with gratitude to Dallas Willard (1935-2013)

The sermon discussion group got all riled up about the word “saved” in Acts 2:47 this morning when they read, “And day by day the Lord added to their number those who were being saved.” There is so much baggage to the word “saved” that many of us associate with certain versions of Christianity: those with an agenda, those looking only to save lives after death.

Minutes before walking into the discussion, I saw that Dallas Willard had died. I grabbed my well-marked copy of The Divine Conspiracy and found a few of my favorite quotes to read as a centering before the discussion began. They were well appreciated, but 15 minutes later, they felt even more important as we were hot and heavy into what “being saved” actually meant. We re-read these words.

The rocket of our life is off the pad. Action is forever. We are becoming who we will be–forever. Absurdity and cuteness are fine to chuckle over and perhaps to muse upon. But they are no place to live. They provide no shelter or direction for being human.

Yet in the gloom a light glimmers and glows. We have received an invitation. We are invited to make a pilgrimage–into the heart and life of God. The invitation has long been on public record…

God’s desire for us is that we should live in him. He sends among us the Way to himself. That shows what, in his heart of hearts, God is really like–indeed, what reality is really like. In its deepest nature and meaning our universe is a community of boundless and totally competent love…

I think we finally have to say that Jesus’ enduring relevance is based on his historically proved ability to speak to, to heal and empower the individual human condition. He matters because of what he brought and what he still brings to ordinary human beings, living their ordinary lives and coping daily with their surroundings. He promises wholeness for their lives. In sharing our weakness he gives us strength and imparts through his companionship a life that has the quality of eternity.
The Divine Conspiracy

Reading this, I was called beyond the baggage and over-familiarity I have with calls to “be saved” to remember once again the invitation to live a full and abundant life in this moment. I wanted to be saved all over again into a life with the “quality of eternity.”

I am grateful to Dallas Willard’s quiet and firm voice. He warned evangelicals to not limit salvation to the afterlife. He didn’t allow progressives to go soft on Jesus. He called all of us back to the simplicity of being “Followers of the Way” as those first Christians were called, in apprenticeship to Jesus in a master class on how to be human. May his voice continue to speak even as he has moved into a full experience of “boundless and competent love.”

  • http://twitter.com/ggbolt16 Greg Bolt

    I’m preaching on Acts 16:16-34 (you know me and the lectionary)…anyway…in my study this week I was looking at the jailer who said to Paul and Silas, “What do I need to do to be saved?” Paul and Silas replied, “Believe in the Lord Jesus and you will be saved, you and your whole household.”

    I, too, have a lot of baggage around the term “saved” so I can only imagine the discussion with your parishioners but a question that came up in one of the commentaries was, “Saved from what?” I thought this was a grand question.

    I think Christ saves us from the smallness of our own brokenness and calls/invites us to live into that fullness of life and community around us.

    I was thinking that I never read Ragamuffin Gospel nor have I read any of Dallas Willard. I didn’t read really any religious writers until I was in seminary except for Madeline L’engle and C.S. Lewis.

    Hope your sermon group messes up your message as much as they did mine.