Monday, January 17, 2011

Book - "Knowing Christ Today" (Dallas Willard)

Title: Knowing Christ Today - Why We Can Trust Spiritual Knowledge
Author: Dallas Willard
Published: NY: HarperCollins, 2009.

Knowing Christ Today: Why We Can Trust Spiritual KnowledgeBelief, Commitment and Profession must be based on true knowledge, and not the reverse. This compelling book by the renowned author, Dallas Willard tries to reinstate the need of spiritual knowledge in the Church and the world today. In a world torn with multiple worldviews and pluralistic philosophies based on hearsay, feelings, and self-driven idolatry, Willard argues for a return to taking spiritual knowledge seriously. The need is grave, as illustrated by his observation below:
"To illustrate, the current guide to reality and what is good in the United States, if not the Western world as a whole, is sensuality or feeling. The worldview answers people now live by are provided by feelings. Desire, not reality and not what is good, rules our world. That is even true for the most part within religion. Most of what Americans do in their religion now is done at the behest of feelings. They judge Christian activities and their own religious condition according to their feelings. The quest for pleasure takes over the house of God. What is good or what is true is no longer the guide." (199)
About the Book
Willard begins the book by lamenting the poor perception of knowledge in our modern world. Even serious and thoughtful Christians are confused about what to do with a world that has elevated 'sincere opinion, emotion, blind commitment, or behavior traditional for their social group.' Knowledge has been given a pejorative name via a dismissive phrase: "Mere head knowledge."

No! says Dr Willard. He argues passionately:

"God has room for people with very little sense, but He wants everyone to use what sense they have." (11)

In Chapter 1 "Can Faith Ever Be Knowledge?," Willard argues that faith and knowledge must go hand in hand. Neither is supposed to usurp each other's importance. In Chapter 2, he outlines the sinister worldviews that threaten to destroy mankind through lack of knowledge. He uses four key questions to probe the need for knowledge.

  1. What is reality?
  2. Who is well-off or blessed?
  3. Who is a truly good person?
  4. How does one become a truly good person?
All the worldviews are inadequate, save in Christ. All of the above questions can only be rooted in the words of Christ. A philosopher himself, the author points out the weaknesses or secularism, spiritual nirvana, deism, agnosticism, skepticism, and other man-made philosophies, lumping them under the umbrella of idolatry.Modernism and science is also not spared, as they are worldviews that are largely unsupported.
"No science is omnicompetent, nor, very likely, is any chance 'scientifically minded' person. But given the present confusions in the world of intellect, this seems to be a point easily missed. Actually, what we see here are the influences of an unsupported worldview." (60)
Chapters 4-7 represent the author's core arguments why Christ represents true spiritual knowledge. He ends the book with a clarion call for pastors, teachers and leaders of the Church to rise up to the challenge to be counted as leading the charge for greater spiritual knowledge. For knowledge in Christ can be trusted.

My Comments
Like what the author admitted, this book is certainly not a devotional. It takes mental effort to probe, to question, and to rationalize the arguments. Sometimes I wish that Willard can write in a simpler manner so that more laypersons can benefit from his insights. Those who succeed in understanding what Willard is trying to say, would be like someone reaching the summit of a challenging mountain. It is a mountain-top exhilarating experience. It inspires. It challenges. It provokes. It encourages. Above all, it brings the reader back to first principles of faith: Knowledge.

Without knowledge, not only the Church,  but the world at large will perish. Christian disciples must not see the Church as their primary area of influence. I agree that the domain must be larger. The Church must be more inclusive in terms of its magnitude of discipleship. Like Willard, true discipleship is in discipling the world, not just the church.

My favourite chapter is the last "Pastors as Teachers of the Nations", not because I am a pastor. I think the Church needs the message of this book. We should not shun away from teaching the truths of the gospel, amid accusations of 'mere head knowledge' or 'over-intellectualizing' the faith. We need to be patient with each other. Let the strong or the more intellectual, bear with the weak or less brainy. Through simple explanations, through diligent study, and through consistent desire to teach one another, the Church will be the biggest blessing the world has ever encountered. Dare we dream and implement that into reality?

With this book, Dallas Willard join the ranks of Mark Noll's "The Scandal of the Evangelical Mind," on the call toward intelligent and engaging need to be mindful about our faith.

4.5 stars out of 5.


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