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A Critique of Dallas Willard and The Spirit of the Disciplines

Discussion in 'Baptist Theology & Bible Study' started by Revmitchell, Apr 27, 2008.

  1. Revmitchell

    Revmitchell Well-Known Member
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    Feb 18, 2006
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    Practices called “spiritual disciplines” that are deemed necessary for “spiritual formation” have entered evangelicalism. Recent encounters with this teaching narrated to me by friends caused me to investigate these practices. The first experience involved my friend and co-worker Ryan Habbena who went back to seminary to finish his masters degree. Here is his experience in his own words:

    I recently took a seminary course on the book of Luke. It was a summer intensive and was one of only two classes being offered at the time. About midway through the week, while the class was steeped in trying to discern the intent and significance of the book of Luke, we began to hear the echoes of mystic chanting coming through the walls. As it turned out, the other class being offered was parked right next to ours. The paper thin walls were carrying the choruses of a class exploring the life and teachings of Catholic mystic Henry Nouwen. We proceeded, trying to concentrate on studying the Scriptures while tuning out the chants that were carrying on next door. Perhaps what was more unsettling though is the class studying Nouwen was chock full, while there were plenty of empty seats next door for anyone wanting to learn about the inspired book of Luke.1

    More Here
  2. Baptist Believer

    Baptist Believer Well-Known Member
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    Jun 20, 2002
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    There are so many things wrong with that article, there isn't time to deal with them now, but here's a section I would like to comment on:
    Jesus calls all of His disciples to "Follow Me." The disciples in the gospel followed Jesus, lived life with Him and learned how He did things. Jesus practiced fasting (and said His disciples would eventually fast when "the bridegroom" was taken away), He practiced solitude (what the article calls "temporary banishment" in order to sound as Roman Catholic and foreign as possible), Jesus prayed (which is one of the disciplines, but the article probably won't mention it because too many people will understand that there isn't a problem), and Jesus practiced rest when He and the disciples would leave the crowds and go away for a time of refreshing.

    The fact that some members of the "Medieval Catholic Church" practiced the disciplines of Jesus should not make us avoid it. It's just too bad that all members of the Catholic Church didn't intentionally mold their lives after Christ.

    The writer of this article seems to believe that it has to be one way or the other. Jesus clearly said, "Come to me all who labor ... and I'll give you rest." Then He immediately followed it up with, "Take my yoke upon you and learn from me, for I am gentle and humble in heart."

    And for what it's worth, Willard does not base everything on those three verses in Matthew 11:28-30. Willard simply uses those magnificent verses as the guiding theme in that book. If the author (or the author's friend) had read Willard's book carefully or had read some of Willard's other books, they would have a much better understanding of Willard's position.

    Nope. Willard is a strong proponent of grace, although he is not a five-point Calvinist. Willard is simply pointing out that Jesus has called us to act as a result of His grace. Any careful reading of the New Testament makes that very clear.

    This is complete nonsense. The author is trying to set one thing against the other, as well as introduce something that can't be biblical supported.

    Is Jesus an ethical teacher whose example can be followed? Absolutely. He calls all disciples to follow Him. Furthermore, He not only teaches ethics, He shows us how to put them into practice, and through the transforming power of the Holy Spirit in cooperation with submitting our members to His ways, we can actually become the kind of people who are changed.

    Does Willard believe that "Jesus is the unique Son of God who alone always does the things that please the Father?" Absolutely. Although I believe (and from his writings and public addresses, I think Willard believes) that disciples of Jesus can please God through their good works. That does not mean that they are "earning salvation" but simply doing the good works that please God.

    If you take it literally, then you don't have to perform exegetical handstands to try to make it talk about the modern Baptist/evangelical view of salvation where salvation is like a ticket to heaven that one receives when you merely intellectually believe certain facts and a perspective of the atonement for salvation.

    Instead, this passage is one of many places in the gospels where Jesus calls disciples to come into His kingdom and learn His ways. And that doesn't sit well with most Baptists since we've grown accustomed to conducting a "saving" transaction with Jesus and then acting righteously (washing the outside of the cup) instead of working with and learning from Jesus to be transformed on the inside (washing the inside of the cup) so that we become the kind of people who act righteously out of instinct and habit (like those disciples in the parable of the sheep and the goats who did good works without thinking they are anything special).

    In my opinion, this article is indefensible. Especially for anyone who has read Willard's book or is familiar with the teaching of Jesus in the gospels.