We are excited to be able to let you know that Dallas Willard will be in Cape Town from 8-13 August 2010.
This is really an opportunity not to be missed!!
We are excited to be able to let you know that Dallas Willard will be in Cape Town from 8-13 August 2010.
This is really an opportunity not to be missed!!
DALLAS WILLARD is a Professor in the School of Philosophy at the University of Southern California in Los Angeles. He has taught at USC since 1965, where he was Director of the School of Philosophy from 1982-1985. He has also taught at the University of Wisconsin (Madison, 1960-1965), and has held visiting appointments at UCLA (1969) and the University of Colorado (1984)
Dallas is considered to be a leading thinker in Christian spiritual formation and his books include Renovation of the Heart published in May 2002, and received Christianity Today’s 2003 Book Award in the category of Spirituality. The Divine Conspiracy was released in 1998 and selected Christianity Today’s “Book of the Year” for 1999. The Spirit of the Disciplines appeared in 1988, and Hearing God (1999) first appeared as In Search of Guidance in 1984 (2nd edition in 1993). More recent publications include The Great Omission and Knowing Christ Today.
He has served on the boards of the C.S. Lewis Foundation and Biola University, and is a member of numerous evaluation committees for the Western Association of Schools and Colleges (accreditation).
The event came together organically. Joy Skjegstad and I first talked about an on-site, face-to-face event based on material she had developed in two previous books and a number of online webinars for Alban. I put together an online event flyer and a PDF file to email to potential supporters of the idea. Joy knew Al Tizon, Director of Word and Deed Network, from her previous work in Philadelphia. Al put us in touch with Ruben Ortiz from Esperanza, who provided scholarship assistance for some of their members who otherwise might not be able to afford to attend. Al also made possible the use of meeting facilities at Palmer Theological Seminary, where he also teaches; put two Sider Center Scholars at our disposal for the entire day; and arranged for overnight housing for the leaders of the workshop.
We didn’t experience a miraculous erasure of differences, many of which really do matter. And the Reign of God did not break in before we broke up and headed home at 4:00 p.m. Yet this fortuitous network of partners provides a compelling model, I believe, for congregational ministries of the future, if they are to have the resources necessary to carry out their various current projects, much less flourish and grow into new areas of faithfulness, responsibility, and vitality.
All these glorious parts of the larger community of the people of God acted like partners for these few precious hours. We yoked ourselves together and pulled in a common direction. And when it was said and done, we were glad not just for what we had learned, but for the fact that we had learned it together, differences and all.
We got a glimpse of what is possible in partnerships; and in the process we met new colleagues and we made new friends. We saw into the future for a few hours what American congregations might look like, gathered rather than scattered, much less internally divided or opposed to one another. It was worth the trip, and worth getting metaphorical sand in my shoes. I hope that my Head Start students, now middle-aged, would have been proud to see in action what I first learned from them.
(A Paintely Tradition)
Antony the Egyption anchorite whose path to salvation was obstructed by the villainous interference of recourcefull demons. Surounded by followers who in the spirit of the most unlovely competition tried to equel the sufferings of the matyrs by prolonged and refined self inflicted tortures. Antony as social outcast retreats to the inner mountains of upper Egypt. To mine the pandemoniac junkshop of solitude. The saintly monomaniac cast from heretical pillar to hallucinatory post. Solitude and desire. The wasting leprosy of ennui echos of a metaphysical howl. A refugee from the tedious irrelevance of the gentle stupidity of things.
As we look at the world in which St Antony lived, we see a world in metaphysical turmoil. The apocalyptical writings of Judaism of angelic hosts in conflict. The Gnostics as a diabolical twin of Christianity with their rejection of the freedom of man and the ultimate goodness of creation.
The Roman empire divided between the Latin west and the Greek speaking east. A de facto Christian empire sence the counsil of Nicaea 315. The theological splitting of hairs, the conflict for the ultimate control of the official Roman church, the bitter and bloody Arian controversy in which even St Antony became embroiled. The eventual intolerance and cruelty of the Latin Roman church. We learn of the lady Hypatia of Alexandria pagan teacher of mathematics, astronomy and neoplatonist philosophy torn to pieces by a Christian mob, instigated by their bishop (later saint) Cyril. In this cruel and fragmented times we find St Antony at his inner mountains in upper Egypt in a hollow of time in a fold of history in a state of saintly folly.
Published in Time 11 January 2010
One Sunday last fall, Bill Hybels, founder and senior pastor at the Willow Creek Community Church in Chicago’s northwest suburbs, was preaching on the logic and power of Jesus’ words “Love thine enemy.” As is his custom, Hybels was working a small semicircle of easels arrayed behind his lectern, reinforcing key phrases. Hybels’ preaching is economical, precise of tone and gesture. Again by custom, he was dressed in black, which accentuated his pale complexion, blue eyes and hair, once Dutch-boy blond but now white. Indeed, if there is a whiter preacher currently running a megachurch, that man must glow.
Yet neither Hybels’ sermon, nor his 23,400-person congregation, is as white as he is. Along with Jesus, he invoked Martin Luther King Jr. Then he introduced Shawn Christopher, a former backup singer for Chaka Khan, who offered a powerhouse rendition of “We Shall Overcome.” As the music swelled, Larry and Renetta Butler, an African-American couple in their usual section in the 7,800-seat sanctuary, exchanged glances. Since Hybels decided 10 years ago to aggressively welcome minorities to his lily-white congregation, Renetta says, few sermons pass without a cue that he is still at it. “He always throws in something,” she says. She’s been around long enough to recall when this wasn’t the case.
In 1963, Martin Luther King Jr. famously declared that “11 o’clock Sunday morning is the most segregated hour of the week … And the Sunday school is still the most segregated school.” That largely remains true today. Despite the growing desegregation of most key American institutions, churches are still a glaring exception. Surveys from 2007 show that fewer than 8% of American congregations have a significant racial mix.
Since Reconstruction, when African Americans fled or were ejected from white churches, black and white Christianity have developed striking differences of style and substance. The argument can be made that people attend the church they are used to; many minorities have scant desire to attend a white church, seeing their faith as an important vessel of cultural identity. But those many who desire a transracial faith life have found themselves discouraged — subtly, often unintentionally, but remarkably consistently. In an age of mixed-race malls, mixed-race pop-music charts and, yes, a mixed-race President, the church divide seems increasingly peculiar. It is troubling, even scandalous, that our most intimate public gatherings — and those most safely beyond the law’s reach — remain color-coded. (See the top 10 pictures of the year.)
But in some churches, the racial divide is beginning to erode, and it is fading fastest in one of American religion’s most conservative precincts: Evangelical Christianity. According to Michael Emerson, a specialist on race and faith at Rice University, the proportion of American churches with 20% or more minority participation has languished at about 7.5% for the past nine years. But among Evangelical churches with attendance of 1,000 people or more, the slice has more than quadrupled, from 6% in 1998 to 25% in 2007.
MEDITATION – THE VIRTUE OF ONE THING ONLY
A while ago my computer started playing up. It froze on certain programmes and despite my best efforts, it refused to open and allow me access. What a frustration! It almost felt as if I was dealing with a stubborn child who, without good reason, had withdrawn, shut himself off and become totally unresponsive.
Being no more than semi-computer literate, I followed the regular pattern of my generation: I called in my son – who was not particularly patient with his dad. After running through all the standard procedures to get the computer started he eventually also gave up. His final verdict was: “Your computer is full of junk, dad. It has seized. It is overloaded. You need to organise and manage your programmes better”.
Next step was off to the dealer who confirmed the problem. In fact, according to him my hard drive had given in and I was in danger of losing all my vital information. What a shock, what anxiety at the prospect of losing years’ worth of precious work: sermons, talks, letters, courses, poems, prayers and promises … the whole anthology of creative effort that I had collected, produced, stored quite diligently over many years – all gone in a moment!
I was obliged to consider my son’s opinion on the state of my hard drive. And, drawing comparisons in my usual way, it had to cross my mind that there is a parallel between the human mind, our own psyche in fact, and these modern information systems. Even if not in the same mechanical way, our mental awareness is vulnerable to becoming disorganised, cluttered and overloaded, sometimes to a point where it can also freeze, pack up, call it a day. With increasing demands and pressures, the exhausting claims and responsibilities of modern society, it is no surprise that many suffer from burnout, depression and anxiety.
As with my computer, banal as the comparison may be, many people today reach a point where everything has just become too much – and so they start to seize, becoming passive and negative. Eventually they lose their energy and perspective, they give up on life, shut down. This often starts with feelings of exhaustion and anxiety, a marked sense of irritation. These are the vital signs, the warning lights that our system has become overloaded, that it is in danger of giving in and shutting down.
It is not always easy to regain your calm and restore a healthy perspective once you have become trapped in this deadly cycle of ongoing work and pressure. One needs to stop and take stock; remember what is of real value, focus on those things that we know are reliable. Being concerned, distracted by many things is not a new or modern problem. In Matt 6:33-34, Jesus urges his followers to turn their attention to the one thing that really matters and will make a difference – “Set your mind on God’s kingdom and his justice before anything else, and all the rest will come to you as well. So do not be anxious about tomorrow, tomorrow will look after itself”.
Is this not also what Martha, overstressed by so many duties and obligations, had to learn.
“Martha, Martha you are fretting and fussing about so many things; but one thing is necessary” (Lk 11:41).
What’s an example?
In high-end quantum physics they believe matter isn’t stable. The atoms in a chair are connected in a pattern of relationships. And the Bible begins with a triune God—a relationship of loving, giving, creative energy. Ah ha, there’s something there.
Drops Like Stars began when I realized that basic art theory has all of these connections with suffering. And so it generally starts with some odd moment of connection. And then from there it’s just the hard work of hunting things down, digging things up, becoming aware of all that’s going on around us all the time. I have journals filled with fragments, and over time they grow.
How is that different from how you were originally trained to preach?
A lot of pastors were trained to read the verse and then read the commentaries. But after a while the two are just talking to each other. One’s focus can actually become smaller and smaller until everything is funneled into the particular text. The movement then becomes in rather than out. So it’s Tuesday afternoon and a pastor is sitting in the office reading James 2 and four or five commentaries hoping to find that little nugget. When all the while there’s a huge world of insight and implication and ideas out there.
Rather than shrinking our vision, the text should become a pair of eyes with which we are able to see even more. There’s a great big world out there with quantum physics, and architecture, and economic theory, and the thread count of clothing, and the fact that refrigerators in Europe are smaller—all of these seemingly random events and occurrences and happenings are all connected and help us see how this really is God’s world.
That covers content, but what about the sermon structure?
There’s a whole world of screenwriting wisdom that we can tap into as preachers. There are storytelling insights about arc, tension, narrative, perspective, point of view—these things aren’t taught in most seminaries, but they’re essential to understanding how stories work, which means they’re incredibly helpful in understanding the Bible.
Imagine a pastor on Thursday staring at this obscure passage in the life of David trying to figure out where the sermon is. One playwright says, “When in doubt, just have a different character give the line.” And suddenly it clicks—do the sermon from the perspective of Uriah. Boom! Just one little adjustment and all of a sudden the whole thing works. My experience has been that the modern preaching, teaching, training system doesn’t tap people into all this. The imagination involved in the art of the sermon can end up being stifled.
There’s a lot of emphasis today on practical preaching, helping people address their felt-needs, and giving direct application. Is that foremost in your mind when you prepare a message?
When I prepare to teach a text there are a few questions I always ask. First, “What’s the thing behind the thing?” and “What’s the truth behind the truth?” So if we’re talking about tithing, we’re really talking about generosity and participation. And if we’re talking about generosity and participation, then we’re really talking about whether you view the world as a scarcity or as a world governed by a Trinitarian God. Is the universe at its core a sliced-up pie where you grab your slice and then protect and defend it? Or do you believe that at the core there is an endlessly self-giving, loving community of God we are invited to step into?
So you can talk about tithing—giving your 10 percent. Or you can wrestle with a scarcity versus a Trinitarian view of the universe with tithing perhaps being an implication at the end of the message.
So you’re trying to help people see a larger view of reality, through the lens of the gospel, rather than just giving them practical application.
Yes, exactly. I call it the truth behind the truth; the mystery behind the mystery; reality behind the reality. If you say we’re going to do a series on marriage for the next five weeks, there’s a chance that people who’s aren’t married, who are single, or who are divorced are going to think, Well, I guess I don’t have to show up for five weeks.
Another way to approach the subject is to see marriage as one of the applications of the truth behind the truth. The truth behind the truth would lead you to preach one week on being honest, the next on apologizing, and the next on serving others. Those truths apply to everyone. And then each week you might include a point on how it applies to marriage.
Does our inability to find the truth behind the truth explain why we ignore large sections of the Bible in our preaching? We just don’t see much practical how-to in Obadiah?
It’s interesting you bring this up because when our church started, I spent the first year and a half preaching through Leviticus verse by verse. But now it’s a part of our church’s DNA to assume that every text has something for us—even ones that make no sense the first time you read them.
“I always assume that there is way more going on in the text than we see on the first reading.”—Rob Bell
It may be my own warped sense of humor, but it was always the odd places in the Bible that I found most compelling. It’s God’s inspired Word, and it’s all useful. But to really believe that—that’s when things get interesting. I’d rather trust God, jump into those texts, and discover what God has for us.
I really like the idea of throwing yourself at its mercy. I’m just assuming there will be things here. Last year we did Philippians verse by verse. It took the whole year. I always begin with the assumption that there is way more going on in the text than we see on the first reading.
With more familiar texts, like Philippians, you have a different challenge. How do you bring forward new insights without deteriorating into novelty?
We use phrases like “historic orthodox Christian faith” a lot, and we ask how Christians before us have understood the text. What did the church fathers say about this? For example, we did Lamentations for Lent. For thousands of years Christians have taken the season leading up to Resurrection Sunday for reflection.
We frame many things like that. Here are ways people have thought about this, understood this, expressed this over the years.
So you’re not just trying to be different or innovative, you’re trying to be rooted?
Right. We’re interested in the way of Jesus and being true to the way of Jesus. If what we dig up is rattling or provocative or surprising, great, but setting out to be shocking or controversial, that’s not a goal God honors.
What else have you found unhelpful when preaching?
Focusing too much on something in the text that is an issue of hairsplitting debate among theologians. You are assuming that people care as much about the debate as you do. Somebody may be sitting there thinking, “Dude, I’m a plumber. I didn’t know that was a debate, and I didn’t know that it needed to be resolved. I’m just trying to figure out life with God and you spent sixteen minutes letting me know that you understood the origins of this particular Greek word.” Some things just aren’t helpful.
Why do we get sucked into those unhelpful debates?
In some sense we are justifying our existence. We want to appear smart and authoritative. We want to display what we know and prove that we deserve to be up here on the stage rather than humbly receiving the role as a gift.
I have definitely been guilty of trying to show people how much I know about a verse, and that’s different than allowing them to see how the truth of it has impacted my life and can transform theirs. When we put language on our experience with a text, then it becomes life-giving preaching.
So for legitimacy as leaders we rely on our intelligence rather than our intimacy with Christ.
“Church is actually about caring for one another, speaking the truth with one another in love.”—Rob Bell
Right. It’s about walking with God. As a pastor it is easy to fall into a pattern of life that is isolating, and in a weird way “Church, Inc.” becomes your sphere of life. Before you know it, as pastor you’re out of touch with what other people are really struggling with.