Understanding the Person 3/Q & A with Keith Matthews

Dallas Willard Part 10 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, good morning again! [Good Morning!] This is wrap up day as far the lecturing is concerned and I would like to start by giving you a couple passages from the New Testament that will locate the kind of thing we have been talking about firmly in the New Testament.


The first one is 2 Peter the 1st chapter and you have a description here of spiritual formation. It doesn’t use the name but you will see what it is as we read it. 2 Peter, the 1st chapter—Peter is addressing a group of Christians and describes them as people who have received the liberating message and have entered into life through that. Verse 2—“Grace and peace be multiplied to you in the knowledge of God and of Jesus our Lord.” You want to observe the occurrences of the word “knowledge” and “know” in all of this. It will help you reposition the material that he is talking about and we addressed that issue early in our talks. [1:49]


Knowledge is what you need and then of course you can go on from there. “Grace and peace multiplied in the knowledge of God and of Jesus our Lord.” Seeing that “His divine power has granted to us everything pertaining to life and God.” Now, how much does that leave out? Everything! “Through the true knowledge of Him who called us by His own glory and excellence, for by these He has granted to us His precious and magnificent promises in order that you might become partakers of the divine nature, having escaped the corruption that is in the world through lust.”


See, each line now, I am hoping you can go back and spend an hour on that just because of what you have experienced and what you have read. You have escaped the corruption that is in the world through lust because this new life that is in you—this divine life makes you someone who has eternal living. See? And you will benefit from saying it that way. Eternal living. You are going to live eternally. You are caught up in eternal life and that is the life of God and you are now living eternally. [3:58]


You can tie that back to knowledge by going back to John 17:3. What is eternal life? Well, say eternal living and eternal living is knowledge of you the only true God and Jesus Christ of whom you have sent. Knowledge is interactive relationship. That’s living in the Kingdom of God. That’s what you get by moving beyond the righteousness of the Scribe and the Pharisee into that interactive process. That’s how that all comes out but that’s not the end of the story. Now, here we go. [4:55]


Now, “for this very reason,”—that is because you have entered this—“applying all diligence”—how much diligence is that? [All!] All of it; not a little bit. In your faith, “add or supply virtue—in your faith, add or supply virtue”—moral excellence. Virtue is a little bigger than that but that’s good. Apply moral excellence. Become morally excellent—in your moral excellence, knowledge. Well, here comes that word again—knowledge. You can actually be pretty virtuous without much knowledge if you are trained into it but you need knowledge, and all of these support what comes early and brings it to a higher level. Virtue with knowledge is much stronger than virtue without it.


Now, “in your knowledge self control” and self control on a regular basis— not just on Tuesdays, Thursdays, and Saturdays. “In your perseverance godliness.” Now, of course you will want tot take each one of these words and explain it more fully. In your Godliness, Philadelphia—brotherly love—brotherly kindness and in your brotherly kindness, agape.


Now, in all of these progressions, you will find several of them in the Scriptures—Romans 8 and Colossians 3 and elsewhere, love is the capstone. That’s what Paul calls the bond of perfectness in Colossians 3—it ties it all together and you look back down the line and you realize, self-control without brotherly kindness can be a pretty deadly thing. Brotherly kindness actually can have a bad side to it if it doesn’t grow into agape. Brotherly kindness can create a kind of enclosure—an “in” and an “out” that you don’t want to live with. You want agape. [8:14]


Now, it says, “If these qualities are yours and are increasing”—so you don’t have a place to sit down and say, ‘It’s all over,’—“if these are yours and increasing they render you neither useless nor unfruitful in the true knowledge—again!!! Now remember I said, knowledge is the capacity to represent things as they are on an adequate basis of cooperation with the spirits. That’s what you want to live by is knowledge and then the occasions of faith will still be there and your faith will be environed in knowledge and you will no longer have to try to support it on willpower or inspirations that may come.


“He who likes these qualities is blind and shortsighted having forgotten his purification from his former sins.” And, really, he will fall back into those. He is going nowhere. “Therefore brethren, be all the more diligent to make certain about His calling”—God’s calling—“and choosing you for election for as long as you practice these things, you will never stop; for in this way the entrance into the eternal Kingdom of our Lord and Savior, Jesus Christ will be abundantly supplied to you.” And think the thought now, that’s not just for when you die though it covers that very nicely. The entrance is now and that will be abundantly supplied if you just do these things. [10:21]


So, there is a plan for spiritual formation. It doesn’t use the language. You don’t have to use the language. This is what it’s about. Now, I think actually that 2nd Peter, as many scholars would say is one of the latest New Testament books and my conviction is that this represents what they have been learning and doing that it wasn’t just an idea. How about that? It reflected what they had actually been doing and as they thought about following Christ as His disciple, this is what actually emerged. That doesn’t tell you how, right? It doesn’t tell you how to add knowledge to your virtue. The “how” is generally I believe taught by example—by practice and above all, by looking at Jesus, at His practices and then those who were around Him and picked up His practices form personal acquaintance with what He did and His teaching of course. [11:55]


Now, in 1st John 4th chapter, we have this wonderful statement on love, which is the top of the line but remember, at each stage of that progression what comes next. It seeps back down to everything below it and so you want your virtue to be penetrated with agape and your self-control to be leavened with brotherly kindness. A person who has great self-control without these others things is something to be feared. You don’t want to meet them in a dark alley. They are scary. [Laughter] So, they all go together and then they work together and as you make progress, each step leavens what came before.


Love—verse 16 of 1 John 4—this love that he is talking about—verse 16, “we have come to know and have believed the love which God has for us” and that’s the foundation—His love for us. We experience that in Christ and however we begin, we come to it and realize now; we are loved by God. That is the foundation of love growing in us, and now this old statement, God is love. That’s His essence.


We often make a lot more of the fact that God loves me but actually that reflects a bad view of God because we are acting as if somehow it’s a special thing that He loves me. Well, it’s special for me but not for God. What would be astonishing is if God didn’t love me. God is love. He doesn’t make an exception for me and say, “OK, I love that one.” He is love. He loves everyone and the creation is an expression of love. Remember, love seeks what is good and that is God. God is love and the one who abides in love and abides in God and God abides in Him. “By this love is perfected in us that we may have confidence in the Day of Judgment.  [15:09]


Now, of course, one particular reading, we’ll take that and say, “Yes, because our sins have been paid for,” but that’s not how the verse goes on and you need to watch that. “We have confidence because as He is so also are we in this world”—this world. That’s a big move. How do we get like that? Well, we got like that through a process of following Jesus and learning from Him. Now, of course, we are not Jesus but we are like Him because we have become His disciples and one of the things that shows up there, is there is no fear in love “that perfect love casts out fear.” Living in the love of God makes wherever we are a perfectly safe place for us to be. Cast out fear! [16:31]


Now, we can go back and spend a lot of time on fear but fear of course is one of the main problems of life and it’s anticipation of evil. Fear is anticipation of evil. Now then when we have lived up into the love of God and it has begun to possess us, it isn’t just our love that can’t stop fear. It’s God’s love that casts out fear and we learn to live in that and then fear being cast out, we more and more are able to love because we know that we are taken care of.


So, fear is one of the things that shuts down love between human beings and as love takes over, we are not anticipating punishment and we have prayed, “lead us not into temptation,” and so if you have someone who is troubled with fear, that’s because they have not been completed in love.

We love because He first loved us. That’s where it all comes from.


OK, so, that’s what comes out at the end of the pipe and as long as you remember that this is not something that is done just by crying hard, but by learning and growing as a student and a disciple of Jesus, well, then things are going to come out right as described. The product fits the description. [18:34]


So, now then, let’s take a few minutes and go back and talk about that handout on loving your neighbor as yourself and see if there are some things there you want to discuss later and we will be doing a question and answer session.  Most of the hour here and then our next hour is all question and answer. [19:02]


I you are going to love your neighbor as yourself, you have to understand what love is and you have to understand that you are loved. You are abundantly loved. You are provided for and then, you can decide to be a person of compassion. You are the person who has compassion and sometimes we just like to use the simple word, “pity.” Having pity on people is one of the main elements in learning to love your neighbor. If you watch people who don’t love their neighbors and usually it extends to their family members, they are too hard on them. You know? And we need to stop being hard on people. God was not hard on them and we have some teachings from Jesus about that—about a man who couldn’t pay the debt and asked for it to be forgiven and then he went out and grabbed someone who owed him a quarter and—see that, we need to live with pity on people including ourselves. We need to be merciful. Remember that when you practice disciplines. Don’t be hard on yourself. There will be some things that are difficult but don’t make it worse by thinking that it’s better if it’s hard. It’s not. We don’t need to be hard on people and we need to decide that we are going to pay attention to how they feel and that’s being compassionate. [21:12]


The first major step in loving your neighbors is to decide to be a person of compassion. Be a compassionate person. You will have to work through stuff like well, people will take advantage of you and so on but you can do that. You can work it out. In all these things, you learn how to do that. So, you need to do that to begin to be a person who loves their neighbors and of course, living in the Kingdom of God is what makes that possible.


Now, suppose you’ve decided to do that, then you need to decide who your neighbors are and I think this is one of the things that troubles people most because they think their neighbor is sort of everybody. [22:04]


And anyone might turn out to be your neighbor. That’s one of the lessons of the great story about The Good Samaritan and you want to notice that “good Samaritan,” that language does not occur in this story because the people He was speaking to were such that there were no good Samaritans and they would have easily said, “the only good Samaritan is a dead Samarian” so that language doesn’t show up. It’s the discussion about a neighbor and Jesus periodically goes out and takes in a Samaritan and brings them in because He wants to break down the idea that you can’t be good or right if you are a Samaritan.  So, then the ten lepers that were healed, the one that came back was a Samaritan and says that. [23:06]


Then you decide—now, basically your neighbors are the ones that are most intimately involved in your life and that is not a large group and you are your neighbor also. That’s why He says, “Love your neighbor as yourself.” You are your neighbor. You are intimately involved actually. You are more intimately involved with you than anyone else and there is a lot that you do for you just because you know, you are you! You brush your teeth. I brush mine. I don’t brush yours. Well, you are better positioned to brush them than I am and for much of our self, we have to understand that. So, we treat ourselves with love. That is to say, “we seek what is best for us” and that of course may be not what we want. All those lessons begin to work then.


So, the next step I would say is, list a few of the people you are most intimately engaged with. I am all the way over on the back side of the sheet now—the third step. Do a little exercise. List a few people you are most intimately engaged in within life—a small number and obviously not in the case of a large family but even within that, there will be some you are closer to than others. I would say no more than eight or ten. These are the people that you are going to love in a special way as your neighbors. You still do your work and you live in a larger world and in that world you pay attention to love and what you can do but human community is based on intimacy of relationships and so we need to respect that. You will have various circles and but remember, they are in a special group—your neighbors. [25:29]


And then I would say, the fourth step, begin that inner circle and devote serious attention, thought, prayer and service to two or three people and allow that to develop and it will become a grace sustained habit.


Now, the final remark I want to make about this. In order to do this you will have to practice a range of disciplines. You have to take care of yourself to make sure that there is no disconnect between you and the Kingdom as you do that because you can’t do that without living in the Kingdom of God and in the Kingdom of grace.


Well, those are just some things to suggest. Now, why do I do that? Because I really find that people have a hard time with this command to love their neighbor as themselves and many are defeated before they get out of the gate because they think their neighbor is everybody they come in contact with and you can’t do that. [26:37]


OK; do you have a few questions or remarks about that?


Q: How does that align with—I agree with what you are saying that we do need to love those intimate and close to us—but how does that align with the parable? These people had nothing in common and wouldn’t back down.


Dallas: The parable of The Good Samaritan? Well, it’s simply that this man was thrown into intimate contact with a guy who was lying there wounded by just being there.


Comment: But not an intimate relationship? [27:19]


Dallas: Well, it got intimate very fast and you remember that Jesus changes the question from who is my neighbor to who is a neighbor to him? Right?


He tells them it ahs the buy who raises the question, “Who is my neighbor?”—A much discussed question and one that might allow you to avoid being responsible for some people and now He says here’s this case where you have a man who has been beaten and wounded and might die and you are right there next to him. Now, what are you going to do?


So, that’s not the usual case but intimacy, I would say, is the key to that and he responds with compassion on that person and takes care of it. So, intimacy might not be a long lasting relationship but it will express itself in the ordinary events of life. Usually it is a long lasting relationship with family members and so on and that’s where we move beyond philadelphia and there was no intimate relationship in general in that case but because they have been thrown together in this circumstance, now He says, “I am going to make that one my neighbor” and he does. [29:14]


So, I mean, the question I think back of your question is what is intimacy? I would want to count that in and you know, if that doesn’t seem right to you, don’t worry about it.


Q: Yes, that is the question. How do you define intimacy?


Dallas: I think when you have a situation where someone’s life is in your hands, that even more in our ordinary relationships with one another, just entering into a conversation with another person, we are placing our lives in their hands to some degree and they need to respond with acceptance and understanding and encouragement—or not. Just being in a conversation with a person opens you up to being helpful, hurtful, harmed yourself and so, I think we just need to be attentive to what’s going on in the relationships around us. [30:33]


Q: I have a question about ending a neighborly relationship. Does that come through discipline as well because sometimes in relationships, boundaries can be crossed, particularly in family relationships. I come from am area where family is everything and that can really become a drag [It can.] because it’s expected so, through the disciplines then you discern even if the people think that you want it, and that they want it, it might not be what God is calling you to. Is that right?


Dallas: That’s absolutely right, yes and so by growing in the Kingdom through the use of disciplines, you will be in a position to have the space to do what is right about that. That is one of the reasons why Jesus said, “Unless you hate your mother and father” and so on because He knew this about intimate relationships; they become a trap.


Comment: That’s really the best thing for them to is not to……


Dallas: That’s the key. The loving thing is the best thing and so, then we have to have an eye on that and talk about it and if we can grow to the place where we have grace to deal with things honestly as they are and often in families that’s a huge issue. [32:24]


Q: I was trying to think through you saying that we look for examples you know and we see it in Jesus and—correct me if I am wrong. On the cross, He turns to the man who he doesn’t really know—the thief– and says and even comforts him but then he turns to John, one of His intimates and says, “Take care of my Mom “ which was one of his last statements and this is a good example that in the midst of all of this, He is expressing—


Dallas: He is looking out for the people who are intimately involved with Him. Being crucified together will create real intimacies if you have the right attitude. Apparently, this guy may not have had one when he started. It’s a very interesting thing to sort of live through the experience of the repentant thief and ask yourself, what was it that led him? What did He see that lead him to say, “We deserve what we are getting; you don’t deserve it. Remember me” and so forth. That’s a good place to do a lectio and other exercises. [33:42]


Q: On this paper where we are having these circles and are aligned with these circles? Where does my self go? Which circle and how do I think about well if here are times where I certainly I need to put what’s good for he other in front of what is good for me. Let me think about that—does that make sense?


Dallas: Well, your self is the whole deal. That’s your self. You are all of that. That’s the person. You enter the analysis as the person. Now, then, you have to decide, and here is where your feelings might be—you might let them guide you, but probably you need to do some searching for truth and understanding so your mind and your will will all be involved in that.


Now actually, many people just live from their body. I’m sure that’s what the Priest and the Levite did. They had something to get done. Their body knew what to do and they just went on down the road.  But, we have to have a view of what is good for our bodies and for our relationships and all of the parts that are involved. Sometimes we will sacrifice that and we will sacrifice our good in some measure. Apparently, it didn’t break the bank of the Samaritans through what he did and he even said, “If you need more money, I will come back this way and will pay it.”  But you have to have a regard to yourself and one of the things that comes into consideration is, Is what you do going to make it possible for you to carry on with your life including your relationships to others? [35:45]


Q: As a Pastor, this is a big struggle for me in determining even within the congregation who is my neighbor and on what level because I get a lot of
“neighbor” requests all the time and I feel conflicted internally. How as a pastor can we begin to parcel out these circles for us in a way that’s appropriate and kind because I feel easily manipulated by the need.


Dallas: Yes, and there are genuinely people who will manipulate and you have to take that into reckoning when you are thinking about loving your neighbor and as a pastor, the church, you are “marked.” You have a target on your back. So, you have to use intelligence and not be a “people pleaser” but look at your resources, whether you are an individual or a Pastor and make a judgment. You would be talking to the Lord about that as you went and perhaps He would have something to say but also there would be times when in effect, He will say, “Well, you make the judgment.”


See, many folks in religion, they want not to be in that position. That’s one reason why they will read say, The Sermon on the Mount as law because they think, “Well if I just do what it says, then I am not responsible.” But we have to be responsible and making judgments about where intimacy lies and where it doesn’t and what does that mean for responsibilities, you have to make those judgments and it will help you if you are not obsessed with being right because that will lock you in and you will then actually be in the position you are describing; everything you do will be wrong. [37:52]


In the sense that I did what’s right but you make judgments in your individual life and in the life of the congregation and you go on with that. As a disciple of Jesus, you are learning how to make responsible judgments that very well might be wrong in some cases because you are not infallible. Even if God is talking to you, you are not infallible. He is infallible so we accept that and that is a part of what grace actually does. It frees you to learn how to make responsible choices and that’s the only way you will ever get free is to accept that and of course, grace means that you are free to do that.


One of the ironies that I have picked up is that the people who talk most about grace often tend to be the most legalistic and then the law hurts and so, well…..


Q: Dallas, would you give an example of that? People who talk most about grace but are mostly legalistic about it?


Dallas: Yeah, you have churches that put grace in the name of their church and talk endlessly about grace and how all salvation is by grace and so on but if you observe their practice, they are very legalistic and judgmental and that’s very common to find. Of course, one of the things that helps you see this is you almost never see a church that has “trust” in it’s name. [Laughter] I am looking for cases so if you know one that has trust in its name, let me know. I would like to know.  [40:07]


Q: I don’t know if this is the right time for this or not but can you briefly stress a situation where how do you help people come into a discipleship?—a relationship with Jesus when they are so hung up on our sin nature. Some people can’t get past that sin nature.


Dallas: You ask them, “Would you like to do something about it? [Right]

Now many have a theology that says nothing can be done so then you could take them back to the scripture if they respect the scripture and ask what is their response to the commands of Jesus? It clearly presupposes that you could do something and then you could begin talking about how you might do something. [It’s like they enjoy being the worm and not seeing joy and grace.] That’s true and you have to think about what they get out of that. . What do you get out of being the worm and that ties in with people who think that brokenness is the ultimate condition so now, I am going to need to just finish up here a few things and then I wanted to make sure that I got said to you and Keith will start in a few minutes. [41:37]


Spiritual formation on page six or seven of your notes. We need to stay out of the posture that some people slip into of thinking that spiritual formation is about spiritual formation.  Spiritual formation is not about spiritual formation; it’s about becoming the kind of person who obeys Christ. [42:13]


So, the real issue is obedience and obedience to Christ is the engine that pulls the train. It isn’t just wonderful old practices that make you feel identified with special people. Spiritual formation is about inward transformation into Christlikeness and that is what the 1st Peter passage and the passage in John about love is about.


Now you have these notes in your book and I hope that you can go back through all of these things and use them for further things. [43:06]


Spiritual formation without regard to any specific or religious context or tradition is the process by which the human spirit or will is given a definite form or character and you do want to understand that everyone gets one. Everyone has had one. Hitler had one. That’s why he was like he was. Mother Theresa of Calcutta had one. It was a different one and every one gets a spiritual formation and that is where their life comes from. That’s why in Proverbs 4 you have that wonderful verse, I think it’s 23 or 24, “Watch over your heart with all diligence because what your life is or what it amounts to comes out of your heart.” And Jesus is teaching in Mark 4 about people who were worried if eating with unwashed hands and He said, “Well, you know, there are two systems. There is the one you eat with and that takes care of itself but that’s been no sin there. Where sin and righteousness comes from is out of your heart.” The heart system has a stomach system and we take care of the heart and the heart is the center—the Executive Center of the self. That’s where things can change if the vision comes and the response is right.


Now, the Holy Spirit is involved in that but this is not a passive process. It’s an active process and I think on page 6 or 7, you have a further statement or two here, which I’ll just put up briefly and I will try to find the page. I hope we can find it. “While spirit driven, we are not passive. If we do not take appropriate action, it will not happen.” That’s what we need to have this day. [45:31]


All of the commands of the New Testament are concerning what we are to do and we need to respond. We respond to the commands but then we do that by becoming the kind of person who would do that and that is a process. We need to stand in this process and engage in it and let it do its work.  Get out of the dead end of just continuing to try to do the thing while we remain the same.


The person who looks at the Sermon on the Mount and says, “Well, we can’t do that.”  Well, that’s true if you mean that you can do that just by saying, “I am going to do it.” You have to become the person you are not now in order to do that and when you do that, well then, the commandments take on a different cast. [46:36]


Spiritual transformation only happens as each essential dimension of the human being is transformed into Christlikeness. You want a Christ like mind, a Christ like will and you work on both by the grace of God and intelligent direction hopefully with others in community and then transformation gradually takes place and you grow into the inner character of Christ. That’s what we are looking for—Christian transformation.


I’ve said these words before. Grace is not opposed to effort. It is opposed to earning. You have to distinguish those two. Earning is an attitude. You don’t go there. You step into an entirely different thing and that’s what is involving in going beyond the righteousness of the Scribe and the Pharisee. The problem with the Pharisee and the Scribe is that they have an attitude and perhaps the greatest mistake in this area is to think that spiritual growth is achieved by trying harder and it’s not. It’s achieved by indirection and doing what you can do to change what you can’t do by direct effort. [48:07]


Perhaps the next most serious problem is thinking that grace without effort will do it and it doesn’t and it won’t. And again all you have to do is to observe to see that that is true.


Now, where will be great moments of grace, in the process. You will experience that. It will be wonderful. You will find yourself like Philip—suddenly picked up and now you are in a different place. Right?  That will happen and you will find that you are doing things that you couldn’t even imagine doing at other times but it won’t happen unless there is effort involved. [48:57]


And then just finally, on page 3, you have a little graph sort of thing here—God’s Design of Proper Subordination. Proper subordination puts God first, the will second, the soul under that because your soul is not something you direct by choice though you can change it by choices you make. The spirit is the Executive Center of the self. The soul is like the computer that runs the whole operation and actually you don’t even want to hear about that. You want the thing to work. Now, sometimes it doesn’t work and so something has to be done but basically the soul runs the whole system when it’s in good shape and submitted through the spirit to God. Then your body will come along with that and you will do without thinking the things you ought to do. The improper subordination is the one we live in; in our world, basically everything runs from the body—taking care of the body and giving the body what it wants. Of course, there is a good point to that but unfortunately, the soul is then in subjection to the demands of the body and its running along there, the spirit is serving the soul and it always results in idolatry because we want God to serve us. [50:48]


So, there are two systems—proper subordination and improper subordination—and as we grow in Christlikeness, there is a shift that takes place and we are able then to honor our body properly and our soul and our spirit but all because they are in subordination to God. [51:13]


Q:  I’m assuming that I could be wrong—but the soul doesn’t have a separate volition or cognition from the person so they say it’s running it. It’s not running it with the eating will or cognition. Is that right? [Right] So it really is more in the background?


Dallas: It’s very definitely in the background.


Comment: So, there is only one center of will and one of cognition and it is not separate in the soul. [That’s right!]


Dallas: Now, remember that system will work unless you are able to “farm out” to the body especially and your character becomes settled in your body and that’s your soul that is running that and if your soul is broken, that won’t go well and you will wind up in Romans 7 and you will say, “I am broken” and you are and if you stay there, your life will be a mess.


Comment: And the soul can’t be broken unless other aspects of the person are broken?


Dallas: The brokenness of the soul consists in disconnections or oppositions between the other parts. That is the brokenness of the soul and it’s like when your computer crashes or something goes—things aren’t connecting up right and you have to restore the connections. Thank you because this is a tough one to deal with. [52:53]


Q: So, then when we were reviewing this talking about the soul yesterday, we were talking to the aspect of the soul?


Dallas: Well, you know, you can talk to your soul.  We address it in the second person like it’s another person because it doesn’t fit into our life as “we.” That’s one of the things that leads to the idea that you save a soul. You don’t save a soul. You save a person.  But, I mean you know, a child’s prayer—“Now I lay me down to sleep, I pray Thee Lord my soul to keep and if I die before I wake, I pray Thee Lord my soul to take.” I pray Thee Lord to take ME, not take my soul and leave the rest of me. [Laughter] But, that’s a reflection of this idea that somehow it isn’t running according to my will. It’s not running according to it’s will either but it’s functioning in a way that is destructive. So, your soul can be cast down. If your soul is cast down, your life will suffer. So, it is important to read the scripture to find out about the soul and see what it says. [54:31]


What will a man give in exchange for his soul? That’s an interesting phrase. Very often in the scripture when you see soul, the word is actually, “life” and it’s the center of things. And when you lose that and how might you lose that? Well, you might decide to have the world and when you do that, you lose your soul. Your soul isn’t built to function that way.


Q: On spirit, could you talk a little bit about—just so we have language at some point—when you are born again or born from above, is that when your spirit man comes alive or your spirit comes alive?


Dallas: That’s exactly right. You have a spirit when you are lost. You still have a spirit but it’s a dead spirit because it is not alive to the environment that it’s made to function in and then it would birth from above. It receives a spiritual rebirth—a new life now enters it.


Dallas: OK, Keith. Now, I will follow. [Laughter]


Took a short break…….[56:54]


Keith: Well, ready for questions? Now, seriously, we want much of this time to be where you get to ask questions but I am going to start us out and then we will kind of go from there. Sound good?


Now, many of you know this but Dallas has been at USC—that is not University of South Carolina! [Awww….] [Maybe in this part of the world.] We are the other USC—the University of Spoiled Children. [57:25]


Dallas: That’s what the people at UCLA say. [Laughter] And then of course USC student have something to say about it. [What do they say?] Well, it won’t do to repeat it. [Laughter] It’s gets pretty vile. [Laughter]


Keith: OK. [Keith, did you go to UCLA?] I didn’t. I was around both sides enough to hear the stories so but that’s a lot of years at one place and just to start us out for fun here, 46 years at a pretty famous school there and who was the most famous student you’ve had in your classes over 46 years, in your mind?


Dallas: My goodness. That’s would be hard. I guess I would just say quickly, J. P. Moreland. I would say him. [Hmmmm….]


Keith: Do you all know J. P. Moreland? [Yes, what kind of grades did he get?]


Dallas: [Laughter] We had O. J. Simpson in the department. His fame has been delivered. No, I really don’t know other than that.


Keith: I’m going to start out with a tough one that has been ruminating through the room here a little bit. You’ve said that for the disciple of Jesus, the world is a perfectly safe place? How does that statement square with the reality of terrible evil the disciples face and have to live with? [59:22]


Dallas: Well, you know the way I word it is for anyone who is alive in the Kingdom of God, this world is a perfectly safe place to be. Now, the reason I say that is because Jesus said in Matthew 6, after talking about various other important things to pay attention to, He calls our attention to the flowers and He often talks about birds and sometimes a little humorously talking about how you work more than the birds and how you trust someone in birds so Jesus was confident of that but now, you need to understand that He is not saying, “Nothing bad can happen to you,” but He is saying that everything that happens to you will be turned to good and that’s the way Paul comes to formulate it.


Now that said, on the assumption that death and this world is not the full reality. That passing through death in the Kingdom of God is something that you probably won’t even notice and you may not know that you have died until some time later because the continuity of your self is something that just goes right ahead. [1:01:01]


You know, you have these stories like Lazarus and the rich man—the description of what happened to Lazarus is hard for some people to take seriously because death for him was taking off for a big party. Right? And he had people around him. They were called angels there but people were around him taking him to the party. And so, like in the story where Jesus is asleep in the boat and the disciples are going nuts with fear, and He says to them, “Why were you afraid?” One of those many cases where they must have just looked at one another and said, [“What the?”] Yeah! [Laughter] Why are we afraid? And now, I think what Jesus was referring to was not just that they wouldn’t sink but if they did sink, they would be fine.


Keith: Let me push and go a little deeper on this one.


Dallas: Let me just add. That doesn’t mean everything that happens is the best. It means it’s good but there is nothing that is ir-redeemable that comes into the life of the person that serves God.


Keith: So, there are so many people here in the room that have shared with me some little stories about things and what do you say to that person who has not yet stepped into the Kingdom but has suffered tremendous abuse in some settings and you say this is a perfectly safe place.


Dallas: Not for them. [1:02:55]


Keith: Yes, it hasn’t been. So where do we go in that kind of conversation.


Dallas: Well, the first place we go is to a world that does that and we ask where does that come from? How can you have a world like that? Then you have to deal with the fact that actually God permits such a world. And you cannot—if you believe in God the way we’ve been talking about it—you can’t say anything else. He permits it. Then you get into issues like for some people, well, He causes it and that’s a pretty subtle discussion. A little bit like the difference between letting someone die and pulling the plug. The will is involved in a different way in those two cases. So, I think many folks think that’s real hair splitting to do that but that’s the kind of thinking you have to get into about God.


Now, I think that’s where your view of God also is important in addressing the situation of someone who suffers abuse and awful things that are done and I believe that God will take every person who innocently suffers and perhaps, their personality is distorted by it and maybe they have become—I think that His mercy will reach anyone in that position—and that’s why I like to say, “Don’t believe anything bad about God.” Whatever is just and right, He will see to it so the child dying of starvation in the Sudan will come to a point in his or her life where she is thankful for her existence. Now, how do I—well, I think that’s because that’s how God is. So, this is in general. This is what we call the problem of evil and as even as David here recognized, if you have a big enough God, He will solve the problem and all will be well and right and good. So, that’s why you want a big God and we really have to have that in mind to deal with the terrible things that happen. I want to be able to say to any person, God loves you and He will take care of you and you just turn yourself loose into His hands and He will pull it straight. [1:05:56]


Keith: Well, I don’t know if you are picking this up in Dallas’ answer but we are back to vision again—vision, Intention and means, you know. Over the years, after hearing so much of Dallas over 25 years, I really have—his vision has now permeated my vision and I do believe that. I believe what he is saying but I still feel like this is our weakness in the church. Do you believe that? [It’s a really big weakness.] We’ve really not done a good job……


Dallas: Right, oh absolutely, but that is partly due to the fact that we are trying to control God. We want God on a leash and we want it to be our leash that He’s on and that will never work.  Among other things, we want to teach that the Kingdom of God is not the church. [1:06:49]


Keith: Did everybody get that?


Dallas: The Kingdom of God is not the church. God is way out in front of the church in any way you think about it and praise God He is. [Hallelujah!} The Old Testament is so interesting in how He approaches these issues. I just read to you the last words from the Lamentations of Jeremiah—and you know Jeremiah was looking at something so undescribedly awful that had happened to his people—we have come down to the end of this book of Lamentations, Chapter 5, verse 19, “Thou oh Lord dost rule. Thy Throne is from generation to generation. Why do you forget us? Why do you forsake us? Restore to Thee Oh Lord that we may be restored. Renew our days as of old, unless you have utterly rejected us, and are exceedingly angry with us. Hope only comes from the vision of the greatness of God”—and I forget which conferences we do together but we had one recently where, and you might know the story of the couple down in Texas and a neighbor accidently ran over their little boy and killed him. Actually, there is a DVD out about it [They gave us that DVD—the people filming] That’s it, and she said something fascinating. She said, “I could only get relief by thinking about the attributes of God. That’s the only thing that gave me relief from my sorrow.” That’s really a very profound statement, you know? Now, if your attributes aren’t very good, that won’t help much and too often, our tradition is one where God is not really good.  He’s righteous and He decides to give some of us a break but He’s really not good. And it’s a reflection, I think of how we kind of think, “If I were running the universe, what would I have to be like?” Thank God, we are not running it! [1:09:19]


Keith: So, really what we get in your writings, I think, we really get a lot of vision. You are giving us a re-view of how to think rightly of God and then proceed out of that.


Dallas: Well, that’s why I begin here by saying, “Think magnificently of God.” There really is no hope unless you can do that and I also say that all of the griefs of human beings come from thinking wrongly about God.


Q: Could you talk along this topic about the anger and wrath of God because that’s kind of part of the image that the church loves to portray God as angry and wrathful.


Dallas: Well, human beings have a very tough time in thinking about God and I think that part of that is due to the fact that God, by design is largely hidden. He is a God that is hidden. We are apt to cry out and say, “God, rend the Heavens and come down.” But, I’ll tell you if He ever came down, it would be over with us and so, the plea which is no doubt a sincere one is based on a misunderstanding of what it would be like for God just to do that. [1:11:05]


You remember, Moses wanted to see Him and they wouldn’t let Him and it’s hard to imagine what it would be like to actually see God. So, you have that tradition—no one sees God and lives. So you have people, they think they are seeing God when they are getting ready to die—usually for some theophany a little short but God so they live through it. [1:11:33]


This issue of how God can present Himself and how we can think about Him causes us to develop pictures of God that are not accurate. And so, we see spoken of the wrath of God and we think of a person or a human being that is possessed by wrath. I think God is like that. Well, how are we going to grasp the awesome reality of God except in language that we think we understand. God is so great and He is so good that it can only seem like wrath when He comes and shows Himself to us and deals with the things that are done.


Then you have the whole issue do people really understand what they were saying in the Old Testament. Then you have the corrections within the Old Testament of things that were taught early like corporate responsibility—the story of Aiken where they take Aiken and his sisters and his cousins and his aunts and it’s an awful seen and just kill them all. See, that’s how they understood responsibility and later on, in Ezekiel, you have correction on that and so, now what you say about the earlier? Well, I think you had some say. It’s a true record of what they thought and how they acted but you don’t want to slip into the position of saying that what everyone thought in the Old Testament is true. It’s true that they thought that and acted on it. It’s true that God continued to cooperate with them. That’s hard from the human point of view to accept and you have to be careful because you are apt to just say, “Well, there isn’t anything that’s true.” That I think is about the most important thing I would say is you have to understand there is a difficulty in understanding God and He doesn’t put up with everything. [1:14:17] [Short comment not understood that Dallas agrees with.]


Then, how that’s under-interpreted of course, the grinding cases in the Old Testament are where you having Him just saying, “Wipe out everyone. Kill all the people and children.” Did He actually say that? And if He did say that, how can that be redeemed? And frankly, I don’t know. There is a problem here that we have to use the concepts we have to try to deal with something that you would not want to take literally in some cases—like His “strong arm when at the right hand of Moses.” You know, that has a true content but it doesn’t mean that God has an arm but we’ve got to talk about this sometime. [1:15:27]


Q: So given these difficulties in our understanding of God, how do we get it into our bones with disciplines and supposed things we do to get our view of God enlarged?


Dallas: Well, I think that is primarily a mind issue and so, for one thing, we, I think in this room would say, you go to the Revelation of God in history, in scripture and in the person of Jesus. Now, we have some encouragement in this direction when Jesus is trying to help his guys deal with the fact that He is leaving. In John 14, you have this almost humorous passage, especially the interaction with Philip and Thomas in John. He says, “I am going away and there are lots of places where people live in my Father’s house. In my Father’s house are many mansions, which means there are lots of living places.” He says, “I am going to prepare a place for you and if I go and prepare a place for you, I will come again to receive you unto myself as where I am you may be also, so I am not forsaking you. OK? You are coming along later.” And of course, Thomas pipes up and says, “We don’t know where you are going. How can we know the way?” And that’s the basis of one of the most important interchanges where Jesus says, “I am the way, the truth and the life. No man comes unto the Father but by me.” Then, He goes on to say, “He that hath seen me hath seen the father,” and Philip pipes up and says, “Well, show us God and I’ll do it.” [1:17:28]


Now, you don’t know what would have satisfied Philip. If you watch these movies about transformers, you would have thought that Jesus would go through something like that? [Laughter] But the following says, “What would you expect? What would you accept?”  And you say, “Oh, that was God.” See? This is an issue where we have to take what Jesus says and say, “Well, God is like Jesus.”  Now, that will stretch us right there but the most important thing is to stress the goodness of God and God’s competency to take care of people. Jesus did that. [1:18:22]


Now, Jesus had very few occasions where it’s recorded that He got angry; none where He is recorded as wrathful, because wrath is not just anger—it is unrestrained anger. It’s anger that is just taking over the whole scene and everything and so, Jesus I think re-interprets that. He does that by going to the cross and saying, “This is still God.” God goes to the cross so that’s a different picture. Now, then you have to go back and re-think all that other stuff and try to figure out how that fits in.


Keith: Let me throw something in on that. Can I? I think Paul caught the vision. I mean we know that Paul was personally a disciple by the risen Jesus, right? An exercise I do with my students and my Christian formation class right off the bat is I introduce them to the prayers of Paul in Colossians and Ephesians where he prays for those churches and if you remember, Colossians were a group of folks that He did not personally know.  I always think when I read that—that’s my favorite epistle—but I love the fact that if you are going to write to somebody that you don’t know and you want to get information, you are going to give them the best you can give them in a very short amount of time and if you read Colossians 1 and 2, you are overwhelmed with vision about Jesus and the Kingdom. I mean, it’s just overwhelming and it’s clear that He wanted them to get it because that’s what He had.


So, I think of us creating vision is what we have in our life and how we relate to God. That transfers huge to people in our life but I do think you have to get people—like Dallas said—soaking in a vision from the scriptures. Ephesians, chapters 1 and 3—oh my goodness—the prayers that He prays in those chapters for them. It’s funny and very little of that language is about their sinfulness or any of that. It’s all about that “I pray that you will know the height, the depth, the love of God, the riches and your knowledge would grow greater that you would have power.” The language He uses is just filled with vision. [1:21:13]


So, what people there in my classes talk about—I have them read those passages and say, “How does that affect you? What does it mean on the side for you as you read those prayers that you need?” Then pray for each other and then I have them paraphrase it in their own words and in bullet points and we fill up a whiteboard and when you fill up that whiteboard (at least when we do this in class) everybody just says, “That’s the God I want to be connected to.” The last time we did this one of my students said, “How come we don’t get this? How come we don’t think this way?” Because we just don’t get that kind of vision. Know what I mean? Just a thought. [1:21:56]


Q: I think that’s the whole issue, Keith is that our minds have been so conditioned that when we even read scripture, our thinking is conditioned and we start squeezing the scripture into our already molded and formed –whatever tradition we comes from, whether evangelical, liturgical or whatever. That’s the struggle. How do you take off? It’s one thing if you are just starting from scratch with no view but we are really trying to unlearn as you learn and that’s a struggle. I don’t know if there is any way to help us with that.


Keith: Isn’t that the church, Dallas?


Dallas: Yes, I mean, the church has the responsibility of dealing with this.


Keith: I always think too—where in the model that we’ve got of church right now, where is the place of teaching? We have a strong proclamation piece, which is fine. I mean, I think that’s great and we have a lot of cell groups but where is the place where you actually get to teach and when I say, teaching, I like the interactive dialogue back and forth because that’s where it starts to stick—you, know, skin on skin. You have opportunities. All of you have spheres of influence in the places you are at. You have that place where you can do that oftentimes. [1:23:29]


Q: Along with that, there are such distorted views of God that you have to get through that you have come up with through your childhood or from your own misunderstandings but it seems to me that—and there are tensions or mysteries in all of this—part of it is self will versus sovereignty and debate and how do you get around all of that?


The other point is the hiddenness of God versus God wanting to make Himself known to us and if we are experiencing this, at least if I am giving you who I am, I have to say, God has come to me when I have not asked and when I am not expecting it but definitely when I need it. He has corrected the views I held of Him to be larger and greater than and more graceful than I ever would have considered and then from there, He keeps enlarging that view. If you read scripture wrongly when you read it, when you have been taught distorted or about distortions and scripture is opened up in a completely different way so that you are not out there creating some God that doesn’t exist but one that we find in scripture and you are experiencing that which continues to be in us.


Keith: Right. One more thing and then let me go to another question.


Comment: I think we can also be naive that someone else is trying to write on the page of our lives that we really do have an enemy and I think the church—it’s almost like we send out our children until they are five and then we give them over to the secular world to do so much that we should be doing in the church to help people to be healed and restored but we just send them out and they are getting more confused and then we bring them back and you try to wipe all of that out. Why doesn’t the church embrace complete broken and hurting people into their arms? [1:25:39]


Keith: That’s a good question because Dallas, I want to ask you to describe when the disciplines can be harmful for people. In other words, what other ministries in the church best prepare people to actually move into the disciplines or are there things—because I’ve heard you say that because there are some—we don’t want to all of a sudden go back in and try to push these things on people. Some people it can be more harmful.


Dallas: Indeed. Well, in general, disciplines are harmful when they are imposed from the outside and presented as conditions of acceptability and that is unfortunately very common and so, you have to present disciplines in the larger life context where you understand what disciplines do for people and that means of course that you are understanding more about what human beings are and how they are responsible for what they become. [1:26:57]


Now usually if you approach it in that way, especially with young people, they will immediately understand that, for example, that the discipline they undergo to engage in various arts or sports or just public life are not things that are imposed on them from outside but something that they exercise from the inside of their lives for their good. Now this is where we really run into problems because it pushes your understanding of grace and how you grow or if you grow or if you don’t grow, so all of that has to be taught. I am thankful for that question and for Beth’s question because it gives me a chance to just go back and hammer on this idea that we are not followers in this world. We are to be the teachers of the nations and if we don’t do it, no one else is going to and it will all be taught in a bad way.


The person who is a disciple of Jesus and living the life is in a position to teach people the things they need to know but there is no other institution that does that and if the church, the people of Christ do this job well, then they will leaven the whole society. The homes will be better, the schools will be better, the businesses will be better—but unless the church teaches as knowledge, the existence of God and His Kingdom and how to enter into that and become a part of what God is doing in the universe, it won’t be done. [1:28:56]


So, here we go again and we are thinking it’s so wonderful that at least Gary has arranged for some of the schools to take seriously what you might do in this course because they are not going to do this. They aren’t going to do it.


Keith: You know what, I’ve got the principal over here standing and saying it’s time. [We have time for one more.] One more?


Q: Just to clarify, how do we take responsibility for playing our role and communicating this? You use the word, when “we impose from the outside” so we don’t want to impose. I mean, I feel like I’ve been here for several days and you’ve kind of imposed. You’ve put me in a setting and said, do this and I’ve said okay. Could you clarify that imposing part?


Dallas: Well, the “imposing” part becomes harmful in two respects. One where you are condemned if you don’t do it and the other is where it doesn’t develop you from the inside.


See, knowledge always involves the “inside” grasping it and you can teach French wrongly if you try to impose it and so what you want to do is put people in circumstances where from the inside, they will understand it—those two things—shame and glamour—and not allowing the student to grow into knowledge. Knowledge is something that has to come from the inside. You cannot impose it.


Another aspect of that is you don’t have to accept any knowledge if you don’t want to. You an reject it and that’s because it’s an inward—an inside job if you wish—if you are going to come to know, it has to come out of your development. [1:31:11]


For example, mathematics is systematically taught in a disastrous way in our culture and that way is to impose it. You can’t do it and so people just bail and develop math phobia and spend their life avoiding it but you know, math is one of the most beautiful things in the world but you have to develop that from the inside. You have to help a little child understand numbers and relations of numbers and you start with that and you move on up to the symbolisms of algebra and so on and all the way to wherever calculus is and if they do it from the inside, then they will get it and they will love it.


Q: Would it be right to say in the harmful respect of this that one of those is “you are condemned if you don’t do it” but also “if you don’t do it exactly right” that maybe there are many right ways to do this because that’s been helpful for me.


Dallas: That’s one of the things that you learn. You learn that people learn differently and that’s fine. See, but now, a stickler will try to impose one of those and that would ruin the whole thing. See, now, our churches need to be places that recognize this and allow people to learn in ways that are different but we are terribly troubled by conformity.

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