Opening Willard’s book, I read: “The idea of having faith in Jesus has come to be totally isolated from being his apprentice and learning how to do what he said.” In that sentence, I felt, was my diagnosis. I had grown up in an Evangelical Christian home, I “had faith in Jesus,” but what I didn’t have was a sense of how Jesus’ life connected to the practical problems I faced in my day-to-day existence. I had imbibed what Willard memorably calls a “gospel of sin management,” a message that enabled me to be confident of post-mortem salvation but left me largely clueless as to how to handle my troubles as a teenager.
I read on and encountered this, from the same page in The Divine Conspiracy: “How to combine faith with obedience is surely the essential task of the church as it enters the twenty-first century.” Thumbing through my old copy of the book, I see a marginal note from my seventeen-year-old self: “This is one of the most troubling questions… . How to fit together faith and obedience, justification and sanctification, Gospel and Law?” Asking that question was, in retrospect, the beginning of my interest in theology. The urgency of my adolescent angst had led me, unaware, into one of the central issues in the study of Christian teaching: how the forgiveness of sins issues (or fails to issue) in a changed way of life.