The Restoring of the Soul

Do you agree with this understanding of our responsibility before God and capacity? “Humanity was created by God to possess the responsibility for becoming what it wills to become by the sum total of the choices made during one’s lifetime. As such, God requires that humans beings choose (will) to act on the basis of their inner desires and therefore must freely decide what one “will” live for. What is chosen … determines what kind of persons we become… the development of character … This is an existential spiral ascending toward godliness and truth as opposed to a spiral descending into denial and disintegration.”

So Dallas Willard as summarized by Gary Black, Jr., in his exceptional study, The Theology of Dallas Willard: Discovering Protoevangelical Faith (Pickwick), 112.

This set of lines above provides the heart of Willard’s theory of the Christian life, theory of life, theory of protevangelical faith. It brings into a set of lines what we find in Spirit of the Disciplines, Divine Conspiracy, and Renovation of the Heart. At the heart of this set of lines is Willard’s anthropology, and what he taught was that humans are to respond to God’s powerful, Spirit-given grace by dethroning the self as God and enthroning God as God and so over time allowing God to do this work in transforming us into Christlikeness.

God is a loving, benevolent Father, full of grace and mercy and love. To know this God is to know the God who loves us. The Christian life is the “with God” life; being with God leads to Godliness.

Willard argues from the beginning of his career to the very end for dualism (or some kind of non-monism), that is, that humans are not just bodies but are “embodied spirits” and that the heart/will/spirit is the core reality of human existence. The Spirit speaks to our spirit. The human “spirit” is unembodied personal power” and that means the Spirit is “unbodily, personal power.” This is a nonmaterial spiritual reality that “actualizes, controls, creates, and forms the physical realm” (92).

Humans, from inside out, and in constant interactive relationship, are composed of or humans can be conceptualized as… heart/will/spirit, mind (thoughts and feelings, not just thoughts), body, relationships and soul. Black sketches (mostly from Renovation of the Heart) how Willard understands each and how they relate to one another interactively.

The “fallen condition” is the “ruined soul” and it leads increasingly from choice to be one’s own ruler (captain of the soul) to the disintegration of the soul. It leads humans more and more to trust in sensuality and it leads to self-idolatry.

But the restored soul is the soul reborn and remade — as above in the opening section — where Willard expresses his virtue ethics of habits leading to transformation and character development.

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  • rising4air

    Like so many others, Willard has a sobriety and clarity in his thought and passion for God that it is hard to argue with many of his positions. But, I’ve always wondered if the dualism that he described could be sustained. His sense of mission for humanity, as quoted in the opening sentence, is solid.


  • D. Foster

    I believe in the spirit of Willard’s words even if I reject his ontology.

  • That’s an interesting Arminian view.
    It is actually incoherent to say that to a given time t, a human being would be capable of having an absolute choice between every physically possible choice.

    It is clear this heavily hinges on our psychological make-up which is a product of our gene, evolving environment and previous choices.
    A man having been alcoholic for years facing a bottle a Vodka will drink it and could not do otherwise.
    However he could have perhaps decided to call a friend hours earlier so that he would not have staid alone.

    Thge problem of libertarian free-will (the freedom to do something and its contrary) is that it contradicts our logical intuitions about causality and chance.

    This does not mean it isn’t real, but that if that’s the case it is a mystery beyond the reach of our reason.

    I tend to reject the doctrine of the original sin and the related sinful nature we all inherit.
    It is clear Genesis 3. does not say such a thing, what happen is that people read it into the text.

    Morally speaking, children are never punished for the sin of their parents, and if God could have prevented us to inherit this sinful nature making misbehavior inevitable but did nothing, he is clearly culpable.

    Lothars Sohn – Lothar’s son

  • Rory Tyer

    Is “dualism” Black’s word for Willard’s anthropology? He definitely isn’t a monist but I’m not sure dualism–either in its denotation or connotations–is adequate.

    Willard’s thoughts on what constitutes “spiritual growth,” and how that is related both to God’s grace and to our responsibility as those given a significant degree of creaturely freedom, forever changed the way I read the New Testament and thought / taught about what it means to grow in a relationship with God.

  • danaames

    I don’t think Willard argued for “dualism”, but rather that the unity of a Person involves the material as well as the immaterial – thus, we are embodied spirits, and it is “unnatural” for the two to be separated. The “nonmaterial spiritual reality that actualizes, controls, creates, and forms the physical realm'” has to have a physical body in order to be able to do that.

    More commonalities with EO:

    -“Humans are to respond to God’s powerful, Spirit-given grace by
    dethroning the self as God and enthroning God as God and so over time
    allowing God to do this work in transforming us into Christlikeness.” That is as good a definition as I have ever heard of the EO understanding of “synergy”.

    -“God is a loving, benevolent Father, full of grace and mercy and love. To
    know this God is to know the God who loves us. The Christian life is
    the ‘with God’ life; being with God leads to Godliness.” In EO, this is called “participation” and is what leads to theosis.

    -“The heart/will/spirit is the core reality of human existence.” EO would say that the nous (heart/spirit) is the core reality in that it is the “faculty” we have that is able to apprehend God. Our will would be analogous to our desire and ability to repent – that is, to turn to God in trust and the hope of union with him for life, not because of misplaced guilt or toxic shame, but because we believe that God is good and loves mankind, and “did not cease doing everything until You led us to heaven and granted us Your kingdom to come.” One has to want God to be the Lord of one’s life – vision and intention.

    -The mind as thoughts and feelings, not just thoughts. Very important.

    It’s been a while since I read “Renovation”, but I think the major difference between that and EO is that EO is not so detailed about how our faculties relate to one another. The clearer the nous becomes through the sacramental life of the church and askesis, the more a person’s life becomes what it was meant to be as a unique human Person in the image and likeness of God, able to exhibit self-giving love, and in communion with everyone else because of the Incarnation.

    Dallas did not deal with the ramifications of the Incarnation for humanity, but in this he was no different than the rest of Protestantism, which does not have this on its radar screen at all.