Knowing Christ Today: Why We Can Trust Spiritual Knowledge by Dallas Willard

Knowing Christ Today: Why We Can Trust Spiritual Knowledge cover imageSummary: Knowledge is not simply ideas that can be tested (naturalistic concepts) but also includes spiritual knowledge. 

I read Knowing Christ Today with a particular lens and purpose. I have been on a reading project to understand the Christian concept of discernment better. Part of what has arisen in my look at discernment is the role of the Holy Spirit and that type of spiritual confirmation that is not quite tangible through naturalism’s perspective on knowledge or experience. In the language of Ignatius, it is the consultation and desolation that you feel drawing you toward or away from Christ.

I picked up Knowing Christ Today over a decade ago when it was on sale on Kindle, but I have never read it. I had a long drive, so I also purchased the audiobook version to listen to while driving. I have a complicated relationship with Dallas Williard, which is why I think I had not read this previously. I very much respect his role in reawakening attention to the spiritual disciplines. But I also feel like we talk past one another quite a bit. I am a bit allergic to apologetics. While Willard believes that apologetics is best used to help Christians feel confident in their faith (not evangelism) and that he believes that change in behavior does have a relationship to our belief about the world (both of which I agree with), I still end up arguing with him (on the side of the anti-theist positions) when he veers into apologetics.

I have not read Alvin Plantinga, but I think that is part of who Willard is building on here as he develops the idea that spiritual knowledge is a valid form of knowledge. That narrow point, I think, is true; spiritual knowledge is a valid form of knowledge. But that does not really help to evaluate what spiritual knowledge is or when it is rightly invoked. It does not help in evaluating spiritual knowledge of Christianity compared to other religious understandings of spiritual knowledge or different perspectives within Christianity on spiritual knowledge. This means that I did not find Knowing Christ Today all that helpful to my project.

That doesn’t mean that there is no value in the book. I often find Willard broadly helpful while finding his main argument unpersuasive. The main problem, I think, is that he wants to focus on a modernist understanding of knowledge and against a post-modernist understanding of a variety of perspectives as partial looks at truth. My bias is that we can only speak of God as fully knowing the truth and that all the rest of creation can only have partial access to that truth. Not because truth itself is relative, but because, as a created being, we can only have the perspective on the truth of a created being, not of the creator. Again, that does not mean that we can’t know any truth, but we have a limited ability to know every bit of the truth. So, I agree with Willard that spiritual knowledge is real, but his perspective doesn’t help with any of the issues I have with spiritual knowledge or experience, and in some ways, I think it makes them worse.

Knowing Christ Today: Why We Can Trust Spiritual Knowledge by Dallas Willard Purchase Links: Paperback, Kindle Edition, Audiobook

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