Inner Formation of the Heart

Part 1: Dallas Willard On Inner Formation and the Gap

    Posted by Klaus Issler on October 13, 2009

Dr. Dallas Willard has identified a critical feature related to spiritual formation--the inner formation of our heart. Yet I believe the importance of the insight has not been fully understood and appreciated.  In this musings section, I’ll try to clarify the insight as 10 key principles, and then draw out the implications for practice. But first, let’s hear Dallas’ comments on the matter:

“I’ll put it in these terms, [Christians] know about these things [Christian teaching] but they do not believe them. They profess to believe them because they are expected to, but profession of belief doesn’t carry the action. Only real belief carries actions, and we are in a context where we have millions and millions of people who are professing Christians that do not believe what they profess because they’ve been taught the important thing is to profess it whether you believe it or not, and [that] God would like that. But it doesn’t seize their lives, and so we have a very severe problem with this gap that you’re [the interviewer] talking about.”
    [,  “Bob Buford interviews Dallas Willard”]

“We often speak of people not living up to their faith. But the cases in which we say this are not really cases of people behaving otherwise than they believe. They are cases in which genuine beliefs are made obvious by what people do.  We always live up to our beliefs—or down to them, as the case may be. Nothing else is possible. It is the nature of belief.”
    [Dallas Willard, Divine Conspiracy (SF: HarperSan Francisco, 1998),  p. 307.]

“Ideas are very general models of or assumptions about reality. . . . It is extremely difficult for most people to recognize which ideas are governing their life and how those ideas are governing their life. This is partly because one commonly identifies his or her own governing ideas with reality, pure and simple. . . . Now, Christian spiritual formation is inescapably a matter of recognizing in ourselves the idea system (or systems) of evil that governs the present age and the respective culture (or various cultures) that constitute life away from God. The needed transformation is very largely a matter of replacing in ourselves those idea systems of evil (and their corresponding cultures) with the idea system that Jesus Christ embodied and taught and with a culture of the kingdom of God. . . . To change governing ideas, whether in the individual or the group, is one of the most difficult and painful things in human life.”
     [Renovation of the Heart (Colorado Springs, CO: NavPress, 2002), 96-98.]

“Belief, by contrast, has no necessary tie to truth, good method, or evidence [as the concept of knowledge does]. We can believe what is false and often do. Belief may arise from many sources. Children and others ‘catch’ beliefs from those around them. . . . In its basic nature belief is a matter of tendencies to act. . . . . To believe something involves a readiness to act, in appropriate circumstances, as if what we believed were so.”
    [Knowing Christ Today (NY: HarperOne, 2009), 16.]

“[T]o enable people to become disciples we must change whatever it is in their actual belief system that bars confidence in Jesus as Master of the Universe. . . . When we bring people to believe differently, they really do become different . . . . And the reason why clergy and others have to invest so much effort into getting people to do things is that they are working against actual beliefs of the people they are trying to lead. . . . What has to be done, instead of trying to drive people to do what we think they are supposed to, is to be honest about what we and others really believe. Then, by inquiry, teaching, example, prayer, and reliance upon the Spirit of God, we can work to change the [core] beliefs that are contrary to the way of Jesus.”
    [Dallas Willard, Divine Conspiracy,  p. 307-308.]

What does Dallas Willard mean?  What are these beliefs?  How can they be changed and formed toward a Christlikeness?  Join me weekly in this Musings section, as I try to clarify these important matters.

We welcome your comments at the blog.

(For a brief overview of broad themes in Willard’s writings see my book review of Renovation of the Heart in the Christian Education Journal, 3 (1 NS 3), Fall 2004, 158-164)
Dr. Klaus Issler