Book Review: Hearing God, by Dallas Willard

Hearing God: Developing A Conversational Relationship With God

Dallas Willard

Publisher: Intervarsity Press

Hearing God

Communication: the buzzword for healthy relationships. If faith is a personal relationship with God, why is communication with him such a mystery? This updated and expanded book seeks to clarify what it means to hear God and addressing many misunderstandings of this fundamental piece of the life of faith. This is a comprehensive, level-headed, and challenging book on divine guidance.

While believers around the world soundly establish communication towards God, Willard seeks to illuminate the missing piece: communication from God; that is, hearing and understanding what God has to say about us. With marvellous insight, Willard challenges the reader cognitively and calls forth reflection. Using plain language yet brilliant analogies in everything from quantum mechanics to human anatomy, revealing the indications and implications of God’s interaction with us.

The book’s second interest is answering whether it is more dangerous to risk trying to hear God or not trying to hear God at all. Willard is adamant about the importance as well as the reality of Christians being able to hear from God personally.

Ultimately, Willard’s point is that the Christian person needs to be able to hear God, or they will forever be paddling in the shallow end of the spiritual life. Willard restores the individual relationship with God amongst the other pillars of a healthy spiritual walk – community, Bible reading, and so on – so that people do not become dependent on imperfect human advice for every little thing.

More than ever, Christians are seeking ‘God’s will’ for their life. As a result, many groups devise seminars, strategies, and steps to do this. Willard’s thesis revolves around developing a relationship with God in all kinds of ways, the Bible being one. This updated and expanded version includes six Lectio Divina exercises to guide readers into hearing God through reflective reading of Scripture – while readers also train themselves to hear the ways in which God communicates. At the end of each chapter are reflection questions that may help the reader further unpack meaning for his or her own life.

We Need More Faith in the “F-word” [Part 2]

Some social conservatives (Christian ones, at that) argue that feminism is to blame for the breakdown of marriage and society. One well-known evangelical sadly suggests that feminism turns women into “lesbians who hate their husbands and kill their children”. But I’m sure he means that with love.

Some Christians, reading into admonitions for women not to teach or speak in church from New Testament epistles, have used scripture to legitimize their culture’s own existing sexism, settling for the status quo instead of envisioning a kingdom of Heaven culture where “there is no male nor female, slave nor freeman, Greek nor Jew” (Galatians 3:28).

These narrow-minded and ill-informed views are simply wrong. Feminism neither destroyed marriage nor created abortion. Feminism is mistakenly blamed for abortions, yet in China, third-trimester abortions and even infanticide take place regardless of the rights of women (or lack thereof). Women’s rights is not a culprit. As if it’s a bad idea to empower half of our society – or that somehow women cannot be trusted to handle power. It reeks of fear and manipulation.

Feminism isn’t responsible for breaking marriage, either. Marriages have been deeply broken for a long, long time, and children die where patriarchy reigns unchecked. In some regions of Somalia, the men take the first portion of food and whatever scraps are left over – if there are any – are given to the women and children. The family friend who witnessed this tragedy said it reminded him of child-sacrifice cultures associated with the god Moloch.

We’ve mentioned Christian faith, so let’s move on to the Bible. One cannot quote the letters to the Corinthians or letters to any other 1st century church with disdain for context. The people of Corinth wrestled with a pagan culture whose association of women’s involvement in religion was as temple prostitutes. Further, women were largely uneducated and untrained in literature, speaking and teaching — things necessary for a woman to teach effectively in church. Paul’s admonitions, offensive when read void of context in modern times, actually safeguarded the reputation of Christian Corinthian women and prevented poor teaching from being spread through the church in its fragile early years. What’s more, Paul celebrates and recognizes several female early church leaders: Julia, Junia, Mary, and Priscilla amongst them.

Nowadays, the story of women’s education is quite different. Recent studies concur that higher education is tipping heavily to the side of women, with females comprising more than 60% of enrolment in higher education. Modern women are articulate, empowered, and educated. St. Paul’s reasons for cautioning the women of ancient Corinth are absent in today’s Western context. Is it possible that God is asking us to think this one over?

Some churches address the issue by allowing women certain positions of authority but not senior teaching positions. It seems that to entrust our children’s education to female teachers at school but not at church is to hold a pretty laughable double standard.

So, what’s Christianity’s problem with feminism? The biggest kickback seems to be the link between feminism and humanism. Fine. Humanism is an ideology underpinned in naturalism, often with a bone to pick with Theology. But for the moment, let’s look at the common ground between Christianity and feminism, since it’s pretty clear that some Christians have found a way to harmonize their beliefs with feminist thinking. After all, Jesus’ followers are called to be peacemakers.

Dr. Allyson Jule at Trinity Western University‘s Gender Studies Institute helps her students and readers of her book Being Feminist, Being Christian to see how both Christianity and feminism desire for fullest human flourishing, freedom from all forms of oppression and compassion for the powerless. Both involve aims of justice and self-reflection. Both involve seeing others as equals. That’s significant common ground. From this, I would gladly argue that Christianity and feminism can inform and empower each other.

Let’s just consider one important distinction. While there are lots of intelligent, well-spoken, wonderful, prayerful Christian feminists, there is a temptation to claim Christ was a feminist. People who do this usually point to the book of Luke, seeing how Luke the physician made careful note of how Jesus interacted with women and with the disempowered. The problem is that we apply a 20th century school of thought to a 1st century man (who happens also to be the omniscient Creator of the Universe whose ways are above our ways). According to Christian belief, God is infinite, eternal, and transcends all of our notions. To apply the label “feminist” to Jesus is actually to limit his scope. It’s a bit like saying “God is a builder”, “God is an artist” or “God is a parent”. While these things are true about God, he is not limited to any one of them. There is a great children’s book about this called Old Turtle, which I recommend highly. He is, in the words of Pura, “all balances struck”. While Feminism has been helpful in critiquing injustice, promoting women’s rights, and pursuing equality, Jesus is God, and his plan to restore humanity is larger than that of Feminism. Instead of forcing Jesus into boxes, no matter how nice they look in the catalogue, let’s allow Him to deconstruct ours. He promises “behold, I make all things new”.

Reflections: Perseverant Faith

“The testing of your faith produces patience” – James 1:3

In March, in the tiny community of Esperanza on the west side of Vancouver Island, our group was chopping wood when a hailstorm descended upon us with force, stinging the skin despite our jackets. We took cover until it lessened, then returned to our mauls. Our task was to serve the community by splitting enough wood to stock all the woodsheds. Having no alternative really streamlined our workdays: labour four hours in the morning, break for lunch, resume until dinnertime. Chopping was arduous but simple, as there’s one way to do it: hit the round in the right spot over and over again until it gives.

Many victories are possible through perseverance, and great harvests take time and work. Seeing results is encouraging, but we are tempted to live expecting rapid gratification. We rejoice over answers to heartfelt prayer and a return from seed we’ve sown. But when we don’t see them, faith is tested, sometimes in the company of frustration.

Faith is confident expectation. It involves waiting for something promised. Faith requires patience because everything doesn’t arrive at once, and we need a guard against anxiety about that. Patience allows the fruit of peace to grow.

Jesus declared we would receive the things we believe for in prayer (Matthew 21:22). Sometimes we ask amiss, praying our will be done rather than God’s. God, in his mercy, does not always conform the world to our desires! Yet despite that, God ardently desires for us to pray: “surely the sovereign Lord does nothing without revealing His plan to his servants the prophets” (Amos 3:7).

Christ championed the virtue of perseverance in prayer. Perhaps we have not seen the wood split because we need to hit it a few more times. That’s one way to cultivate perseverance. God may be emphasizing work he wants to do in us to prepare the work he will do through us afterward. Though our prayers may be for the transformation of our situation, our prayers are simultaneously transforming us. Though it’s confusing and counter-intuitive, while you are interested in your destination, He is interested in your heart; entrust that to Him and he will prove trustworthy in it all. It is impossible for us to pray and for absolutely nothing to happen.