Friday, November 27, 2009

Book Review: Knowing Christ Today

Dallas Willard, author of this book, is a professor of philosophy at USC and a friend of Richard Foster (author of many books on the spiritual disciplines). At first this may seem on the list of "combinations we wouldn't think of offhand," but Willard's writing makes it perfectly natural. He is one of the best writers at conveying heavy philsophical concepts without you even knowing it; the writing is so sharp you don't even feel it. This book is about "epistemology" on that level, but he makes a strong case that knowing Jesus is a category of knowledge as strong (or stronger than!) scientific knowing. What he has to say goes right along with the Weter Lecture (although I hope to approach half his heart for the practical "application points" for the reader). Some post-its that didn't make it into the lecture:

"When we have knowledge ... we are not just guessing, and the anxieties, hesitations, and vacillations that prevail where knowledge is absent no longer control our lives." p.45. (From those three characteristics I take is that knowledge is very much absent 'round here.) A correlation between Idols, Ignorance, and loss of Identity (Israel's national identity at the very least) is provocative. Contrary to this is the Real stuff that one can Rely on (and know).

His chapter on natural theology is great on evolution but not so helpful when it comes to quantum physics. The problem is he builds a lot on the statement that something never comes from nothing. This is fine on our level, but the quantum level has the uncertainty principle in which something does sometimes come from nothing. The philosophical edifice can still be built I think but it changes the equations importantly. This is in some ways the most disappointing part of the book. There's just a lot of complexities he skates by.

p.118: The Apostles Creed is a list of knowable, historical events. It's no good to just pretend they're mere "spiritual truths"; they are events that can be known. Not just facts either, but events that happened to a person who can still be known.

p.137: The story of R.A. Torrey is retold (it's even in VeggieTales now). He counted on God's provision through prayer to extreme levels. Reading this alongside the Jubilee rules points out that God put sabbath and Jubilee rules in the law to try and codify this kind of radical reliance.

p.153: Willard's conception of the Kingdom of God is very interesting. He says your kingdom is what you can control with your will. So if the kingdom of God is near/at hand, does that mean your choices can be made, can be given to God? I'm trying to see how this fits with NT Wright's historical explanations of what that phrase meant to second-temple Jews. I think there's overlap but there's some things to explain too.

p. 158: The most challenging part of the book: Willard reminding me that my job is to seek the best for others, the first thought, love. Let's just say this doesn't exactly come naturally to me...

p.160: Another simple but mind-blowing quote: "Prayer is God's arrangement for a safe power sharing with us in his intention to bless the world through us."

p.207: For those teaching at Christian colleges: Willard suggests that because the scriptural knowledge is reliable and real, it is therefore testable. This is where the rubber meets the road. What does this mean? It's a huge challenge. But I think it's valuable. The knowledge taught at a Christian college should be different from that taught at a secular college. Scary but true.

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