Monday, January 29

Review of 'Life without Lack'

What made Dallas Willard different? Why do we get the sense when we read what he wrote, listen to what he taught and most of all watch video of him, that he made progress in Christianity?

He did the work. He did the things he wrote and taught about, the things he recommended to us.

I'm glad to be part of the launch team for Dallas's new book (published posthumously), 'Life without Lack'. This book comes from teaching Dallas did in a church on Psalm 23 many years ago. His friend Larry Burtoft recorded the sessions and has edited them into this book along with Dallas's daughter, Becky Willard Heatley. I got to read an advance copy.

I was a little bit worried that this book would not 'sound' like Dallas's writing and speaking. But, happily, it does. It comes from his spoken teaching and it reads that way.

Listening to Dallas (and also reading his writing), I hear someone who practiced what he preached and grew in grace. He comes across as wise and humble. He is not afraid to sometimes suggest that he has done these things. He doesn't rush to disabuse us of the notion that he has been able to make progress. (And this is a form of humility.)

(I have developed a pretty comprehensive list of his talks that can be listened to here: The Wisdom of Dallas Willard.)

For example, on p82, Dallas writes 'To listen to his Word and nourish our whole beings with it is not a nice thing we might do occasionally. Our very lives depend upon it.' My sense is that Dallas lived this out. He teaches a lot about the importance of memorizing Scripture (including in this book) and he even shares (in some of his talks) his experience with it.

He talks some about of his own practice of spiritual disciplines, including disciplines he made up himself. Dallas teaches us to persevere when our attempts don't succeed. He teaches us to experiment. He obviously did these things himself.

This is a book that is meant to be applied. All of Dallas's books are, in a sense, but this one is especially. The material was first taught to a church group, so the emphasis is not on deep theological teaching for a more general audience. In contrast,  'The Divine Conspiracy', which also is very applicable, but can be hard for people without philosophical and theological background to get through.

Dallas teaches that grace is the gift of God and that it is worth all of our best effort. Some of us are so afraid of presuming on God's grace that we actually stay away from effort and teach others to do so!

Dallas has the best practical Christian psychology of anyone I know (rooted in profound philosophical knowledge). He intends for his teachings and suggestions to be realistic and not just a nice theory that may be completely impractical. Contrast this with the ultra-orthodox theological watchdogs who criticize him but whose teachings, for all intents and purposes, do not produce Christ-like change in people (and possibly only make them more Pharisaical).

It's encouraging to read his suggestions and know that he has tried them himself and found them helpful. We see and hear the evidence in his life.

All of this culminates in a very practical chapter about how to spend a day with Jesus, beginning with one day and laying the foundation for many in the spirit of Brother Lawrence and Frank Laubach.

Maybe most of all, Dallas had the vision that we could be God's children and obey Him and be transformed by Him and live in His love. The vision helped him to continue in his determination to grow.

I expected this book to be more of an exposition of Psalm 23, but it is not. Rather, Dallas draws conclusions from Psalm 23 and then writes about how to experience them, including what the prerequisites are. In this way, 'Life without Lack' is somewhat systematic. You could think of it as a prequel to 'The Divine Conspiracy'.

Don't read this book casually. Don't read it like a typical book. Don't read it with no plans to change your life.

Read it with the expectation that God wants to challenge you and encourage you, through the writing of Dallas Willard, to experience more of the full life He wants you to have, as demonstrated in the great Shepherd Psalm.