Subversive Interview - Part 3

In this final installment of our three-part conversation, we explore the finer points of the Gospel of Jesus, what Grace is really all about, and the rise of “Vampire Christianity” in modern times.


[RELEVANT MAGAZINE]: “I think we’re in a place now where a lot of the modern Church is in rebellion against the old traditions and doctrine and theology, in favor of experience and signs and wonders. A lot of young Christians don’t want to talk about things like doctrine and theology because that sounds stale and boring to them.”

[DALLAS WILLARD]: “This is very unfortunate because, in fact, they are operating on a theology. When you take that move you take your theology and you’re unwilling to think about it. A theology is what enforces the attitude that they have towards theology. They mis-identified what theology is and don’t recognize its role in their own lives. It’s really tragic. It’s part of the problem of looking at the traditional church and seeing that it identifies theology with something you do in seminary, and then you come out of seminary and you lead irrelevant churches. So, if that’s theology, then we don’t need it. Problem is, that is not theology. Theology is just what you really think about God, and if you’re going to do that, you’d better use your mind and not just let it be a receptacle— a catch-all for whatever beliefs happen to be passing by. If you don’t do that then you become the victim of your feelings and you identify the old version of Christianity and you walk off with a big ‘Yuck’. But you walk off with a set of beliefs about God that are actually going to guide your life and sometimes that’s disastrous! Even if you do reject something that is wrong, that doesn’t mean that you accepted what was right.”

[RM]: “Exactly. You haven’t gone to the Word yourself to base your belief upon.”

[DW]: “What you need to do is to become a Word worm. You study and you think and you find people who are profitable to read, but the most important thing is to come to terms with the words of the Scripture and to learn to live by them, and you can’t do that without theology.”

[RM]: “There appears to be two camps of thought. One is the idea that just knowing the Word is all that’s necessary. You read and study and regurgitate it, but you never actually do anything it tells you to do. The other camp says you should just jump out and do all the stuff that the Word tells you to do, but without actually consulting the Word to make sure you’re doing it the right way.”

[DW]: “Yes, and often, unfortunately, they’re not. The most common thing for that latter group of people you’re talking about is that they don’t have a Gospel. They should have the Gospel that Jesus had, which is the presence and the availability of the Kingdom right here and now, through faith in Him. But they don’t have that and I’ve watched group after group and individual after individual just run out of steam. When they’re gone, the people who pick up after them in their place have just lost everything and they are all wandering in a version of a very benign and pleasing Humanism.”

[RM]: “And there’s not much difference between that kind of Christianity and anything else the World has to offer.”

[DW]: “Actually, there isn’t. All you can say for it is that its idealism is high, usually. But so far as being actually able to pull it off, since they’re not operating in the power of the Kingdom, it’s much less.”

[RM]: “Todd Hunter had a great quote that I think he might have borrowed from you, where he said that the problem with the modern church is that they’ve misunderstood the Gospel of Jesus. He said that the Gospel is not that Jesus died on the cross for your sins so you can go to heaven when you die, but that the Gospel that Jesus preached was the Gospel of the Kingdom. When you say this to people they look at you like you’re insane. ‘Of course the Gospel is that you can go to heaven when you die’, they say. But the Gospel isn’t a one-time event, it’s a daily participation with Christ in the Kingdom life.”

[DW]: “That’s right. The Grace of God empowers you to do what you can’t do on your own. Grace is unmerited favor, but to say that doesn’t tell you what form it takes. The assumption today is that it takes the form of a credit transfer in the books of heaven. I’ve heard preachers say that there’s absolutely nothing else that happens. So, in other words, your life on Earth is totally untouched by Grace.”

[RM]: “Well, they are correct in the sense that, if you live life the way they’re living then this is all that happens with Grace.”

[DW]: (laughs) “Excellent point. That’s what we actually see.”

[RM]: “That’s as much Grace as they’ve availed themselves of because their obedience to Christ has ended at the point of saying that prayer for salvation.”

[DW]: “Right”

[RM]: “I think you quoted Tozer a while back in another interview where he suggested that a new heretical thought had entered the modern Christian thought. The idea that people come to Jesus and say, ‘I want some of your blood for the forgiveness of my sins, but I don’t have any intention of following you or obeying you, and now if you’ll excuse me I’d like to get on with my life’.”

[DW]: “Those are what I call ‘Vampire Christians’. Tozer actually does say that this is outright heresy. He was very clear about this and the dear man was such a Christ-like man that he could do this and get away with it. But, on the other hand, you’ll have people who will hear this and say, ‘Isn’t that pretty?’ and they’ll do absolutely nothing about it.”

[RM]: “Unfortunately that seems to be a possibility with those who call themselves Christians.”

[DW]: “It has to come through deep work, I think, the kind of work that you’re doing, is perhaps among the most important things to be doing now because you will reach people who are ready to see it. Perhaps they’ve already seen it but didn’t know what it was and they’re ready to change. What has to happen here is a kind of tidal wave has to develop, and when it does, then people will pay attention and they’ll realize that this really is something different. Some will be mad and they’ll fight, but others will jump up and down for joy and join you. See, that’s what happens if you look at Finney or Wesley with them. Tozer is different, and it’s an interesting thing to study, he didn’t start a tidal wave, but he laid out some books that have nourished the souls of multitudes. It didn’t have an effect of making the churches say, ‘We must change’. You did see that in Finney and Wesley and there was a great battle and a great effect.”

[RM]: “Do you feel like we’re due for another tidal wave like this?”

[DW]: “Yes, it’s very interesting that now churches and para-church organizations are beginning to say, ‘We must change’. This could be the beginning of the wave. I think probably it would be better if it wasn’t focused on just one or two individuals, but it may be that one or two people will arise. But, in the last five years I’ve seen large churches, some of whom had been very prosperous as mega-churches, say, ‘This is all wrong. We must do discipleship.’ That kind of repentance is what is needed to start the tidal wave.”

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