I'm turning into a Dallas Willard groupie. I read The Great Omission and it rocked my world. His main point is that as a church, we are not seriously pursuing discipleship - actually trying to do the things Jesus said we should do and thus become more like him. We have shifted the focus from giving our lives over to Jesus and his leadership - his leadership in the things we do every day. The focus is on our eternal destiny. We "make converts and baptize into church membership." Serious discipleship is optional. It's for the super-Christian. This adjusted version of Christianity results in believers (i.e., me)whose lives do not look appreciably different from non- or anti- Christians. Willard connects this fact with the declining acceptance of the exclusivity of Christianity. Why should people accept that Jesus is THE way when our lives don't look any different from the lives of people who don't follow him?
At this point the Baptist girl and teacher's pet in me starts to freak out and jump into "frantic faithfulness"* mode. How exactly are you supposed to pursue Christlikeness? You cannot get at the fruits of the Spirit** directly. (Have you tried? It's a completely demoralizing exercise.) A physicist at church used a gyroscope to demonstrate this. To move a gyroscope straight forward, you push diagonally (I think). To become patient you can't just grit your teeth and push forward. So what do you do? Well, we're not blazing a new trail here. Others have gone before us. Dallas Willard writes of the spiritual disciplines as "activities in our power that we engage in to enable us to do what we cannot do by direct effort."
The overwhelming majority of things that pull me away from God are pretty mundane. They don't seem like a big deal, but when I consider the impact they make in my life in terms of time, emotional energy and distraction, they're HUGE - food, TV, shopping, the way I speak to my children and about other people (Interesting aside - As I was typing this I realized that I basically never struggle over speaking poorly ABOUT my children or TO other grownups. I like to brag about my kids and I don't want to offend other adults, at least not to their faces. What if I shifted my bragging energy toward other adults and my kind tone of voice toward my children.) There are spiritual disciplines that address each of these hangups: fasting, frugality, simplicity, silence and solitude. It's not direct, and the specifics of how it works don't really make sense to me. I know as a mom that I'm going to be gentler with my children if I wake up and have some quiet before they come hurling down the stairs. I don't know why, but I know that I don't hear that quiet leading from God very often when I'm in a pattern of overeating. I'm just taking baby steps here, but the living testimony of people like John Bunyan and Mother Teresa is that this stuff works.
Wow, this started as a book report and turned into a sermon/confessional. Back to the subject at hand. Willard also points out that grace is not only about the forgiveness of sins. It is also about living life in a different way. It takes A LOT of grace to seriously pursue Christlikeness.
He challenges churches to consider how much of what we do is "futile ways received from our fathers" and be willing to omit anything, salvage nothing but what "brings ourselves and others to do whatsoever Jesus has commanded us."
Here are some quotes from The Great Omission:
"The idea that following Jesus as a disciple is optional has slowly crept into church thinking. Is that true? On what do we base that idea?"
"Am I a disciple or just a Christian by current standards"
Speaking of solitude and silence"Accept the grace of doing nothing. Stay with it until you stop jerking and squirming."
"Grace is not opposed to effort, it's opposed to earning. Earning is an attitude. Effort is an action."
"Character is formed through action, and it is transformed through action, including carefully planned and grace-sustained disciplines."
Concerning the good church member approach to following Jesus - "The problem of life is too radical for that to be the solution."
This was written to ministers, but I've adapted it for mothers. "The most important thing happening at any moment, in the midst of all our [mothering] duties is the kind of persons we are becoming."
*From Freedom of Simplicity by Richard Foster
**The fruits of the Spirit are love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness and self-control. I have been able to recite these since the tender age of fifteen when I participated in a psychotic game at Baptist church camp (that was mostly not psychotic). A handful of teenagers in a room of a couple hundred is taught the fruits of the Spirit. It is their job to spread the word throughout the room. Every couple of minutes a group of people "dies" based on a recognizable trait like eye color. They get to go to "heaven" or are condemned to "hell" based on whether or not they can recite the fruits of the Spirit. So, the downside is that I went to hell because I have green eyes. The upside is that while they are psycho sometimes, the Baptists (among whom I count myself) can inspire memory work in a teenager like nobody's business.