Book Review: ‘Renovated: God, Dallas Willard, and the Church That Transforms’ by Jim Wilder

Review by Geoff Holsclaw, who is a pastor at Vineyard North church in Grand Rapids, Michigan and an affiliate professor of theology at Northern Seminary. He and his wife Cyd are co-authors of Does God Really Like Me?: Discovering the God Who Wants to Be With Us (InterVarsity Press).


Read your Bible. Pray. Go to church—twice on Sundays. And don’t sin. Be sure not to sin.

This was the extent of my spiritual formation.

Of course, no one talked about spiritual formation when I was growing up. Reading the Bible, fasting, and prayer were part of my devotions, not part of a package of historic “spiritual disciplines.” These were just the things we did to grow our faith—to become holy, as God is holy.

And the simplicity of these activities served me well. Until—while in college—they didn’t.

That’s when I encountered Richard Foster’s Devotional Classics, soon followed by Dallas Willard’s The Spirit of the Disciplines: Understanding How God Changes Livesand his Renovation of the Heart: Putting On the Character of Christ. These books opened my heart and mind to broader streams of God’s life-giving water. They led me down God’s ancient paths of transformation.

As for so many, discovering this wider tradition of spiritual disciplines—which included practices like meditation, fasting, and Sabbath rest—was a revelation and a relief. I no longer had to cut my own path with God, each day, alone. Now an ancient way stretched before me that I could walk with others.

Jim Wilder’s new book, Renovated: God, Dallas Willard and the Church That Transforms, integrates these ancient pathways with findings from brain science about our neural pathways. Wilder shows how contemporary neuroscience transforms our understanding of spiritual formation.

(Before Willard’s health began to decline, Wilder’s goal had been to co-write this book with him. As a witness to their original collaboration, Wilder alternates his own chapters with chapters by Willard, based on transcripts of the lectures he gave at the 2012 Heart and Soul Conference. These chapters, which summarize his thoughts on human life and the process of spiritual maturity, are the perfect introduction for those unfamiliar with his work.)

Stalled Growth

After a couple of years spent zealously practicing spiritual disciplines, two realizations emerged. First, it seemed many of my friends either resisted them or could not engage with them. They were not experiencing transformation like I had.

Second, these practices didn’t fix everything in my own life. I still struggled with sin. I would often go through the motions. And I fell into a new legalism just as my spiritual maturity plateaued. I wondered why my growth had stalled out.

I soon found that other church leaders were wondering the same things. Why do some people benefit from spiritual disciplines while others seem to flounder? Why do some people embrace them wholeheartedly while others just shrug them off? And why, after these disciplines help us grow for a time, does the fruit sometimes begin to fade?

Renovated speaks to these very questions. Wilder’s book is for those feeling stuck in a spiritual-formation rut, for those longing to see others grow spiritually, and for those interested in how brain science transforms our understanding of spiritual growth.

Fast-Track Training

Wilder’s book recommends three main shifts in how we understand the process of spiritual formation. The first is a shift from thinking about God to thinking with God.

A. W. Tozer famously said that “what comes into our minds when we think about God is the most important thing about us.” Yet Wilder, leaning on what we know about the brain, argues that thinking about God is too slow of a mental process to actively transform our lives. He calls it a “slow-track” mental process that can only focus on one thing at a time. Thoughts that develop on this slower track appear in our minds too late to inform actions in real time.

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Source: Christianity Today