Dallas Willard: The domain of the individual

“…we are made to ‘have dominion’ within an appropriate domain of reality. This is the core of the likeness or image of God in us and is the basis of the destiny for which we were formed. We are, all of us, never-ceasing spiritual beings with a unique eternal calling to count for good in God’s great universe. Our ‘kingdom’ is simply the range of our effective will. Whatever we genuinely have the say over is in our kingdom. And our having the say over something is precisely what places it within our kingdom. In creating human beings God made them to rule, to reign, to have dominion in a limited sphere. Only so can they be persons.” — Dallas Willard, The Divine Conspiracy

5 responses to “Dallas Willard: The domain of the individual

  1. metamorphmind

    Personhood from dominion? That sounds dangerous to me. Am I reading it right?


  2. I think it’s sort of like “faith without works is dead,” if you consider the direction that verse must run in a Reformed context. God grants you personhood, but if prevented from exercising dominion over your piece of reality, you cannot act like a person. For me, the value of this is related to my background, back when a combination of authoritarianism and mysticism made me feel like I was wrong to make decisions about the most basic things in my life. This Willard quote is cast from a certain category of theology; it makes a great emancipation clause for those who have been in controlling groups.

    As a somewhat related matter, the L’Abri folks considered the creation mandate (subdue the earth etc.) to remain valid in the New Covenant context, so Schaefferites like Udo Middelman would continue to say that humans were “vice-regents” over creation — not above the Creator, but granted responsibility and some dominion over creation.


  3. metamorphmind

    It’s arrogant for me to comment w/o having read the context. But that’s never stopped me. I wonder if stewardship wouldn’t be a safer way of speaking about it. We find our personhood not in excersizing dominion over our piece of reality, but in recognizing God’s absolute authority over all of reality. Thus, an authoritarian cannot excersize dominion in a way that runs contrary to God’s will. My worry is that if we find our personhood in dominion, there’s no protection for someone like Rob starting an authoritarian cult. Thus, our dominion over reality is protected as we excersize our ‘vice-regency,’ and everyone else is protected from us as we submit to God’s authority.


  4. I think I see how you’re responding to this, because the existentialist presupposition of our culture is “will to power.” So in that sense, it would be dangerous to think of finding our personhood by exercising dominion.

    But I think Willard is responding to the opposite problem of personhood and dominion. Think of people who have a personhood that is not domineering but is “ingrown,” who have not felt a proper permission to order their lives and engage the materials of this life for constructive and creative purposes. God gives dominion to humans in Genesis 1:28-30, and here I have seen an application that is broader than merely what was available to the first humans — also including language, technique, materials, etc., for artistic and practical ends. Somewhat related (wade through a little preamble):
    “The church of Luther experienced and preached the ideal of renunciation of the world more strongly than the Reformed Church, which desires to proclaim the glory of God in all areas of life. For this reason, the Lutheran Church, when the challenge is made, must judge very harshly (in opposition to Luther and Melanchthon) both the dance and all other arts and worldly pleasures. It can do this and remain liberal in other areas of life. The Reformed Churches do not view this world as a vale of tears, but as the vineyard of the Lord, which is to be cultivated. They do not shun the world, but meet it, accepting the danger of becoming secularized in order to magnify God’s name within it and by its means. Thus in the last analysis they subject nothing to a judgment of absolute condemnation. Everything must and can serve to the glorification of God, even art.” — Gerardus van der Leeuw, Sacred and Profane Beauty: The Holy in Art (Abingdon Press, 1963)


  5. In addition to the van der Leeuw quote in my other reply:

    I think the sticking point might be in different ways this quote might be interpreted: “Only so can they be persons.”

    I do not take “can they be” as “become.”

    I take “can they be” as “act like what they are.”

    We could say a caged bird is still a bird, but it doesn’t get to act like a bird when it is caged.

    God first creates persons, then gives them dominion over the earth, tells them to subdue it.

    Again, the context is personal.

    My primary worry, the thing I want everyone to avoid, is the belief that everything that gets done must be done with God as puppeteer — like the folks way back when who thought my dad was un-spiritual for working a job. Hey man, like, God is the provider, ya know, so wait on the Lord! Don’t be so worldly!

    We hold up empty hands for salvation, but we aren’t to make ourselves empty-handed.

    Look closely at Exodus 14:14-15. Moses says to stand still; the Lord says, why are you waiting — move out!

    With the Willard quote, I’m trying to advocate responsible, reasonable, creative, constructive action. (Maybe poles are “only pray” versus “only act”, but it’s probably more than just that.) Granted, I think Willard is presupposing certain things about his readers’ beliefs and understandings.