Saturday, February 20, 2010

Report from the Ecclesia Conference: Dallas Willard & the Kingdom of God

The Kingdom of God is one of those phrases that pops up in the teaching of Jesus over and over again yet it is hard to define it exactly. In Matthew 5:3, Jesus says, “Blessed are the poor in spirit, for theirs is the kingdom of heaven.” Jesus is always inviting his listeners to recognize and live in this reality he calls “the Kingdom of God.” But what is it? At the missional church gathering called Ecclesia that I attended recently, Dallas Willard gave his take on living out this important part of Jesus’ teaching.

Willard is a philosophy professor at USC who has written several key books on how the spiritual practices can bring your faith alive. According to Willard, the Kingdom of God is about embracing a certain perspective on the world and living in partnership with God. As you follow each of the challenging teachings of Jesus, you are forced to rely on God. You can’t do them alone. For example, to love your neighbor as yourself is impossible to truly practice on one’s own. But rather than throwing up our hands in frustration and walking away (or giving lip service to it but never doing it), we can partner with God to give it a try.

And as we partner with God to live out this teaching of Jesus we find that God provides the strength to take small steps in loving our neighbor as ourselves. This God-ability to love and care for others means we are living in the Kingdom. As we find that God is with us as our partner, we truly begin to understand and live in the Kingdom of God.

What I appreciated most about Willard’s message was his description of the experiential dimension to faith. Faith is never something that exists only in the head, but it comes about—it is known—as we take those first steps with God’s help. And as we take those steps, we experience the Kingdom at a deeper level.

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