Wednesday, May 31, 2006

Renovation of the Heart Study Guide

For PAC Care Circle people (by the way, we really need a better name than that.. If you have any ideas, shoot them along). As promised please find the link to the Study Guide document.

Renovation of the Heart by Dallas Willard
Study Guide: Chapter 1

*Note: I have set these points before you as those things that will help you keep in mind what Willard is claiming in this chapter. As such, I am giving you little ‘road-markers’ to keep your ears and eyes open for as you read. In future study guides, I will provide these ‘road-markers’ but for this first one I will also write underneath each point what I gleaned, and hopefully something close to what you will too, to give you an indication of how these study guides are intended to assist you in your reading. Future study guides, then, will include the main points of each chapter and discussion questions, and any teaching points that I think are important. Also, my list of main points is not meant to exhaust everything that could be taken as important in every chapter. In other words, if there are other things that you find important, please bring them to care circle.

After reading this chapter we should grasp:

1) The importance of the heart and spirit in a person’s spiritual and character formation;

For Willard, the heart is the most important component of the human. In order for us to be transformed and conformed to Christ what is needed is a renovation of the heart, because we live as humans from our heart. In other words, the heart is the well-spring of our lives. The heart, then, is not simply the emotive aspect of our lives, but the inner core of who we are and the source of our character. This is why Willard uses the heart and spirit interchangeably (p. 15). The inner core, our heart, determines who we are on the outside (p. 16).

2) That character formation is an internal process in which all humans participate, knowingly or unknowingly;

What Willard terms the revolution of Jesus (pp. 14-15) occurs in the inner core, the heart, of humans. Jesus’ revolution brings about a complete overhaul of all that is, but does so by changing individual lives from the inside out. This is because who we really are is who we are in our inner “thoughts, feelings, and intentions” (p.16). What we are externally is only secondary to what we are internally, and we are often unaware of much of what we are internally, or even what we truly need internally. Willard gives evidence for this in his section called, ‘Spirituality and Spiritual Formation as Merely Human’ (19-20). The spiritual part of our life, which flows from our heart (the inner core of who we are) is an inescapable part of our existence. Because for Willard our heart determines who we are outwardly, one cannot help but be involved in a spiritual formation, or character formation. To pretend that you are not is in fact to form your character because such a decision comes from within a person. In other words, you cannot avoid the ‘within’ of life. In fact, this within, is, in some sense, our lives. What we do outwardly begins within. This is why Willard writes, “Spiritual formation, without regard to any specifically religious context or tradition, is the process by which the human spirit or will is given a definite ‘form’ or character. It is a process that happens to everyone” (p. 19).

3) That real spiritual transformation in conformity to Christ reaches beyond merely human programs and efforts, and is a gift of grace, and the goal of human existence.

Everything that Willard has argued thus far in the chapter, which I have crystallized into the two points above has aimed at this claim. As he points out, when spiritual formation has been done in a ‘merely human’ way, it tends to be abhorrent, so that Willard writes, ‘In spiritual matters there really is no Third World. It’s all Third World” (p. 20). Real transformation cannot be merely human. In other words, to really be spiritual formation and transformation that effects change as in the revolution of Jesus, it needs to be God-initiated, a movement of God, which finds its basis in Jesus Christ, as God’s definitive move forward into the world (p. 19). It is, as Willard says, “entirely focused on Jesus” (p.22). However, it is deeper than simply external manifestation or conformity to Jesus Christ. This may be its goal, but it must occur first internally, and thus spiritually, by the Holy Spirit (p.22). This is why it is not ultimately a human endeavor or work, but a gift of grace. Our active role in the process is not to be denied, but it comes responsively to the work of God in our hearts through the Holy Spirit. This involves foremost, resting in the love of God and letting him, by the Holy Spirit, renew our hearts and minds. Once this renewal begins to take place, then subsequent action will follow. For Willard we cannot reverse this order (p. 24). Grace then leads to action, which is a necessary part of our spiritual transformation. According to Willard, once we recover this understanding of spiritual transformation, churches will regain some of the vibrancy they may have lost, and once again be ‘incomparable schools of life’ that they have been in the past and God intends for them to be still (p. 25).

Teaching points:

-Willard’s usage of the heart or spirit is parallel to the New Testament’s and especially Paul’s. The Greek word that Paul uses for heart, as well as that used in the Gospel of Mark, literally translated means ‘the guts’ of a person. In the ancient world, this communicated the core of one’s existence. When Paul talks about transformation of one’s heart, which he couples with the mind sometimes, he means something similar to what Willard is arguing. Transformation happens in ‘the guts’ of people. This was a common way, in the ancient world of referring to the whole person, because ‘the guts’ influenced everything in a person. I point this out to indicate that I think Willard is on the right track, consistent with Scripture’s usage, when he talks about the heart being the inner core, and more than simply the emotional and feeling center of a person.

-On page 19, Willard writes, ‘The spiritual renovation and the “spirituality” that comes from Jesus is nothing less than an invasion of natural human reality by a supernatural life “from above.”’ This is only one sentence, but a central one, it seems to me, and something I’d wished Willard had spent more time on. Its importance lies in how we understand Jesus and specifically the Incarnation, that is, how God became human in Jesus Christ. Oftentimes, our understanding of Jesus can be too small. We may think of him merely as the one who takes away our sin, and he essentially becomes an instrument (or tool, if you will) to accomplish this. This is true, Jesus does take away our sin, but there is more. When we talk about Jesus Christ as God Incarnate, we mean that Jesus is both fully God and fully human. This has a litany of implications, but presently, what I had wished Willard had drawn out more was that if Jesus is fully human, then what it means to be truly human is who Jesus Christ is. This is, it seems to me, what grounds Willard’s whole argument that we ought to be followers of Christ in spiritual transformation. Our goal is conformity to Christ because Christ is the one human who lived in perfect relationship to God. While this is to only look at the Incarnation from the human side of Christ, and emphasize only one aspect of the Incarnation, for present purposes it is most important. If this is unclear, we will unpack this more in our large group teaching time.

Questions for consideration/discussion:

1) Do you think most people understand the heart in the same manner as Willard? If not, what ways do you think some understand it? Is this a new way for you to think about it?

2) What do you think about Willard’s claim that everyone is involved in spiritual formation? Do you agree or disagree?

3) If it is true that we become on the outside who we are on the inside, what does this mean for spiritual transformation as we get older?

4) For Willard, what role does the community play, if any, in spiritual formation?

5) How hard is it for you to think about spiritual formation and transformation as resting in the grace and love of God? Do you think this is a message that is hard for our ears to hear? If so, why?

6) Do you agree with Willard that the stagnancy of the church rests in a lack of spiritual transformation? Does his statement about them being ‘incomparable schools of life’ fit with what you understand church to be?


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