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Dallas Willard: Why the Church?

Dallas Willard: Why the Church? September 19, 2013

Dallas Willard framed all theology and all practices as dimensions of spiritual transformation unto Christlikeness. Gary Black, Jr., in The Theology of Dallas Willard: Discovering Protoevangelical Faith sketches three more themes that illustrate our opening claim: theo-ontology, christology, and ecclesiology. God, Jesus and the church.

What do you think of making spiritual formation or transformation central to theology?

Taking up the term “ontotheology” of Kant and Heidegger, Willard reformed it to theo-ontology to express what is perhaps his most central idea: God’s existence and God’s nature are central to all being, to all creation. Everything derives from God and everything is sustained by God — and that’s the only way any life exists. Notice now this: Jesus’ kingdom theology is about that theo-ontological reality.  Kingdom for him expresses the nature of all reality. Kingdom then is the possibility of spiritual relationship to God.

The human’s destiny then is to be transformed into a perfected humanity, into perfect relation with God. This happens through transformation. Each of us “is” a kingdom and we choose which kingdom we will serve: God’s kingdom, where God rules, or our own kingdom, where we rule. Kingdom is about the range of a person’s will.

Christology — here Willard uses images not drawn from classic Christian theology (Chalcedon, deity/humanity, etc) nor from NT terms (Son of God, Son of Man, Messiah), but the following terms — and the reason seems to be that they point us in the direction of transformation unto Christlikeness: Jesus as Master, as Physicist (mastery of physical world), as Moralist (as master of how to live, with a focus on the term “righteousness”), as Logician (only a philosopher brings this into discussion, but the emphasis is the brilliance of Jesus), as Teacher, and as Guide.

On ecclesiology, once again Willard fashions a distinctive approach, and once again the church is seen as a hospital for folks on the journey toward transformation into Christlikeness. Gary Black looks at three themes, and here he applies to the church what Dallas develops for transformation: V – I – M. Vision, Intention, Means. But this time for the church. The focus, however, is more on individuals in the church. The Vision is what life in the kingdom should look like. The Intention is to become Christlike and to hold one another accountable to that journey. The Means are the spiritual disciplines that permit self-evaluation and retrain the self into Christlikeness. Grace is routinely mentioned by Willard to keep in mind that all of this is the work of God through the Spirit.

Yet, it must be emphasized that for Willard the human will is given significant location in his theology: in this Black says Willard is very Arminian.


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