One thing I like about Dallas Willard is that, rather than casting a vision for how things could be as most modern Christian teachers do—which both excites us for the moment and lets us off the hook after a decent period—he spends his time looking at the things Jesus very straightforwardly said we would be capable of as his disciples, and then asks why we aren’t doing those things.
I also like the fact that, to the extent that this constitutes a failure, he does not waste time trying to place the blame for it but instead looks to what needs to happen (and where) in order to rectify it. One important role would need to be played by the church—not as an institution, but as a gathering of believers.
Imagine, if you can, discovering in your church letter or bulletin an announcement of a six-week seminar on how genuinely to bless someone who is spitting on you. This primitive form of desecration is still practiced, much more commonly than is thought. We all recall the ceaselessly repeated television images of a professional baseball player recently spitting in the face of an umpire. You can just feel what incredible grace and maturity would be required for that umpire to respond with heartfelt blessing. And of course no one ever thought he should give such a response, thought it would have been the way of Jesus.
Or suppose the announced seminar was on how to live without purposely indulged lust or covetousness. Or on how to quit condemning the people around you. Or on how to be free of anger and all its complications. We recall the whole range of real-life enactments Jesus talked about in explaining kingdom goodness from the heart [in the Sermon on the Mount].
Imagine, also, a guarantee that at the end of the seminar those who have done the prescribed studies and exercies will actually be able to bless those who are spitting on them, and so on. In practical matters, to teach people to do something is to bring them to the point where they actually do it on the appropriate occasions. […]
Imagine further, if your imagination is not already exhausted, driving by a church with a large sign in front that says, We Teach All Who Seriously Commit Themselves to Jesus How to Do Everything He Said to Do. If you had just been reading the gospels—especially Matthew 28:20: “Train them to do everything I have told you”—you might think, “Of course, that is exactly what the founder of the church, Jesus, told us to do.”
But your second thought might be that this is a highly unusual church. And then, “Can this be right?” And: “Can it be real?” When do you suppose was the last time any group of believers or church of any kind or level had a meeting of its officials in which the topic for discussion and action was how they were going to teach their people actually to do the specific things that Jesus said?
I would guess that it has been a very long time.