Willard's exposition of the gospels of sin management is perhaps his most enduring, and certainly piercing, criticism of evangelicalism. He takes aim at popular programs like the "Romans Road" and The Four Spiritual Laws that rely on securing a decision for salvation. Without the intention to surrender to Jesus and follow him, he says, the decision yields an "empty allegiance." Churches that embody these gospels are not designed to lead people to become disciples.
Jesus' gospel was far richer than the versions propounded by religious conservatives and liberal alike. On the Right, Willard argues, the gospel is "vampire faith" (they want Jesus for his blood); it is obsessed with atonement theology and focused on gaining "relief from the intrapsychic terrors of fundamentalist versions of hell." On the Left, the gospel is about activism and "self-determined acts of righteousness." If the Right is about proper beliefs, then the Left is about proper behaviors.
But the true gospel is about conformity to Christ in a God-bathed kingdom reality. The worst exhibition of the gospel today is the bumper sticker, "Christians aren't perfect, just forgiven," which suggests that Christianity is merely about forgiveness and one's renewed standing before God—and the moment in which these things were secured. It reduces the work of Christ to the work of salvation from sin, leaving Christlike transformation out of the equation.
Black's book is the only resource of its kind on the market today. In it we have decades of Willard's thought expertly distilled. The Theology of Dallas Willard will lead back to where it should—to Willard's own writing, and to his vision of Christlike transformation.
Scot McKnight is professor of New Testament at Northern Seminary and author of the forthcoming Kingdom Conspiracy: Returning to the Radical Misson of the Local Church (Brazos). He blogs at Jesus Creed.