Summer 2019

Books, Willard and Winsome Christianity

By Jason Newell

Nine years ago, we published an online-only edition of Biola Magazine that featured an “Ultimate Summer Reading List” — an idea we liked so much that we decided to recycle it again for this issue. Then, as now, we invited Biola faculty members to offer their book recommendations across a range of categories, like “Best Book for the Beach,” “Best Book for a Discussion Group,” “Favorite Classic” and so on. 

I chimed in with a few picks of my own, including Renovation of the Heart by the since-deceased Dallas Willard, which I placed in the “Book Everyone Keeps Telling Me I Should Read, but Haven’t” category. At the time — halfway through a graduate program with too many other books to read — I had this to say: “I picked up a copy a couple of years ago and stashed it in my nightstand, but I guess other books keep taking cuts in line. I’ll get to it one of these days.” 

Well, to my great shame, “one of these days” finally came ... this year. I started Renovation on New Year’s Day and found myself reading, highlighting and meditating my way through a chapter per day over the course of the next two weeks. All I can say is, everyone who kept telling me I should read it was right. Upon finishing the book, I immediately wished I could tell the 2010 version of me to drop whatever books had cut in line and instead soak up the wisdom of this great Christian philosopher (who, I might add, was a former Biola trustee and a major influence on many of Biola’s professors and leaders). 

In particular, Willard’s few pages on the “Composite Picture of ‘Children of Light'” toward the beginning of chapter 12 is one of the most attractive summaries I’ve ever encountered of what life in Christ is intended to look like. His description of spiritual transformation of the whole self — thoughts, feelings, will, body, social relations and soul — is deeply compelling, and made me want to more fully know and love and be changed by Jesus. 

Which leads me to another compelling statement about the Christian life. Our cover story in this issue is an introduction to a newly adopted document that will play an important role in Biola’s mission going forward. As you’ll read, the Board of Trustees voted to revise and replace the university’s previous “Theological Distinctives” document — a precise but matter-of-fact list of doctrinal positions — with a new Statement of Biblical Principles that takes a more narrative, cohesive approach. The new statement reaffirms many of the same core ideas, but does so in a far more winsome and engaging manner that emphasizes the redeeming work of Jesus. Along the way, it makes the case that Biola’s biblical center isn’t just a set of propositions to guard, but is in fact a source of great delight, joy, hope and flourishing. 

So, I encourage you to read the statement, read the magazine, and then read a book recommended by our faculty. I, for one, am going to take professor Dean Yamada’s advice and read Willard’s The Divine Conspiracy. And this time, I’m not going to wait nine years. 

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