A professional philosopher, Dallas Willard is also an acclaimed writer on Christian discipleship. In 1999,Christianity Today declared his book The Divine Conspiracy “Book of the Year,” and the magazine gave Renovation of the Heart its 2003 award for writing in spirituality.
In this selection from Willard’s 1988 book, The Spirit of the Disciplines, he cautions those who pride themselves on their holy regimens. If these Christians were really that impressive, they would not need to discipline themselves.
People who think that they are spiritually superior because they make a practice of a discipline such as fasting or silence or frugality are entirely missing the point. The need for extensive practice of a given discipline is an indication of our weakness, not our strength. We can even lay it down as a rule of thumb that if it is easy for us to engage in a certain discipline, we probably don’t need to practice it. The disciplines we need to practice are precisely the ones we are not“good at” and hence do not enjoy.1
1 Dallas Willard, The Spirit of the Disciplines: Understanding How God Changes Lives (San Francisco: Harper & Row, 1988), 138.
Silence, Frugality and Fasting are easy? Really, Dallas Willard, where do you get these ideas? These are all part and parcel of being poor in spirit, of not becoming attached to the things of this world. I have never met a single person that has done even one of these things, that I could call vain. I am vain, those people most definitely are not. However, let us put Mr. Willard’s claims to the Biblical test, shall we?
“Use as a frugal man the things that are set before thee”
For thus saith the Lord God the Holy One of Israel: If you return and be quiet, you shall be saved: in silence and in hope shall your strength be.
There are so many examples of fasting in the Bible that there is no point in quoting them all here. I have included two, for the sake of completeness. I won’t include the instances where Jesus himself fasted, or people were directly ordered to do so by God, someone may complain that those are special cases.
And when they had ordained to them priests in every church and had prayed with fasting, they commended them to the Lord
I like this one too:
2 Corinthians 6:4 to 6:6
But in all things let us exhibit ourselves as the ministers of God, in much patience, in tribulation, in necessities, in distress, in stripes, in prison, in seditions, in labour, in watchings, in fastings, in chastity, in knowledge, in longsuffering, in sweetness, in the Holy Ghost, in charity unfeigned, in the word of truth, in the power of God
St. Augustine: Book 10 chapter 31
Thus I carry on a daily war by fasting, constantly
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