“Come to Me, all who are weary and heavy-laden, and I will give you rest. Take My yoke upon you and learn from Me, for I am gentle and humble in heart, and you will find rest for your souls. For My yoke is easy and My burden is light.” (Matthew 11:28-30, NASB)

Dismantling Dallas Willard’s Dissertation on Disciplines

As I mentioned in Thomas Keating Contemplative/Centering Prayer, a major reason I have been trying to expose these spurious so-called “spiritual disciplines” allegedly rediscovered by Living Spiritual Teacher and Quaker mystic Richard Foster, is because they are being used on your youth in evangelical Youth Groups.

These neo-pagan practices, which were originally gleaned from false Eastern religions such as Hinduism and its offshoot Buddhism, are right now being taught to your youth as if they were actually consistent with the historic orthodox Christian faith.

The fact is on the recommendation of them by Emerging Church teachers of a counterfeit Christianity like Brian McLaren, Emergent icon Rob Bell, anti-theologian Tony Jones, and his pastor Doug Pagitt your children are being used as spiritual guinea pigs for these neo-Gnostic teachings that originated with apostate mystics.

While covering this serious issue it’s not uncommon for Apprising Ministries to receive letters decrying criticism of Foster’s cohort Dallas Willard. This is because Willard is supposedly the “scholar” who adds his weight to this Contemplative Spirituality/Mysticism, particularly through his book The Spirit of the Disciplines (SoD).

In his excellent critique of Dallas Willard’s SoD pastor Bob DeWaay uses the Sword of the Spirit to absolutely decimate Willard’s false brand of pietism and shows us that these spiritual disciplines have absolutely no basis in Scripture whatsoever. Instead they are simply the musings of mystic imagination.

DeWaay begins by showing us how deeply this neo-pagan mysticism has penetrated the American Christian Church:

I met a lady who attends a Christian college. As part of her study program she was required to take a course on spiritual formation at her college. Spiritual formation in her class also concerned the study of Roman Catholic mystics and the search for techniques to help those who implement them feel closer to God. This study also explored “spiritual disciplines” which promised to make those who practiced them more Christ-like.

After she finished the class she shared her textbooks with me. This article will focus on the claims of one of these text books, The Spirit of the Disciplines, by Dallas Willard. In our study we shall see that those promoting spiritual disciplines in courses of study called “spiritual formation” make claims that are unbiblical and dangerous.
(Online source)

Concerning our opening text above DeWaay informs us:

Dallas Willard bases his entire spiritual disciplines book on his understanding of Matthew 11:29, 30,… Willard cites this passage at the beginning of a chapter entitled “The Secret of the Easy Yoke,” Willard says, “And in this truth lies the secret of the easy yoke: the secret involves living as he lived in the entirety of his life—adopting his overall life-style”… He claims that the “yoke” is to try to emulate Jesus’ lifestyle in every possible way. Willard interprets Jesus’ “yoke” as the practice of spiritual disciplines like solitude, silence, and simple living. (ibid.)

First of all this view does not take into account the need for regeneration. It also fails because if it was possible for a mere human to live the perfect life Christ Jesus did as the God-Man then it is conceivable for someone else to have been the Savior. With this in mind DeWaay points out that in SoD:

Willard is very critical of traditional Protestant doctrine and practice, declaring it a massive failure. His remedy for this failure is to see the body and certain ascetic practices using the body as the means of change: “Looking back over our discussion to this point, we have connected the reality of the easy yoke with the practice of the spiritual disciplines. These in turn have led us to the body’s role in redemption.”

He claims that we have been misguided by being concerned with the forgiveness of sins and “theories of the atonement.” He says, “Salvation as conceived today is far removed from what it was in the beginnings of Christianity and only by correcting it can God’s grace in salvation be returned to the concrete, embodied existence of our human personalities walking with Jesus in his easy yoke.” (ibid.)

And how do we know that “salvation as conceived today” is out of touch with the way early Christians viewed it? Well, because Willard says so that’s how. DeWaay then continues:

So evidently, rather than concerning ourselves with the blood atonement, averting God’s wrath against sin, salvation by faith through grace, we should be practicing spiritual disciplines with our bodies so that we could then be more like Jesus.

The concept of Jesus’ “yoke” being interpreted as an invitation to practice His life-style is reiterated throughout Willard’s book; see pages 91, 121, and 235. This idea is the framework and logical foundation of Willard’s entire thesis. But the question is, “Is this what Jesus meant in Matthew 11:29, 30?”

DeWaay next takes us through the proper context of what Jesus is teaching in our text. He shows that it has to do with the Master drawing a distinction between the legalism of trying to keep the Law as opposed to entering the grace of the true “Sabbath rest [which] is found in Christ”. Next DeWaay brings out that:

There are other places in the New Testament where the term “yoke” is used in the sense of the requirement of law keeping. Two of them are very pertinent to interpreting Matthew 11:28-30. In Acts 15 the apostles gathered in Jerusalem to determine whether the new Gentile converts would be required to keep the Law. The three most prominent laws that marked off the Jews as unique were the food laws, Sabbath, and circumcision. Peter’s speech convinced the apostles that the Gentiles were not obliged to follow such Jewish laws…

The “yoke” was being under the Law. Now consider how Paul used the same term: “It was for freedom that Christ set us free; therefore keep standing firm and do not be subject again to a yoke of slavery” (Galatians 5:1). The Judaizers wanted to put Christians under obligation to be circumcised and Paul called this “a yoke of slavery.”

So Jesus’ yoke is in stark contrast to the “yoke” that the religious leaders put on the people. He is offering salvation to all who come to Him by faith… Therefore our conclusion is that in Matthew 11 Jesus was offering salvation to all who come to Him… The spiritual disciplines are not taught in Matthew 11:29, 30 (Willard’s primary proof test), and even Willard admits they cannot be found elsewhere in scripture…

Ironically, Willard admits that the Bible does not command us to practice the spiritual disciplines he prescribes. To hear evangelicals like Dallas Willard and Richard Foster tell us that we need practices that were never spelled out in the Bible to become more like Christ or to get closer to God is astonishing. What is more astonishing is that evangelical colleges and seminaries are requiring their students to study practices that are relics of Medieval Rome, not found in the Bible, and closely akin to the practices of many pagan societies. (ibid.)

For Men Will Be Lovers Of Self

Then DeWaay fires into the heart of the problem with these neo-Gnostic mystics like Guru Richard Foster and Swami Dallas Willard, a failure to understand the true depraved nature of unregenerate mankind:

As with most unbiblical approaches, the spiritual disciplines are based on the idea of innate human powers that can be harnessed for good. Holding a false concept of sin as a “disruption of that higher [spiritual] life,” Willard looks for a solution through finding our true potential, individually and corporately, through spiritual disciplines that will enable us to reconstruct the rule of God now. Willard says, “The evil that we do in our present condition is a reflection of a weakness caused by spiritual starvation.” Rather than wicked rebels abiding under God’s wrath, humans are bundles of huge potential who have lost their way through “disruption of the higher powers.” We supposedly have great potential…

So how do we tap into this great human potential? He says we must tap into the spiritual dimension using spiritual disciplines… His idea is that “spirit” is the missing nutrient that we need to realize our full potential. The ideas of total depravity, the wrath of God against sin, the blood atonement, and the cross are either absent or distorted in Willard’s theology. What replaces these truths is the hope that we will realize our potential through tapping into the spiritual kingdom of God. This is to be done by the use of spiritual disciplines to obtain the necessary power to transform the world. The terminology that Willard uses is strange and unbiblical… (ibid.)

And to those of us who have studied these spiritual disciplines that were originally culled from pagan religions of the East such as Sufism, Hinduism and Buddhism it comes as no surprise when DeWaay then tells us, “These ideas are more akin to Eastern Religion than Biblical Christianity.” You can read DeWaay’s entire article here.

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