Friday, September 10, 2010

reflections on "The Spirit of the Disciplines" chapters 5-7

This week, I would like to reflect on a few different parts of chapters 5-7 of Dallas Willard’s The Spirit of the Disciplines. As I have spent more time with this text, it has become increasingly clear that Willard’s theology is very different from my own. My experience with this text has been frustrating and rewarding, and it seems like with every page comes a new reaction, question, or frustration. This journal is a reflection of those experiences— the good, the bad, and everything in between.

I really struggle with Willard’s definition of spirituality in chapter five. I would agree with his statement that “spirituality is a matter of another reality,” but in the next sentence he goes on to say that “[spirituality] is not a ‘commitment’ and it is not a ‘lifestyle’” (67). For me, what makes spirituality another reality is the fact that it is a commitment and is a lifestyle. I view faith and spirituality as a commitment, not in addition to all of my other commitments…but as the one commitment that supersedes all others. Some synonyms for commitment are loyalty, pledge, promise, and dedication. For me, spirituality is all of these things. Spirituality creates space for me to live into an alternate reality only when spirituality is a commitment— my highest loyalty. The second thing Willard says that spirituality is not is a lifestyle (67). This seems like a complete contradiction to chapter three, which is entitled, “Salvation Is a Life” (28). If salvation is a way of life, and our way of life is to reflect our salvation, then spirituality is a lifestyle. Willard goes on to say that though spirituality is not a commitment or a lifestyle, “a commitment and lifestyle will come from it” (67). I would argue that a commitment and lifestyle are not simply results of spirituality; these things are the essence of spirituality.

Willard also asserts that spirituality is “not a social or political stance” and that “the essence and aim of spirituality is not to correct social and political injustices” (67). He goes on to say that while “[correcting injustices] will be its effect…that is not its use” (67). For me, the alternate reality in which spirituality enables us to live is an inherently social and political one. As for the social aspect of spirituality, Willard himself says in chapter seven that “the new life in Christ…is a life of the whole embodied person in the social context” (111). It is difficult for me to understand how it is possible for an “embodied” spiritual life “in the social context” to be separate from a “social stance” (Willard 67, 111). As for the political nature of spirituality, I would argue that our faith commitment is a political stance. In his book He Came Preaching Peace, John Howard Yoder illustrates the political implications of citizenship in God’s Kingdom: “This new nation, the people of God, is the Christian’s first loyalty. No political nation, no geographic homeland to which one belongs by birth, can take precedence over the heavenly citizenship of a Christian in one’s new birth” (23). Spirituality— living a life according to one’s faith commitment— is as political as pledging allegiance to the flag of any nation. Last but not least, this idea that spirituality will result in, but should not be used for, the correction of injustices, is a difficult one for me to grasp. This is partly because I understand spirituality to be a whole life endeavor and partly because of my understanding of Christ’s life as a political one. Christ consistently and unapologetically confronted situations of oppression and injustice (Matt. 21.12-13) and we are called to do the same. For me, confronting and correcting injustices cannot be separated from spirituality.

So, in conclusion, I would like to express my appreciation for this text. In this journal it may seem like I disagree with everything Willard has to say, but this is not really the case. There are also many things I agree with, but journaling about the things in the book that I struggle with helps me better understand my own theology in light of Willard’s. I value this opportunity to read and engage a text written by an author whose theology stands in contrast to my own.

Pray Peace. Make Peace. Live Peace.

Katie :)

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