to what’s going to be happening to us and Jesus sitting on the throne and says, “Behold, I am making all things new” and I think is speaks of the universe and it’s expanding but I think it also means that we are part of His creation and He is renewing us and I get the sense that this is a Heavenly scene and is going on and will continue to go on. [46:43]


Dallas: I think that’s great! Yes.


Q: A quick question—what did the desert fathers do if folks just kept on coming out where they were?


Dallas: Well, they would have to make a judgment but they wouldn’t make it in terms of turning off the relationship but because of finitude they would have to learn how to handle it and so that’s where judgment comes in. You always have to make judgments.


Q: Which of the fathers are you referring to there, Dallas? [I’m sorry?] Which of the desert fathers are you referring to?


Dallas: Well, the ones that came after they’d had some experience basically Pachomius sets up a different system—coenobitic monasticism—where you have a community and you are aware of community as important and you’ve gotten through the idea that you are just go out by yourself.


David: The verses we looked at this morning in 2 Peter that talked about making efforts to add to you faith in this and these things and then the verses in Colossians 3 that are kind like that but it also says get rid of these other things. Recognizing that as we walk with Jesus and we follow Him and we are transformed into His likeness, these things will be evident in our lives and these others things will go away from our lives. Is there anything more specifically that we need to be noticing in these lists? [48:32]


Dallas: No, just do what’s there and everything else will take care of itself. Now Paul—he has a great deal to say about mortification—both in say, Romans 8 and in Colossians and that’s addressing the role of the flesh. “Let that die off,” he says.


Mortification is a process of ceasing to be what governs your life. In Colossians 3, he mentions fornication, uncleanness, unbalanced affections, and I love the old English—evil concuvousness—let that die off and covetousness, which is idolatry. Evil concuvousness is just inherently bad desires. That’s what it is. You can’t beat the language. [That just sounds bad.] [49:37]


But, mortification—a good way to get into a discussion with people is to ask them—how is their program with mortification? [Laughter] A good conversation—how does mortification fit into your church program?


Matt: In The Great Omission, you say “among evangelicals, it is now seen that you can now be a Christian without being a disciple of Jesus.” [Right.] Is the implication that if you are not a disciple that you are not a Christian?


Dallas: No, it’s just saying that’s the assumption that governs that?


Comment: But is that not the—I don’t know if I am using inference right—is that not what you are alluding to?


Dallas: This is really an important point for our work as speakers and leaders and pastors and so on because you know, if you aren’t careful with this, when you say something like this, people say, “Well, you mean if I am not a disciple, I don’t know go to Heaven when I die?” So, then that bothers people in terms of well, I thought I was saved by grace and now that you pull that string and the whole theology of salvation comes out. [51:26]


So, you do need to respond to that in some way that is helpful. One way of starting to response to it is to say, “Well you know, there are two questions here. One is will you make the cut? And secondly, will you be glad you did? And get people to thinking.


I do not want to say that if a person has not become in a self-conscious way a disciple, they are not going to go to heaven when they die. I won’t say that. I don’t believe it.  It’s just that there are other issues that are important and especially this issue of what is salvation? How does it work? So, I think there you just have to open the discussion and that’s one reason why you don’t want to go over to your group and say, “Now we are all going to be disciples.” You don’t want to announce the revolution. You want to let it slip up on people and the way you do that is through your teaching and preaching and I think the way you do it is you teach what Jesus taught in the way He taught it and everything will come along. [53:01]


Matt: The idea of being uncomfortable when you get to Heaven, that’s—-


Dallas: Well, that’s where we need to do some work…


Matt: Right, but I guess like, I might tell my son that I am going to take him to a certain place that he has no idea what it is and he would say to me, “I don’t want to go” but I know that it’s good for him and he will have a blast; and when he gets there, he does have a blast. So the idea of getting to Heaven and thinking, “Oh, I don’t really feel comfortable here and I don’t want to be here;” that’s hard for me to accept.


Dallas: Oh, I acknowledge that but that is depending upon how you think of Heaven. You think Heaven is the great Marriott in the Sky. [Laughter]  That’s where we have to do our work in getting people to think about that.


JoAnn:  Why does it have to be that you are thinking it’s a great Marriott in the sky? [I don’t think it does have to be that way.] Can it not be that even here He is trying to make us comfortable in His grace more and more and that there, we will have such a reception of reality that we will maybe know we missed opportunities, missed marks and we are not as far along as we should be but discomfort in the presence of Jesus in terms of……?


Dallas: A lot of people were uncomfortable. They killed him because…….


JoAnn: No, that’s apples and oranges. [54:42]


Comment: I would just say that I am an adult parent to 30-year-old kids. I don’t want to take them where they don’t want to go. I did it when they were teenagers and I was miserable and they were miserable even though it was good for them and I learned my lesson. I just said, “I am not doing this anymore” and by taking them—I don’t mean on vacations—I mean trying to take them into places where I felt like they needed to be, there came a point in time where I would say, “You know, you are—and then they began to become their own persons and I remember it’s wiser.


Dallas: Well, I sympathize with that and I think that the question you’re raising is really an important one and we need to face it and if we are going to say to people, “Now you don’t have to be a disciple of Jesus to trust Him.” Ok, let’s say that. As it is, we’ve just drifted into it. No one was willing to say it and develop a theology around it.


Our evangelism, in effect does that because it calls people to trust Jesus without becoming His disciple and that’s where we get a population that is basically not disciples but they are Christians. So, I think here we just need to say what we are supposing and work with it. [56:26]


Comment: Statistically, it is no different from the general population.


Dallas: Well, see that’s the thing that you have all these people who do statistics jamming us with and so we might as the question and certainly people on the outside of the church ask the question, “Well what different does it make then?” And you say, “Well, you don’t fry.” Of course, that’s good but then we have to fill in the details. [57:00]


Randy: This has to do with the question of those who have never heard. You know, working with a mission agency, what is the compelling reason for us going to people who have never heard the good news?


Dallas: Because they are much better off if they hear it. Much better off if they hear it. It’s good news they need to know about. Now then, if you are asked what happens to those who don’t, well, you know, there are some places where that’s addressed like in Romans 2 and so on but I don’t think that’s the good news. The good news is that God loves the world and sent His son into the world so that people could have an eternal life. People don’t know that. The story is old. “Rescue the perishing; care for the dying. Snatch them in pity from sin and the grave. Weep oe’r the erring one, care for the falling. Jesus is merciful; Jesus will save.” Everyone needs to know that and that’s why we go. [58:22]


Randy: So the motivation is not because of where they will go if they don’t hear but it’s more……


Dallas: Well, it includes that, you know, I think it includes that. [It includes that.] The problem is that you get it cut down to that and so then you go to Uganda and Rwanda and you have third generation Christians who are hacking one another to pieces. Don’t you find that troubling? Why did they do that? Well, because they were not taught something that is central to the Bible, which is overcoming fundamental racism—the guts of which is contempt. So, what went on there? Not unrelated to the statistics of course.


Randy: This isn’t on the same subject but definitely where we were a minute ago. When you say, “we are not talking about eliminating non-disciple consumer Christianity, it has its place.” What place is it?


Dallas: You know in Old Testament terms, it’s kind of outer court—you know; it’s kind of outer court or the court of the Gentiles, you see. I mean, actually being a Christian without being a disciple has a lot of good things in it and all you need to do is compare it to other possibilities and you will see that. We need to say that. We need to emphasize that. [1:00:18]


Dot Ann: I always wondered about this verse in Romans 14 where it says, “Why are you pestering your brother or sister? Doesn’t it say that every knee shall bow and every tongue shall confess?” Now, it sounds like everybody is going to end up okay but I realize it…….


Dallas: Well, everyone will acknowledge who Jesus is. That doesn’t mean that they will be reconciled to Him in my opinion or that if they say, “He is Lord,” they are off the hook but I do think there will be worldwide recognition—universal recognition in Jesus’ name. I think that’s a wonderful thing.


Emily: I am starting to understand how we can have conversations with those who claim Christianity but not discipleship but how would you suggest starting a conversation with others raised in a different religion about all of this?


Dallas: Well, that’s wonderful and we certainly should and we should love them and approach them and be friendly and listen to them and raise questions and see how they are doing. Now, if they are doing fine, there is not much you can do for them. [1:02:03]


Q: Can you give us some examples of some questions?


Dallas:  Well, a question like—how are you doing in your Kingdom? That’s a good one to start with. How are you doing with your Kingdom? You know, I don’t say, “Where are you going to go if you die tonight?” I guess I have done that in the past and probably not wisely and I guess there is I’m sure a context for saying that to someone; especially if you are dealing with someone who is dying. And then of course, you never know. [1:02:45]


You know, the evangelist tells the story about the person who didn’t come forward and walked out of the building and was run over by a bus. Well, but what about the ones that were not run over? So, what are you going to do if you don’t die tonight? See, those are the questions that we also need to ask and a good one is—how are you doing with you Kingdom? Well, I didn’t know I had one. So, now you’ve got a good conversation going.


So, we learn how to ask questions but you know, we listen with love and respect and if there is anything good, we don’t deny it’s good. You accept that and we don’t try to talk them out. So, it’s really just honest, genuine, open discussion, learning what we need to learn that we possibly don’t know and very often, that’s the best way to get someone to hear what they are saying is for us to listen to them. If we are trying to refute them or undermine them to start with, they very likely are never going to hear what they say. It isn’t just they won’t hear what we say and so that’s what I would say. That’s a really important question. [1:04:17]


Comment: I guess the feeling that I am getting from all of this coming from that salvation message background is that this spiritual transformation—I kind of prefer that over formation—spiritual transformation is not opposed to the salvation message, [NO!] rather it’s just the idea that there is so much more you could be experiencing now and we want to share that. We want to enjoy that!


Dallas: That’s right and I like to emphasize that spiritual formation is a natural part of salvation. It isn’t like a luxury item. It’s a natural part but that is because I put regeneration at the heart of salvation. I think people are justified because they regenerated. [1:05:14]


Q: I still have a question about if the person does get hit by the bus? [Laughter] I had a professor once who said that then those people might enter eternity with a different level of comprehensibility—different level of relationship with Christ than people who have walked with Him for a longer period of time? Can you talk at all about that?


Dallas: I think that is not a bad idea at all and that is one way of understanding, I think what is going on the 1 Corinthians 3 that I mentioned about “wood, hay and stubble, gold and silver and the precious stones.” Many people don’t think it really makes much difference what they do here. They are saved and everything is going to be taken care of.


Now, that isn’t the view I think of the Bible and Jesus’ well taught because He has a –Jesus provides us with a discussion of—and I’m sorry I can’t bring up the passage right now—about those who will be beaten with many stripes and those who will be beaten with few strips and about those who will be rewarded more than others depending on how they respond.


Now, you know, one can say, “Well, you know, it doesn’t really matter in the end because we are going to make it and we are already in the door so we will take whatever stripes we have coming and so on.” That’s one way of thinking about it but I think that misses the goodness of life with Christ in His Kingdom now. [1:07:08]


I am very conscious of how you all are really deeply involved in all of this and your commitments. I mean, you wouldn’t even be here if you were not deeply committed. I think I was telling somebody that the wonderful thing about this group is that you don’t have to boot strap them. They are really growing and that’s just wonderful. So, we need to think about these things and pay serious attention—well, what difference does it make if you are not a disciple of Jesus? [1:07:43]


Jan: Can you just—I know Gary is standing up so we are just about done.


Dallas: That’s always ominous, isn’t it? [Laughter]


Jan: There is something that you have told me and we have talked about this and it’s been very encouraging to me personally and I just feel like there may be some people in the room that are in this same boat—especially the women—describe for me how you see Paul’s “thorn in the flesh.” Especially then how that flows into “my grace is sufficient with you” and he starts out, “Well I have to boast.”


Dallas: Well, actually, I believe, if you read it the context, you will see that Paul’s “thorn in the flesh” was he did not get recognition. He was constantly put down and he did that because he conducted himself in the manner of Christ and he “didn’t put on the hot dog” and he talks about that explicitly in that passage. It’s the Rodney Dangerfield thing, “I don’t get no respect.” [1:08:49]


Now, if you read Paul’s life, you see, he really was big on respect and he doesn’t hesitate to lay it out in various places how successful he was and how respected but because he lived in the manner of Christ and did not do the human thing of impressing, you know, he had to go back to the people he had converted and almost say, “You know, have mercy, guys! Don’t be mislead by these people who come in with these big credentials and leading about the sister.


I pick up these stories as an aftermath that I person once what telling me about someone in comedy. He wanted a hand packed basket in his room. One that was personally prepared. What do we call these baskets? Hospitality Baskets?—A hand packed one. I don’t know what the others are. I guess they come wrapped in plastic or something. [We farm all that out.] [Laughter] [We have the Pam-ster!]


So, that’s the thorn and this was not some temptation. I had a guy once that thought it was a “woman problem.”


Jan: The way it helps me is it makes me know that, okay so the worst thing in the world is not that you are going to be overlooked. I just really love it that the Apostle Paul was overlooked. We think that he was the “cool dude” but in that culture, they didn’t think he was –he wasn’t the Billy Graham of the culture—he was like someone that everyone went, “well, you know, he does—he’s kind of weird.” So, it’s okay if I am overlooked. I’ll be okay!


Dallas: You know, in 2 Corinthians 10:10, he sort of reads the script in detail. He says, “They say his letters are weighty. Personally, he is not so much and his speaking stinks.” He wore that as a badge because he was not going to do anything that would bring people around because He impressed them. [1:11:27]


Jan: So, no impression management.


Dallas: No impression management and 2 Corinthians 3 is the great testimony for the minster of how to live and accomplish that and we can go to that and see how we can have tremendous results that no one may know of.


Jan: And, that’s okay.


Dallas: And the guys that went around impressing people, they don’t have any epistles in the New Testament and no cathedrals named after them.


I remember once—I came up in a context where people thought you shouldn’t be very smart and they liked to site Paul’s sermon on Mars Hill as a failure and of course if you go to Mars Hill now, you will notice that the main street on one side is named after Paul the Apostle; not bad, not bad!


Listen I’m afraid I’ll be shut out before I’ll say something really important that I need to say.


Gary: We do have to stop…..but go ahead.


Dallas: Give me just a sentence or two because I want to acknowledge Keith and Jan. [Clapping] They are so wonderful! I am so thankful for them. That’s all!


Gary: We would like to acknowledge you before we go outside for a picture [Clapping]


Dallas: Thank you! Thank you! Thank you! You must hush now.

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