LIVING AS APPRENTICES
Dallas Willard continued his journey in the kingdom of God for eternity in May, 2013. Since his death, at least two books have been published that discuss the man and his theology. Soul Keeping by John Ortberg is filled with loving and gracious stories about how Dallas influenced John’s life and the lives of many others. Ortberg’s book is delightful on its own terms, but the richness of his experience with Dallas Willard adds depth.
The Theology of Dallas Willard by Gary Black Jr. parses the roots of Willard’s thinking: “God speaks to us; we listen, and as we turn toward God, we are overcome by the goodness of God so that we become transformed into Christlikeness” (from the forward to the book written by Scot McKnight). Nancy Ortberg writes this about this book (and indirectly about Dallas Willard): “We might want to consider disqualifying any leader of the church, based on whether or not they have read this book.”
Recently Conversations, A Forum for Authentic Transformation offered excerpts from Willard’s last public lectures, which have been published in Living in Christ’s Presence: Final Words on Heaven and the Kingdom of God. I’m offering my own excerpt of these words on discipleship here because I believe so passionately in their truth and have seen others’ lives change once they grasped them.
Here’s Dallas: “Matt. 28:18-20 is called the Great Commission, but when you look at it closely, you might want to call it the Great Omission, because what Jesus said to do here is rarely done.
“Here is what Jesus is saying: ‘I have been given say over everything in heaven and on earth. As you go, make disciples, immerse them together in the presence of the Trinity, the Father, the Son, and the Holy Spirit.’ Yes, baptize them in the name, but dear friends that doesn’t mean just getting them wet while you say those names. It means to immerse them in reality. After you have done that, teach them in a way that they actually do what Jesus said. That is the process of spiritual formation. And what comes out at the end is the joy of living in the easy yoke, for you find that to do what Jesus said is the easy and strong way to live forever and in time.
“. . . . In life, some things that can be pulled cannot be pushed, and some things that can be pushed cannot be pulled. Making disciples is a matter of pulling people, of drawing them in through who we are and what we say. . . . That is how you bring people to see the goodness and rightness of Christ’s teachings and lead them to step into it.
“Disciples are those who have been ravished with Christ that others want to be like them. Others look at those disciples’ lives in the kingdom of God, and they say, ‘This is the best thing I ever saw in my life. I must have that.’ The best place to make disciples in the United States is in church because there are always people there who are hungering for discipleship. They are really looking for it.
“Many, many of the people who are identified as Christians have never been invited to become a disciple of Jesus. We don’t have discipleship evangelism, but we need to have it because of the multitudes of people who are ready to go, who just need to understand and see and have the invitation to become disciples of Jesus.
LIFE IN THE KINGDOM
“This is what Jesus is about. Jesus is about bringing the life of the kingdom of God into my life now and making me a citizen of the kingdom. And then it is not over, because we spend our lives seeking the kingdom of God.
“Now I have to ask myself, ‘Do I do that, and how do I do it? Am I actually seeking the kingdom of God above all and the kind of righteousness that characterizes that kingdom?’ When we do that, we can count on disciples being made. If we preach another message and live another message, we can’t count on that.
“That is why the work of leaders and pastors if often so hard and so full of disappointments. Their own lives are empty, and eventually they blow up. That is because they haven’t heard the message that Jesus gave. They have heard another message, and perhaps with the best of intentions they were drawn into a life where they thought their job was to make things happen. . . . If we make it happen, the result will be our converts, and we’ll have to keep making them do things, because they will depend on us to jump-start them and keep them going. Instead we need to put them onto the living kingdom of God and the living Christ and allow them to live interactively one on one, with God and to transform the world into which they live.” (From Conversations,Volume 12.2: Flourishing, Living Well in the Kingdom of God, pages 13-14)