Here is something I read when Willard died.
In one of his classes a student challenged him with statements that were both offensive and incorrect. Dallas paused and told the class that that was a good place to end their discussion. Somebody asked Dallas afterward why he had not countered the students’ argument and put him in his place. “I’m practicing the discipline of not having to have the last word.”
This is part of why Dallas would never debate non-believers. He would engage in a mutual conversation where both parties could seek for truth together. He would often say: “I’m sure Jesus is the kind of person who would be the first to say you must ruthlessly follow the truth wherever it leads.” Through the last week of his life he was still hoping to help believers engage non-believers by looking together at questions where people get stuck in their actual lives rather than by trying to win arguments.
I hear that same thing rolling through the Divine Conspiracy especially on oath taking.
The essence of swearing or making oaths is to try to use something that, though impressive, is irrelevant to the issues at hand to get others to believe you and let you have your way. This is wrong. It is unlike God. And just making sure you perform on any promises made to God in the course of it (the old rightness) does not make it right. Of course you should keep promises you make to God in any circumstances. But the wrongness of swearing lies deeper. We are making use of people, trying to bypass their understanding and judgment to trigger their will and possess them for our purposes. Whatever consent they give to us will be uninformed because we have short-circuited their understanding of what is going on.
Willard, Dallas. The Divine Conspiracy (pp. 174-175). HarperCollins. Kindle Edition.
Willard sets the bar very high on respecting people. He didn’t want to manipulate or coerce or bully or trick people into an idea or a belief. He saw this as inconsistent with loving people.
I often reflect on Jesus’ ministry. You’d imagine that there was never a better preacher than Jesus. His sermons remain the foundation for much Christian teaching. He was also healing and doing miracles with his preaching. You can’t imagine a more potent combination. He gathered multitudes in the Galilee and the crowds shouted his praises into Jerusalem. All the men of standing then abandons him at his crucifixion, watching from the shadows, leaving the boy John and the women to hold vigil. No one shows up at the tomb except some women expecting to finish the dirty work.
This of course highlights the power of the Holy Spirit but it also shows how Jesus did not use “tricks” to convince people. People disagreed with Jesus, violently sometimes. He didn’t do violence against them or use coercive means to bully them into submission. In the end it of course cost him his life.
As we enter into what will likely continue to be divisive time, I think we should ponder these things. pvk