Monday, October 29, 2007

The Great Omission

I just finished Dallas Willard's lastest book, The Great Omission, this past weekend. What an extremely helpful and convicting book about the value of discipleship! Willard is one of the most influential authors in my life. The book is a collection of essays, articles, and talks Willard has written/given over 20+ years about the importance of being a disciple of Jesus, not just a nominal Christian.

There were several themes that stood out:

-One of the most common quotes in the book is, "grace is opposed to earning, not effort." Willard speaks of setting a higher standard for the Christian life, that we are to work out our salvation with fear and trembling (Phil. 2:12-13) as opposed to passively sitting back and letting God change us. There is a balance here--it is God who transforms us into His likeness. However, Paul also calls us to discipline ourselves, to work out our salvation through practice and intentional effort. To use a "college word," it's a dialectic, where the Holy Spirit is transforming us, we are responding to His transforming work in our lives, He uses us for His purposes, we choose to follow Him more, back and forth, etc. etc.

-Related to the above theme, we must actively choose to become like Christ. Willard repeatedly emphasizes the value of spiritual disciplines--making choices in our lifestyle so that we can be more focused on God and becoming like His Son. We don't become disciples by accident. We don't start loving other people and serving selflessly by mistake.

-The Gospel is a process. So often in the church, we view the Gospel as a one-time event rather than as the beginning of a story. In the past, the Gospel has been presented as making a cognitive belief statement. If we say we believe in Jesus and ask God for forgiveness, then we consider ourselves "saved" and thus destined for heaven. This idea likely stems from Romans 10, which speaks of confessing with our mouths and believing in our hearts that Jesus is Lord. But this is only the beginning of the faith journey.

It is like confusing the wedding for the marriage. The wedding--like the experience of repentance and salvation--is a beautiful event. But the value of the event is not in the event itself; the value is that the event begins a lifelong process of a loving relationship (both in marriage and the Gospel). The marriage is what is truly valuable, just as the ongoing process of becoming more like Jesus as His disciple is the heart of the Gospel.

I am excited to see how some of the concepts from this book can be applied in the context of junior high ministry. I think students are increasingly dissatisfied with low standards of Christian living and discipleship being reduced to a Wednesday night lesson. At least for my students, they are excited for more--more of Jesus, becoming more like Him, and the process of transformation.

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