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


al-Kindi’s argument against eternal universe

Strictly speaking, this isn’t the cosmological argument, because as it stands there is no inference to a creating Agent.  But it does establish the groundwork for it.  This is from William Lane Craig’s Kalam Cosmological Argument, pp. 23-27.

  1. There are six self-evident principles
    1. Two bodies of which one is not greater than the other are equal.
    2. Equal bodies are those where the dimensions between their limits are equal in actuality and potentiality.
    3. That which is finite is not infinite.
    4. When a body is added to one of two bodies, the one receiving the addition becomes greater.
    5. When two bodies of finite magnitude are joined, the resultant body will also be of finite magnitude.
    6. The smaller of two generically related things is inferior to the larger.
  2. No actual infinite can exist because:
    1. If one removes a body of finite magnitude from a body of infinite magnitude, the remainder will be a body of either finite or infinite magnitude.
    2. It cannot be finite.
      1. Because when the finite body that was removed is added back, the resultant would be finite (see 1.5).
      2. The body would then be both infinite and finite
      3. But this is self-contradictory (see 1.3).
    3. It cannot be infinite
      1. Because when the finite body that was removed is added back to the remainder, the resultant body would be either greater than or equal to what it was before the addition.
        1. It cannot be greater than it was before the addition.
          1. Because then we would have two infinite bodies, one of which is greater than the other.
          2. The smaller would be inferior to the greater (because of 1.1).
          3. And the smaller would be equal to a portion of the greater.
          4. Thus, the smaller body and the portion would be finite because they must have limits (1.2).
          5. The smaller body would then be both infinite and finite.
          6. But this is self contradictory (see 1.3).
        2. It cannot be equal to what it was before the addition.
          1. Because the whole body composed of the greater portion and the smaller portion would be equal to the greater portion alone.
          2. Thus a part would be equal to the whole.
          3. But this is self-contradictory.
  3. Therefore, the universe is spatially and temporally finite because:
    1. The universe is spatially finite
      1. Because an actual infinite cannot exist.
    2. The universe is temporally finite
      1. Because time is finite.
        1. Time is finite
          1. Because time is quantitative
          2. And an actually infinite quantity cannot exist.
        2. Time is the duration of the body of the universe.
        3. Therefore, the being of the body of the universe is finite.
      2. Because motion is finite.
        1. Because motion is the change of some thing.
      3. Body cannot exist prior to motion.
        1. Because the universe is either generated from nothing or eternal.
          1. If it is generated from nothing, body would not precede motion.
            1. Because its very generation is a motion.
          2. If it is eternal, body would not precede motion.
            1. Because motion is change.
            2. And the eternal cannot change.
              1. Because it simply is in a fully actual state.
        2. Thus, body and motion can only exist in conjunction with each other.
        3. Motion implies time.
          1. Because time is a duration counted by motion.
        4. Time is finite.
        5. Therefore, motion is finite.
        6. Therefore, the being of the body of the universe is finite.
      4. Because the universe is composed.
        1. Composition involves change.
          1. Because it is a joining of things together.
        2. Bodies are composed
          1. Because they are made up of substance and three dimensions.
          2. Because they are made up of matter and form.
        3. Motion involves time.
          1. Because time is a duration counted by motion.
        4. Time is finite
        5. Therefore, motion is finite.
        6. Therefore, composition is finite.
        7. Therefore, the being of a body is finite.
      5. Because time must have a beginning
        1. Otherwise, any given moment in time would never arrive.
          1. Because infinite time is self-contradictory.
            1. The duration from past infinity to any given moment is equal to the duration from the given moment regressing back into infinity.
            2. Knowledge of the former duration implies a knowledge of the latter duration.
            3. But this makes the infinite to be finite.
            4. But this is self-contradictory.
          2. Because infinite time cannot be traversed.
            1. Before any given moment to have been reached, an infinity of prior moments would have to have been reached.
            2. But one cannot traverse the infinite.
            3. So any given moment could never be reached.
            4. But moments are, in fact, reached.
        2. Moreover, future time cannot actually be infinite.
          1. The future consists of consecutive additions of finite times.
            1. Past time is finite
            2. Therefore, future time is finite.