Good tidings of great joy to all people

I gave a copy of The Divine Conspiracy and my review of the book to a friend.  She in turn mentioned the book and my enthusiastic endorsement to her sister.  Sister asked friend if I had not made similar claims for other books in the course of our acquaintance, and her question sent me on a quick mental review of my library.  After thinking of the books I cherish, of the books I share, of the books that I reread periodically, I conclude that The Divine Conspiracy is in a class of its own.

I am sure that every Christian will find blessing in A.W. Tozer’s The Knowledge of the Holy, Oswald Chambers’ My Utmost For His Highest, Andrew Murray’s Abide In Christ, E.M. Bounds, The Weapon of Prayer, Evelyn Christenson’s What Happens When Women Pray, Paul Brand and Philip Yancey’s Fearfully and Wonderfully Made, Phillip Keller’s A Shepherd Looks At the Twenty-Third Psalm, Ken Sande’s The Peacemaker, Tom Wright’s How God Became King, K.P. Yohannan’s The Road to Reality.  If I actually went to my shelves, I might find a few more books to add to this list.

But then I have books by Hugh Ross, Ravi Zacharias, Gene Edwards, Richard Swenson, John W. Kennedy, Charles Stanley, John MacArthur, Madame Guyon, Hannah Hunard, Augustine, Richard Foster, Dietrich Bonhoeffer, Peter Whyte, Max Lucado, Donald Kraybill, Ann Voskamp and others that I recommend rather selectively.  I have topical collections of books about abortion, apologetics, biblical inerrancy, child sexual abuse, cancer, counseling, discipleship, education, eschatology, gardening, government, Haiti, herbs, history, language, leadership, nutrition, origins, peacemaking, prayer, science, slavery, spiritual gifts, writing fiction, and any other subject that captured my interest since I earned my first paycheck many, many years ago.   I only mention books in those collections when someone expresses a common interest.  I own too many books that are still waiting to be read.   I own many books that I would gladly give away to a good home.  I own unnumbered books packed in boxes somewhere that could disappear and I might never know they were gone.   I delight in my Kindle because now I can carry a library in my pocket and constantly add to it with just one click.

I am a dyed-in-the-wool bibliophile.  I love books.  I am repeatedly blessed by books in many ways, and so I recommend a wide variety of books to my friends for a wide variety of reasons.  It is simply the nature of the beast.  But I can assure my friend’s sister that have never before recommended a book to EVERYONE.  Not only have I recommended The Divine Conspiracy to Fundamentalist and Catholic, Baptist and Methodist, Calvinist and Anabaptist, Continuationist and Cessessionist, Dispensationist and Amillennialist, OECs and YECs, mature saints and new believers, readers and non-readers, young and old, I have also recommended it to total strangers encountered in the waiting room, in the check-out line, in the coffee shop. And perhaps most incredibly, I recommend it to agnostic and atheist as well.

The Divine Conspiracy encompasses all that I have learned in decades of following the Lord and reading book after book after wonderful book.  It distills the good tidings of great joy for all people into its purest form.  Dallas Willard communicates the essence of the gospel in a way that anyone can thoroughly understand and actually experience as a disciple transforming into the likeness of Christ.  Because Dallas Willard devoted his life to obediently learning from the Master teacher, he has become like him.  Within the pages of The Divine Conspiracy, the author fades away and leaves me looking directly into the face of the God who gave his life to save me, who reaches out his hand to me, and asks me to simply surrender to his love in the ordinary moments of life.   I now know without a doubt that I can become daily more like Christ because I now see clearly exactly how God works to overcome evil with good.   That is why I think The Divine Conspiracy is in a class of its own.  But don’t take my word for it: read it yourself, whoever you are!

Jesus is smart and whatever he commands is doable

ImageRichard Foster (author of Celebration of Disciplines) calls The Divine Conspiracy “the book I have been searching for all of my life.”   I concur without reservation.  Dallas Willard is not only a devoted follower of Jesus Christ (I have been blessed to know many of those in my lifetime), he is also a brilliant thinker (a rare breed, but I still know a few).  But those two things alone are not sufficient to set his book apart from others in my library.   I have many well-beloved books that tell me the Lord is wonderful and that I should be like him.  The Divine Conspiracy shows exactly how the transformation into Christlikeness can happen in the life of anyone who chooses to follow Jesus, because Dallas Willard’s devoted spirit and brilliant mind are combined with a superlative teaching gift.

I have two analogies to describe the impact of this book on my life.  The first is the jig-saw puzzle with each member of the body of Christ represented as a single piece.  Many pieces are fitted perfectly together, securely connected to surrounding pieces. Others are clustered around fitted pieces because their colors seem to match, but they still aren’t sure exactly where they are meant to connect.  Sections of the puzzle are assembled in various places.  Some even show completed objects, while some have obviously missing pieces.  Some sections are so dissimilar that it doesn’t seem quite possible that they will all be part of the same completed picture.  And some of these sections believe that they are meant to remain separate, convinced that their portion is actually the whole, and that all pieces should conform to their colors and shapes if they are to be part of Christ’s body.  Sadly, too many pieces are in still in a disordered scramble, shuffling from one section to another, or waiting between sections, and wondering if they really belong anywhere.

The Divine Conspiracy is the box with the completed portrait of Christ.  It may still take time for the individual to find a place, and totally unexpected connections are yet to be made.  Entire sections may need to be shifted from the top to the bottom (That’s not sky!  It’s water reflecting the sky!) or to be shifted from the right to the left and vice versa (an intentional political statement).  But Dallas Willard has set the clear image of Christ before us and assured us that we are being fitted together for the glory of God right now.

The second analogy is personal rather than corporate.  I have been on a journey all of my life. I have traveled hundreds, maybe thousands of spiritual miles, with relative ease.  I made it to the right nation, the right state, the right county, the right township, and even to the right neighborhood. But for a very long time, I was aimlessly wandering through that neighborhood trying to find the right address. I knocked on many doors where sometimes I was rudely rebuffed, sometimes politely given directions, and sometimes invited in to chat a while before I was sent on my way. Suddenly a light appeared in a window, a door opened, and Dallas Willard shouted, “Come on in.”  I am home at last.  I have found rest for my soul.

The Divine Conspiracy is unquestionably a book for every disciple (or apprentice, as Dallas would say) of Jesus Christ.  It is for all those who want to be just like him, for those who are willing to allow him to live his life in their bodies.  Dr. Willard imitated Christ at the University of Southern California as a professor of philosophy from 1965 until 2012, but he writes for the serious student of Jesus Christ in any walk of life.  The Divine Conspiracy requires the reader to think, and to think deeply. But as Dr. Willard says, we cannot love the Lord with all our minds if we are not willing to think deeply about Jesus Christ.

Dr. Willard’s interpretation of the Sermon on the Mount (or the Discourse on the Hillside, as he calls it) is enlightening and liberating.  His understanding of Christ’s method and purpose in teaching has taken me to new places both spiritually and intellectually.  I am still meditating on many of the things he says, but he has completely resolved the tension for me between my commitment to both non-resistance and active participation in government.

I have long believed that Christ’s call for us to be perfect as our Father in heaven is perfect is meant to be taken literally at this time and in this place.  I have long believed that when Christ prayed for us to be one as he and his Father are one that his prayer was answered for this time and in this place. I am grateful to Dallas Willard for moving my strong beliefs to sure knowledge.  For the rest of my life in this realm I will joyously engage in God’s Divine Conspiracy.

The entire take away message is in the title: Jesus is smart and whatever he commands is doable.