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Uncovering the Hidden Kingdom
Dr. Orville Boyd Jenkins
A review of the book by Dallas Willard
The Divine Conspiracy:  Rediscovering our Hidden Life in God (NY:  HarperOne, 1997.  428p.)

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Dallas Willard presents here a classic work, which has already become a major resource for understanding the meaning of the Kingdom of God in the contemporary world.  Willard's writing is readable and conversational, yet rich.

I read this book 11-17 February 2009, as part of my ongoing plan to understand contemporary evaluations of western society and the relation of biblical faith to modern culture.  The flow of this work carries the reader along through detailed and incisive logic and understandable practical of the principles revealed.

This large volume reads well as Willard focuses primarily on the Beatitudes of Jesus' "Sermon on the Mount."  Willard's discussion will place this misused and misunderstood part of Jesus' teachings in its rightful,  meaningful context for the current believer and non-believer as well.  Willard minces no words in rooting out the cultural accommodations that have hidden the meaning of these teachings, by turning them into mundane sentimentalities that don't fit the the demands of the tough life in the real world.

Willard's title arises from his thesis that Jesus presents God as doing something radical and unexpected in the world.  The common muddle of popular religion and superficial reading of the Gospels has obscured and muddled, even reversed the meaning of the Good News of the Kingdom as Jesus presented it.

Willard shows here how the whole activity of God in history, as portrayed in the Old Testament and New Testament, is consistent, and these beatitudes express that consistent intention of the Conspiracy.  The modern naturalist, materialist mindset has no category for the non-material realm, which leads to a simple dismissal of God, or a puzzling difficulty in making sense of the concept of God and his relation to the world.

A common magical concept of God that is all many people are left with.  Willard attempts to reclaim and clarify the New Testament concept of a living God active in the world in practical ways.  So Willard's analysis is practical at every point.

Willard declares that the thrust and focus of the "Beatitudes" of Jesus are virtually the opposite of how they have generally been interpreted over the years in popular tradition.  Willard then backs up every detail of this claim and its implications through artful exegesis of the passages and related texts in the New Testament.  He presents enthralling analysis confirming every detail and captivating life and drama applying the implications.

Bible Study
This can be considered from several views.  Initially we can consider this a Bible study, the topic of which is the Beatitudes.  These statements of "blessing" are found in Jesus' "Sermon on the Mount" (the popular name from the setting of these teachings in Matthew's Gospel) or the "Sermon on the Plain" (the name often used in scholarship for the setting of the version in Luke's Gospel).

Willard contends that the reason these "Beatitudes" tend to be so ignored or dismissed is that they have been notoriously misread.  They seem unconnected to real life, too fanciful and idealistic to have real application to everyday life.

Reversing the Error
Willard adeptly decalres that the problem is that the traditional popular view has it backwards.  Basically, the problem is that the popular concept generally holds that the groups mentioned as "blessed" are receiving the Kingdom of God as a reward for being this way.  Or alternatively, this is the character or quality expected of those who coming into the Kingdom of God.

Willard makes sense of the Beatitudes, consistently and meaningfully, by showing us that these statements focus on groups in society TO WHOM the Good News of the Gospel has come.  The "poor in spirit," for instance, are "blessed" because they have such good reason to welcome the Kingdom of God.

This personal Rule of God over their lives, because the Rule of God promises vindication and justice for the exploited and downtrodden.  The Beatitudes then make sense consistently with the Good News attitude of God's portrayal all through the scriptures.   Powerful and practical.

Practical Theology
Willard's work can also be thus considered Theology.  And he is philosophically adept, skilled in logical analysis and critical comparison.  But this is not "theology" in the sense of dry, academic, medieval abstraction.  This is dynamic, powerful, life-changing interpretation of Divine Power in human contemporary life.

Willard makes amazing connections at every point with current and common life examples, showing how the intent and meaning of these declarations of the Rule of God among us present a Good News that can restore and integrate our lives.

See related reviews and articles on this site:
[Review] Dialogue Church to Non-Church - Let's Listen
[review] Experiencing the Future of Faith
[review] The Gospels in their Jewish Setting
[review] A New Testament Window into First Century Jewish Literature
[TXT] Postmodernism and the Emerging Church:  Some Thoughts
[review] The Shack:  a Realization of Relationship and Revelation

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Review written and posted on Barnes and Noble 5 March 2009
Expanded review posted on Amazon 5 March 2009
This review written and posted on Thoughts and Resources 5 March 2009
Last edited 24 January 2012

Orville Boyd Jenkins, EdD, PhD
Copyright © 2009 Orville Boyd Jenkins
Permission granted for free download and transmission for personal or educational use.  Please give credit and link back.  Other rights reserved.

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