Willard’s main point throughout The Divine Conspiracy (TDC) is that the church has missed the core of the gospel of Jesus. It is not about what happens after death or some social cause. The gospel is about the Kingdom of God, and the Kingdom is here now in its accessibility through discipleship to Jesus. At its center, the gospel is the call to be a disciple of Jesus, and the point of being a disciple is not to white-knuckle our way into obedience, but rather to be transformed so that we become the kind of people who naturally act as Jesus would if he were living our life.
From the start Willard addresses the commodification of faith. He suggests that we treat the person of Jesus as a “more or less magical creature” and his words as dogma or law. (xiii) When we think of the words of Jesus as dogma and law, Willard says, we view them disconnected from “the way things really are: (from) truth and reality.” (xiii)
The spirit of bricolage is also present in TDC. Bricolage is the practice of removing a custom or belief from a culture and using it for some benefit divorced from its original intent. Doing spiritual or religious practices solely for the status they give me in Christian community is most definitely bricolage. Willard drives home the point that spiritual practices are matters of the heart. When we use them as a means of gaining reputation or esteem they are devoid of their intent and will have no impact on our real lives.
Forgive my broad-brush strokes in this final thought, but while reading TDC I began to wonder if the emerging church has much more in common with the modern church than we may like to admit. The emerging church has given great emphasis to serving the poor, the widows, and the orphans, but I wonder if this has become the gospel of the emerging church. Obviously these things are right and good and necessary, but in our emphasis on these issues have we also dodged the core of the gospel as our predecessors have in their emphasis on life-after-death destinations? Serving poor, as Willard writes, cannot “guide and empower me to be the person I know I ought to be.” (12) It seems the church in modernity and post-modernity share a fetish for outward actions. The modern church says, “Go to church. Believe you are a sinner and that Jesus saves you from the eternal destination of sin. Then you can go to heaven.” The postmodern church rightly identifies missing elements in the modern church and pushes for it to have an impact on the world in very real and tangible ways, but could the emerging church be characterized as saying, “Serve the poor. Be a friend to your neighbor and the man living on the street. Then you are a real Christian.” Has the emerging church, like church it is responding to, missed the core of the gospel, discipleship?