In the Divine Conspiracy, Willard gives a broad overview of his book in his introduction.
“This third book, then, presents discipleship to Jesus as the very heart of the gospel. The really good news for humanity is that Jesus is now taking students in the master class of life. The eternal life that begins with confidence in Jesus is a life in his present kingdom, now on earth and available to all. So the message of and about him is specifically a gospel for our life now, not just for dying.” (xvii)
Chapter 1 opens with a parable that illustrates this idea. Willard shares of a pilot that was confused in mid flight, and thinking that she was flying right-side-up attempted to steer the plane into a ascent. However, she was flying upside-down, and her turn drove her straight into the ground. Willard suggests that humanity is living at high speeds and we have lost a bearing of whether we are right-side-up or upside-down. Willard continues about the struggle that higher education institutions (and we can add many other social groups) are having a difficult time training their young in ethical standards.
Now, more than ever, is it important to hear Jesus’ invitation, then, to be life-long learners; those who practice and participate in the divine way of life that Jesus announced.
To be honest, this appeal was not my introduction into Christianity. To use an image of another author, early Christianity had a horizontal timeline where this present age is being swallowed up by a new age to come, one that arrived in Jesus Christ, is arriving in the age of the Church, and is going to arrive at the renewal of all things.
After the first few centuries, however, that horizontal timeline was aimed upward into a vertical axis, where one suggests that we have this life here and we will have another life “up there” after we pass. This escapism shapes the common witness of the church. Those who proclaim a gospel with this foreign, vertical timeline have an awkward time with the words of Jesus and, more pointedly, try to read Jesus through a truncated, reductionist view of Paul.
The vertical view is what I was introduced into, but I must confess, it was boring and empty and provoked me to be judgmental more than anything else.
Over time, however, I was lead to hear the words of Jesus from his own situation and context and what I heard was something more exciting, exhilarating, courageous, and sacred. I believe that it is this horizontal timeline that Willard dares to use for his witness of Jesus.
And so I read on, with intense excitement.