Willard Hears God; Aids Dialogue, Part 1

Willard_review_08172015Dallas Willard.  2012.  Hearing God: Developing a Conversational Relationship with God.  Downers Drove:  IVP Book. (Goto Part 2)

Reviewed By Stephen W. Hiemstra

Reading a book on hearing God is perhaps motivated by curiosity or guilt or just the idea that we are not always keeping up our end of the conversation. Yet the target audience for such a book is clearly the mature Christian. An immature Christian would look for a book on prayer where implicitly the conversation is unidirectional. And a non-Christian would make that implicit assumption explicit—prayers are nothing more than happy thoughts that we vocalize—incantations meant to be heard by those around us. Me? I came to Willard hoping to improve my listening skills.

In his book, Hearing God, Dallas Willard asks: “How can you be sure God is speaking to you?” He answers: “we learn by experience” (9). Communicating with God is a dialog. Yet, this dialogue makes sense within the wider: “framework of living in the will of God” (13).

This dialogue is not necessarily easy. In the postmodern context, the dialogue with God is surrounded by fear. Comedian Lily Tomlin asks: “why is it that when we talk to God we are said to be praying, but when God speaks to us we are said to be schizophrenic?” (22) Good question. Perhaps,  we are afraid of what God might have to say to us.

Willard offers some important advice on humility. To the pastor who remarks–I do not believe that God plans his day around me—he responds: but we are important. God gave his son to die for us. Still, the fact that God speaks to us does not in itself make us important (46-48). Apparently, talking to a janitor should not be confused with offering him a promotion!

The structure of Willard’s book is not entirely obvious. He writes: “my strategy has been to take as a model the highest and best type of communication that I know of human affairs and then place this model in the even brighter light of the person and teaching of Jesus Christ” (12). Sprinkled throughout the book at the end of six chapters are six exercises. Most follow a lectio divina format—reading (lectio), reflecting (mediatatio), responding in prayer (oratio), and resting in contemplation (contemplation) (104-105).

Willard observes that: “few people arise in the morning as hungry for God as they are for cornflakes or toast and eggs” (283). I feel that quote. He understands the need to be step out for God, not only in the morning, but during the day. He writes that: “it is absolutely essential to the nature of our personal development towards maturity that we venture and be placed at risk, for only risk produces character” (173). As a former financial economist and current volunteer pastor, I can appreciate the role of risk-taking in improving ones decision skills.

Willard Dallas [1] was longtime Professor of Philosophy at was longtime Professor of Philosophy at The University of Southern California, teaching at the school from 1965 until his death in 2013.  He is also the author of numerous books on Christian spirituality.  Hearing God is written in 9 chapters:

  1. A Paradox about Hearing God.
  2. Guidelines for Hearing from God.
  3. Never Alone.
  4. Out Communicating Cosmos.
  5. The Still, Small Voice, and Its Rivals.
  6. The Word of God and the Rule of God.
  7. Redemption through the Word of God.
  8. Recognizing the Voice of God.
  9. A Life More than Guidance.

These chapters are preceded by an introduction and preface. They are followed by an epilogue, appendix, notes, and a scriptural index.

In some sense, writers on spiritual formation can only be evaluated like spiritual directors–do they walk with you and do you continue to walk with them?  In my case, I have finished a second book by Willard—El espíritu de las disciplinas: ¿Cómo transforma Dios la vida? He is good in both English and Spanish.

In part 1 of this review, I have given an overview of the book.  Part 2 will delve into greater depth into some of the issues that Willard raises.


[1] www.dwillard.org/biography. https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Dallas_Willard.

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