Dallas Willard on Special Dangers in Our Thought Life with God

In my quest to read more for depth, I have been slowing working my way through Dallas Willard’s book, Renovation of the Heart: Putting on the Character of Christ. In this work, Willard describes the six basic aspects that make up what we call “human nature.” They are Thought, Feeling, Will, Body, Social Context, and Soul. Each of these has been impacted by humanity’s ongoing rebellion against God, and each of these areas are transformed as we lay down our rebellion and begin walking with Jesus as our King. The more closely we follow after Him, the more these six areas begin to align with His way of life, thereby forming us into His character (hence the subtitle of the book).

As you might tell from the title of this blog post, I am making my way through Willard’s chapter on the human mind, or our thought life. Bringing our minds and thoughts under the Kingship of Christ is essential to our formation into Christlikeness. Though spiritual formation is not a truly linear process, the transformation of the mind is a crucial, if not foundational, piece of the puzzle. It is the first domino, if you will. And as important as it is for spiritual formation, it is equally important in the Enemy’s plans for spiritual malformation. Thus, Willard cautions us against four special dangers we should guard against regarding our thought life.

The first danger is that of pride. Willard writes, “The first is pride and overconfidence in ideas, images, or bits of ‘information’ simply because they are ‘ours’ or ‘mine’ and I am (we are) in the habit of relying on them.” He goes on to say that “we must be aware of the special danger of holding onto the contents of our thought life mainly because they are ours and therefore ‘obviously correct.'”

In business, they talk about the “sunk-cost fallacy.” This is when someone is reluctant to move from a strategy because they have already sunk a lot of time or invested a lot of capital in it already. Thus, they refuse to let go of something even when it obviously is not working. Willard’s warning against pride reminds me of this fallacy. Just because I believe something currently, does not mean that my beliefs are correct. I think they are, which is why I believe them. However, I cannot hold everything so tightly that I cannot listen, learn, and change course when necessary.

Willard’s first danger is arrogance, and the second is ignorance. While humility is a necessary trait to keep us from pride, the other extreme is not recommended. Willful ignorance, a shutting of one’s mind to deeper thinking, is inexcusable for a follower of Christ. To do so is to cede the battleground of the mind to the Enemy, our minds and the minds of others we have the opportunity to influence. Again from Willard, “In fact, if we are to use our minds rightly, we must live in an attitude of constant openness and learning.”

Willard next cautions against the danger of desire, “allowing our desires to guide our thinking: especially the desire to prove we are right.” I admit that I struggle with this. There are things I want to be true. For example, I watch The Chosen and I want the way they depict the character and personality of Jesus to be accurate. Also, I do not want Hell to be real place of eternal conscious torment. However, what I want does not determine what is real or true. How much of our “news” these days is really opinion shopping to find people who say what we want to be true?

“The fourth and final great danger has to do with the images that we admit to our minds.” We try to protect our young children from images of violence on screen, because we do not want such things to warp their developing minds. Yet do we think our “developed” minds are immune from such influence? Do we think we can play with fire and avoid being burned? Willard is correct when he writes, “For nothing enters the mind without having an effect for good or evil.”

Scripture says quite a bit about the formation of the mind. One of my favorite passages is the one Willard uses to close our this section of his chapter on the mind.

And now, dear brothers and sisters, one final thing. Fix your thoughts on what is true, and honorable, and right, and pure, and lovely, and admirable. Think about things that are excellent and worthy of praise.

Philippians 4:8 New Living Translation

“Make no mistake,” writes Willard with emphasis, “this is a fundamental and indispensable part of our spiritual formation in Christ.”

Published by Sam Draper

Sam has been with Greencastle Christian Church in Greencastle, Indiana since 2017. He is married to Jessie and they have one son, Joey. Sam completed his Doctor of Ministry in Spiritual Formation in 2019. Sam’s favorite hobbies include biking, reading, playing board games, and eating Chipotle burritos.

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