Review by Mark Friesen
What is the subject?
In a well thought out and compelling way, the author unpacks this very familiar passage of Scripture.
In contrast to a “health and wealth” approach to the soothing words, Willard sees the psalm as a realistic description of a kind of life God offers in relationship. We lack not in abundance of possessions or pleasant circumstances but the presence of the Shepherd with us.
Willard examines the nature of God (“The Glorious Self-Sustaining, Eternal Being of the Shepherd”) and how this reality can interact with our lives practically (“Living in Mindfulness of our Magnificent God”) He then offers three conditions for living the life without lack: confidence or trust in God as our Shepherd, dying to self (placing God’s will above our own), and being filled with agape love for God and others.
He ends with a very practical outline of how to spend an ordinary day with God: “going on the road with Jesus.”
Who is the author?
Dallas Willard (1935–2013) was a professor of philosophy at the University of Southern California. He was a Christian thinker and author of discipleship classics like The Divine Conspiracy: Rediscovering our Hidden Life in God and The Great Omission: Reclaiming Jesus’ Essential Teaching on Discipleship. This book derives from a teaching series Willard conducted in an adult Sunday School class in his local church. Pastor Larry Burtoft partnered with Willard’s daughter Beckey Heatley to transpose audio recordings of the sessions into book form.
Why this book?
My Christian walk has been tremendously helped by Dallas Willard’s writings, so anything from him (even posthumously) is worth a read. This is the most easily readable of Dallas Willard’s books. The editors have done a good job of capturing Willard’s style while making it more accessible to a wider audience.
Comment on the book’s theological perspective in light of the MB Confession of Faith
This book is entirely compatible with our Confession of Faith. Willard takes the statements of standard Christian belief and shows how the God that is described in these statements is so competent and good that we can fully trust him in our everyday lives. Also consistent with our Confession of Faith (see Article 13), Willard emphasizes that showing agape love toward others includes our enemies.
As we come through Christ to see God as God truly is, we can place our confidence in him in such a way as we no longer have to fear anything because God is with us in our moment by moment reality.
At times, I found myself saying, “Really?! Is the life described in this book actually possible?” But I think this is because the prevailing view in both culture and church is to not really see Scripture as a realistic vision for life, so when someone presents it as such it can be jarring and challenging.
Other relevant information
You can hear an interview with Willard’s daughter about the book on the Renovare podcast.
Who should read it?
Anyone we has read or has wanted to read Dallas Willard in the past. Anyone who is intrigued by the offer of a life without lack in God’s presence in the here and now.
One of the greatest needs today is for people to really see and really believe what they already profess to see and believe.
Think of the most wonderful, the most attractive, the most thrilling, the most vibrant personal company that you can imagine, and multiple that by a factor of infinity, and you have begun to get a glimpse of what God is doing, what he was doing before the creation of the world, and what God will be doing forever. This is the being on Whom the life without lack relies.
What do you fear? Whatever comes to mind, I want you to know that you have nothing to fear. If you doubt this I urge you to ask God to give you a peace about this…. Because God is with you can live without fear. This is precisely what the Shepherd Psalm is taking about.
Psalm 23 is one of those great, wonderful passages that could not possibly have been made up by human ingenuity alone. Our minds do not naturally run at these kinds of heights. Some stories are so real they could never have been made up; the words of the Psalmist David are like that.
We must be aware of pretense. It is crucial that we do what we can to avoid acting as if everything is fine when in fact we are suffering. Faith and complaining are not mutually exclusive.
We don’t have try to be someone we are not. Indeed we cannot be someone we are not, and we won’t find God’s blessing there anyways because God has yet to bless anyone except where they actually are. If you drive a truck, or deliver the mail, or teach or sell insurance or manage investments or mend broken bones it is good in God’s kingdom. The main thing that will ruin any possibility of staying with Jesus throughout one full day is the feeling it is not okay to be who you are or do the work you are doing.
[Mark Friesen is a member of The Meeting Place, Winnipeg.