This week as I have read from The Spirit of the Disciplines, I have found myself laying a foundation for my understanding of the spiritual disciplines. In chapter one, Willard explains that the secret of the “easy yoke” is passionately living one’s faith in one’s WHOLE life, not just in parts (10). To expand on this principle, Willard explained that the goal of spiritual disciplines and spirituality in general is to become so much like Christ that Christ-like actions and decisions come naturally to us (9). I was struck by this concept: “True Christlikeness comes at the point where it is hard not to respond as [Christ] would” (8). Here, Willard is basically saying that the point of following Christ is not to arrive at a point in our lives where acting like Christ is a viable option; the point of following Christ is to arrive at a point in our lives where acting like Christ is the only option. This radical view of discipleship has caused me to ask different questions about where I am on my faith journey. Instead of asking if I am willing and ready to follow Christ, this view forces me to ask if I am willing and ready to do anything BUT follow Christ. If there are still other options besides Christ’s way in my life, I have missed the point of following Christ in the first place.
In the second chapter of The Spirit of the Disciplines, Willard stressed the importance of intentional, planned discipleship with the goal of transformation. One point that seemed especially harsh, yet true, was that claiming to follow Christ but doing so without a plan is no better than intentionally planning not to follow Christ (9). This is true in our personal lives, but it is also true in our life together in Christian community. Willard stressed the importance of being intentional about the spiritual disciplines both in our personal lives and in our churches. If our churches do not have set plans for discipleship, complete with means to measure the success or failure of these efforts, Willard says that we have failed to embody the second half of the Great Commission (15). Furthermore, Willard says that if faithful, regular attendees of our churches are not transformed by the ministry, we have failed these individuals (18). Unfortunately, by these measures, many of our churches today are failing. In my personal context, this language of transformation caught my eye, as “transformation” is part of the mission statement of the United Methodist Church. Our mission statement is to “make disciples of Jesus Christ for the transformation of the world.” It seems to me that perhaps my church’s mission statement is missing the second half of the Great Commission, or as Willard might say, perhaps we are making the “great omission” (15). We strive to make disciples for the purpose of transforming the world, but Willard stresses the importance of also transforming the disciples and “teaching them to obey everything that [Christ has] commanded [us]” (Matthew 28.20 NRSV). I would argue that the United Methodist Church is not failing to do this all together, but it is interesting to think about why we chose to emphasize the transformation of the world while omitting the transformation of the people in our congregations. Perhaps it is assumed…one can hope!
In the third chapter, Willard discussed salvation as a life and not simply as forgiveness of sins (33). This topic is one that is rather familiar to me, as this summer I read the book Shalom: The Bible’s Word for Salvation, Justice, and Peace by Perry Yoder. This book discussed in detail the biblical understanding of the word “shalom,” and in exploring this concept focused extensively on the concept of salvation as a physical, material, social, and political reality. Willard also noted this concept, emphasizing that salvation in Scripture is understood to be the “translation” into God’s Kingdom, here and now (40). He described life in God’s present Kingdom as “[living] in a different world” (37). One of the words that Yoder used in Shalom to describe this change from the world to God’s Kingdom was “transfer.” This word really resonated with me, as I have experienced a “transfer” in my life when I left ONU to come to Bluffton. For me, the word “transfer” brings up memories of a time of abrupt, radical change in my life not only from one school to another, but from one world to another. The atmosphere, the philosophy of education, the values, the faculty, the expectations…absolutely everything imaginable turned out to be completely different at Bluffton. My head was spinning for my first few weeks on campus, and it took me about half the semester to adjust to this new way of life and education. As I reflect on the idea of salvation as a “transfer” into God’s Kingdom, these memories and experiences that I associate with the word “transfer” inform my understanding of salvation. Just as transferring to Bluffton was a life-changing adventure for me, so salvation is the life-altering “transfer” into God’s Kingdom, here and now.