Cambridge Companion to Husserl

Smith, Barry and Smith, David Woodruff. Eds. The Cambridge Companion to Husserl. New York: Cambridge University Press, 1995.

Husserl is interesting because he was a continental philosopher who believed in universals and a mathematician who rejected later analytic approaches. His thought never achieved the profundity of a Hegel nor the clarity of a Russell.  Nonetheless, his comments on intentionality and essences have potential for a huge pay off in the mind-body problem debate.

Intro and Terminology

Phenomenology: deals with acts of consciousness in which objects are given or experienced (Smith and Smith 3).

Psychologism: the attempt to conceive all sub-disciplines of philosophy as branches of empirical psychology.

Functionalism: the mind is the software to the brain’s hardware.  Husserl would have rejected this (10).

Intentionality: this is the most important of Husserl’s concepts. It is the of-ness.  We are always thinking “of something,” conscious of something. Most importantly, it is not a spatial relation.  There is no “of-ness” you can touch.

Noema: “The sum total of what is thought or meant of an object in an act” (Hintikka 88). Each noema “has a kernel or nucleus which consists of three elements: a substratum, a set of qualitative moments, and modes of fulfillment of these qualities” (Simons 127).

Epoche: we bracket everything in the noema which is not given to us in immediate experience.

Key point: “we grasp in phenomenological reflection that consciousness is intentional in the sense of being directed towards an object: consciousness is consciousness of something” (11).

Knowledge

Knowledge entails fulfilment.  Fulfillment is knowing as finding.  It is the process of “getting a better view” (Willard 146).  We have a structure of the act of knowing: a sequence of representations of the same object in an arrangement of greater “closeness.”

Imagine it this way: you are walking down the road and you see what looks like a tree in the distance.  The closer you get, the more “fulfillment” obtains. You see that it is indeed a tree. Of course, most knowledge-cases are far more complex than this.

The Knowledge Act

A sign appears before me.  This can be an image, word, or physical object.  It exemplifies the property (concept) “to which it directs us” (141). The sign is “given” before us and it  tends beyond itself. We can think of it this way. When I see a tree, the tree is not *in* my mind. It tends towards my mind and my mind reaches out towards it.  This is the process of fulfillment.

Most non-postmodernists hold to some form of representational thinking. Husserl would say these representations “Merely intend a content or object” (145).  Therefore, the act of knowing is a sequence of representations. 

Essences

Herman Philipse has a learned chapter arguing that Husserl was not a metaphysical realist, but a transcendental idealist.  I lean towards the realist view, but Philipse makes a number of pointed criticism of traditional Aristotelian thought. One of Husserl’s initial problems was he held to some form of naturalist empiricism.  However, one cannot be both an idealist and a naturalist. You can’t say the world is constituted by our consciousness, yet have our consciousness dependent on part of the world.

I agree with idealists in that mind is the basis of matter.  They just confuse our minds with God’s.

Some metaphysical schemes just don’t work with modern science.  “Because Descartes identified matter and extension, his physics excluded the possibility of a vacuum” (Philipse 291). Enter Pascal’s experiments that barometers implied a vacuum.   Further, it isn’t necessarily true that all scientific laws are a priori and purely rational–science is empirical and hypothetical.

Mind-Body

The body is “the carrier of the point of orientation,” the “zero point” which plays “an important role in the constitution of the spatial world” (65). It is the field of my free volition. It is what Dallas Willard calls “our personal power pack.”

David Woodruff Smith argues that Husserl’s ontology is a “monism of substrata and a pluralism of essences” (Smith 323).  Within this monism there appear to me many moments of consciousness. This substrata is the realm of essence. It is a monism because consciousness is spread out, yet not divided up, in the form of a “stream of experiences” (339).  Each experience is intentional. That is the dualism.

Some remaining problems

How much of a Kantian was Husserl?  Pinning down his transcendental idealism is fraught with danger. I don’t think he went the Berkeleyan route and said we create the physical world (if indeed Berkeley said that).  Jaako Hintikka suggests, rather, that for Husserl there was an “interface” of consciousness and reality (Hintikka 82). If we explore Husserl’s thought further, his claim is much stronger.  There is a “level of consciousness in which reality forces itself on us, which is the interface (not to say overlap) of reality and consciousness” (89).

That last sentence is a warning on spiritual warfare.  When we read something, it is a reality that presents itself, even forces itself, upon our consciousness.  If someone was inspired by a demon, say like Crowley, then your mind is in contact with a demon’s mind.

 

John Ortberg: Soul Keeping

Related image

This is the “Zondervan popular” version of Dallas Willard’s Renovation of the Heart.  In fact, much of this book is about Dallas Willard.

What the Soul is

 Thesis: The soul is that aspect of your life that integrates, correlates, “runs” everything else.  It is the outer layer of a set of concentric circles, with the “heart/spirit” at the center, then the will.  The will is good at making (generally) very large and simple decisions. It’s not as good at overriding habits.

Image result for dallas willard soul concentric circles

The next circle is the mind. It is where the thoughts and feelings flow around us.  Beyond that, strangely enough, is the body. After the body is the soul. Does this mean that the body is “in” the soul? I don’t think so.  I don’t think the metaphor is meant to be spatial. I think the outer layer, the soul layer, is also porous. Perhaps that’s what lets us connect on a communal basis.  It might also explain the “soul-tie/one flesh” relation in sexual intercourse.

Your soul integrates the various faculties: will, mind, heart (Ortberg 39).  A dis-integrated soul is one where these faculties are at war. Sin causes this disintegration. Today we have replaced “soul” with “self,” with predictable results. The self is a stand-alone unit.  The soul is not. It points beyond itself (per desires, etc).

Biblical Terminology

Nephesh: life or soul (Deut. 4:9a; Ps. 49.8).

Psyche: life or soul (Matt. 16:25-26).

These two words are words that refer to an integrated life.

Key idea: coming to grips with your soul is tough, because soul-language involves sin-language.

Personhood

A soul is not a self.  People in the Bible talk to their souls, but not to themselves.  Ortberg suggests that the difference is that our souls are in the presence of God.  I get what he is saying but I don’t know why someone can’t rejoin, “But aren’t our ‘selves’ also in God’s presence?”  Maybe he is saying that God is present to the soul in a way he is not to the overall body-complex.

Our soul is a stream. To make it flow freely we must clear it of anything that obstructs God.

Quotes:

“The velcro of the soul is called ‘desire.’”

 

Dallas Willard: The Divine Conspiracy Continued

It isn’t fair to criticize this book for not having the same impact that Willard’s earlier books did.  Much of it was published posthumously while other relevant parts simply echoed “worldview concerns.” Good stuff, no doubt, but no different than what Charles Colson said years ago. Nonetheless, there are key areas that shed light for the Christian thinker today.

The thesis of the book follows the title: continuing the Divine Conspiracy by applying Christian knowledge in the marketplace.  Unlike other worldview, “let’s reclaim culture” books, this one actually engages in epistemology.

Any kind of public theology or ministry follows from Plato’s insights on the City. It is the division of labor.  Not everyone in the city can be a “jack-of-all trades.” Public leadership, therefore, recognizes that we divide our labors in the pursuit of goods (51).

Moral Theory

  1. A right action is one that is not wrong (94ff).
    2. An action is right if it is the kind of action a good person would do.
  2. A morally good person cultivates understanding of the various “goods.”

What are goods? “These are things and qualities that represent, illustrate, and point us to what the Good is like” (102).  Goods are “noble and virtuous ways of acting and being in both individual and communal life.”

Knowledge: “the capacity to represent things as they are on an appropriate basis of thought and experience” (139). Knowledge gives one authority to speak in an area.

“Take-home points”

*We are participants in God’s grace, not merely passive recipients.  Willard, though not Reformed, isn’t saying this in a “see my good works for salvation” sense.  We are coworking with God in his programme for the world (21).

*Shalom: the enduring, “encompassing experience and expectation of restful, secure, holistic wellbeing” (30).

Justice: simply, the greater good (Plato). It is shown and understood by the consequences of its presence (49).

“I am not influenced by the expectation of promotion or pecuniary reward. I wish to be useful, and every kind of service necessary for the public good becomes honorable by being necessary.”

~Captain Nathan Hale, 1776

 

Handout on Heidegger

I’ve been reading Martin Heidegger since 2010.  I am not a Heideggerian.  I am closer to Husserl.  Still, I think a handout on what Heidegger said can help those who are trying to get into his works.  I’m also going to end with some criticisms of where Heidegger went wrong.

Being-There, not just Being

Trying to figure out what Heidegger meant by “being” is a nightmare.  An easier angle is what he replaced it with.  That might help us see some of his criticisms of “being.”  Heidegger reads Heraclitus and Aristotle as saying that Logos = Being = Unity (49).  Heidegger wants to challenge the idea that Being is the foundation of beings. The Tradition, which Heidegger will ultimately attack, says “Being” is the common property of “beings.”

It’s like this.  I am a being.  That seems fairly straightforward.  You are a being.  What we have in common is also “being.”  What does that mean?

I am not going to say whether he was right or wrong.  Okay, I think he is mistaken.  I do think, though, this explains why he replaced Aristotle’s categories of Being with the “Existentials.” To dangerously oversimplify, I suggest that Heidegger isn’t interested in traditional discussions of being.  Those are dead-ends.  Rather, how would he reframe the discussion around “existence?”

Existentiale

  • Worldhood
  • Concern
  • Care (i.e., being is being-with)
  • Mood
  • Thrownness

In authentic existence, on the other hand, is characterized by “anxiety” and “falling” and “fear.”  I disagree with his rejection of traditional metaphysics, but he is quite perceptive here.

Inauthentic Dasein

  • Chatter.  If “speech” is a good existential, then chatter is bad.  I agree.
  • Ambiguity
  • Everyday Man (Das Man)

This is all quite fascinating.  It’s inadequate, though.  Missing, as Dallas Willard points out, is any discussion of consciousness or how consciousness relates to external objects. Some difficulties:

  • How does Dasein actually work?
  • Can you ultimately escape categorical thinking? Even Heidegger’s disciples like Dugin still refer to the “predicates” of Dasein’s existentials (Dugin 328).
  • Where is consciousness?  I’ve read and reread Being and Time.  I might have missed where he discussed it.

The “Biola” Turn in Christian Philosophy

Or, a return from relativism.

I have several goals in this paper.  I utilize Dallas Willard’s metaphysical realism to rebut post-Kantian idealism.  I also challenge James K. A. Smith’s quasi-Derridean view of interpretation.

In “How Concepts Relate the Mind to its Objects: The God’s Eye View Vindicated,” Dallas Willard defends a robust realism in the face of various post-Kantian proposals.  While criticisms of Kant are common and always welcome, this paper takes a different turn. It is a response to the various “creational hermeneutics” by men like James K. A. Smith who appear to posit an endless deferral of meaning.  To be fair, Smith doesn’t advocate a strict Derridean view. He assumes meaning is possible. Rather, he advocates that every hermeneutical event is always (already?) situated by our finitude. We never approach the realm of “pure interpretation.”

Further, Smith isn’t a Kantian.  He isn’t saying (as far as I am aware) that our minds create reality.  In this case, many of Willard’s remarks won’t directly apply to him. There are some parallels, though.  Both Kant and Smith function as though there is a “wall” between our minds and reality.

On one level that seems true enough. I don’t even know what a pure interpretation unsullied by presuppositions would look like.  I think there is something more, though. It’s not enough that Smith wants to avoid a Derridean relativism or something like an endless deferral of meaning.  Well and good. I fear, though, that his epistemology is underdeveloped and if pursued consistently, will in fact lead to relativism.

In a new chapter to Fall of Interpretation Smith responds to criticisms of Derrida.  He says Derrida does affirm that communication takes place. However, it only takes place within “communal discernment” (Smith 215-216). Indeed, communities “fix meanings.”  We will come back to this claim later.

Dallas Willard’s article provides a summary of how the mental process works. He discusses what a concept is and how the nature of a concept (which always includes intentionality, relations, etc) avoids what he calls the “Midas touch” of post-Kantianism. Followers of Kant see the concept as an activity of the mind.  As Willard explains, “It [the Kantian view] always turns the ‘mediation’ of the relation between the mind and world into a form of making: the object which comes to stand before the mind is in some essential way made by a ‘grasping’ of something other” (Willard 2-3).

The Structure of the Knowing Act

While Willard’s article decisively rebuts Kantianism, it does have a small payout for the “Derridean Christian Philosophers.”  If what Willard says is true on how the mind knows, then it doesn’t matter if we posit that our knowledge is “mediated” or “structured” by communal knowings.

Survey of the Material

Kant: what comes before the mind as objects are products of the action of the mind (Willard 4).  Evidently, there is some amorphous sludge that is present before our mind. Our mind then categorizes it and “out comes the perceived object.”

Beginning of the Case

Willard’s main argument is that all knowing acts involve “intentionality,” which is the “about-ness” or “of-ness” of something.  If I know a dog, this dog, then “there must be something about each of the terms (my thought of my dog, my dog) that my thought of my dog is “together with” or pairs up with my dog” (5).

What is a Concept? 

A concept is acquired, applies to or is “of” something (extension), has intension (inherent properties), is transpersonal.  If there is anything that “mediates” between our minds and the outside objects, it is concepts, not endless linguistic deferrals or “communal” interpretations. 

Further, concepts are properties, not acts or events.  As such, they don’t “do” anything. A concept also has a “nature.”  This means it has properties, relations, and an overall place “in the scheme of things” (8).  Since it is a universal, it is exemplified in time and space but itself is not in time or space.  

With all of this in mind (no pun intended), we can see that intentional properties are concepts which form a bridge between thought and its object.  I do not think of the intentional properties but “of what is before my mind through them” (10). The intentional properties of a concept are not identical with “the properties which things must have to fall under the concept” (11).

We can try to say it another way: there is an intentional affinity (the of-ness or about-ness of a concept) between the concept and the properties of the concept. They are related in such a way that the intensional properties “always come to mind upon the instancing of the property which is the concept, but not by being instanced in the thought along with the concept” (12).  In other words, the concept is before our mind, not simply the inherent structure of the concept. The following diagram might help:

Thought of a dog (exemplifies) concept of a dog (has natural affinity with) properties making up caninity (exemplified in) Dogs (Fido, etc). (Willard 13).

The Pay off

If the above is true then the objects of thought do not take on any character. They aren’t changed in structure from an amorphous sludge to a dog.  Therefore, we are not “locked inside language” (14).

How does this work with the Radical Orthodox type crowd which posits an intermediate communal meaning?  At the most basic level it makes it irrelevant. Let’s take the concept of a dog. I read about a dog in a text.  How does placing “the communal interpretation of the faith-community” between myself and the dog “make” the text correct?  

That might be somewhat trivial.  Let’s take a theological dictum. If all the RO guys are saying is that we must read in conjunction with fellow believers, then there really isn’t a problem. A more hard-line approach would be “the church’s interpretation is our interpretation.”  Only Protestant converts to Roman Catholicism or Eastern Orthodoxy say anything that silly. It’s common enough, though. Let’s look at it. What mediates the church’s reading of the text and the text itself? It doesn’t work to say the church, for that is no different from their own characterization of Protestantism writ-large.  Further, it’s no different from the very foundationalism they eschew.

But if the church doesn’t mediate between the church’s interpretation and a given fact of experience, then who does?  We are then thrown back to the individual believer’s responsibility to interpret the world, receive data, and make judgments.  These judgments aren’t infallible, but they are still warranted. He can accept many of them as basic beliefs (in the absence of overriding defeaters).  

 

 

Becoming Dallas Willard (Gary Moon)

This is a fine continuation of Eternal Living, which was a compilation of reflections on Dallas’s life.  It covers his early childhood in the poverty-stricken Ozarks (and echoes some of Thomas Oden’s own memories), his move to Temple Tenn. and later marriage to Jane.

Theme of the book:  Dallas went to “the thing itself,” whether in philosophy or in prayer. 

Metaphysical Realism

Is the object I see simply a representation of my own thoughts?  If it is, can I ever really know the object in question?

Moore and Husserl

Moore was the first philosopher in terms of an analytic approach that Willard read.  Moore helped explode the idealist thesis. Moore, however, left undone one crucial aspect: what to make of the human mind?   Husserl filled in the gap.

Husserl (as Dallas reports him): the basic problem is to understand consciousness and not try to hide philosophical problems by focusing on language or words. We have knowledge.  We deal with reality and not merely some historical process.

It is possible to have direct experience with a mind-independent world. 

The Philosophical Split and USC

Brother Dallas came to USC when the analytic/continental split was beginning to harden.  Some clarifications:

Analytic philosophy: originally began as a break from idealism and focused on linguistic analysis.

Continental philosophy: subjective starting point.  It later became postmodernism.

Dallas was able to avoid the worst of this split by focusing on the philosophical classics.  He focused more on questions of goodness, the soul, and moral development.

Finishing Well

Before his death, Dallas gave an outline to JP Moreland on where the spiritual formation movement should go:

1) Metaphysical realism.  There is a mind-independent world to which we have access.  This also includes the soul, the kingdom of God, and the Trinity.

2) Epistemic realism.  We are in direct contact with objects of knowledge.  Nothing stands between the mind and items of knowledge “in cases of direct awareness.”

3) Models of the human person and Christian spiritual formation.

4) Spiritually formative practices that are objectively testable.

The final section when Dallas was on his deathbed was very good.  Being weak and barely able to speak for weeks, before he died he said “Thank you” in a very clear voice to Someone else in the room.

The Great Omission (Dallas Willard)

Thesis: Discipleship is the modern omission from the Great Commission.

He has a beautiful chapter on “solitude” and “silence.” My only concern is that it is completely unworkable to anyone who has kids, a job with pressing demands, or both.  (I remember I first read this when I was trying to get my 3 year old to sleep).

Towards a Christian Anthropology

In technical language, Willard is a soul-substance dualist, which is generally the Christian position. “The soul is a substance in that it is an individual entity that has properties and dispositions natural to it, endures through time and change, and receives and exercises causal influence on other things” (Willard 139).

“We have knowledge of a subject matter when we are able to represent it as it in fact is, on an appropriate basis of thought and experience” (140).

It is the source of life (143). The spirit is a central part of the soul, the part of determination (is this what Dabney called connative powers?). It is the heart or will. This isn’t trichotomism, though. Trichotomism sees the spirit as a separate entity. This view sees it as a subdivision of the soul.

The Good in the book

Logic as a spiritual discipline. This was a wonderful chapter, “Jesus the Logician.”

It requires the will to be logical (182).  It is freedom from distraction and willingness to follow truth wherever it takes

We are Committed to logic as a “fundamental value” (183). Jesus uses enthymemes. He understates logical points which require the hearer to draw the conclusion–psychologically, this was a very effective move.

As noted previously, his take on anthropology and its suggestions for a Christian psychology was wonderful.

Criticisms

Per Laubach: language of ascent to God (200). This is chain-of-being ontology. Note how the Christian “logic” works. We do not ascend to God. Christ descends to us. I understand that “inner” language has Augustinian precedents.

Nota Bene: I am more appreciative of Laubach now than when I first read this.

This theme is heavier in Teresa of Avila’s Interior Castle. The “rooms” are ways of living in relation to God. Interestingly, Willard notes that this book has become an interfaith manual. Ironically, or perhaps precisely because when the spiritual life becomes “mystical absorption into the One,” then why does it really matter which “One” it is?

Knowing Christ Today (Dallas Willard)

Thesis: A life of steadfast discipleship to Jesus Christ can be supported only upon assured knowledge of how things are, of the realities in terms of which that life is lived (Willard 7). Correct knowledge gives us secure access to reality.

Interplay between faith and knowledge

What is it to possess knowledge? “We have knowledge of something when we are representing it….as it actually is, on an appropriate basis of thought and experience” (15).

Faith is contrasted with sight, not true knowledge. Faith is always exercised “in an environment of knowledge and is inseparable from it” (20).

Exactly How We Perish for Lack of Knowledge

Sub-thesis: People perish for lack of knowledge because only knowledge permits assured access to reality” (39). While some are saying that “worldview” talk is now dated, it is still inevitable. Willard calls it a “biological necessity for human beings, because we act, whether consciously or not, with reference to a whole (a ‘world’)” (43).

One way we perish is by idolatry. It is a mistake about reality, in that we assign powers to an object that it does not have.

The rest of this chapter is a summary of Renovation of the Heart and The Divine Conspiracy.

Can We Know That God Exists?

Willard gives a simplified version of the Kalam Cosmological argument.

(1) The universe had a beginning (evidence from Big Bang, background radiation, impossibility of traversing an actual infinite, etc.)

(2) It was either (p) produced by nothing or by (q) something that is not physical.

(3) P is false; therefore, q (2; Disjunctive syllogism)

(4) The causal closure principle of the universe is false since it cannot explain the cause of the physical universe (see [1]).

(5) There must be a first member in the causal series.

(6) This cause must have a will since he/it willed to create.

(7) Therefore, the causal system is not merely causal.

The Miraculous, and Christ’s Presence in the World

What is a “natural law?” True, there are regularities in nature, yet these regularities are constantly interrupted even by humans. Willard notes that “common regularities in nature all depend upon certain conditions that lie deeper in reality, and if those conditions are modified, then the regularities are interrupted” (125). A miracle is when the ultimate conditioner modifies the conditions. Therefore, it is not a violation of natural law, whatever that means.

Knowledge of Christ in the Spiritual Life

Here Willard summarizes his work on spiritual disciplines. We are cultivating a “constant receptivity” to the presence of Jesus (156). This list is not exhaustive. We do so by:

(1) solitude and silence.

(2) Fellowship

(3) Prayer

(4) Giving

Knowledge of Christ and Christian Pluralism

What would a Christian pluralism look like? Willard defines it as “a pluralism based upon the generosity and justice of the God revealed in Christ” (170). This raises a problem: if by knowledge of Christ we have secured access to reality, then it seems that others are wrong. Willard heads off that line of reasoning by noting we shouldn’t confuse belief with behavior. I can believe you are wrong and still be a decent human being.

In any case, there is a logical exclusivity about knowledge in general. Pluralism as an ideal is false and unworkable, since various religious traditions make exclusive claims. What is valuable in pluralism, however, is having a proper and friendly attitude towards the so-called “Other.”

A Christian take on true pluralism (!) would imply something like the following:

(1) Agape love for everyone.

(2) God will treat everyone justly.

(3) Willard is *not* saying people from other religions *will* be saved apart from Christ.

(4) Yet, God probably won’t cackle maniacally as he watches people on the barbeque pit.

My only real concern is Willard’s exegesis of “no other name.” He says it is in the context of meaning “no other access to God’s kingdom power–resulting in the previous miracle–except through Jesus’ name.” I certainly believe that is a true proposition. I just don’t see how it changes the original meaning.

This book is a good snapshot on Christian epistemology. It is, however, not a text on epistemology. Willard shows the importance of Christianity as a knowledge-tradition and that we have access to it. But he doesn’t deal with the basic problems of epistemology.

This book isn’t as good as Renovation of the Heart, but it is better than Divine Conspiracy. It’s on par with Hearing God

Eternal Living (Dallas Willard)

Image result for eternal living dallas willard

When Jane Willard first met Dallas in the college library, she noticed he never wore socks.  She thought he was some kind of rebellious hippie. She later found out that he couldn’t afford socks.

Richard Foster:  Dallas and I used to team-teach Sunday School.  When I taught, people might come. When Dallas taught, they brought their tape recorders.

Every contributor notes how Dallas was always in the presence of God.  He was never rushed. Never startled. He moves and speaks with a calm power.  Dallas not only imitated what Jesus taught, but the Hebraic way he taught (Cf. Jane Willard’s chapter).

Husserl and Knowledge

Greg Jesson: For Dallas knowledge was the most practical thing, as it enabled you to grasp reality.  The problem with modern philosophers (Kant, Hume, etc) is they believed our awareness is always of some mental state, such as an idea or perception.  They couldn’t explain how it relates to the mind-independent world.

If I am thinking of the Pythagorean theorem, then I am thinking of the same mind-independent fact that he thought of 2500 years ago.  This means that the mind has the ability to grasp things that are not part of itself. For Husserl, a mental state isn’t something that just floats about in our mind.  It is necessarily vectorial. It is always of something other than itself. This pointing feature is called intentionality.

Moreland and Dallas

Moreland gives a brief summary of Dallas’s epistemology and the various ways it means “to know.”  There is knowledge-by-acquaintance, propositional knowledge, and know-how. Further, knowledge doesn’t require certainty.  Only immutable facts are certain, and there aren’t many of those. In Ephesians 5:5 Paul says to “know with certainty,” which would be redundant if all knowledge were certain.  Further, my degree of knowledge can grow or weaken over time.

Five Tips for a Teacher

By Gary Black Jr.  

Focus on your purpose.  

Cultivate patience.

Accept solitude and sustenance from God.

Stay engaged with others.

Beware of intellectual pride.

 

Renovation of the Heart (Willard)

Willard, Dallas. Renovation of the Heart.  NavPress.

It’s hard to write a new book on spiritual formation. Even the books that are good seem to have covered already-covered ground. What more is there to add? Dallas Willard takes a different angle. Rather than aiming for spiritual formation or spiritual disciplines, which advice always runs the risk of sounding pedantic, he speaks of “forming Christlikeness.” In this review I will summarize some of his key points, note some potential problems and tensions, and end with a reflection.

Unlike other authors on spiritual disciplines, Willard is a trained philosopher and brings analytical reflection the table. Without entering the free will debates he notes that the will (or the mind, or the heart) never acts in isolation but always in conjunction with other faculties. This has important implications for spiritual growth: one simply can’t “grow the mind” without growing the heart, will, etc.

The book was much better than I expected. It wasn’t pedantic and he covered ground not found in Foster and Whitney. I have some concerns about the books he recommended. Like Foster, he seemed to convey the idea that any Christian who has written on the reflective life should be consulted. I am not so sure. I highly doubt that consistent Roman Catholics, Charismatics, or others would agree one can isolate the spirituality (Francis de Sales et al) from the larger theology. Indeed, Willard’s own arguments (rightly) suggest otherwise.

But by all means please read the book. It’s probably the best spiritual disciplines book on the market