WILLARD, Dallas, The Divine Conspiracy: Rediscovering our Hidden Life in God. San Francisco: HarperSanFrancisco, 1998

reviewed by Robert Brow    (www.brow.on.ca) August 2000

This is a long (400 pages plus 28 pages of notes and index) book by a Professor of Philosophy at the University of Southern California School of Philosophy. But don't let that put you off. Here are a few of the jewels and nuggets that I have collected for future preaching :

GOOD SAMARITAN  "In the United States he would be the good Iraqui, the good Communist, the good Muslim, and so on. In some quarters it would have to be the good feminist or good homosexual" (112).

TRINITY  "The advantage of believing in the reality of the Trinity is not that we get an A from God for giving 'the right answer.' Rather we live on the assumption that the cosmos environing us is beyond all else, a self-sufficient community of unspeakably magnificent personal beings of boundless love, knowledge, and power. And thus believing our lives naturally integrate themselves, through our actions, into the reality of such a universe" (318).

EDUCATION  "It is a peculiar modern notion that the aim of teaching is to bring people to know things that may have no effect at all on their lives."  That is the very opposite of what the Kingdom is about (112)

THE POOR  The candidates for the school of the Messiah are not at all what we expect (112).

The ones who are touched are "The flunk-outs and drop-outs and burned-outs. The broke and the broken. The drug heads and the divorced. The HIV positive and herpes-ridden. The brain-damaged, the incurably ill. The barren and the pregnant too-many-times or at the wrong time. The overemployed, the underemployed, the unemployed. The unemployable. The swindled, the shoved aside, the replaced. The parents with children living on the street. The lonely, the incompetent, the stupid. The emotionally starved or emotionally dead."

THE BEATITUDES  I used to preach that Jesus was giving us the kind of heart attitudes we need to adopt to be blessed. Dallas Willard has no time for that kind of legalism. As in the sermon in the synagogue in Nazareth, the Magnificat, and the words to John the Baptist (Matthew 11:5), Jesus is giving us a sample of the kinds of people being welcomed and transformed in the kingdom. That gives a very different meaning to the Greek words in the text.

THOSE WHO MOURN  (Luke 6:21, Matthew 5:4) The weeping ones are "the men and women whose mates have deserted them, leaving them paralyzed by rejection. A parent in gut-wrenching grief and depression over the death of a little daughter. People who in the sunset of their employable years have lost their careers or business or life savings because of an economic downturn" (116). As they see the kingdom of Jesus, enter it, and learn to live in it, they find comfort and their tears turn to laughter" (116-117).

THOSE WHO HUNGER AND THIRST FOR RIGHTEOUSNESS  (Matthew 5:6) "Those who burn with desire for things to be made right. It may be the wrong is in themselves. Or it may be they have been so badly wronged, suffered some terrible injustice, and they are consumed with longing to see the injury set right - like parents who learn that the murderer of their child has been quickly released from prison and is laughing at them. Yet the kingdom of the heavens has a chemistry that can transform even the past and make the terrible, irretrievable losses seem insignificant in the greatness of God" (117).

THE MEEK  (Matthew 5:5) "These are the shy ones, the intimidated, the mild, the unassertive. When others step forward and speak up, they shrink back. But as the kingdom of the heavens enfolds them, the whole earth is their Father's -and theirs as they need it" (117).

THE PURE IN HEART  (Matthew 5:8) "The ones for whom nothing is good enough, not even themselves. They are the perfectionists. They are a pain to everyone, themselves most of all. And yet the kingdom is even open to them, and they at last find something that satisfies their pure heart. They will see God" (118).

Can anything good ever come out of a department of philosophy? It certainly has. But I suggest you begin with chapter 4 from which most of my quotations come. It is superb and life-changing. In the foreword Richard J. Foster says that the chapter "is simply stunning, upsetting many of our common notions of this famous passage. The entire book is well worth that discussion alone. But he gives us more, much more - a feast for the mind and the heart".

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