September 06, 2007

I’ve Finished Reading “The Great Omission”

There aren't many good books on discipleship that I've read and the reason is because we as Christians want to reduce discipleship to a program or a series of steps that we can check off and then call ourselves disciples. As I picked up Dallas Willard's book (I've read The Divine Conspiracy as well), I had a pretty good idea that it would at least be thought provoking and challenging.

Say what you want to about his theology in some areas, or some of his thoughts concerning doctrine, but the one thing you can't say about Dallas Willard is that he doesn't cause you to think. And this book was no different.

Willard comes from my current stomping grounds of Southwest Missouri. He teaches at University of Southern California and is steeped in deep thought, philosophy, and psychology so you have to understand and read his book through that lens. And from the get go, he starts off with a great paragraph:

But in place of Christ's plan, historical drift has substituted "make converts and baptize them into church membership". This causes two great omissions from the Great Commission to stand out. Most important, we start by omitting the making of disciples and enrolling people as Christ's students, when we should let all else wait for that. Then we also omit, of necessity, the stop of taking our converts through training that will bring them ever-increasingly to do what Jesus directed.

He then takes non-disciples excuses to task:

In contrast, the non-disciple, whether inside or outside the church, has something "more important" to do or undertake than to become like Jesus Christ. He or she has "bought a piece of ground," perhaps or even five yoke of oxen, or has taken a spouse. Such lame excuses only reveal that something on that dreary list of security, reputation, wealth, power, sensual indulgence, or mere distraction and numbness, still retains his or her ultimate allegiance.

Throughout the book and if he writes it once, I know he wrote it in there twenty times: "Grace is not opposed to effort, it's opposed to earning". And you know, the more I thought about that, the more it really became true to me and right. We sit around as Christians sometime and expect God to do everything in regard to our communion and discipleship with Jesus. We wait for lightning bolts as Willard would say and we think God will magically turn us into these radical followers of Jesus that are going to set the world on fire and nothing could be farther from the truth. Willard makes a book long argument that effort on our part is very much needed and that in our effort, discipline, and empowered by the Grace of God, we truly can become authentic disciples.

One of the other things that struck me about this book is that Willard argues heavily for silence, solitude, Scripture memorization, and mediation as the primary means by which a disciple will grow and develop. He encourages the reader to take hour long solitude retreats at first and then develop those into day long and even week long times of being alone with NO noise, NO distractions, NOTHING and letting that be a time where God is allowed to form you. I'm going to take him up on this because I believe that so much what of what crowds out our growth with Jesus is noise. And to grow, we have to remove ourselves from it. Jesus did this. We should too.

Willard argues that the word "discipleship" has lost almost all of its meaning and he uses instead the term "Spiritual Formation" which if you've been paying attention lately is really what people are calling the growth and development of a disciple. How do we form our spirit and our hearts to be the heart of Jesus? That is the million dollar question.

All in all, I loved the book. Like I said, I took some great things from it. I left some things in its pages. Towards the end of the book, Willard dives off into psychology laiden speak and argues for the study of psychology as a way to understand spiritual formation. I see what he's saying but I think it might be overkill. I don't think we need to be psych majors to grow with Jesus. There may be some very ingrained stuff in us that psychology might help us understand and explore, but all in all, I think simply doing what Willard argues for and "being obedient to Jesus" is the first step.

I would whole heartedly recommend this book to a reader. As always, leave the bad, take the good.

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