Willard, Divine Conspiracy study notes

Thesis:  God is inviting us to kingdom living right now.

Willard spends some time critiquing dispensational outlooks that relegate Jesus’s kingdom message, especially the sermon on the mount, to the Millennial Age.  (Substitute “millennial reign” for “kingdom” in the Sermon on the Mount.  Hilarity ensues).

He defines God’s kingdom as the range of his effective will (Willard 25), allowing us to pray for his kingdom to come on earth as in heaven.  Further, God has given each of us a kingdom, which is the “range of our own will.”

When Jesus defined “eternal life” (John 17:3) he defined it as “the knowledge of God” and his son Jesus, whom he sent (49).

Jesus’s Vision of God’s World

Although this is a popular-level book, Willard gives a robust account of metaphysics and epistemology:

  • God’s being is joyous being (62).  This is what analytic theologians mean by “maximally perfect being.” It is “the eternal freshness of his perpetually self-renewed being” (63ff).
  • We live in a universe where infinite energy of a Personal nature is the ultimate reality (254).
  • Matter is the stuff/place of development for finite personalities who, in their bodies, have significant resources either to oppose or serve God (254).
  • God as personal reality prefers to be known by speaking (277).  

The Heavens

The heavens are the direct experience and presence of God’s “person, knowledge, and power to those who serve and trust him” (67). In NT language, to be “born from above” is to “be interactively joined with a dynamic, unseen system of divine reality in the midst of which all humanity moves” (68).

  • Spirit and Space:
    • Human spirit: I am a spiritual being who currently has a physical body (75).
    • Human self: a unity of experiences which is not located at any point in my body.
    • “the face:” do we hide our spirit behind our face?  Do we genuinely present our spiritual reality to those around us?
    • God relates to space as we do to body.  He occupies and overflows it but cannot be reducible to it.
  • Spiritual reality (79ff):
    • nonphysical, not perceived by the senses.
    • power: spirit is a form of energy, for it does work, and whatever works has power.
    • thought: our experiences are consciously directed towards objects.
    • valuing: we choose and act with reference to our choices.  This is our will.
  • Centrality of the Will or Heart
    • The will is the innermost core of a person’s self/spiritual reality (80). It is self-determining.
    • It is spirit in human beings.
  • The substantiality of the Spiritual.
    • The spirit is unbodily, personal power (81).
    • God is both spirit and substance.


“A different kind of causality” (Lewis).

Definition: “Talking to God about what we are doing together” (Willard 243).

Prayer is not:

  • Thanksgiving
  • Praise
  • meditation

Of course, the above three are part of prayer and prayer cannot get very far without them.

Can We Change God?

Moses reasoned with God (Ex. 32:10ff).

Hezekiah prevailed upon God (2 Kgs. 20).

Willard is not an open theist, contra some allegations:  “His nature, identity, and overarching purposes are no doubt unchanging” (Willard 246). However, his intentions regarding many particular purposes are not unchanging.

God created a universe responsive to Personality.  

  • kingdom praying:  personalities are ultimate and distinct (249).  This isn’t simply some Eastern mantra type prayer. Kingdom personalities interact through explicit, purposeful communication, listening and speaking, not through a mere sense of unity (250).
  • Prayer trains us to reign. It forms character.  It combines freedom and power with service and love. This means we learn to wait on God.
  • Prayer is not a mechanism, but a personal negotiation.  

The Lord’s Prayer

Prayer is a form of speaking.  The Lord’s prayer is a template that desires us to “move out” in prayer.

  • God must be addressed.  We speak to a particular person.  When we pray to God in heaven, we are placing ourselves towards the kingdom of the heavens.
  • Hallowed by thy name:  names partake of the reality (258).
  • Thy kingdom come: lots of good insights on structuralized, social evils.  Culture is a multidimensional place that embodies our collective archetypes.
  • Give us our daily bread: Today I have God and he has the provisions.
  • Trespasses: it is not psychologically possible for us to know God’s pity for ourselves and be hardhearted towards others.

Being Jesus’s Student

If I am to be someone’s apprentice, I must be with him (276).  The disciples were “engulfed” by the Spirit.

The kingdom of the heavens, from a practical point of view, is simply our experience of Jesus’ continual interaction with us in history and throughout the days, hours, and moments of our earthly existence (280).

How to be a disciple

  • Simplicity
  • I am learning to live my life as if Jesus were living my life.
  • Jesus’ teachings presuppose a life of discipleship (284).

Spiritual Disciplines

Definition: a discipline is any activity that enables us to do what we cannot do by direct effort (353). Spiritual disciplines are designed to help us withdraw from our own efforts and depend on kingdom power.  Ironically, all spiritual disciplines involve the body.  

  • Solitude and silence help us escape the “responding without thinking” moments.
  • Worship and Study: Worship imprints upon our whole being the reality of what we study.  The result is a radical disruption of the powers of evil within us and around us (363).  

The Future World

The cosmos are open to God.  In the eschaton we will “reign” with God as kings and priests (Ex. 19.6; Rev. 5.10).  “The intention of God is that we should each become the kind of person whom he can set free in his universe, empowered to do what we want to do” (379).

really knowing: when we pass through death we see the world as it is for the first time (392).  When we move into the presence of eternity, as Paul had sometimes been, “we will have the same kind of fullness and clarity of experience as those beings now have.”  The spiritual realm is the realm of truth, not distortion.

The biblical language of death as “sleep” applies to the body, not the person (and they are not the same thing).

Jesus’ body is not restrained by space, time, and physical causality (395).   In God’s universe matter is subjected to mind or spirit.

Near Death Experiences: the person transitions to see the invisible (397).  He might even interact with deceased close ones.  He, if in Christ, will be borne away by angels (Lk. 16.22).  

Key points:

Thomas Oden: It becomes difficult, if not impossible to build a Christology on a naive, mistaken Jesus (quoted in Willard, 56).

*If you bury yourself in the Psalms, you emerge knowing God and understanding life (Willard 65).


About J. B. Aitken

Interests include patristics, the role of the soul in the human person, analytic theology, Reformed Scholasticism, Medievalism, Substance Metaphysics
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5 Responses to Willard, Divine Conspiracy study notes

  1. Cal says:

    I’ve appreciated Willard’s influence in many ways. Curious if you had any critiques on the above?


    • JB Aitken says:

      I have some general criticisms of Willard, though they don’t diminish my appreciation of him.

      1. In his books (particularly The Great Omission) the distinction between justification and sanctification is fuzzy.
      2. He isn’t critical of the various spiritualities from which he draws. For example, I don’t think that the Philokalia, which he rightly recommends, is entirely consistent with many later medieval Catholic models, which he also recommends.
      3. He recommends Finney, which I don’t get.


  2. Pingback: Dallas Willard: Knowing Christ Today | Blog of the Wars of the Lord

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