Conversatio Divina

Part 4 of 34

The Human Being as a Spiritual Being Q & A

Dallas Willard

In 1993 Dallas began teaching an intensive two-week residential course for Fuller Theological Seminary's Doctor of Ministry program. His task was to teach about spiritual life in a systematic way so that its full connection to the work of the minister was clear. These sessions from 2012 are from Dallas's last year of teaching the course before he died. Though a bulk of the course was usually centered on the nature and practice of disciplines, the beginning of the course dealt with more theological themes like the nature of spiritual reality and the end of the course dealt with topics in spirituality like vocational issues. [Editor's Note: We know that the class was taped on other occasions and would be glad to find these recordings.]

Okay; well, let’s try to work on a little further here. My ambition would be to try to get through to page 16 of your notes. We probably won’t make it but we can come close.


A colleague of mine did a little Internet research on spirituality in business. They got 13,300,000 hits in .19 seconds, spirituality in higher education 315 hits in .24 seconds, spirituality in sports 22,600,000 in 21 seconds, spirituality in politics 24,200,000 in .19 seconds and I just site that to sort of indicate the degree of concern there is about these sorts of things. [1:33]


OK, let’s go back to page 10 in your notes, please. Now, we are looking at this picture on the circle diagram and that’s something I want you to sort of keep before your mind turning the page-to-page 12, you get this relation to actions. Where do actions come from? Well, they don’t always come or they never actually come just from the Will. Your action is going to be filtered through a lot of stuff—your thoughts, your body, and your soul even. You will have character of a sort, emotions, social context and this is not easy to diagram in any helpful way. This is just to try to say, “Well, you know, when we act, we act sometimes, we will, but sometimes we don’t will.” It’s just there in the various features of the person. When Mike Tyson bit off Holyfield’s ear, you remember he said, “I just blew it.” No, he didn’t just blow it; that was Mike Tyson. That was him and of course, he learned to say that because people want to divorce their actions from who they are. So very commonly you hear a person say, “Well, I did a bad thing but I am a good person.” That’s one of the standard “blather” that comes out of people when they are confronted with their actions and so we have to take seriously our actions as expressing who we are and then, the other side of that is we don’t want to get caught in trying to control our actions as emotus operandi. Now, of course, sometimes you control your actions. St. Benedict, on one occasion, threw himself into a briar patch to eliminate sexual thoughts and actually, it was very useful. But you wouldn’t want to use that as a general technique. So, that would help at the moment but you have to put your focus at a different level and sometimes we just need to stop the action because it’s so terrible and the consequence, so stop it, you know but if you take that as emotus operandi, you will wind up a raving Pharisee. That was the problem with the Pharisees and that’s why Jesus says, “the leaven of the Pharisee is hypocrisy.” The Pharisee wanted to control their actions but they couldn’t figure out how to do it and that’s the great shift in Jesus’ teaching was to go beyond the righteousness of the Scribe and the Pharisee. That’s Matthew 5:20 and we will have to come back and spend time there. How do you go beyond the righteousness of the Scribes and the Pharisees?  Not by more of the same. You have to change the kind of thing you are doing and that’s Jesus’ teaching about the good tree and the bad tree.  You know, He just says, “A good tree cannot bring forth bad fruit and a bad tree cannot bring forth good fruit.” So, make the tree good and that was His teaching. Now, of course, you can’t actually do that to the tree but you can do that to a person. And then, what is on the inside will come out and if it’s good, it will be good. Again, Jesus’ teaching about cleaning the inside of the cup and that’s a slightly different angle on it.  The idea that you can wash the outside of a cup forever and if it’s dirty on the inside, it’s still dirty on the in side.  It is very difficult to wash the inside of a cup without washing the outside. Have we lost our touch with dishwashing? But, that’s His teaching. Now, get to the inside; clean the inside and the outside…hmmmm, probably will do pretty well. But, if you clean the outside, it doesn’t really help the inside.


So, He has these various ways of teaching us that we want to get to the inside of the person. Now, in terms of our diagram, that just means all of those areas—spirit, mind, body, social, soul. That’s where we apply. Now, it begins with the Will because if the Will is not renewed, it is not going to clean the rest of the thing out and we will talk about intent later on and vision and means but in terms of dealing with our spiritual formation or I’d rather say, transformation, that starts from the Will. Is our Will surrendered to God? [7:03] What Eve found out was that she didn’t have a Will surrendered to God. That’s what revealed itself in the case of the original sin as we like to call it. Her Will was not surrendered to God and Satan saw that and jumped on it. That’s fundamental and that’s what we call repentance. Repentance is where the Will surrenders to God and says, “God help me. I may not be able to do it but I want to do what you want me to do. I want to be the kind of person you want me to be.” And, you can’t get there without a vision and we will be talking about that tomorrow.


We really do have to understand that Christian faith—now, I am on number 7 on page 10—Christian faith has to confront ontology—big word—ontology—the basic question about the nature of reality—about what it is to exist or be and what kinds of things there are. Now what I have been bewailing you all about today is God and the nature of the person. If you don’t understand, as many people don’t understand, the components that make up their life, you will never be able to deal with the challenges that face us. For example, one of the things that happens so much in our culture is that people don’t know the difference between their feelings and their Will. Boy, is that a big one and we will have to come back to it. Now, if you don’t know the difference between your feelings and I include emotions and desires, we may have time to talk a little bit about the difference between feelings, desires and emotions and we really need to understand the differences between these but those are primary motivators in life and if we don’t understand the difference between our feelings and our Will, we will have no where to stand in dealing with our feelings and that’s exactly where our culture is today. They have nowhere to stand in dealing with their feelings. They have, you know, that elevator song, “Feelings, whoa, whoa, whoa, whoa, whoa, whoa, feelings, right; that’s such a beautiful expression of where our culture is. Feelings are everything. You can’t imagine any more damaging mistake than to think that. [10:17]


Q: How would you explain the concept of Will?


Well, I mean it takes some work and we almost have to be innovators because we are not going to get much help from any source around us in our culture—including Psychology. Psychology and the social sciences today basically have abandoned any concept of Will. They want to explain things in terms of causes, not Will, so you say, “Well, we have a 50% divorce rate, what is causing that?” Well, people decide but you say that to someone, they think you haven’t said anything. But, of course, they are interested in statistics and things of that sort and that has a place but basically people get divorced because, they, one or more of them, decide to be divorced. Now, what drives that? Well, could be Will, deliberation—think about the word—de-liberate. That’s what your Will does. De-liberate—what’s liberate? Freed up. When you “De” something, when you produce freedom; that’s what deliberation is about. The Will considers alternatives. Feelings never consider alternatives. They say, “I want that.” And, then of course, they have no place to stand to deliberate and it won’t take them very long until they figure out that they also want some other things. But they will have no way of dealing with that except some kind of medication possibly because they don’t know they have a Will. [12:12]


Q: How did we arrive at this point in our culture?


Well, it’s an outworking of the perversion of the idea of “being free” and the way it works is that being free is identified with doing what you want to do—not what is best for you. Now, in the days when these sorts of things were thought about, and I’ve already mentioned John Loch but a lot of others up to the end of the 1800’s, they understood freedom as the capacity to do what was best but that has slowly or quickly diminished under the impact of a manipulative society that has a lot of stuff it wants to sell you and they don’t want you to do what is best, they want you to buy what they want to sell you and the outcome of that general cultural idea where you have a manipulative culture that is intent on suppressing fundamental truths is where we wind up where we are today and so you have a teaching of, “well your feelings are”—and another kick on that is, “You oughtn’t to hurt someone’s feelings.” Well, some feelings need to be hurt but that’s Holy now.  Feelings are Holy. So, it’s, I think, primarily the expression of a manipulative social organization—“I want you to do this; I don’t want you to think about it. I want you to do it. “


“Love meet the night. Tomorrow is meant for song. Tomorrow may never come for all we know.”  Songs; that’s not even a vivid illustration of that but our popular arts feed this idea so now, we have to confront ontology—I have a statement here at the bottom of 10—Secularism is not primarily a conspiracy, it is a theory of reality authored, authorized by the historical progression inch by inch of the intellectual world. The idea that human beings must master their world and others and rarely ever do they get around to themselves. Self-mastery is of course a Biblical idea but that’s self mastery under God so this drive of human beings to master must for swear divinity because one of the things about divinity is if there is a divinity, it can tell you what to do. And, secularism is a way of purposefully putting that out of play so now our institutions are committed to secularism. Right? Like your university next to you is no doubt a secular university. Right? [Comment from student] Oh, yeah, it comes all the way down and so that is simply a movement that is in society that we have to recognize as such and we have to ask questions like well, “Did they establish over at the University that reality is secular?” If reality isn’t secular, that’s a major “oops.” Right? Now, of course, you would have to rewrite most of the books but that is where the church, if I may speak generally, should come in. You have a few churches that are so far gone that they would go along with secularism but each of us has to decide, “Is that where we are going to go or are we going to stand there?”  And, then that gets into this issue of reality of the Kingdom of God, of the spiritual life and the spiritual nature of man and so forth and so on. It all fits into that picture that we have been looking at as we worked along through the day.


The idea of exalting the physical to the ultimate—see, that’s how to break the first commandment. The first commandment says, “I am the Lord your God, I delivered you out of the land of Egypt, you shall have no other Gods before me.” Well, what is God? God is an ultimate point of reference and if anyone is committed to the idea that the physical is the ultimate point of reference, they are engaged in idolatry.  Now, that will normally turn out to be idolatry of human beings and if you have never read CS Lewis’ little book, The Abolition of Man, it’s a few hours reading and it’s absolutely profound.


OK; so, last point here—spirituality without ontology will usually degenerate into legalism and possibly superstition of which in fact, legalism is one form. Legalism makes the mistake of trying to locate everything at the level of action. That is its mistake. Now, if you don’t understand the makeup of the human being and beyond that, the reality of God, you will not have resources to deal with action. You have to work through the complexity of what is real and what is the case in order to escape the bondage of legalism.  Legalism of course becomes especially powerful because it’s socially enforced and when you have social groups that form and they are interested in who’s in and who’s out, it nearly always takes a legalistic form. So that’s why you have so many Christian groups that have little peculiarities in doctrine or practice and these are used to determine whether you are with us or against us. [19:48]


OK; so, one final statement here if you will turn to page 15—let’s try to draw it all together here. Who are you and why are you here? So, you are a never ceasing spiritual being with an eternal destiny in God’s great universe. You are spiritual in substance; you are never ceasing in duration; you are ruling or creative governance in destiny. That’s your fate. That stands out in the first chapter of the Bible. That’s the image of God in you is responsibility for good. There it’s not terribly interesting because it starts out with fish. You’re supposed to rule fish and by the time you get to Psalm 8, it’s moved on to sheep. Probably I haven’t seen a sheep today much less a fish so am I out of business?  Well, no. Whatever comes under the direction of my Will, I am responsible for, right? So, today it’s more likely to be some computer or automobile or credit card or something of that sort. [21:44]


Now, what’s it going to look like hereafter? Do look at Revelations 22:5 and you know something that goes in the first verse and the last verse we ought to pay attention to it. This is a description of what things will be like  once God has accomplished His purposes and developed what I call The Divine Conspiracy, and we are beyond human history, as we know it. Daniel 2, “The stone that is cut out without hands has now come and crushed all the Kingdoms of this world and has set up an eternal Kingdom.” Verse 3 in Revelations 22 says: “And there shall be no more curse, but the throne of God and of the Lamb shall be in it, and His bondservants shall serve Him. They shall see his face, and His name shall be on their forehead. And there shall no longer be any night and they shall not have any need for the light of the lamp nor the light of the sun because the Lord God shall illumine them and they shall…what? {Reign] Reign forever and ever through ages of ages—they shall reign. So what are you going to be dong a thousand years from now?  Reigning. So, now then you are involved in that now if given the opportunity to reign—Romans 5:17, “They that receive abundance of grace shall reign in life by One Christ Jesus.” That’s Romans 5:17 [23:37]


So that’s what it’s all about—God, a spiritual being of infinite proportions creates a world of beings which also are created but not of infinite proportions but puts in them this instinct to create what is good. That’s what drives human beings. A little child as soon as it can do anything wants to make something. Isn’t that right? Where did that come from? And then they want to give it to you. And that goes on; they want to create. And if you have a home where they can flourish, they learn to cook or grow things or build things and that’s a wonderful thing for them and usually if someone is getting ready to depart this life, not all, but many of them want to say things like, “ I would like to leave the world a better place.” Where did that come from? See, that’s the image of God in human beings and that is eternal.


So, this description here on page 15, I hope will pull together for you the picture that we have tried to draw today. “This is eternal life that they may know thee the only true God.” Knowing is interactive relationship. It isn’t what we sometimes call, misleadingly, head knowledge. Knowing is interactive relationship. So, eternal life is interactive relationship with God. We are not meant to run our own Kingdom. We are meant to have a Kingdom under God to make our lives a part of His life and that’s how we have an eternal kind of life.  Eternal life is eternal living. Living in such a way that your life is caught up in God’s life; it’s a part of what God is doing and now then, if you have that in mind, then when you go back to the great passages about “in,” like Christ liveth “in” me and so on, or especially John 14 or John 17, well, that ‘s about the mingling of lives in such a way that the life of the finite creature becomes a part of the life that God Himself is living. That’s how you make your life eternal is by making it a part of God’s life. Of course, at His invitation and in His power. [27:03]


So, just to finish up, I call attention to a couple things here on page 16 about the strictly human concept of spirituality. The world is very busy and producing these and you will find spirituality described as our relationship to whatever is most important in our life. This is a distant outworking of Paul Tillig’s conception of God as the object of our ultimate concern or spirituality, which is the process of becoming a positive and creative person and that, of course is Oprah. So, these are often related to sort of twelve step types of groups but I don’t to blame them for that. Then you have mixed versions of spirituality, the practice of religion or more specifically, the practices of some one form of religion so you have a Benedictine spirituality, a Quaker spirituality, a Presbyterian spirituality, and this may be and often is, merely human or fleshly, but it can be something more and there have been times and there are still times when you have a specific kind of spirituality drawing its life not from the outward forms but from Divine relationship and the danger there is only that the treasure would be mistaken for the vessel. [28:54]


All right; any questions or comments?


Q:  There is a statement that somewhere in God’s created universe there is Jesus in Heaven with a human body. Could that be true?


Well, I mean maybe that’s the One that is preparing a place for you and it sounds like a good idea to me and see, I think though, I often don’t think I understand NT (?). I think He is mainly reacting against this idea that in the after life or whatever, we are just “oughta here” and I think we do need to react against that and I think we need to, like in that Revelations 22:5 passage, we need to put some serious thought Into what that means or we will wind up thinking, “Well, everyone is sitting around on their own personal throne, right?” Reigning! But reigning isn’t sitting on a throne; it’s governing. That’s reigning. And what we are doing here is, to quick use a phrase; we are training for reigning. See, that’s what we are doing. We do that as disciples of Jesus and we have to expand on that as we go along, “Where is the primary focus of discipleship?” I think this is one of the biggest issues facing the church today; that the primary focus of discipleship is where you work. It’s your work. So, if you are training disciples, you are training them to reign in life by One, Christ Jesus so that means, “Ok, you have a taco stand, you are a lone agent in a bank;” that’s where you reign. And, then the church fosters a discipleship and discipleship is for the benefit of the world. That’s where the Kingdom of God is. Now, you and I have the possibility of bringing that Kingdom to bear on whatever it is we are doing and if just the Christians in this country had been doing this, we wouldn’t be in the economic fix we are in today. Basically our problem today is trying to outlive the disappearance of a lot of money that was never there in the first place, right? Now, if the Christians had just done what they really knew they should do, we wouldn’t have this deal and in all of the professions—accounting, lawyers and all of that—you would have people who actually did what their professional code says they were supposed to do. That would be reigning. And it ain’t over yet, you know? We are still going to—and the quickest way out of this is to get pastors and leaders who will assume responsibility for the condition of righteousness where they are and begin to teach it and live it because they know God has given them the job. They say, “No, we are here to make disciples and surround them in Trinitarian reality and teach them in such a way that they don’t lie anymore, ya’ know?  That would really put a stopper on a lot of stuff, wouldn’t it? [32:48]


Q: Jesus said, “Go make disciples.” So, did Jesus assume that everyone was able to be made into a Disciple?


No, I actually don’t think He meant—I think He thought that the only people that could become a disciple would be someone who had understood the vision of the Kingdom of God and life in the Kingdom. Again, there is so much in 2 Corinthians 4 about the Gospel that has been hid so that people would not perceive the glory of God in the face of Jesus Christ. So, that’s—we are going to start out in the morning on the Gospel and if you don’t hear the Gospel that will lead to discipleship, you will never become a disciple. So, we are really going to have to lean on this now and if you want to go ahead and read notes on that, you a welcome to do that but you don’t need to because we are going to be wearing it out tomorrow anyway. If you don’t hear the Gospel, you cannot become a disciple. I think you know, you have to learn ways of approaching people in this and we don’t have discipleship evangelism currently. You don’t have evangelism to make disciples; you evangelize to make converts. Now, we don’t have to stay there but see, you have to have enough understanding to be with people and ask them questions of another kind—a very good question is—“How are you doing with your Kingdom today?” That’s a real starter. You can try it out. “I’ve got a Kingdom? I’ve got a Kingdom?” Do you have a problem; are you doing okay with your Kingdom? Well, if you are doing okay with your Kingdom, there is nothing more to be said. You go with the ones who say, “You know, I’ve got a real problem with my Kingdom. My family is crazy. My finances are out of control. I’m not actually doing what I know I should be doing and so on. You find people where they are and you ask them questions to allow them to get started but of course, each of us has to have a vision and an intention and a way of living also. Now, if we are just like everyone else, that’s not going to go. Now, remember, we are bringing Good News; we are not here to lean on people. They are used to that. This country is so hard to talk to anyone about stuff that matters because they have been leaned on by people in all sorts of ways and they just don’t want to hear anything more about it. I understand that. You see, now that’s what we have to go up against that Paul and Jesus didn’t have to go up against. In a way, they had to go up against it because they were in trouble with the Jewish religion. They really had a problem with that. That isn’t our problem; we have a different problem. Those who think they’ve heard and haven’t and rejected; those who think they’ve heard and accepted it but they haven’t heard.  So, now, can we believe that? And, actually, if you are in a country that hasn’t heard, it’s hard to find a country who hasn’t heard much about it today, well, then people, you can have a different—our problem today is basically people who are already professing Christians and they establish a point of reference, which everyone thinks that’s it, and that ain’t it. So, it just takes a lot of love and patience and real enjoyment of your place and sometimes you may think, “I don’t have anything to rejoice about.” Well, that’s something we have to work through.


I like to say that we should go wherever we are to make beachheads for the Kingdom of God and that will have a natural spin-off of disciples who will be a church. A church is a group of “called out ones”—ecclesia—they are selected out and now, I think that the churches in the ordinary sense is the primary place where you find people who would really like to be disciples of Jesus. That’s what I find and I think that was true in Jesus’ day and it was true in Paul’s day basically and it’s true today.  It’s just that we need to be able to step into that as loving, mature individuals right where we are in the Kingdom of God and we have sorted out all of the stuff that confused people in the world and among other things, we don’t have a fear of death any longer and a fear of failure and indeed, fear has been eliminated from our lives. [38:24] Now, that’s not, you know, that’s something you need to understand; it has to be worked on—probably never be totally complete until we’ve got a better environment, shall we say, but we can make huge progress with that if we understand the Kingdom and life in the Kingdom.


So, I think we should go to the churches and to other gatherings. I like what Paul did in Philippi. He found out where they met for prayer and he went there. It wasn’t a synagogue. It was a place down by the creek and so we go where there are people who are interested. We don’t worry a lot about people who are not interested—people who think their Kingdom is just fine and Jesus dealt with those people, do you remember? And, I think we shouldn’t be spending a lot of time on them. You minister to the ones who are ready and every church I’ve ever been in or every group I’ve been associated with for any length of time at all, it’s like they pop out of the woodwork. They want to “go.” They are ready but they are discouraged by what they have heard and that’s why I say you begin by teaching what Jesus taught. Repent!  Turn! The Kingdom of the Heavens is right there. It’s right there. So, you say that and it takes some explaining and illustrating and so on but that’s what you say. The Kingdom is there. Then, that’s a challenge and you have to meet that challenge. So, if I’m not reconciled to that and living there, well, then I need to step up and I feel that constantly. I feel like I should manifest more of the presence of the Kingdom than I do and I keep looking at that and am concerned about it and I think I am making a little progress. But, that seems to me now that’s our life as disciples and then I know that it’s possible to make disciples and we’re going to talk now at length about what a disciple is and how you make them and all that sort of thing. OK? And whether I am right or wrong, maybe I can give you some thoughts to work on. Of course, the sweetest places to make disciples are in the family and it’s natural human connections. I think a great problem for our churches today is they often come on like they were going to produce community instead of redeem the communities that are already there. See? And to come into the natural connections and bring people to understand the glorious presence of Christ and what it can be –to live there, see, I think that’s what we do when we preach the Gospel. Now, we are going to talk about that tomorrow at some length when we talk about the Kingdom.


And I think at this point—do you have anything else to say?


Keith: Day One is already done. Give yourself a hand. Good job!


Get a good rest!


Part 18 of 34


Dallas Willard
June 11, 2012
Part 22 of 34


Dallas Willard
June 12, 2012
Part 28 of 34


Dallas Willard
June 13, 2012