Friday, 21 May 2010

Road trip to hear Dallas Williard

Got up before the crack of dawn yesterday morning for a road trip with my friend Alwyn to Swindon to hear Dallas Willard, at a conference organised by the Bible Society. The theme of the conference was Knowing Christ Today: 'personal religion or public reality?', reflecting the title of Dallas' most recent book, Personal Religion, Public Reality: Towards a Knowledge of Faith (2009), which I blogged about a few months ago.

He spoke three times, for an hour on each occasion, and the sessions were interspersed with some Q&A sessions and worship. I'll summarise each of the sessions here, although each was so densely packed and rich in content that its difficult to do them justice.

The first session, I thought the best of the three, was most obviously drawn from his latest book. He started by talking about the ways in which Christian knowledge is debarred from the public sphere in much of the West today. Christianity is based on faith, which is irrational - a leap in the dark - we are told! Dallas, by contrast, argued that faith and knowledge are not oppossed: 'Leaps of faith are really leaps without faith. Faith has to be environed in knowledge'. Again: 'faith is an act of the will according to knowledge'. Much of the world today rejects God with what Dallas called a 'learned contempt', or a 'contempt without investigation'. Religion has been pushed out of the sphere of knowlege into the sphere of faith, thereby making it private and of no public worth. Putting Christians into the realm of faith, Dallas argued, actually disenfranchises us.

Dallas also contrasted much modern evangelical evangelism, with its stress on getting people to make a decision for Christ, with the approach that persisted in previous generations. 'Our task as preachers', he said, 'is not to get people to profess, but to give knowledge'.

He made some very perceptive comments about universities in one of the Q&A sessions too. Somebody asked about how we ensure that head knowledge becomes heart knowledge; how do we make sure that intellect and behaviour are connected? Universities, he said, deal with knowledge, but have nothing to say about character, that's why you dont learn about moral knowledge in university - much that goes by the name of knowledge is knowledge that simply doesn't carry through.

The afternoon sessions dealt with material that would be more familiar to anyone who'd read any of Dallas' books. In the earlier session he dealt with how with think about Jesus, who has also been relocated outside of knowledge. In the afternoon session Dallas used far more explicitly biblical exposition as he opened up themes relating to the kingdom of God and life within it. His thoughts on John 8: 31-2, Jesus' words about the truth setting us free, were especially powerful. He paraphrased the verse like this: 'if your my apprentices and know the truth, the truth will set you free'!

The final session was focussed more closely on spiritual formation. Discipleship, according to Dallas, was a status, spiritual formation is what happens to you as a disciple. The strap-line of the session was: how do I live my life as Jesus would if he lived my life?

It was an excellent day with lots to mull over and think through. I'd encourage anyone to real some of Dallas Willard's books. The best place to start is probably his The Divine Conspiracy: Recovering our Hidden Life in God (1998).

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