Willard taught that humans are to respond to God's powerful, Spirit-given grace by dethroning the self and enthroning God, thus allowing God to transform us, over time, into Christlikeness. God is a loving, benevolent Father, full of grace and mercy and love. His Spirit speaks to our spirit. The human "spirit" is "unembodied personal power," and that means the Spirit is "unbodily, personal power." This is a nonmaterial spiritual reality that "actualizes, controls, creates, and forms the physical realm." The "fallen condition" is the "ruined soul," and it leads increasingly from the choice to be one's own captain to the disintegration of the soul. It leads us to worship ourselves and put greater trust in sensuality. But the restored soul is the soul reborn and remade.
Choose Your Kingdom
Willard's most central idea, perhaps, is this: God's existence and God's nature are central to all being, to all creation. Everything derives from God, and everything is sustained by God—and that's the only way any life exists. Jesus' kingdom theology reveals this reality. Kingdom, then, is the possibility of spiritual relationship to God.
Less typically, Willard contends that each of us "is" a kingdom, and we choose which kingdom we will serve: God's kingdom, where God rules, or our own kingdom, where we rule. That is, kingdom is about the range of a person's will. Willard's understanding of God's plan (making us Christlike) governs his understanding of Christ: Jesus as Master, as Physicist (he has mastery over the physical world), as Moralist (he tells us how to live righteously), as Teacher, and as Guide.
The same understanding of God's purpose in us governs Willard's understanding of the church: We are being transformed into Christlikeness, and the church is the hospital for those who are on this transformative journey. Black applies to the church Willard's VIM (Vision-Intention-Means) theory of how spiritual transformation happens, even if the focus is more on individuals in the church. The Vision is what life in the kingdom should look like. The Intention is to become Christlike and to hold one another accountable along that journey. The Means are the spiritual disciplines that permit self-evaluation and retrain the self into Christlikeness—all by God's grace, through the work of the Spirit. Yet it must be emphasized that for Willard the human will has weight, even if it cannot achieve Christlikeness on its own.
A Richer Gospel
Willard argues that (revivalist) evangelicalism has a flawed gospel—a "gospel of sin management." The emphases of this gospel are forgiveness of sin, eternal life in heaven, and assurance in the here and now. Either an act (decision) or acts (good deeds) gains a person access to salvation.