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Book Overview: Renovation of the Heart - Dallas Willard

Willard, Dallas. 2002. Renovation of the Heart: Putting on the Character of Christ. Colorado Springs, CO. NavPress.

I do know in my own life that cultivating the disciplines of grace are what lead to spiritual formation. I am circumspect of anything that claims to be the "key" to spiritual victory. His language here is not cautiously optimistic. I have seen too many that have been shipwrecked by false promises of "do this, do that and *voila*" to be too naive to share his optimism at this point, but I do pray that God would make me open to any insight that is congruent with His word.

Chapter 1 - Introducing Spiritual Formation:
It is true that the heart is the factory of the affections, the driver of the will, as I understand it. I think the Bible is clear about that. Doesn't God want more from us than to pittle around with mud pies when we could be feasting at a banquet? I appreciate that he has both guarded against legalism and license (p. 23). And I also appreciate his definition on p. 22 that rings of Paul's desire "until Christ be formed in you" (Colossians).

Chapter 2 - The Heart in the System of Human Life
I am beginning to appreciate Willard's focus on the heart and its contingent effects on the spiritual life. He is right in saying that this process is holistic (p. 31) and I've never before drawn the inferences he does from Psalm 16. How many times have I just engaged my mind without my heart, body and emotions? Although he mentions that "loving your brother" is the basis of the Social Context, I was a little disappointed that he did not expand that to include the poor and oppressed.

Chapter 3 - Radical Evil in the Ruined Soul
I have always sensed, believed and taught others that the foundation of all trouble, pain and evil is our fallen nature. The Bible is clear, "there is none righteous, no not one" (Rom. 3). As Tim Keller has once said, "we are far more sinful than we ever dared believe." We must realize our utter ruin before we can turn to God in complete and utter abandon, thus being open to His grace.

Chapter 4 - Radical Goodness Restored to the Soul
"Taking our cross," "dying to self," and "losing our life" are paradoxical in tone, and yet, as Willard points out, they are the foundation, the genesis, of spiritual formation. This, I think, needs to be my starting point. Too often it is not. But I pray that "to step with Jesus into the path of self-denial" (p. 75) would be my path also.

Chapter 5 - Spiritual Change
I appreciate Willard's calm confidence that spiritual formation can really happen (p. 77). And I agree that we do not, and could not, see ourselves as we ought. There is grace in the slow, gradual growth of our sin-awareness (p. 79). "The interpretation of grace as having to do with guilt is utterly false." Yes! Because we "consume the most grace by leading a holy life" (p. 82). Oh how my heart melts when reminded of this fact. He introduces here the general pattern for spiritual formation - VIM. Vision, Intention, Means.

How encouraging it is to know that the "greatest saints are not those who need less grace, but those who consume the most grace" (p. 93-94). I pray that I would be one who is that kind of consumer.

Chapter 6 - Transforming the Mind, 1
He mentions that our thoughts are the first place that change can and should take place. I wholeheartedly agree. Now that he has laid the foundation for spiritual formation, I can see that he will probably start with the mind and work outward. What struck me is how ideas and images can powerfully transform our thoughts, for good or evil (p. 97-99). Temptation always starts with an idea. Also, in order to have a vibrant spiritual life we must think well (p. 106).

Chapter 7 - Transforming the Mind, 2
Feelings are also important for spiritual formation. They must be redeemed and renovated as well (p. 117). In bondage, feelings are god. In God, feelings are subjected. The key is not necessarily to avoid sin, but to avoid temptation (p. 119). We shouldn't deny feelings, but subordinate and replace them (p. 123). We should cultivate right feelings instead - faith, hope, love, etc. (p. 128).

Chapter 8 - Transforming the Will (Heart or Spirit) and Character
By changing my thoughts and feelings, the will can be implemented to result in transformed character. "Single-minded devotion to God" is what characterizes a submitted will (p. 143). On the other hand, the deception of our pride can lead to self-deception, moving us towards duplicity (p. 147). I appreciate the emphasis here on the tendencies we have towards multiplicity, and not oneness of motivation, feeling and action. Surrender, participation in God's will, and single-minded focus is the remedy.

Chapter 9 - Transforming the Body
Our body must become our ally in spiritual renovation (p. 160). To align my body as an ally in the spiritual formation process, there are 4 things I can do: 1. release my body to God, 2. no longer idolize my body, 3. do not misuse my body, and 4. properly honor and care for my body (p. 172-174). Resting by keeping the Sabbath is a tool as well.

Chapter 10 - Transforming our Social Dimension
Assault and withdrawal are the two ways in which our social dimension is deformed when we wound or are wounded by others (p. 181). I know that I have maliciously acted against the good of another - assault. Or I have been indifferent, apathetic to their good - withdrawal. I remember someone saying that the opposite of love is not hate, it is indifference. Our cure: abandon defensiveness and see ourselves as whole in Christ (p. 194-195).

Chapter 11 - Transforming the Soul
The soul "correlates, integrates and enlivens everything going on in the dimension of the self" (p. 199). It is helpful for me to view it this way, as an umbrella to all other activities. This puts into perspective the necessity for balance in all the areas, not just feeding my mind and ignoring the social dimension. I must acknowledge my soul's importance, understand what the Bible teaches about my soul, and rest in the yolk of Christ to have rest for my soul (p. 215).

Chapter 12 - The Children of Light and the Light of the World
The children of light are to be unique. Our thought life should be characterized by thinking about God; feelings characterized by love; will characterized by goodness; bodies poised to do good; relationships characterized by transparency; soul characterized by Christlikeness (p.218-220). We should be marked by a sustained relationship with the Lord (p. 226). Again, I so appreciate the balance here.

Chapter 13 - Spiritual Formation in the Local Congregation
I agree that a major function of the local church is spiritual formation, equipping and building up of the saints (p. 233-234). However, spiritual formation, as done within the context of mission, is conspicuously absent here. It is the Missio Dei that inspires us to reflect the character and inner-working of Christ in our lives through mission, moving out in concentric relational circles. I wish Willard would have started here, instead of making spiritual renovation just another set of activities (i.e. "Outreach is one essential task..." p. 244 - italics mine).

I have appreciated Willard's balance, and will apply much of his insights and teaching, but I feel that there is something missing. Mission is not just another activity, but is the whole scope of the redemptive plan of God, yea, the very nature of God Himself. God is mission, therefore spiritual formation exists, not vice-versa. Had he started with this premise I feel that this would have been a stellar book. I still, however, commend it as a work that is much needed in our culture.

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