Living in Christ’s Presence by Dallas Willard (Book Reaction)

(Final Words on Heaven and the Kingdom of God)

Whose voice can help us pay better attention to Jesus and the restoration that Jesus brings? I think Dallas Willard sits well on the list.

I’ve been an appreciative reader of Willard for a few years now and had the privilege to meet him at an event in Wichita, KS. There in passing, he held the door for me and in slight hallway conversation I saw a thin glimpse of this man being in his core what his writings try to bring about in others.

As others have said, there is something about Dallas Willard that is truly alive and there’s something about his writing that connects the words of Jesus even more firmly to the disciple.

Living In Christ’s Presence is an overview book, a glimpse of Willard’s best writing. I’d recommend it to anyone as a first to read from Willard and more than that, to anyone reading the words of Jesus and wondering why those words feel so new, so alive to them, as if such things had rarely been heard in their church community.

Yes, I remember reading the Gospel of John one summer and “coming-to” as they say. “Who IS this guy, this Jesus?!” I said, putting the Gospel down in my lap, “This guy, taken with his words just as they are, not dissected is talking about something that hasn’t been a very strong part of my religious experience to date. …the way he talks about obedience, faith, … he’s talking about something unfolding in the present, something that will extend into the future.”

Willard (with co-author and conversation partner John Ortberg) helps us explore this Jesus, this raw from-the-Gospels Jesus. What we discover, as Willard points up and to the right, whispering, “Look there,” is that the Gospel is a much thicker good news than many of us had heard. The Gospel is the “good news of the kingdom of God,” (Mk. 1:15) which includes forgiveness of sin, redemption, and the renovation of all creation and it’s all unfolding in the present-tense, not something we just long for, but something we work within even as we hope for it.

And as this great news unfolds, we’re awakened to participate. Our work will echo Jesus’ work, his ministry. “Jesus did three things in his own ministry: proclaim the availability of the kingdom of God to everyone, regardless of their standing in life; teach what it was like; and manifest its presence in events that could not be explained in a natural way” (p.70).

Here are a few more of my favorite quotes:

“…grace–God acting in your life” (p.9). [About defining "grace"]

“…it’s [the Great Commission] about a world revolution” (p. 11).

“To be in the yoke with Christ is to pull his load with him. What is his load? It is to bring the reign of God into ordinary human life” (p. 15).

“There is nothing wrong with the church that discipleship will not cure” (p.16).

“Making disciples is a matter of pulling people, of drawing them in through who we are and what we say” (p.17). [The Christian so grasped by Grace becomes "light in the world" as Jesus puts it, even as Jesus is light in and for the world.]

“A disciple is someone who is learning by going though the process of change” (p.19).

“What do the pastors and other spokespersons for Christ do? They bring the life of the kingdom to other people. They bring that life in themselves” (p.19).

“Pastors and spokespersons for Christ exemplify eternal living and bring it to bear on everything around them. Eternal life is the life we have now, because our life is caught up in God’s live” (p.20).

“John 17:3 is one of the most important verses to understand: ‘And this is eternal life, that they may know you, the only true God, and Jesus Christ whom you have sent’ (NRSV). Now, this knowing is not doctrinal knowledge; it’s a living interaction with God, with his Son and with his Spirit” (p.20).

“When we present the gospel through our life and our teaching of what Jesus preached, as life now available in the kingdom of God, we see people respond” (p.21).

“Put [Jesus'] words into practice and find them to be true” (p.31).

“Authentic transformation is possible if we are willing to do one thing and that is to arrange our lives around the kind of practices and life that Jesus led to be constantly receiving power and love from the Father” (p.42).

“If you had to summarize in a single phrase the gospel that Jesus preached, it would be ‘the kingdom of God’…What was new with Jesus was that the kingdom of God had become available for human beings to enter and live in…the kingdom of God is now available” (p.52).

“…study Christ and make him what fills our mind” (p.77).

‘…the progression into the kingdom if coming to believe what [Jesus] believes, coming to trust it, to live on it, to act on it, to make it count. We do that by fixing our minds on him” (p.79).

“The main thing you bring to the church is the person that you become, and that’s what everybody will see, that’s what you’ll get reproduced; that’s what people will believe. Arrange your life so that you are experiencing deep contentment, joy, and confidence in your everyday life with God” (p.106).

“You don’t save souls; you save people” (p.121).

“Discipleship is simply the reception of grace, and receiving grace is simply what discipleship consists of” (p.142, quoting Dietrich Bonhoeffer’s The Cost of Discipleship).

“Blessing is the projection of good into the life of another” (p.164).

I suggest you find a copy and read it for yourself. And even better, read Jesus direct. Get into the Gospels and just read. Read Willard after that, maybe during that, and come to see that “the righteous will live by faith” truly means something about the life God brings into the depths of our being, a life that’s actually lived in our forgiven, beloved selves.