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BibleDallas Willard

Lorin Friesen, October 2015

Dallas Willard was a professor of philosophy at the University of Southern California from 1965 until his death in 2013. I have read four of his books: The Spirit of the Disciplines (1988), The Divine Conspiracy (1998), Renovation of the Heart (2002), and Knowing Christ Today (2009). These will be referred to as SoD, DC, RoH and KCT.

I first heard about Dallas Willard two months ago when a colleague of mine told me to read Renovation of the Heart. I was quite impressed by the book because it contained a number of concepts that I have struggled to develop which I have not encountered in other religious books. One can get a flavor of Willard from this transcription of a talk given in 1998 at Biola University and it is both refreshing and insightful. However, I also found out that Willard is regarded by many as one of the leaders of the emergent church. I have major problems with the emergent church because it is far better at describing the problem than coming up with a solution. I value theology and I respect biblical content. In contrast, the emergent church tends to disregard theology and deconstruct biblical content. That left me with the following question: If A is like B, and if A is different than C, then why is B is like C? In other words, if mental symmetry (A) is similar to what Dallas Willard says (B), and if mental symmetry (A) reaches different conclusions than the emergent church (C), then why is Willard (B) connected with the emergent church (C)?

The answer became clearer when I read Willard’s original book, The Spirit of the Disciplines, and finally fell into place as I began to understand the philosopher Husserl. That is because Willard was an expert in Husserl and his Christianity reflects the philosophy of Husserl. I do not claim to be an expert in Husserl (and I will suggest later why a discussion of philosophy is typically preceded by such a disclaimer), but the basic dimensions of the underlying problem are described by Willard in this essay. In simplest terms, humans interact with two different domains. There is the internal world of thought and personal identity and there is the external world of physical reality. As we shall see later, analytic philosophy by its very nature demands a single, coherent explanation. If one starts with the internal world, then eventually one ends up with no explanation for physical reality. One may have a nice rigorous system of logic, but it is too clean and shiny to handle the messy details of reality, and one will not even be certain that the external world exists. On the other hand, if one starts with the physical world, then eventually one has no basis for personal value, meaning, and even philosophy, and one will try to explain everything in terms of physical mechanisms. Husserl solves this problem by starting with the mental act of examining reality, thus treating the interaction between the internal and the external as a fundamental unit.

Quoting from Willard, “As a property--the intentional bearing or specific aboutness--of a mental or linguistic act, the concept does not explain how the act is of or about its object. Rather, it is the ofness or aboutness, the specific intentionality, of the act for its object, and as a property it is repeatable in instances and shareable between persons, as one would have to expect of a property. One can find certain necessary conditions of an act being about or of specific objects, such as totalities or physical objects or other persons. But specific intentionality or meaning, the bearing of an act on an object or objects, which is the relevant concept, is a descriptive ultimate that cannot be defined or explained. (§31 of the IInd LI, p. 400) It is a ‘natural sign.’ Since the concept is a property of the act, it does not intervene between the act and its object, and does not close the mind off from the very objects or world that it was supposed to make accessible. It does not encapsulate the mind or its contents, any more than the properties of other things or events encapsulate them.”

In other words, if the internal and the external realms are two fields separated by a fence, then Husserl’s starting point is sitting on the fence. This solves the problem of bridging internal and external, but it also tends to minimize the fence and limits how much one will explore either field.

One sees these traits in Willard’s Christian books. He excels at applied theology — bridging the fence that divides the internal theoretical realm of theology from the external realm of physical application. But he shies away from presenting a formal system of theology, because that would mean getting off the fence and exploring the internal field of abstract theory. Instead, he focuses upon following the example of Jesus the incarnation, who also ‘bridged the fence’ separating the human from the divine. Similarly, Willard rejects the current prevalent concept of materialism and is quite adamant that a moral and spiritual realm exists behind the physical which interacts with the physical. However, because ‘sitting on the fence’ is the fundamental unit, Willard tends to minimize the division between the spiritual and the physical: “Human personality is not separable in our consciousness from the human body. And that fact is expressed by asserting the IDENTITY of the person as his or her body. This fact is what makes it necessary for us to make our bodies, through the disciplines for the spiritual life, our primary focus of effort in our part in the process of redemption.” (SoD, 84).

One finds this ‘sitting on the fence’ in Willard’s first book The Spirit of the Disciplines, because it teaches physical disciplines that lead to spiritual formation. This viewpoint also causes Willard to be sympathetic with the emergent church. Like Willard, the emergent church views abstract theology with suspicion. It believes that a spiritual realm lies behind physical reality, and it places a heavy emphasis upon using the physical body to explore the spiritual realm.

But Willard himself is not ‘sitting on the fence’. Instead, Willard was a professor of philosophy, and the goal of philosophy is to construct an internally consistent, abstract theory of existence. In other words, philosophy as a profession is located as far as possible within the field of internal abstract thought. Philosophically speaking, this is a contradiction, but that is not the primary concern of this essay. From the viewpoint of reaching mental wholeness, Willard’s explicit focus upon ‘bridging the fence’ between the internal and external, combined with his implicit focus upon constructing an internal, coherent understanding, meant that he discovered many key principles of spiritual formation and spiritual re-formation. His general theory of existence may have caused him to avoid constructing general theories of existence (and yes that is a contradiction), but he did construct many fragments of a general theory of existence. This explains why Willard made so many profound theological statements, even though he identified with the emergent church, which looks down upon making theological statements.

I should emphasize that Willard did the best that he could with the intellectual tools that he had. Until now, a general theory that integrates Christianity has not existed. As far as I know, mental symmetry is the first theory that makes this claim. Willard analyzed Christianity using the best philosophical theory that he could find, as well as studying the writings of previous Christian authors. This approach helped Willard to clarify many critical aspects of Christian doctrine and spiritual transformation, but it also prevented Willard from packaging these various aspects as an integrated theory. However, it is possible to use the theory of mental symmetry to assemble the ‘puzzle pieces’ that Willard describes.

As a result, this essay should be regarded as a sort of dictionary that translates concepts of evangelical Christianity into cognitive language. A paradigm shift is like learning a new language. Eventually all of the original facts have to be placed within the new general theory. For instance, when Germany was divided, then for West Germans, the word ‘auto’ meant primarily a Mercedes or BMW vehicle traveling at high speed down the autobahn, whereas for an East German it meant a Trabant or Wartburg sputtering down the road belching oil. Even though both Germanies used the same word ‘auto’ to describe car, this word had a different meaning for East and West Germans, because it was placed within a different worldview. Similarly, Willard describes many theological terms and concepts in careful detail, but all of these concepts have to be placed within the new paradigm of mental symmetry, which means picking them up, examining them, cleaning them, and fitting them within the general understanding. That is why this is a very long essay. As a Perceiver person, I do not have random access to memory. Instead, concepts within my mind are usually triggered by the comments of others. Willard’s books triggered more concepts regarding personal transformation than any other author that I have read so far. Therefore, I am taking his books as an opportunity to examine these triggered facts in the light of mental symmetry.

The theory of mental symmetry leads to the following general view: Existence is more than just one realm. Instead, it consists of many realms that are all similar to each other. Rigorous logic can be used to explore each domain but runs into difficulties when moving beyond a single domain. Looking first at the internal world, mental symmetry is based on the concept that the mind is composed of seven different interacting cognitive modules. Analytic philosophy uses the type of thinking that emerges when one of these seven cognitive modules takes control of the mind. Attempting to describe the entire mind in terms of one cognitive module is like explaining the entire house in terms of the kitchen. It cannot be done. Turning to the external realm, the physical laws of nature show us that it is possible to use the rigorous language of mathematics to describe the functioning of the physical world. While the external realm is different than the internal realm, it appears to function in a manner that is similar and compatible. In other words, there is a correspondence between the structure of the mind and the deep structure of the natural world. Going further, once one understands the relationship between the mind and the structure of the physical universe, one notices that this same mind is also compatible with a spiritual realm and an angelic realm, leading to the hypothesis that these other realms both exist and interact with the physical realm, and one can compare these theoretical predictions about other external realms with peoples’ descriptions about such realms. Going further, if one understands the structure of the mind, then one can also determine the process of reaching mental wholeness, and one discovers that it corresponds in detail with Christian theology, making it possible to come up with meaningful hypotheses concerning the nature and existence of God. Saying this in general terms, one is using analogy to unfold and compare the partial structures that have been discovered using rigorous thought, and then using anecdotal evidence (as well as more rigorous empirical evidence, if it exists) to test the validity of these unfolded structures. This is all described in Natural Cognitive Theology. (This is similar at a surface level with Dooyeweerd’s concept of domains, but one can say much more about the nature and interaction of the various domains, and what holds everything together is not just a transcendental mystical experience but rather an integrated theory of cognition.)

Of course, this explanation would not be regarded as sufficiently rigorous by a philosopher, but we will see in this essay that it can explain in detail what Willard — who is a philosopher — says about Christianity and spiritual transformation.


Now that we have looked at the big picture let us turn to the details. I suggested earlier that Husserl’s approach of ‘sitting on the fence’ tends to minimize the distinction between spirit and body. This shows up in Willard’s view of embodiment. I am familiar with the concept of embodiment because it is currently a hot topic in the areas that I have recently researched.

Embodiment is basically the recognition that the mind exists within a physical body and is heavily influenced by the physical body. Quoting from Wikipedia, “Philosophers, psychologists, cognitive scientists, and artificial intelligence researchers who study embodied cognition and the embodied mind argue that all aspects of cognition are shaped by aspects of the body. The aspects of cognition include high level mental constructs (such as concepts and categories) and human performance on various cognitive tasks (such as reasoning or judgment). The aspects of the body include the motor system, the perceptual system, the body’s interactions with the environment (situatedness) and the ontological assumptions about the world that are built into the body and the brain.”

The mind of the child acquires its initial content from the physical body, and the mind integrates emotionally around this childish content. Similarly, there is a strong connection between what I think and what I do, and those who try to think one way while acting in a totally different way are setting themselves up for self-deception. Thus, embodiment is a significant concept. However, it is possible to distinguish between strong embodiment and weak embodiment. Strong embodiment insists that the mind is incapable of escaping the shackles of the physical body, while weak embodiment suggests that the mind can use language and emotion to transcend the content that is received from the physical body. Neurological research supports the concept of weak embodiment, but not strong embodiment. That is because internally driven thought activates brain regions that are adjacent to sensory regions, suggesting that thought is related to embodiment but not identical with it. Looking at this more abstractly, if the mind is inescapably bound by physical input, then how can researchers gain the mental freedom required to come up with concepts such as embodiment? Instead, the researchers who came up with the concept of embodiment are hailed as original thinkers precisely because they managed to come up with a new idea.

This inherent tension between mind and body becomes more apparent when one combines the concept of embodiment with the idea of spiritual formation. On the one hand, Willard says that the spiritual realm is based in the non-physical, and I would agree: “What then is spirit? Very simply, spirit is unembodied personal power. Ultimately it is God, who is Spirit (John 4:24)... The idea of spirit as nonbodily power — though capable of interacting with, influencing, and in some manner even inhabiting a body — is a common heritage of the human race” (SoD, 64).

On the other hand, Willard essentially equates personal identity with the physical body: “Human personality is not separable in our consciousness from the human body. And that fact is expressed by asserting the IDENTITY of the person as his or her body. This fact is what makes it necessary for us to make our bodies, through the disciplines for the spiritual life, our primary focus of effort in our part in the process of redemption.” (SoD, 84). He defines personal character as a set of physical habits: “In essence, an individual’s character is nothing but the pattern of habitual ways in which that person comports his or her body — whether conforming to the conscious intentions of the individual or not” (SoD, 54). And he seems to be promoting a form of strong embodiment: “Even our abstract thought rarely if ever is separate from all physical artifacts, images, and symbolisms associated with our bodies. Our ten fingers are abstractly mirrored in an arithmetic based on powers of ten, and very little calculating of any kind can be done without bodily behaviors of some sort. Emotions and feelings also inhabit distinct parts of our bodies” (SoD, 84).


Husserl makes the bridge between mind and body a fundamental aspect of his philosophy, in order to construct an integrated system that can include both internal thought and external reality. The mind does build extensive connections between internal and external, but it does not use rigorous thought to do so. The error, I suggest, lies in thinking that the mind uses rigorous thought to connect internal and external. The analytic philosopher may feel the need to come up with an integrated logical system that bridges the internal with the external (and we will suggest a possible explanation for this in a moment), but that is not how the entire mind works. One can see this in the thinking of the child. The mind of the child is continually learning how to connect internal thought with the external world. But as Piaget aptly described, a young child is incapable of the formal abstract thought that is used by a philosopher. One can also see this in the thinking of the engineer. On the one hand, the engineer uses the rigorous thinking of mathematics (though usually not with sufficient rigor to satisfy the mathematician or philosopher). On the other hand, the engineer builds gadgets in the messy world of physical reality. Thus, the engineer lives in the bridge between internal rigorous thought and external reality and is continually moving from one to the other. The engineer does not use rigorous thought to bridge these two. Instead, he uses semi-rigorous approximations, recognizing that one realm functions like the other but is not identical with the other. My Master’s degree is in engineering, and so I speak with some authority on the subject. Finally, one can also see this in neurology. When the mind has to bridge between one context and another, then the frontopolar cortex becomes active, and this part of the brain handles not logic but rather analogy and metaphor.

One of the fundamental concepts of Husserl is that philosophers should study normal thought used by normal people and not just rigorous logic: “Phenomenology can be fairly understood as the rediscovery of reason as a faculty possessed by everyone, and used by most people, most of the time. Phenomenology reveals everyday reason as a part of everyday life. For it is a central assertion of phenomenology that reason is not a tool, is not a method, but is inherent in everyday thinking... The task set for themselves by phenomenologists is therefore not the mastery of mental activity with reason but the description of the structure of all cognitive experience present in all human living” (p.3). Thus, Husserl’s phenomenology agrees that one should study non-rigorous thought when examining the interaction between the internal and the external. But Husserl is still using rigorous thought to describe non-rigorous thought, which is like an English speaker recognizing that French is a legitimate language but insisting that one continue to use English to discuss French. If French is a legitimate language, then why not speak French?

But how can the analytic philosopher discuss non-rigorous thought if philosophy insists upon rigorous language? I suggest that the solution lies in cognitive mechanisms. Using an analogy, a person may use a computer to write romantic poetry and play games of fantasy. But this non-rigorous content is still being created and stored upon a computer whose mechanisms are completely rational. Similarly, even when thinking and behavior is irrational, one can still use rational thought to explain the cognitive mechanisms driving this thought and action — the mental hardware behind the mental software. We will look at this in more detail when examining the cognitive mechanisms behind analytic philosophy.

Moving on, Willard says that humanity suffers from a spiritual sickness that requires a spiritual cure: “A few voices have continued to emphasize that the cause of the distressed human condition, individual and social — and its only possible cure — is a spiritual one. But what these voices are saying is not clear. They point out that social and political revolutions have shown no tendency to transform the heart of darkness that lies deep in the breast of every human being. That is evidently true” (SoD, vii). But he then concludes that the physical body is a ‘primary resource’ for spiritual life: “I have first tried to clarify the nature of spiritual life itself, to show how it is the fulfillment of the human body and how our body is a primary resource for the spiritual life” (SoD, x). Again we see the result of ‘sitting on the fence’ philosophically.

One can see a similar form of reasoning in Willard’s approach to the life of Jesus. Willard observes that Christianity tends to focus upon the death of Jesus while ignoring the life of Jesus. I agree. However, Willard concludes that the solution is to copy the entire life of Jesus by acting the way that he did. Jesus “was alone much of the time, often spending the entire night in solitude and prayer before serving the needs of his disciples and hearers the following day. Out of such preparation, Jesus was able to lead a public life of service through teaching and healing. He was able to love his closest companions to the end — even though they often disappointed him greatly and seemed incapable of entering into his faith and works. And then he was able to die a death unsurpassed for its intrinsic beauty and historical effect. And in this truth lies the secret of the easy yoke: the secret involves living as he lived in the entirety of his life — adopting his overall lifestyle. Following ‘in his steps’ cannot be equated with behaving as he did when he was ‘on the spot.’ To live as Christ lived is to live as he did all his life” (SoD, 5).

This sounds good until one thinks about it in more detail. When one is in solitude and prayer, then one is being guided by an internal world which cannot be copied merely by practicing solitude and prayer. If I see someone using a computer, for instance, I cannot copy that person by staring at a computer screen, because I do not know what program the computer is running. Similarly, we are told that Jesus was often in solitude and prayer, but this does not tell us what Jesus was thinking about and praying about. If one really wishes to copy Jesus, then one needs to observe what was happening within his mind and spirit, which cannot be seen merely by observing the body.

For instance, Feynman the physicist was famous for being able to solve difficult problems in his head. The story is told that “The Nobel Prize-winning scientist Murray Gell-mann was asked by a prospective student at the California Institute of Technology if the school taught the problem-solving methods used by the brilliant Nobel prize-winning physicist Richard Feynman, also a faculty member at the university. Gell-Mann replied ‘no,’ and when a student asked why not, he responded: ‘Here is Feynman’s method. First, you write down the problem.’ Gell-Mann then squeezed his eyes closed and put his fists against his forehead. ‘Second, you think really hard.’ Opening his eyes, he ended by saying: ‘Third, you write down the answer.’” As the gospels state and Willard points out, Jesus solved most of his problems by withdrawing from others, thinking and praying very hard, and then giving the answer. But copying this behavior will not reproduce the problem-solving of Jesus, just as copying the behavior of Feynman will not reproduce his problem-solving skills.

I am quite certain that I am overstating what Willard believes. However, one does notice in Willard a consistent bias in the direction of copying the physical example of Jesus rather than looking at the theology of which Jesus is the incarnation. Husserl places a great emphasis upon examining specific situations free of bias. Willard describes “the constant cry of phenomenology, ‘To the things themselves.’ The thing itself, whether it is a psychological event or something else, is to be the ultimate source of our knowledge of it. Moreover, the extent and manner in which any type of object can be ‘itself given’ in intuition will be determined precisely by examination of the possible experiences of that type of object, and in that way alone. Those possible experiences must be examined in order to determine how the correlative objects are to be known. Speculation, stipulation, hypothesis or apriori dogmatism about them, or about cognitive experience in general, are simply irrelevant, no matter how strongly sanctioned by our professional culture.” But when such a statement becomes a ‘principle of all principles’ (as Husserl calls it), then the desire to escape all ‘apriori dogmatism’ becomes itself an ‘apriori dogmatism’ — and this ‘apriori dogmatism’ leads to a general bias in the writing of Willard. And we will see in the rest of this essay that everything that Willard writes (at least in the four books that are being examined) conforms to this ‘a priori dogmatism’. Using the language of mental symmetry, if a general theory continues to be used, then it will turn into a TMN (Teacher mental network) which will use emotional pressure to impose itself upon the mind when it is triggered. This will happen even if the general theory says that general theories should not impose themselves upon the mind. That is because cognitive mechanisms are more basic than mental content and cannot be overruled by mental content. In fact, one of the primary signs that one is dealing with a cognitive mechanism is when something happens despite one’s best efforts not to make it happen.

A Cognitive Analysis of Analytic Philosophy

Let us look now at the mental hardware behind analytic philosophy. Husserl says that one should study normal thinking performed by normal people. This is good advice, and the theory of mental symmetry started with a study of normal thinking by normal people. However, I suggest that Husserl is mistaken in suggesting that it is possible to study specific situations free of theoretical bias. Instead, my experience is that Thomas Kuhn was right. Those who have a general theory view everything in the light of their theory and find it difficult to change paradigms. This does not mean that it is impossible to change one’s theory. Paradigm shifts do occur. But they occur with great difficulty. A way to test a theory is by seeing how much it can explain and how simple the explanation is. Whenever a theory has to ignore or reject certain elements, then that is a bad sign. Similarly, when a theoretical explanation becomes excessively complicated, then that is also a bad sign. For instance, the Ptolemaic theory of the universe revolving around the Earth is capable of explaining the movements of the Sun and planets but it requires the complexity of circles within circles. If one views the sun as the center of the solar system, then this leads to a much simpler explanation. Over the decades, I have found the theory of mental symmetry to be capable of explaining many subjects using simple concepts.

Mental symmetry suggests that both abstract and concrete thought can function in one of three different ways: mental networks, technical thought, and normal thought. Mental networks are described here. In simple terms, a mental network forms when a number of similar emotional memories combine to function in an integrated manner. One can see how a mental network functions in the making and breaking of habits. There are two kinds of mental networks: Mercy mental networks (MMNs) are based upon emotional experiences stored within Mercy thought, while a Teacher mental networks (TMN) emerges whenever a general theory (verbal or nonverbal) continues to be used within Teacher thought. We will examine mental networks later in this essay when examining Willard’s discussion of transforming motivations. Math and logic are examples of abstract technical thought, and science uses technical thought, as does analytic philosophy. Tying these two together is normal thought, which is guided by the analogies and metaphors provided primarily by Perceiver and Server thought.

Abstract technical thought becomes possible when words and symbols acquire precise definitions. Abstract technical thought uses a limited set of carefully crafted Server sequences combined with clearly defined Perceiver facts to reach conclusions that are known with total certainty. For instance, mathematical symbols and operations are carefully defined (‘+’ is permitted, ‘@’ is not allowed). Only specific Server sequences of mathematical symbols are permitted, and the truth or falsehood of mathematical statements and operations is known with certainty (‘2 + 2 = 4’ is true, ‘2 + 2 = 5’ is false). Abstract technical thought is guided by the Teacher emotions of understanding. Teacher thought feels good when there is order-within-complexity — when many items fit together in an integrated manner. For instance, the mathematical equation “x2 + 4x — 5 = 0” can be simplified into “x = -1 or 5”. This type of simplification generates positive Teacher emotion. Using abstract technical thought within some paradigm will lead inevitably to the formation of a Teacher mental network (TMN), because any theory that continues to be used will eventually form a mental network.

One can see from observing personality that the Contributor person is naturally talented at technical thought. Looking at the diagram of mental symmetry, Contributor combines Perceiver and Server and receives input directly from Teacher and Mercy through Exhorter (Exhorter thought provides drive and motivation). Perceiver thought ‘lives’ within an internal world of facts and associates between these facts. Similarly, Server thought ‘lives’ within an internal world of sequences and actions and associates between these memories. One could think of Perceiver and Server thought as mental ‘workshops’ that construct facts and sequences. Contributor thought does not ‘live’ within these workshops. Instead, Contributor thought takes a set of facts and sequences from the workshop, assumes that they are sufficiently well made, and then uses them to make decisions and pursue plans, guided either by some abstract bottom line in Teacher thought or a concrete bottom line in Mercy thought.

Saying this more simply, technical thought emerges when Contributor thought takes control of the mind. Notice that Contributor thought is taking a limited set of content, drive, and motivation from the rest of the mind and treating it in a more rigorous fashion. This means that the rigorous thinking of technical thought is always based upon content and motivation that was acquired in a less rigorous manner. Therefore, technical thought will always self-destruct when it examines its assumptions. Notice also that technical thought is a superior form of thinking, because it coordinates the activities of several cognitive modules in order to come up with results that are superior to anything that can be generated by any one cognitive module. Therefore, the Contributor person who is using technical thought can legitimately regard technical thought as a superior form of thought, and whenever existence turns into a limited game with well-defined rules and a clear goal, then Contributor persons can always beat other cognitive styles at the game.

Unfortunately, that defines modern existence. As this essay points out, Contributor-controlled technical thought, as defined by analytic philosophy, is currently regarded by society as the highest form of human reasoning: “Reason is viewed in modern thought as a faculty not used by most people, most of the time. Rather, to be rational is reserved to those who have mastered the activities of the mind through the application of methods of inquiry that are rational. This seems like a specialized task that philosophers should take up. This is precisely what has happened in modern thought, and is behind the central role played by epistemology and logic in modern philosophy. Epistemology and logic in modern thought are largely driven by the task of mastering the activities of the mind through the creation, critique and refinement of rational methods of inquiry. For the assumption in most modern thought is that the mind, to be rational, must learn to rule over itself and its power to know. Once the power to rule over one’s mind is created by the specialists within philosophy, it is generally assumed, these rational methods of inquiry can then be disseminated to the other disciplines in the academy, thus allowing their inquiries to be governed by reason rather than tradition or vague intuition. One could thus be forgiven for thinking that, until one has learned rational methods of inquiry from the philosophers, one is not using reason in his everyday life or is using it only by accident every once in a while” (p.3).

Every field of knowledge now is supposed to become a ‘professional specialization’ by adopting technical thought. The content of the field has become secondary to dealing with this content in a technical manner. In the words of Willard: “Our institutions of higher education... are the places we go to learn what is taught as knowledge in our world. They not only stand as the repository of legitimate knowledge, but they presume to determine what shall count as knowledge and what methods are acceptable as sources of knowledge today. That is why their greatest boast today is of research. And the test of ‘good’ research is not truth or knowledge achieved — these are standardly held in contempt — but acceptable method, as judged by established traditions of research and by those currently regarded as pacesetters in a particular field. Accepted method for knowledge is defined by specializations. The result is that the accepted institutions of knowledge today have nothing to say — and certainly no knowledge to offer — with reference to the primary questions of life” (KCT, 57).

Using the language of mental symmetry, academic knowledge is now defined as technical thought, which means applying carefully defined ‘rules of the game’ within some limited specialization, and the technical standards of each specialization are policed by Contributor experts. This type of academic system may excel at making progress in some limited field but it is incapable of addressing the larger issues, because its starting point is a limited playing field. Using an analogy, one cannot define all of human life if one’s starting point is the game of soccer, because soccer is a limited, well-defined fragment of life.

As Willard says, “The concrete progression toward knowledge, in real life, is always rather messy.... The attempt to avoid or simplify this ‘messiness’ is one of the things that has driven some people to try to restrict knowledge to a very narrow range. But the result of that, when pushed, always leads to an elimination of most of the clear cases of knowledge from the domain of knowledge” (KCT, 61). In other words, technical thought can clarify thinking, but it does so by restricting thinking.

But notice what is happening. Willard accurately describes how the dominance of analytic philosophy has turned modern existence into a collection of isolated technical specializations. But he is still telling us this as a well-respected analytic philosopher. And he is still using the technical thinking of analytic philosophy to analyze the problem (using the philosophy of Husserl). In contrast, if someone who is not a well-respected analytic philosopher (or an officially approved scientist) says the same thing, then he will probably be ignored, no matter how extensive his evidence or how complete his theory. That has been my experience. One would think that a cognitive theory that explains all core Christian doctrine which is consistent in detail with the latest neurological findings would attract the attention of academia. Not so. Instead, I keep finding myself bumping up against the assumption that technical thought is the only valid form of thought. (This is gradually changing, but it takes many years of hard work merely to get the attention of others.)

Husserl says that the starting point for philosophy should be the interaction between the observer and what is being observed (which includes observing mental ‘events’). But as I have mentioned, Husserl uses technical thought to analyze this interaction. For instance, ‘bracketing’ is Husserl’s method of attempting to examining events free of theoretical or personal bias. Notice the rigorous logic being applied in this description of bracketing taken from the Stanford dictionary of philosophy: “If, on the one hand, the phenomenologist leaves the ‘natural attitude’ and brackets his corresponding existence-belief, he cannot at the same time perform the perceptual experience he wishes to investigate... If, on the other hand, our phenomenologist makes use of that belief, then he is bound to violate the constraints put upon him by the local epoché: he cannot but fail to assume the phenomenological attitude... There are at least three possible ways out of this dilemma. First, the phenomenologist could choose the first horn of the dilemma, but analyse an earlier perceptual experience of his, one that he now remembers. He just has to make sure here not to employ his earlier (and perhaps still persisting) belief in the existence of a perceptual object. Secondly, he could again decide in favour of the first horn and analyse a perceptual experience that he merely intuitively imagines himself to have... Thirdly, he could instead choose the second horn, keep employing his existence-belief, but make a kind of ‘pragmatic ascent’ and describe the perceptual experience in such a way that the description, i.e., the speech act thus performed, does not presuppose the existence of a perceptual object.”

One of the signs of an inadequate theory is that it is overly complicated. We saw this in the Ptolemaic theory of the solar system, which requires circles within circles to explain the movements of the planets. The previous paragraph on two horns of a dilemma and three possible choices is also overly complicated. I can state with considerable certainty that the mind of the average person does not follow this chain of logic when analyzing events. Instead, neurological research is finding that the brain uses a combination of bottom-up and top-down thinking to interact with the external environment. As this 2014 paper describes, “The OFC (orbitofrontal cortex) receives coarse, partially analyzed information from visual stimuli before an object is actually recognized, and uses this information to generate a ‘first guess’ prediction about the identity of the object. This visual prediction is then back-projected top-down to occipito-temporal visual regions to promote recognition.” But “only stimuli resembling known objects, and thus activating semantic associations, trigger a response in the OFC.” Using the language of mental symmetry, the orbitofrontal cortex plays a primary role in mental networks. Visual regions in the back of the brain use feature detection to try to analyze what is being seen. If this visual analysis triggers some mental network within the orbitofrontal cortex, then the orbitofrontal cortex will impose the structure of this mental network upon visual processing. For instance, instead of seeing a door and two windows on the side of a barn, one may see a face with a crooked grin. Notice that no chain of logical deduction is occurring. Instead, the brain is jumping to conclusions based upon partial data in a manner that is consistent with the concept of mental networks. The brain does this in order to reach conclusions that are usually correct in a manner that is quick and efficient.

The purpose of bracketing is to analyze events free of personal or theoretical bias. But the philosophical discussion of bracketing is itself biased by the approach of analytic philosophy. The philosopher is assuming that it is appropriate to use rigorous logic to analyze how the mind recognizes objects. But that is not how the mind works. Thus, the very attempt to rigorously define bracketing ends up contradicting bracketing. Ironically, the mind recognizes familiar objects by using the very form of processing that bracketing suppresses, which is personal and theoretical bias. Using the language of mental symmetry, bracketing attempts to use technical thought to try to re-analyze objects that were initially categorized using mental networks. This is valid, because the quick-and-dirty process of object recognition occasionally makes mistakes. Think, for instance, of the many times that one sees something in the twilight and then takes a second look and realizes that the initial glance was mistaken. However, the error lies in taking this second careful look and turning it into a universal philosophy. That error occurs because of how the mind works. Whenever a general theory continues to be used (such as a theory of bracketing), it will turn into a Teacher mental network (TMN) which will then impose its explanation upon the mind when it is triggered.

Husserl’s concept of ‘horizon’ recognizes that initial impressions are clarified by further, more careful, examination. But this only partially solves the problem because one is still using technical thought to analyze a mental process that does not use technical thought; one is still using English to try to analyze French. As we shall see in a moment, I suggest that the only way out of this predicament is to replace analytic philosophy with science — to use technical thought to analyze cognitive mechanisms rather than to follow rigorous logic. Rigorous logic is appropriate in many areas. For instance, computer programming requires rigorous logic. However, it is not appropriate to use rigorous logic to analyze thinking (such as object recognition) that does not use rigorous logic.

I am reasonably certain that the trained philosopher would regard the previous paragraphs as hopelessly non-rigorous and suggest that I need to get some proper training in philosophy before I open my mouth. And while I have tried to be accurate in my statements, it is possible that I have made some errors in my description and analysis of Husserl. But such a response is the problem. Analytic philosophy (and Contributor-controlled technical thought in general) has convinced the rest of society that people’s thinking is hopelessly non-rigorous and that everyone must all get proper training in order to become professional specialists. Becoming a professional specialist makes it possible to learn more about some specific area, but when everyone is a professional specialist, then this produces the sort of fragmented, meaningless society that Willard so aptly describes.

Notice what is happening cognitively. Technical thought is being used to analyze some subject more rigorously in order to come up with a better understanding of that subject. However, whenever some theory continues to be used, then it will turn into a TMN, and this TMN will cause a person to use emotional pressure to belittle and/or ignore whatever contradicts that general theory. This leads to a mindset that is locally rational but globally emotional. The specialized expert uses his expertise in a specific area as an excuse to emotionally impose his thinking upon areas outside of his area of expertise. For instance, science uses empirical evidence to come up with general theories about the physical world. As these theories continue to be used, they will turn into TMNs. Now suppose that someone makes a statement about the non-physical realm. This kind of statement is inconsistent with a theory that is based only upon physical evidence, and when mental networks experience inconsistent input then they respond with emotional pressure. Therefore, the scientist will be emotionally driven to belittle or ignore statements about non-physical reality.

Moving on, I have suggested that technical thought always deals with some limited playing field. For instance, consider this paper by Willard on Husserl. Some variation on the phrase ‘Husserl rejects’ occurs five times in these nine pages: Husserl rejects ‘the object view of concepts’, ‘the idea that the act of thought did things to objects’, ‘the methodology of activities’, ‘the impossibility of comparing concept and object’, ‘the idea that we cannot experience things as they are when we are not experiencing them’, and ‘traditional theories of intuition and concept’. Rejecting, by definition, limits thought.

This is not a trivial distinction, because the cognitive analysis that I attempt to use takes a completely different approach. A person can only think by using his mind. And the mind is composed of cognitive modules that perform specific functions and interact in specific ways. Therefore, even if people come up with conclusion that I consider to be totally false, they are still using their minds in a certain manner. Therefore, it should be possible to explain any faulty conclusion in terms of cognitive mechanisms. For instance, instead of ‘rejecting’ the thinking of Husserl, we are attempting to understand the cognitive mechanisms behind the thinking of Husserl. One might conclude that this type of cognitive approach would cause one to doubt the existence of physical reality, but that only happens if one insists upon using abstract technical thought with its demand for total certainty. Instead, it appears that the interface between internal and external is handled by Perceiver and Server thought, which use repetition to gain confidence gradually. For example, I may not know for certain that my concept of a tree corresponds with anything in the real world. But the more times I see a tree repeated, and the more times I find that I can act in a consistent manner using my concept of a tree, the more my confidence grows that I am interacting in a meaningful manner with the real world. One cannot know this for certain, but one can know this with sufficient confidence. And every engineer knows that when one is dealing with messy reality, then all that exists is sufficient confidence. In contrast, Willard defines truth as being absolutely certain that something is true or false: “A thought or statement is true provided that what it is about is as the thought or statement holds it to be. All truth is absolute truth. If you believe you have gas in your gas tank, it’s either absolutely true or absolutely false.”

A cognitive analysis also provides a basis for morality that is both theoretical and personal. On the one hand, one can state rules of morality theoretically in terms of cognitive modules. If one module functions in a manner that disables or belittles other modules, then this is morally bad. For instance, analytic philosophy is morally bad because it belittles all forms of thought except for Contributor-controlled technical thought. I am not suggesting that logic is bad or that it is bad to use technical thought to explore the mind. Both are very helpful. The problem occurs when technical thought is considered to be the only form of rational thinking because this leads to a society composed of fragmented professional specializations — the kind of society in which we find ourselves today, about which Willard rightly complains.

On the other hand, morality also implies personal responsibility, because one must choose to program one’s mind in a manner that leads to mental wholeness, and one experiences the results of these choices. More specifically, analyzing the mind in terms of cognitive modules is not just something theoretical, it is also intensely personal, because these cognitive modules exist within one’s mind and they are continually interacting with conscious thought. If I downplay the existence of general theories, for instance, then I am actually suppressing Teacher thought within my own mind, and I will experience the personal results of having a crippled Teacher module. Going further, suppose that I feed Teacher thought with false information and that it comes up with faulty theories based upon this false information. If these theories turn into TMNs then they will impose themselves upon conscious thought when they are triggered, causing me to interpret existence in the light of these strange theories. For example, the best analytic philosophers are usually Contributor persons (or Facilitator persons, since Facilitator thought is ‘next door’ to Contributor thought). But the Contributor person also makes the best conspiracy theorist, attempting to squeeze existence into some bizarre theory. (This is usually the theory that some group of Contributor persons is trying to impose a theoretical plan upon the rest of the population, which means that subconscious Teacher thought within the Contributor person coming up with the conspiracy theory has turned the thinking of that Contributor person into a general theory and is using this theory to interpret the world.) This does not mean that all conspiracy theories are wrong. For instance, the New York Times published last week that the AT&T has willingly handed over billions of e-mails to the NSA over the last ten years, using surveillance equipment installed in at least 17 Internet hubs on American soil.

The point is that the way that one treats cognitive modules will affect many different areas. That is because everything that people do is an expression of human thought. If Contributor-controlled technical thought imposes itself upon the rest of the mind, then Contributor persons will naturally impose themselves upon the rest the population, Contributor-dominated analytic philosophy will naturally impose itself upon the rest of academia, technical professional certification will naturally impose itself upon occupations, Contributor-generated conspiracy theories will naturally impose themselves upon people’s minds, and Contributor-dominated corporations will naturally impose themselves upon national sovereignty (as one is currently seeing with the TPP). This universal impact is an indication that one is dealing with a cognitive mechanism.

This brings us to an important question that was mentioned earlier. If analytic philosophy is incapable of coming up with an adequate understanding of the mind or of the interaction between the mind and the body, then does this mean that Contributor thought is incapable of fully grasping existence? This is a very significant question because of the nature of a cognitive style. After studying neurology in the light of cognitive styles for several decades, I have yet to encounter any convincing neurological evidence that there are seven distinct kinds of brains. However, after studying personality in the light of cognitive styles for several decades, I am equally convinced that different cognitive styles approach the world from a completely different perspective. Other cognitive styles literally seem to be mentally blind to what appears to me as obvious as the nose on my face — and vice versa. People’s minds fall into seven different categories. Thus, it appears that cognitive style reflects a difference in consciousness. Going further, while neurology can tell us a lot about how the mind functions, it cannot explain consciousness — how information from different parts of the brain is combined form an integrated view of thought and reality. This means that consciousness involves something non-physical or spiritual. Using religious language, it appears that each cognitive style has/is a different kind of spirit. Thus the term ‘spiritual gift’ appears to be accurate. Consistent with this, it is interesting that the book of Revelation refers four times to the ‘seven spirits of God’. This suggests that each of the seven cognitive styles has been given a ‘gift of spirit’ by one of the seven spirits of God.

This means that the Contributor person who practices analytic philosophy and tries to explain all of existence in terms of rigorous logic is not being malicious. Instead, he (and in this case it usually is ‘he’, because the male Contributor person naturally places a stronger emphasis upon the ‘confidence’ modules of Perceiver, Server, and Contributor) is merely attempting to explain the mind and world as he sees it. And because Contributor thought can see most other cognitive modules — from a distance, and because Contributor thought coordinates other cognitive modules to work in a more efficient manner, the Contributor person really thinks that everyone else is merely an inferior version of himself, because that is what he sees. (For a similar reason, the Facilitator person often thinks that he is all cognitive styles because Facilitator thought mixes and adjusts the functioning of the other cognitive styles, also from a distance.)

Science versus Philosophy

Returning to our question, if the Contributor person really is trapped within Contributor thought, and if analytic philosophy really is incapable of coming up with a complete understanding of existence, then is the Contributor person incapable of fully comprehending existence? While analytic philosophy with its rigorous logic is incapable of completely comprehending existence, I suggest that Contributor thought can comprehend existence fully, but only if it is transformed.

Thomas Kuhn suggested that the philosopher regards application as something that is added to abstract logic. Thus, philosophy uses words to come up with general theories and then adds actions to these words. Science, in contrast, is based in exemplars. This distinction is discussed in another essay, and so we will only summarize here. The student of science does not just learn abstract theory but instead learns by solving problems, believing that there is a correspondence between problem-solving and the way that the universe functions. Using the language of mental symmetry, analytic philosophy lives within the abstract realm of Teacher words and Perceiver truth. It then adds Server actions as something extra. Science, in contrast, regards Server actions as essential. The student of science learns by doing, and the universe behaves in a certain manner.

I have suggested that Perceiver thought comes up with facts and Server thought with sequences, while Contributor thought takes a group of facts and sequences from Perceiver and Server thought ‘next door’ and then uses them in a rigorous manner. What we are examining here is the kind of sequences that Contributor thought takes from Server thought. If Teacher thought and Server thought are integrated within a person’s mind, then Contributor thought will naturally work with exemplars and not logic. Both involve abstract technical thought, but exemplars include action while logic deals primarily with words and symbols. However, if Teacher thought and Server thought are not integrated within a person’s mind, then abstract Contributor thought will naturally use logic and not exemplars. Science gains its exemplars by observing how the world works. Similarly, I suggest that observation of personality can build upon exemplars by observing how the mind works. That is why I refer to cognitive mechanisms and cognitive modules, because these describe how the mind works. In other words, a cognitive mechanism is an exemplar that describes an aspect of how the mind works. Saying this more bluntly, I suggest that analytic philosophy cannot come up with an integrated view of existence because there is a mental split within the mind of the analytic philosopher between Teacher thought and Server thought — between words and actions. If this sounds like an overstatement, then consider the following quote from Thomas Kuhn: “Philosophers of science have not ordinarily discussed the problems encountered by a student in laboratories or in science texts, for these are thought to supply only practice in the application of what the student already knows. He cannot, it is said, solve problems at all unless he has first learned the theory and some rules for applying it. Scientific knowledge is embedded in theory and rules; problems are supplied to gain facility in their application. I have tried to argue, however, that this localization of the cognitive content of science is wrong. After the student has done many problems, he may gain only added facility by solving more. But at the start and for some time after, doing problems is learning consequential things about nature. In the absence of such exemplars, the laws and theories he has previously learned would have little empirical content theory itself” (Kuhn, p. 187).

Willard implicitly bridges Server thought and Teacher thought by teaching the philosophy that one should copy the example of Jesus. Philosophy emphasizes Teacher words while ‘copying an example’ involves Server actions. Similarly, Jesus was an incarnation who was an exemplar of the Father in heaven; he only did what he saw the Father doing; he was ‘the word made flesh’. However, Willard is still a philosopher who says that one must act, and not a scientist whose Server actions are guided by Teacher understanding. Nowhere in the four books that I have read by Willard does he suggest that we should follow the example of science. Instead, Willard generally views scientific thought as something that is unredeemed. In contrast, I suggest that honest scientific thought is a partial illustration of mental wholeness. It may exacerbate the split between Perceiver facts and Mercy emotions — between head and heart — by pursuing objective facts, but it does attempt to integrate the split between Teacher words and Server actions by basing understanding in exemplars and not just verbal theory.

Similarly, Willard explicitly teaches that theology is not just a system of rigorous logic but rather describes how the mind works: “We customarily think of Paul as a great theologian, not as a master psychologist. But he clearly perceived and explained the fundamental structures and processes of the human self related to its well-being, its corruption, and its redemption. His Letter to the Romans can never be fully appreciated unless it is read as, among other things, a treatise on social and individual psychology. The fact that he viewed his doctrine of redemption as a doctrine of the transformation of the self required him to be a psychologist. In fact, our ability to imagine that a great theologian would not at the same time be a profound psychologist, a profound theorist of human life, shows how far off-course our thinking is today” (SoD, 112). This is a profound statement. But stating that Paul was a master psychologist is not the same as presenting the system of psychology that Paul was describing. Unfortunately, Willard is emotionally driven by the general theory that one should not be emotionally driven by general theories. Thus, Willard’s phenomenological approach uncovers many aspects of Paul’s psychology but prevents him from putting these pieces together to construct a general understanding of Paul’s psychology.

I suggest that science has discovered a way out of this quandary. The amazing thing about science is that it is built upon an extensive overlap between two different technical domains. On the one hand, there is the technical domain of math, which lives purely within the realm of abstract technical thought (precisely where Husserl says that one should not live). On the other hand, there is the practical domain of scientific experimentation with its cause-and-effect. For some reason, these two completely separate domains lead to overlapping answers. In the words of the famous scientist Dirac, “The physicist, in his study of natural phenomena, has two methods of making progress: (1) the method of experiment and observation, and (2) the method of mathematical reasoning. The former is just the collection of selected data; the latter enables one to infer results about experiments that have not been performed. There is no logical reason why the second method should be possible at all, but one has found in practice that it does work and meets with reasonable success. This must be ascribed to some mathematical quality in Nature, a quality which the casual observer of Nature would not suspect, but which nevertheless plays an important role in Nature’s scheme.”

Looking at this cognitively, math assigns precise definitions to a limited set of symbols and is an example of abstract technical thought. Experimentation looks for connections of cause-and-effect and is an example of concrete technical thought. Math extends from abstract technical thought to concrete technical thought when it uses mathematical equations to describe cause-and-effect. These concrete equations are called functions. A function leads from cause to effect, from input (such as ‘x’) to output (such as ‘y’), and we all learned how to manipulate and graph these equations in high school algebra. Experimentation extends from concrete technical thought to abstract technical thought when it compares one cause-and-effect with another in order to find general laws. For instance, experimentation ignores what is being thrown (such as a rock or my grandmother’s dry biscuits) and compares the path taken by the rock with the path taken by the biscuits. It then notices that both rock and biscuit follow a parabola on their way through the air to the ground. Thus, experimentation extends cause-and-effect into the abstract realm of math while functions extend math into the concrete realm of cause-and-effect. The mystery of science is that these two approaches lead to similar results. But what kind of thinking notices similarity? Not technical thought, but rather normal thought. Summarizing, math forms a self-consistent structure within technical thought; experimentation also form a self-consistent structure within technical thought. But math and experimentation cannot be combined to form a single self-consistent technical structure. Instead, they are related through the similarities and analogies of normal thought.

Notice also that both math and experimentation use a combination of abstract technical thought and concrete technical thought. They are both fully theoretical and fully practical. Math starts with words that describe universal principles, while experimentation starts with specific examples of cause-and-effect within the real, human world. Using Christian language, science is an illustration of incarnation because it bridges ‘the word’ and ‘the flesh’ in a manner that is fully divine and fully human.

Going further, Willard places a great emphasis upon the following the example of Jesus. But we see here that the deep structure of science (which Willard does not discuss) is consistent with the idea of incarnation — and will lead to a potent mental image of incarnation. This makes it possible to go beyond merely following the example of Jesus the incarnation to applying the universal principle of incarnation. Going yet further, if Jesus the incarnation is truly God, and if God is a universal being, then believing that Jesus is God means viewing incarnation as a universal principle and not just as a finite person.

Paul says something similar: “The love of Christ controls us, having concluded this, that one died for all, therefore all died; and He died for all, so that they who live might no longer live for themselves, but for Him who died and rose again on their behalf. Therefore from now on we recognize no one according to the flesh; even though we have known Christ according to the flesh, yet now we know Him in this way no longer. Therefore if anyone is in Christ, he is a new creature; the old things passed away; behold, new things have come. Now all these things are from God, who reconciled us to Himself through Christ and gave us the ministry of reconciliation, namely, that God was in Christ reconciling the world to Himself, not counting their trespasses against them, and He has committed to us the word of reconciliation” (II Cor. 5: 14-19). Paul begins by saying that the death of Jesus should be viewed in universal terms, and that this causes a person to no longer view Jesus as merely a finite person. This universal viewpoint of Jesus causes old things to pass away and new things to come. This leads to a new perspective in which one uses the mental concept of a universal God to reconcile and integrate everything. As I mentioned previously, the theory of mental symmetry tries to use this method of using a universal concept of God to bring reconciliation by explaining why people think and behave the way that they do instead of merely rejecting such thought and behavior as wrong or evil. Evil then ceases to exist as an independent entity (in some Manichaean fashion) but rather becomes seen as a distortion of good.

Proving the Existence of God

Now that we have taken a general look at philosophy and Husserl, the rest of the essay will look more specifically what Willard says, starting with his proof for the existence of God in chapter 4 of KCT, because this chapter illustrates the kind of technical thought that is being used by Willard.

Willard introduces the subject by asking “Is it possible to know that God exists? This question is central to our work here, for knowledge of God is what Christ is primarily about” (KCT, 95). Note the characteristic of technical thought, which wants to know with total certainty. Mental symmetry suggests a different approach. We have just examined how a mental concept of incarnation forms in the mind. I suggest that a mental concept of God (the Father) will emerge whenever a sufficiently general theory in Teacher thought applies to personal identity, because the general theory will turn into a Teacher mental network, and that mental network will cause the universal understanding to be interpreted in personal terms. (If the general theory excludes the personal, as do the objective theories of science, then this will prevent a concept of God from forming.) This TMN of universal understanding will then impose its structure upon the mind when it is triggered, driving a person to think and act as if such a God really exists.

Willard describes this as a person’s worldview: “Worldview, simply put, consists of the most general and basic assumptions about what is real and what is good — including assumptions about who we are and what we should do. That may sound terribly abstract to you, but there is in fact nothing more practical than our worldview, for it determines the orientation of everything else we think and do. Moreover, worldview is unavoidable. Everyone has a worldview” (KCT, 43). Using the language of mental symmetry, everyone is driven inescapably by core mental networks. And as Willard states, the average person is not consciously aware of their core mental networks: “One’s worldview need not be recognized as such to have its effects. Much of it lies outside our consciousness in the moment of action, embedded in our body and in its social environment, including our history, language, and culture. It radiates throughout our life as background assumptions, in thoughts too deep for words” (KCT, 44). Looking at this more generally, everyone grows up in a physical environment full of emotional experiences, these emotional experiences form mental networks within Mercy thought, and the rest of the mind integrates emotionally around these MMNs, which provide the motivation for childish thought and behavior. As Willard says, “Most people do not recognize that they have a worldview, and usually it is one that is borrowed, in bits and pieces, from the social environment in which we are reared. It may not even be self-consistent” (KCT, 44).

Willard’s statements about worldview are foundational (and consistent with mental symmetry). Using the language of mental symmetry, everyone is internally driven by core mental networks. But I suggest that Willard is missing one critical element, which is the distinction between Teacher and Mercy mental networks. For instance, the theologian N.T. Wright also talks about worldview and the fundamental role it plays, but he distinguishes between worldview and theology. Worldview involves experiences, Mercy thought, and MMNs. For the average person, it is ‘inhaled’ from the physical and social environment, as Willard describes. That is why it is typically unanalyzed and internally inconsistent. Instead, the way that a person responds in a certain environment is driven by the set of mental networks that are triggered within that context. Theology, in contrast, is composed of TMNs that are based in words. Systematic theology takes words about the character and behavior of God and humans and places them within a general theoretical structure. When this is combined with the TMN of an understanding of the universal laws of nature, then this leads to the mental concept of a universal God, whose character is expressed in universal moral, natural, and cognitive law.

Similarly, McCauley, a researcher in cognitive science of religion, distinguishes between the experiences, rituals, priests, and gods of religion and the systematic doctrines, beliefs, and God of theology. McCauley suggests that literacy is a prerequisite for theology, again emphasizing the relationship between words and theology. (McCauley also thinks that religion is cognitively natural while theology is unnatural, implying that the childish mind is driven by MMNs of culture and upbringing rather than TMNs of theory and understanding.)

Willard, in contrast, does not make a strong distinction between worldview and theology. Instead, he talks about ‘practical theology’: “‘Theology’ is a stuffy word, but it should be an everyday one. That’s what practical theology does. It makes theology a practical part of life. A theology is only a way of thinking about and understanding — or misunderstanding — God. Practical theology studies the manner in which our actions interact with God to accomplish his ends in human life” (SoD, 14). And one gains the impression that theology is the servant of spirituality, and that spirituality is strongly connected with embodiment: “We must develop a psychologically sound theology of the spiritual life and of its disciplines to guide us. In the pages that follow, I have tried to deal with the most basic points about our relationship to God. I have first tried to clarify the nature of spiritual life itself, to show how it is the fulfillment of the human body and how our body is a primary resource for the spiritual life” (SoD, x).

I believe strongly in applying theology, but as we saw when looking at science and incarnation, science involves an extensive overlap between the independent domains of math and experiment. Similarly, I suggest that Christianity involves an extensive overlap between the independent domains of theology and spiritual development, and not just the area next to the fence dividing the two. This has become clear to me from studying mental symmetry. On the one hand, mental symmetry leads to an abstract integrated system of theology that is capable of analyzing universal questions at a theoretical level. On the other hand, mental symmetry is also a practical guide to personal and social interaction. Ironically, Willard is being motivated by the abstract theory of Husserl to ignore the abstract theory of theology.

I am not suggesting that theology consists only of words. (Husserl is quite adamant that thought occurs before language.) On the contrary, we saw when comparing philosophy with science that it is very important for theology to go beyond mere words to include actions. However, I do suggest that words play an essential role in learning theology, because words make it possible for the human mind to transcend the limitations of embodiment. Words allow a person to generate concepts and ideas that are different than the physical world by recombining concepts and experiences from the physical world. For instance, the words ‘pink elephant with two trunks’ create a mental image that does not correspond to any physical item. Saying this more generally, one of the basic premises of mental symmetry is that one can only escape emotional attachment to childish MMNs by becoming emotionally attached to the TMN of a mental concept of God. And Willard talks extensively about the transforming of emotions in RoH.

Willard talks about forming a mental concept of God, but it is not primarily a God of universal truth, but rather a God of Western history and tradition: “Who is the God we are talking about? In thinking of God today we do not start from zero, but from within rich conceptions that have come down to us from the past. In this world there are, no doubt, many ways of thinking about God, but the ‘God’ of which we here speak is the God of traditional Western theology. He is defined by the biblical traditions of Judaism and Christianity and the understanding of his nature has been elaborated by many thoughtful people in those traditions up to the present” (KCT, 96). In other words, the ultimate basis for Willard’s concept of God is not the TMN of an understanding of the universal nature of God, but rather the MMNs of Western Christian experts. But what makes traditional Western theology right as opposed to, say, traditional Eastern theology?

This is not a trivial question, because all religious knowledge is now viewed as the opinions of some group of experts backed up by MMNs of personal status and culture. Willard describes this predicament with great accuracy. The Bible is no longer regarded as an authoritative source of truth: “One of the reasons why people drift on the authority of the Scripture is because they have been taught that somehow it is in a separate category from other types of knowledge, so that’s what they do: they put it in a separate category. They do their mathematics, and their Slavic languages, and philosophy, etc., as if it were knowledge, and then when they come to the authority of the Scripture and the contents of the Scripture, suddenly that’s not treated as knowledge.” That is because revelation is based in the MMNs of personal status and culture. The “function [of higher criticism] is basically to disarm historical traditions and authoritative texts, and to put them in a position where they can be reinterpreted as having a local cultural significance, but not significance as conveying truth about reality.” And this questioning is no longer limited to merely religious knowledge. Instead, all knowledge is becoming viewed as merely the opinions of experts backed up a social and political pressure: “The contest now, in our culture and in our universities, is not between revelation and reason. Reason is in as much or more trouble in the academic world today, as revelation.” And truth can only be made free of personal authority if a source of truth exists that is inpendent of personal authority. In other words, truth must describe how things work and not just be the opinions of some group of people: “You cannot maintain ethical standards unless you can effectively present them as grounded in reality. Socially ethical standards must be founded in reality, that is, as an expression of what is the case, of how things are. The Ten Commandments are an expression of truth about human life — they’re truth about the human context, that’s why God gave them to us.” And when ethical standards describe how things work, then it is stupid to violate ethical standards, just as it is dumb to touch a hot stove or play on a busy highway: “In our new life, we are capable of standing beyond sin’s reach as we choose what we will do and in that sense we are unattached from it, we are dead to it. It is still possible in the abstract for us to sin, but we see it as the uninteresting or disgusting thing it is” (SoD, 115).

These statements are not just true but deeply significant. At the Perceiver level of facts and truth, Willard really gets it. However, when it comes to the role that Teacher thought plays in personal transformation, then Willard appears to be sending a mixed message. In general terms, mental symmetry suggests that two related factors are required to escape the grip of childish MMNs. First, Perceiver thought must stop being mesmerized by Mercy status and learn to evaluate truth. Perceiver thought evaluates truth by looking for connections that are repeated. But Perceiver thought can only become free of Mercy status if these repeated connections are independent of people and their opinions. As Willard says, “The facts and laws of physics or history, for example, are totally indifferent to what we may think or feel about them. It is the same with whatever facts and laws there may be beyond the physical, in the spiritual or other worlds” (KCT, 98). Thus, Willard clearly describes this first requirement.

The second requirement is that MMNs of personal authority be replaced by TMNs of general understanding. That is because the human mind will always integrate around some set of core mental networks. Therefore, the only way to become free of one set of core mental networks is by replacing it with another set of core mental networks. That is why mental symmetry places such a great emphasis upon constructing a mental concept of God that is based in a universal Teacher understanding. And that is where Husserl’s philosophy leads Willard astray. Willard recognizes that biblical revelation is no longer regarded as knowledge, because it is based in the MMNs of culture and personal status. But what does Willard offer as an alternative? ‘The God of traditional Western theology... defined by the biblical traditions of Judaism and Christianity’. That is not enough, because it is still based in cultural MMNs. Willard does go somewhat beyond this to offer the evidence of personal and social transformation: “The evidence in favor of these essentials is mainly the transformation of his followers from a small group of highly unqualified and socially marginalized individuals, disgraced and hunted by the authorities, into a force for moral and social regeneration that, within a few generations, was present throughout the Roman Empire” (KCT, 134). This is significant evidence, but it is still functioning at the level of specific Perceiver facts, rather than providing the TMN of an integrated mental concept of God.

One sees this same focus upon concrete thought in Willard’s proof for the existence of God. Concrete technical thought is based in connections of cause-and-effect. Willard describes this: “There is a principle that many investigators accept as a truth guiding the investigation of nature. It holds that every physical event has a physical cause. This is called the ‘causal closure’ of the physical domain. It is a sensible, practical rule that, when involved in investigations of physical phenomena, we should look for physical causes” (KCT, 102). Willard points out that the physical universe has to have a first cause that is not physical: “A cause or source that is not a physical condition or event lies at the origin of the causal order that is the physical world” (KCT, 105). And this first cause has to be large enough to have created the entire universe: “The above argument shows conclusively that there is something more than the physical or ‘natural’ universe, something of very impressive proportions” (KCT, 109).

Teacher thought looks for order-within-complexity, and generates positive emotions when many items fit together in a simple way. This is what makes a general theory feel good. Willard points out that the order of the universe implies that its source is a highly intelligent being: “The order that is glaringly present in the physical world has led many thoughtful people to conclude that the source of that order must involve intellect, and a very high degree of intellect” (KCT, 111). But Willard defines order in terms of concrete cause-and-effect: “Puppies come from dogs and dogs from puppies; apples come from apple trees and the trees from apple seeds, in cooperation with the surrounding orders of sunshine, soil, and water... the emergence of ordered physical things or processes — puppies, apples, erosion (the Grand Canyon), tide pools — always depends upon prior ordered beings and processes. But this, we have already seen on other grounds, must eventuate in something that is not a physical reality” (KCT, 112).

Willard’s chain of reasoning is well thought out and clearly presented. However, it is interesting that he devotes an entire chapter in KCT to pursuing the single argument of the first cause. There are many other arguments for the existence of God, but he does not use them. I have suggested that a mental concept of God (with a capital ‘G’) emerges when a sufficiently general theory applies to personal identity. In other words, people see the order-within-complexity of the universe, this leads to a general Teacher theory, this theory turns into a TMN, and this TMN leads to a mental concept of God. (The mind uses MMNs to represent people. A TMN will also be interpreted in personal terms. This is explored in much more detail in the essays on the cognitive science of religion.) For instance, Dirac, the famous physicist, said later in life that “It seems to be one of the fundamental features of nature that fundamental physical laws are described in terms of a mathematical theory of great beauty and power, needing quite a high standard of mathematics for one to understand it. You may wonder: Why is nature constructed along these lines? One can only answer that our present knowledge seems to show that nature is so constructed. We simply have to accept it. One could perhaps describe the situation by saying that God is a mathematician of a very high order, and He used very advanced mathematics in constructing the universe.” Willard mentions that the order of the universe causes many people to believe in the existence of God. However, instead of pursuing this argument, he defines order in terms of cause-and-effect.

I suggest that we can use cognitive analysis to understand what is happening. Willard does have a sufficiently general Teacher theory that is causing a concept of God to form within his mind. It is the general theory of Husserl. Quoting from Christianity Today, “Philosophy is both his primary vocation and the foundation of his devotional writing. According to Willard’s wife, Jane, his book on German philosopher Edmund Husserl’s early work, Logic and the Objectivity of Knowledge, was the ‘other woman’ in their marriage for the 15 years it took him to write it.” When one spends 15 years developing a book on a system of philosophy, then this will lead to the formation of a TMN, as demonstrated by Jane’s referral to the ‘other woman’. And we have seen that Husserl’s phenomenology is the foundation of not just Willard’s devotional writing, but his theology as well. Saying this more simply, Willard may get a lot of doctrine, wisdom, and truth from the Bible, but his concept of God comes from Husserl. This is not necessarily bad. After all, my concept of God now comes from the theory of mental symmetry. But how universal and uncomplicated is the resulting concept of God? Does the resulting concept of God cause a person to ignore major facets of thought and existence? Does it lead to complicated and convoluted explanations? If so, then I suggest that one’s concept of God is flawed and that one should search for a better general theory (assuming that one is still emotionally capable of questioning one’s general theory). Going further, does the resulting concept of God line up with major portions of Scripture in simple ways and does it lead to a Christian Trinitarian view of God, or does it cause one to ignore major aspects of Scripture and focus upon some aspects of the Trinity while ignoring other aspects? The general theory of Husserl has many positive attributes but it also appears to be motivating Willard to ignore theology and focus instead upon practical theology. In other words, it appears that the philosophy of Husserl pushes Willard in the direction of the emergent church, with its questioning of theology and its focus upon spiritual formation. Notice exactly what is happening. Willard himself implicitly respects theology, because he is studying Christianity as an analytic philosopher who uses abstract technical thought. However, the typical reader of Willard is not a philosopher, and focuses instead upon the explicit words of Willard, which downplay theology.


Willard’s approach to miracles is quite interesting. A miracle is generally recognized as a violation of the universal Teacher order of the physical universe. In Willard’s words, “The line of reasoning now most widely accepted against the occurrence of those miraculous events that lie at the heart of ‘mere Christianity’ simply alleges the impossibility of any such events. Is this a solid line of thought? It says that there are natural laws, and that these require that regularities in events of the physical realm are unbreakable, impossible to interrupt” (KCT, 125). Willard suggests that unusual events are the result of some other general law being followed. “Unusual events do occur. Sometimes we are, perhaps much later, able to explain why they occur... and when we are able to do so it is always found that some other ‘law’ comes into play” (KCT, 125). This describes the general approach taken by mental symmetry, which suggests that each domain (the physical domain, the spiritual realm, the angelic realm, etc.) is governed by its own set of universal laws and that when an event that occurs in one realm affects another realm, then this will be perceived as a miracle. Willard also notes that people have the ability to affect the natural world: “We do have some idea of how natural regularities might be interrupted from observing human practices of intervening in natural processes. This we constantly do in various ways. We interrupt the decay of food, for example, by refrigerating it, the withering and death of a plant by watering it. Within limits, with our limited powers...” (KCT, 126). In other words, humans can use effort to temporarily go against the flow of nature in a limited area. This implies that God could also use effort to affect the natural universe in a larger way: “Since, as we now know, the ultimate conditions of the physical universe with its laws lie in a nonphysical being of great proportions, it is not unreasonable to think that that being could modify the conditions of well-known regularities in such a way as to produce the miraculous events central to the Christian tradition and the Christian life” (KCT, 126).

Going further, Willard says that a miraculous event does not naturally lead to a belief in God, but rather will probably be regarded as something abnormal that should be ignored because it does not make sense. For instance, suppose that someone saw “an unbelievably immense and radiant Zeus-like figure, towering up above us like a hundred Everests... Would he ‘believe’? Almost certainly he would not. And if he did, he would not be believing in God. That thing that appeared, whatever it was, was not God, just something very big... The interpretation of unusual events requires some sort of community and traditional framework within which they might make sense, if they are to make sense at all” (KTC, 130). Translating this into the language of mental symmetry, a concept of God is related to general Teacher order. One does not build a general theory by violating a general theory. Saying this another way, a MMN is not the same as a TMN. A towering Zeus-like figure will create a powerful MMN within the mind, but a TMN is formed when a general theory continues to be used. This means that a miracle will only lead to a concept of God if this miracle is placed within a larger framework of Teacher structure. This is an important point which many people ignore.

What Willard says so far make sense. However, what is the Teacher structure into which Willard places miracles? First, it is the human social structure of history and tradition: “The interpretation of unusual events requires some sort of community and traditional framework within which they might make sense, if they are to make sense at all. The credibility of a miraculous event depends upon a long tradition of events and interpretations” (KTC, 130). Second, it is the natural order of the physical universe: “Any event that occurs, miraculous or not, becomes a part of the reality (natural or supernatural) that proceeds from it... ‘Miraculous’ events leave the ‘testimony’ of real and distinctive consequences behind them, just like all other events” (KTC, 131).

Placing miracles into some Teacher structure affects one’s knowledge of Christianity itself: “It makes a great deal of difference to them and to others whether those events actually happened and whether someone knows they did. This is the point at issue in this book, where we are dealing with the cultural calamity of displacing the central points of Christian knowledge into the domain of mere ‘faith,’ sentiment, traditional ritual, or power. If this displacement is correct, then it is, in some important sense, improper to believe that the central events of the Christian tradition actually happened” (KTC, 132). As Willard says, this is a very important point, and we need to see exactly what Willard is saying — both explicitly and implicitly. Religious truth is now rejected not as wrong, but rather as the wrong kind of information. The Bible has not been rejected as wrong, rather it has been disqualified as inadmissible. This is an accurate assessment. But Willard’s solution is to make biblical truth admissible by showing that it fits into what ‘actually happened’ and what ‘someone knows’. In other words, the Teacher structure comes either from physical events or from human history, and biblical truth becomes valid by fitting into these Teacher structures. Implicitly, this means that the real absolutes are the TMNs of natural law and the MMNs of culture (which are being viewed by Willard here from the abstract perspective of knowledge and knowing). In other words, when one tries explicitly to avoid placing facts within some general Teacher theory, as Husserl attempts to do, then the actual result is not that facts become free of theoretical bias, but rather that facts will be implicitly placed within existing general Teacher theories.

A better solution is to come up with a general Teacher theory that is large enough to include Christian doctrine, miracles, social structure, natural law, and the character of God. The theory of mental symmetry appears to be capable of doing this, and one can find this described in Natural Cognitive Theology. This may seem like a subtle distinction, but I suggest that it is fundamental. Willard regards a miracle as something from outside the natural universe that invades physical reality — an exception to the general rule. In contrast, thoughts about the supernatural realm initially entered the theory of mental symmetry as a way of completing the theory. It is called the theory of mental symmetry because of the extensive symmetry that one finds when studying the mind. There is a physical symmetry between the left hemisphere and the right hemisphere of the brain, as well as between the left side and the right side of the physical body. There is a mental symmetry between Teacher and Mercy thought, and between Perceiver and Server thought (Most of the Server traits were originally worked out by theoretically determining the mirror-image of the corresponding Perceiver trait.) However, when one comes to the interaction between the mind/brain and the physical body, then what one finds is not symmetry but rather asymmetry. Server thought is capable of controlling the body (using sequences of movement stored in the left parietal lobe), while Perceiver thought can only observe the world and look for facts (using primarily the right parietal lobe). Similarly, Mercy thought is programmed by emotional experiences from the physical body and the physical world, while Teacher thought lives in a realm of words and theories that have no direct connection with physical reality.

This asymmetry in the otherwise symmetrical theory of mental symmetry drove Teacher thought within my mind to fill in the other side of the theoretical picture. If one side of the body and one side of the brain each have a mirror image, and if Perceiver and Mercy have their mirror images in Server and Teacher, maybe there is a mirror image to the interaction between the mind and the body. Suppose that Perceiver thought could control the ‘body’ and that Server thought was forced to passively observe the ‘environment’. Suppose that Teacher thought was filled by ‘experiences’ from the external environment and that Mercy thought lived in a realm of shared images that was independent of the external environment. What would this be like? Exploring this possibility led to a postulated realm filled by postulated beings that sounded very much like stories of angels and UFOs. This may sound rather theoretical, but that is the point. It was theoretical. Instead of seeing a miracle as a threat to Teacher emotion (because Teacher thought feels bad when there is an exception to the general rule), I saw a miracle as a fulfillment of Teacher emotion (because Teacher thought feels good when an incomplete theory is completed). In a similar vein, the general feeling in Christian academia is to view scientism (which believes that only physical reality exists) as the theoretical juggernaut and to try to defend Christian doctrine from the onslaught of naturalistic belief. In contrast, I keep finding that mental symmetry is capable of acting as a meta-theory that swallows up other theories. For me, the theoretical juggernaut is not scientism but rather mental symmetry. And because I keep finding that the Bible and Christian doctrine are consistent with mental symmetry (while other books and theories consistently miss part of the picture), I see theology as the queen of the sciences and not as the outlier with the wrong kind of knowledge. (‘Queen of sciences’ is actually a technically accurate description. Female thought emphasizes the two emotional modes of Mercy and Teacher thought. Theology applies the objective thinking of science to the subjective, emotional realm of Mercy identity, and it acts as a meta-theory in Teacher thought that integrates other theories.)

Summarizing, the anti-theoretical bias of Husserl ends up implicitly following existing core mental networks. Thus, Willard tries to place miracles within the existing core mental networks of natural law and social structure. In contrast, mental symmetry explicitly starts with a core mental network based upon the theory and practice of reaching mental wholeness. Everything else, including miracles and Christian doctrine, is then placed within this overarching structure.

The Spirit of the Disciplines

Moving on, one can see a downplaying of theology most clearly in Willard’s first book on spiritual disciplines, which we will now examine. I should begin by emphasizing that Willard’s description of the problem is both clear and insightful. As we have seen, Willard appears to be exceptionally good at putting his finger upon the problem and describing it clearly. My concern lies with Willard’s solutions, which appear to be, not wrong, but rather incomplete. And this incompleteness appears to be a reflection of the philosophy of Husserl. Similarly, I find that the emergent church also has a fairly good understanding of the problem and that it falls short when coming up with a solution.

SoD talks primarily about ‘practical theology’ rather than ‘theology’. Similarly, the index to the book has an entry for ‘practical theology’ but not for ‘theology’. Looking at specific quotes, Willard calls for a theology of spiritual disciplines: “We must develop a psychologically sound theology of the spiritual life and of its disciplines to guide us” (SoD, x). “What is needed, then, is a theology of the disciplines for the spiritual life” (SoD, 25). Theology is supposed be practical and not stuffy: “‘Theology’ is a stuffy word, but it should be an everyday one. That’s what practical theology does” (SoD, 14). Theology needs to emphasize the role played by the physical body: “It is precisely this appropriate recognition of the body and of its implications for theology that is missing in currently dominant views of Christian salvation or deliverance” (SoD, 29). “In his work The Body: A Study of Pauline Theology, John A. T. Robinson states that ‘the body forms the keystone of Paul’s theology’” (SoD, 124).

Willard’s focus on practical theology addresses a major shortcoming in the evangelical church: “Faith today is treated as something that only should make us different, not that actually does or can make us different. In reality we vainly struggle against the evils of this world, waiting to die and go to heaven. Somehow we’ve gotten the idea that the essence of faith is entirely a mental and inward thing. I don’t think anyone wanted or planned this state of affairs. We have simply let our thinking fall into the grip of a false opposition of grace to ‘works’ that was caused by a mistaken association of works with ‘merit.’” (SoD, 9). Using the language of mental symmetry, protestant Christianity equates personal salvation with believing the correct set of Perceiver facts. But because Christianity is viewed as completely separate from Server actions, Christian belief has no major effect upon Server actions. (I should mention in passing that I come from an Anabaptist background, and Anabaptism has always taught that theology should lead to a change in personal behavior. However, like Willard, Anabaptism also tends to downplay theology.)

In addition, human evangelical Christianity became viewed as something purely verbal which involved saying the right words: “The doctrinal struggles of many centuries — intensified in their impact by the usual intertwinings with political, legal, and even military power, but at the same time drained of religious significance — had transformed saving faith into mere mental assent to correct doctrine. This purely mental view of faith intertwined with another undeniable fact within the conservative and fundamentalist ranks. Regardless of how high a view was professed about the Bible, it was no longer functionally authoritative over life on a wide scale. That is to say, it did not in actuality have the effect of bringing the life of the faithful into obvious Christlikeness, whatever the conservatives thought” (SoD, 23). I suggest that these limitations occur naturally when one places blind faith in the words of a holy book. Notice that we are looking here at the attitude with which a person approaches a holy book and not the content of the holy book itself. Even if the book contains the very words of God (and evidence strongly suggests that the Bible is supernaturally clever), these effects will still emerge if a person places blind faith in this book. The problem is that blind faith uses the emotional pressure of MMNs to overwhelm Perceiver thought into believing truth. For instance, if Reverend Doctor Dallas Willard says that spiritual disciplines are the solution, then this must be true, because Willard is a highly respected tenured professor of philosophy at a secular University.

I am quite sure that Willard did his best to dispel such attitudes of hero worship, but Willard also makes it clear that philosophy is regarded by society at large as the epitome of wisdom and knowledge, and Willard defines authority as a valid source of knowledge. “What is knowledge? Knowledge is the capacity to represent things as they are, on an appropriate basis of thought and experience. That definition is purposely designed to incorporate the authority of tradition and the authority of scripture, properly chastened.” I am not suggesting the one should not learn from respected authorities. All learning starts with blind faith in authority. But I also suggest that it is imperative for Perceiver thought to wake up from its mesmerized state and learn how to evaluate truth. Perceiver thought evaluates truth by looking for repeated patterns. This does not mean that a person can evaluate all truth. Because we are finite individuals, we must all accept many facts on the basis of personal authority. However, when it comes to evaluating fundamental Christian truth about personal salvation, then I suggest that it is possible for everyone to evaluate this truth, because one can find evidence for this truth by observing one’s mind as well as one’s friends, family, and neighbors. Only a few scientists have access to the particle accelerators that provide the evidence for the fundamental particles of nature, but everyone has access to his own mind and everyone interacts with other individuals.

If Perceiver thought is not functioning, then truth will be mentally limited to the specific object of the holy book as well as the culture that respects this holy book. In contrast, Perceiver thought tests truth by looking for repeated connections, and these connections will mentally connect truth with experiences and situations that lie outside of the religious culture. This will turn a belief in absolute truth based in the MMNs of authority into universal truth based in Perceiver repetition. The content of the truth may be exactly the same, but the mental viewpoint will be totally different. One will then realize that the words of the holy book are special not because they are written in a special book that has great Mercy status but rather because they are an accurate description of how things work. For instance, I may be able to memorize the words ‘Do not touch a hot stove’, repeat them with great reverence, and even compose meaningful songs about these words. (And such songs can help a person to remember the words.) But what saves me from getting burned is not repeating the words but rather following them. The words are meaningful because they are an accurate description of truth that has a deep impact upon my physical body. In simple terms, getting burnt hurts.

Notice how this relates to Willard’s comments in KCT about biblical knowledge being rejected today as the wrong kind of knowledge. One is actually dealing with both a cognitive problem and an external problem. The cognitive problem is that Perceiver thought can acquire knowledge of facts either by looking for repetition or by being overwhelmed by Mercy status. Science (officially) uses Perceiver thought to look for facts that are repeated, which can only be done if Perceiver thought is awake and functioning. Blind faith in authority uses MMNs of personal status to send Perceiver thought to sleep. Science rejects revelation because it wants to keep Perceiver thought awake. If the goal is to achieve mental wholeness, then it is good to keep Perceiver thought awake. But Perceiver thought can only use a search for repetition to become free of personal status if facts exist that are independent of personal status. Science finds its independent facts in the structure of the physical universe. Similarly, if one wishes to use Perceiver thought with religious truth, then one can find independent facts in the structure of the mind. Science finds it difficult to discover these independent religious facts because the mind is non-physical and subjective, and science strongly prefers evidence that is physical and objective. However, one can find a lot of peripheral evidence about the mind by studying psychology and neurology.

That leads us to the interaction between Perceiver belief and Server action. Willard says that “The secret of the standard, historically proven spiritual disciplines is precisely that they do respect and count on the bodily nature of human personality. They all deeply and essentially involve bodily conditions and activities. Thus they show us effectively how we can ‘offer our bodies as living sacrifices, holy and acceptable unto God’ and how our ‘spiritual worship’ (Rom. 12:1) really is inseparable from the offering up of our bodies in specific physical ways. Paul’s teachings, especially when added to his practices, strongly suggest that he understood and practiced something vital about the Christian life that we have lost — and that we must do our best to recover” (SoD, 19).

Every Christian book that I have recently read on personal transformation seems to quote from the first two verses of Romans 12, but they all neglect the rest of the chapter. Willard stops here at the end of the first verse. Verse two says: “And do not be conformed to this world, but be transformed by the renewing of your mind, so that you may prove what the will of God is, that which is good and acceptable and perfect. For through the grace given to me I say to everyone among you not to think more highly of himself than he ought to think; but to think so as to have sound judgment, as God has allotted to each a measure of faith” (Rom. 12:2, NASB). In other words, the actual transformation does not happen by disciplining the body but rather by transforming the mind. Presenting the ‘body as a living and holy sacrifice’ is part of the process, but it is not the primary aspect, and one is told to present one’s body in a manner that is ‘acceptable to God’, implying that it is possible to practice physical discipline in a manner that is not acceptable to God. Paul follows this by saying that a person should not regard their own cognitive style as a superior form of thought, but rather recognize that all cognitive styles are a valid form of thought: “For through the grace given to me I say to everyone among you not to think more highly of himself than he ought to think; but to think so as to have sound judgment, as God has allotted to each a measure of faith. For just as we have many members in one body and all the members do not have the same function, so we, who are many, are one body in Christ, and individually members one of another” (Rom. 12: 3-5). This is then followed by the list of seven ‘spiritual gifts’ or cognitive styles. Notice that Paul uses the physical body here as an analogy of cognitive styles and not as the primary subject. Notice also that this passage specifically addresses the fundamental sin of analytic philosophy, which regards Contributor-controlled technical thought as a superior form of thinking.

(We will see later when examining RoH, written in 2002, that Willard goes further by providing a list of 22 character qualities from Romans 12 which he says are “the most adequate biblical description of what the details of the spiritually transform social dimension looks like” (RoH, 196). However, Willard still ignores the fact that Romans 12 talks about seven different cognitive styles that all need to be respected as valid forms of thought.)

Going further, I have suggested that the mind is ruled by core mental networks. When a mental network is triggered, then it will use emotional pressure to impose its structure upon the mind, the way that a person feels driven to carry out a habit when it is triggered. When two mental networks are triggered simultaneously, then each one will attempt to impose its structure upon the mind. The winning mental network will remain intact, while the losing mental network will be forced to adapt to the structure of the winning mental network. Thus, when a group of concepts is consistently treated as an integrated unit, then this implies that this group of concepts reflects a core mental network. Applying this to SoD, one notices that the spiritual disciplines are consistently treated as a group of activities that naturally belong together.

One can see this in the following quote: “When [Paul] elsewhere directs us to ‘mortify’ the deeds of the body through the spirit (Rom. 6:13) or to mortify our members that are upon the earth (Col. 3:5), we are to interpret his words in the light of his acts. And when we do so there is no doubt that he is directing us to undertake the standard activities for training the natural desires toward godliness, ones that are readily recognized by anyone at all familiar with the history of religion. And these activities are solitude, fasting, ‘watching,’ silence, routines of prayer and study, the giving of one’s time, energy, and goods in various kinds of service, worship, frugality, submission to the spiritual fellowship and its leaders, and so forth” (SoD, 105). Notice how we are to interpret Paul’s words ‘in the light of his acts’. And these acts ‘are readily recognized by anyone at all familiar with the history of religion’. In other words, Willard is treating the spiritual disciplines as a core mental network based in religious culture which is being used to interpret theology.

Similarly, the same spiritual disciplines are viewed as the key to ‘becoming like Christ’: “My central claim is that we can become like Christ by doing one thing — by following him in the overall style of life he chose for himself. If we have faith in Christ, we must believe that he knew how to live. We can, through faith and grace, become like Christ by practicing the types of activities he engaged in, by arranging our whole lives around the activities he himself practiced in order to remain constantly at home in the fellowship of his Father. What activities did Jesus practice? Such things as solitude and silence, prayer, simple and sacrificial living, intense study and meditation upon God’s Word and God’s ways, and service to others” (SoD, viii).

The solution, I suggest, is to insert Teacher understanding between Perceiver belief and Server action. One learns universal Perceiver truth in order to gain a general Teacher understanding of how things work. One then views ‘how things work’ as an expression of the eternal character of God. Because a TMN naturally imposes itself upon thought when it is triggered, a mental concept of God that is backed up by a TMN will naturally motivate a person to act in a manner that is consistent with the character of God. Using religious language, truth leads to an understanding of God, which results in righteousness. Theology lays the mental foundation for righteousness. One can see this in the beginning of the Lord’s prayer: “Our Father who is in heaven, Hallowed be Your name. Your kingdom come. Your will be done, on earth as it is in heaven” (Matt. 6: 9-10). A name describes a person from a Teacher perspective, because Teacher thought works with words. This prayer starts with theology, building a Teacher understanding of a divine Father figure who inhabits an unseen realm. Theology is followed by righteousness, as one acts ‘on earth’ in a manner that is consistent with the character of God. Willard recognizes the importance of believing in a God who acts: “‘Deist’ derives from the Latin term for ‘God,’ and ‘theist’ from the Greek term for ‘God.’ Deists and theists both believe in the existence of a personal God. The deist, Immanuel Kant said, believes in a God, but theists believe in a living God, an acting God, such as is seen in the familiar biblical stories, while deists do not” (KCT, 119). And Willard also emphasizes that spiritual disciplines by themselves are not enough, but that one should combine the Server actions of personal discipline with the Teacher understanding of theology: “Centuries ago, disciplines such as fasting, service, and giving were confused with meritorious works, as well as with a useless and destructive ‘penance.’... So what is needed, then, is a theology of the disciplines for the spiritual life. We need a foundation, a practical, workable theology of them” (SoD, 25). However, I suggest that Willard is working backwards. One does not start with the Server actions of spiritual discipline and then add to this the Teacher understanding of theology. Instead, one starts with a general Teacher understanding of the character of God reflected in ‘how things work’, and then one adds to this the Server actions of righteousness. That is because one can choose to act in many ways, including ways that are dumb and destructive.

Willard points out that spiritual discipline has historically been confused with self-denial, especially denial of the physical body: “Spiritual discipline came over the years to be identified with confused, pointless, and even destructive excesses. These excesses were supported upon attitudes of body hatred and the belief that forgiveness or merit can be gained by sufferings, whether self-inflicted or imposed by a religious superior — all of which are now universally and rightly condemned” (SoD, 139). I suggest that such self-denial is an inevitable byproduct of blind faith. That is because the mind uses MMNs to represent people, including self. The certainty of blind faith comes from Perceiver thought being overwhelmed by Mercy emotions, and Perceiver thought will only continue to be overwhelmed if sufficient emotional status is ascribed to the source of truth. Saying this bluntly, in order to ‘believe’, I must feel that I am a worm compared to the awesome majesty of God. If I start to feel that I am somebody, or if I have too much physical pleasure, then this will increase my personal status relative to the emotional status of my source of truth, causing Perceiver thought in my mind to wake up from its state of mesmerized belief. The solution is to base truth and a concept of God in the TMN of a general understanding, because ‘how things work’ is independent of ‘how I feel’.

Saying this more generally, I will use the term fundamentalism to describe belief in a holy book, in which feelings of respect for the source of the book in Mercy thought overwhelm Perceiver thought into believing that this book is the primary source of absolute truth. Notice that we are not looking at whether the book actually is true or not but rather the attitude of regarding a book as holy. Fundamentalism leads naturally to three byproducts which I refer to as the religious attitude. The previous paragraph described self-denial, which feels that one should suppress the MMNs of personal identity. The flipside to self-denial is fervor, which feels that one should focus upon the MMNs that are related to the source of truth rather than the MMNs of personal identity. Finally, transcendence extends this to abstract thought, with the feeling that I am too insignificant to make any meaningful statements about God and absolute truth.

Willard himself is guided by the TMN of a general understanding, because Willard is a philosopher. But Willard’s philosophy motivates him to replace theology with the ‘practical theology’ of ‘spiritual disciplines’, which means that Willard’s readers will not necessarily be guided by the TMN of a general understanding.

Fifteen Spiritual Disciplines

Willard lists fifteen disciplines. Seven are disciplines of abstinence: solitude, silence, fasting, frugality, chastity, secrecy, sacrifice. And seven are disciplines of engagement: study, worship, celebration, service, prayer, fellowship, confession, submission (SoD, 158).

The first trait is solitude. Willard says that “We have already seen what a large role solitude played in the life our Lord and the great ones in His Way. In solitude, we purposefully abstain from interaction with other human beings, denying ourselves companionship and all that comes from our conscious interaction with others” (SoD, 160). Thought and behavior are normally driven by the MMNs of personal status and culture. These mental networks will not be triggered as easily if one withdraws from other people. This is good, because it makes it easier to come up with ideas that are independent of personal status and culture. Looking at this positively, if one is ‘transformed by the renewing of the mind’, then one will only become transformed if one is willing to face one’s mind, which means leaving the external realm of social interaction and entering the internal realm of thought. As Willard says, “In solitude, we confront our own soul with its obscure forces and conflicts that escape our attention when we are interacting with others... [Thus,] Solitude is a terrible trial, for it serves to crack open and burst apart the shell of our superficial securities. It opens out to us the unknown abyss that we all carry within us” (SoD, 161).

However, we saw from the example of Feynman the physicist that solitude is not enough. Feynman could solve most physics problems in his head, but one cannot copy the method of Feynman by merely squeezing one’s eyes shut and pressing one’s fist against one’s forehead. Instead, one must start with content and then think about this content. That is because thinking about nothing leads to very different results than thinking about something. Teacher thought, the cognitive module that builds general theories, does not use rigorous thought. Instead, Teacher thought forms a general theory by picking some memory and treating it as if it is a general theory until forced to abandon this theory by contradictory evidence. This form of thinking is described in another essay. For instance, suppose that there were a number of hot days last month. Teacher thought will then generalize from this to come up with a general statement such as ‘The last month was the hottest month ever’. If one does not examine the evidence, then it is possible to continue making general statements. In contrast, examining the facts will usually limit the extent of Teacher generalization. (In this case, examining the facts shows that last month actually was the hottest month since records have been kept.) This means that thinking about nothing will lead to a Teacher theory about everything, because Teacher thought will generalize and there will be no facts to get in the way. Thus, thinking about nothing does not lead to nothing. Instead, it leads to the theory that ‘All is one’, ‘I am one with the universe’, or some other variation upon this mystical theme. And the Teacher emotion that is experienced by this ultimate overgeneralization will be felt as a transcendental experience, a feeling of encountering something (or someone) that is cosmically larger than personal identity.

We have seen that continuing to use abstract technical thought with some general theory will turn the theory into a TMN. This will also happen when one mentally investigates the mystical theory that ‘All is one’. Suppose that one has some transcendental experience in which Teacher thought overgeneralizes. According to Husserl, this is a valid mental event which can be analyzed by technical thought. Unfortunately, analyzing this transcendental experience will help to turn it into a TMN. One will then gain a technical understanding of Teacher overgeneralization, which is what one commonly finds in mystical literature. Precisely this happened to Willard. Early in his life he did have a transcendental experience and he did spend a lot of time trying to analyze this experience: “It was with Jane that Willard had an early experience that set him on his life course. He and Jane had prayed to fully surrender their lives to Christ during a campus service at Tennessee Temple University. Afterward, R. R. Brown was laying hands on Willard and praying over him. Jane says Willard lost consciousness, later describing the experience as being enveloped in a cloud. A spiritual reality became tangible for Willard in that moment. In some sense, he has been trying to describe and teach it ever since.”

It is not clear how strongly Willard is advocating mysticism, because he also emphasizes the need for logic and he also suggests elsewhere that one should meditate upon the content of Scripture. However, what he says about solitude is consistent with the path of mysticism. First, Willard says that solitude is the starting point for the spiritual life, which implies thinking before one acquires internal content, as well as returning to the feeling of overgeneralization that is possible when one lacks mental content: “Of all the disciplines of abstinence, solitude is generally the most fundamental in the beginning of the spiritual life, and it must be returned to again and again as that life develops” (SoD, 161). In addition, Willard quotes Thomas Merton, who says that one encounters God by turning one’s back upon content from the world: “The only reason why I desire solitude — to be lost to all created things, to die to them and to the knowledge of them, for they remind me of my distance from You: that You are far from them, even though You are in them. You have made them and Your presence sustains their being and they hide You from me. And I would live alone, and out of them” (SoD, 161). Notice how the knowledge of created things leads to a distance from God. That is what happens when one uses overgeneralization to form a Teacher theory that lacks content. Content will get in the way of the theory. For instance, content will say ‘But it was even hotter last August. See, here are the statistics.’ To which mysticism will respond, ‘Do not let the facts get in the way of a good theory’.

I am not suggesting that it is wrong to use Teacher thought. Far from it. However, I suggest that it is very important to start with mental content and then use this content to construct a general theory. Obviously, saying that one should construct a theory is quite different than actually constructing one. That is why I have attempted to use mental symmetry to construct a general theory of human thought, rather than merely tell people that such a general theory is required.

Willard’s second discipline is silence. As he says, “Many people have never experienced silence and do not even know that they do not know what it is... we find complete silence shocking because it leaves the impression that nothing is happening” (SoD, 163). I know what total silence is like because I lived for several years in a basement apartment in rural Victoria, where it was so quiet that I could literally hear the blood moving through my ears. I enjoyed the silence, because I had a lot of mental content to think about. It was during this time that my brother Lane and I did our initial research on cognitive styles.

But is Willard using silence to think about internal content or to make it easier to think about nothing? His words suggest the latter: “Silence is frightening because it strips us as nothing else does, throwing us upon the stark realities of our life. It reminds us of death, which will cut us off from this world and leave only us and God. And in that quiet, what if there turns out to be very little to ‘just us and God’?” (SoD, 163). And he adds that “Silence and solitude do go hand in hand, usually. Just as silence is vital to make solitude real, so is solitude needed to make the discipline of silence complete” (SoD, 163).

Willard also says that “We must also practice the silence of not speaking. James, in his Epistle, tells us that those who seem religious but are unable to bridle their tongues are self-deceived and have a religion that amounts to little” (SoD, 164). That is good advice. We looked at the difference between the words of philosophy and the exemplars of science. One of the signs that one is thinking in terms of exemplars is that one no longer feels driven to talk. Similarly, one of the signs that one believes in universal truth rather than absolute truth is that one no longer feels driven to preach truth at others. Instead, one merely needs to point out the truth when others encounter it in real life.

The next spiritual discipline is fasting: “In fasting, we abstain in some significant way from food and possibly from drink as well. This discipline teaches us a lot about ourselves very quickly... If nothing else, though, it will certainly demonstrate how powerful and clever our body is in getting its own way against our strongest resolves” (SoD, 166). Using the language of mental symmetry, the mind acquires its initial mental networks from emotional experiences provided by the physical body. The goal is to replace these childish MMNs with a new set of mental networks that are guided by general Teacher understanding. During this process of personal transformation, the mind will be driven by two sets of incompatible mental networks. When two mental networks fight for attention, the one that ‘grows’ is the one that is ‘fed’. One feeds a mental network by thinking or behaving in a manner that is consistent with the structure of that mental network. Fasting literally chooses not to feed mental networks that are associated with the physical body. Thus, fasting can be an effective tool when one is attempting to follow a new set of mental networks because it weakens the mental networks that are associated with the physical body.

However, there is a danger with fasting. That is because threatening a mental network will lead to a form of ‘hyper-pain’ that overwhelms normal emotions. One can see this when attempting to break a strong habit. This may cause the emotional focus to turn to the unpleasantness of being hungry, which negates the original purpose for fasting. We have seen that fundamentalism naturally leads to an attitude of self-denial, because one assumes that submitting to the MMNs that are the source of truth means suppressing the MMNs of personal identity. Self-denial will think that there is inherent merit in the pain of denying self through acts of penance such as fasting. However, the painful experiences of self-denial will turn into MMNs and these MMNs will motivate the mind, leading to masochism rather than mental wholeness.

The goal is not to suppress physical desire. Childish mental networks that come from the physical body need to be reprogrammed because they are shortsighted and incomplete, not because the body is evil. In other words, physical desire needs to be placed within a larger context of mental wholeness.

Willard emphasizes the importance of using fasting as a tool to help reach a positive goal rather than focusing upon the fasting itself: “When a person chooses fasting as a spiritual discipline, he or she must, then, practice it well enough and often enough to become experienced in it, because only the person who is well habituated to systematic fasting as a discipline can use it effectively as a part of direct service to God, as in special times of prayer or other service” (SoD, 168).

Similar principles apply to the topic of sexuality, which Willard refers to as the discipline of chastity. Sexuality involves three primary factors. First, one is dealing with strongly emotional experiences, which will lead to the formation of powerful MMNs. If the goal is to achieve mental wholeness, then one must deal with sexuality in an integrated manner. Saying this more bluntly, sex with a multiplicity of partners will lead to a collection of powerful, incompatible mental networks, fragmenting the mind. Willard says something similar: “Sexuality is one of the most powerful and subtle forces in human nature, and the percentage of human suffering tied directly to it is horrifying. The human abuse stemming from sex, both outside of and within marriage, makes it imperative that we learn ‘how to possess our vessel in sanctification and in honor’” (SoD, 170).

Second, sex is intimately intertwined with the physical body. In this case, one really is dealing with embodiment. Therefore, it is futile to attempt to suppress feelings of sexuality, because one cannot escape one’s body. As Muslim culture shows, even if one forces women to wrap themselves in shapeless garments from head to toe, mental networks involving sexuality will still get triggered and drive thought and behavior. In Willard’s words, “Chastity does not mean nonsexuality, and any pose to that effect will certainly do great harm. And this is a very important point. The suffering that comes from sexuality does come in large part from improper indulgence in sexual thoughts, feelings, attitudes, and relations. But much also comes from improper abstinence” (SoD, 171).

Third, sex is a physical expression of something far deeper that occurs both cognitively and spiritually. Therefore, treating sex in a casual manner will demean personal identity. Saying this more rigorously, sex functions at the level of creating and exchanging mental networks of personal identity. Physically speaking, sex leads to the new human life of a baby. Cognitively speaking, sex intertwines one’s mental networks of personal identity with the mental networks of another person’s identity. In Willard’s words, “In the full sexual union, the person is known in his or her whole body and knows the other by means of his or her whole body. The depth of involvement is so deep that there can be no such thing as ‘casual sex’” (SoD, 171).

Similarly, temporary abstinence within marriage can help the mind to discover the cognitive and spiritual relationship of which sex is the physical expression. However, this negative physical abstinence needs to be combined with a positive search for something deeper. As Willard says, “Abstention within marriage by mutual agreement was also counseled by St. Paul as an aid to fasting and prayer (1 Cor. 7:5). Contrary to much modern thought, it is absolutely vital to the health of any marriage that sexual gratification not be placed at the center. Voluntary abstention helps us appreciate and love our mates as whole persons, of which their sexuality is but one part” (SoD, 170).

Summarizing the four spiritual disciplines that we have looked at so far, the first two deal with the internal realm of thought whereas the second two deal with the interaction between the mind and the body. When dealing with the mind itself, the advice of the Willard is problematic. However, when examining the interaction between the mind and the body, then Willard makes a lot of sense. This combination is consistent with the philosophy of Husserl, which focuses upon the interaction between mind and body while downplaying the internal realm of abstract theory. Ironically, we find that the thinking of Willard is being influenced by his abstract understanding of Husserl, even though Husserl explicitly states that thinking should not be influenced by abstract understanding.

The next spiritual discipline is frugality. Willard says that “In frugality we abstain from using money or goods at our disposal in ways that merely gratify our desires or our hunger for status, glamour, or luxury. Practicing frugality means we stay within the bounds of what general good judgment would designate as necessary for the kind of life to which God has led us” (SoD, 168). This is good advice, but I suggest that it can stated more generally using cognitive language.

We have seen that the childish mind is driven by MMNs of social status as well as MMNs of physical pleasure. Luxury is mentally harmful when it is used to coddle these childish mental networks. Willard describes these two aspects: “It is an injury to society as well as an offence against God when men pamper their bodies with rich and dainty foods and seriously diminish their physical and mental powers by excessive use of intoxicants…. Luxury in every form is economically bad, it is provocative to the poor who see it flaunted before them, and it is morally degrading to those who indulge in it” (SoD, 169). One sees here the pampering of the body as well as the flaunting of riches.

This quote goes on to talk about simplicity: “The Christian who has the ability to live luxuriously, but fasts from all extravagance, and practices simplicity in his dress, his home, and his whole manner of life, is, therefore, rendering good service to society” (SoD, 169). Simplicity is an expression of Teacher emotions, because Teacher thought feels good when everything fits together in a simple way. A simple life is uncomplicated. Similarly, when personal identity is guided by Teacher understanding, then a person will feel emotionally driven to live with simplicity.

Related to this is Kant’s categorical imperative, which says that one should only live in a manner that is possible for everyone to live. For instance, it is possible for everyone to live in a house or apartment, but it is not possible for everyone to live in a mansion with many servants. However, thanks to modern devices, it is now possible for everyone to live in a home in a manner that would have required many servants in the past. This does not mean that one should practice communism by giving the same to each person. Instead, when one acquires significant wealth, then Teacher emotions of universality will motivate a person to behave in a manner that enables more people to enjoy wealth, rather than in a way that exploits the wealth of others. For instance, the average factory workers in China cannot afford to purchase many devices that they are making.

Willard says that “The spiritually wise person has always known that frivolous consumption corrupts the soul away from trust in, worship of, and service to God and injures our neighbors as well” (SoD, 169). This makes cognitive sense. A general Teacher theory that applies to personal identity creates a concept of God, and allowing Teacher understanding to guide personal identity will naturally minimize frivolous consumption.

Frugality is a common trait of the Contributor person, which can easily turn into stinginess. In the same way that abstract technical thought specializes in some area and then tends to ignore or belittle whatever lies outside of that specialization, so concrete technical thought restricts actions to some plan and then naturally regards anything outside of that plan as worthless. But in the same way that abstract understanding is more than some specific specialization, so personal life is more than pursuing some specific plan. In the extreme, this leads to a Scrooge-like mentality in which people and happiness are sacrificed in order to pursue some bottom line. Frugality is a negative goal, in which one is continually choosing not to indulge childish MMNs. Simplicity, in contrast, is a positive goal, because one is choosing to follow the emotional goal of living in a way that exhibits Teacher order-within-complexity.

The next spiritual discipline is secrecy. Willard says this means that “We abstain from causing our good deeds and qualities to be known. We may even take steps to prevent them from being known, if it doesn’t involve deceit. To help us lose or tame the hunger for fame, justification, or just the mere attention of others, we will often need the help of grace... In the practice of secrecy, we experience a continuing relationship with God independent of the opinions of others” (SoD, 172). Willard adds that “Secrecy rightly practiced enables us to place our public relations department entirely in the hands of God” (SoD, 174).

This is an important principle. However, what is missing from Willard’s description is the positive motivation, which is provided by starting from a general Teacher understanding (which Husserl says that one should not do). Looking at this cognitively, we have seen that mental networks drive thought and behavior. When a mental network motivates some response, then the memory of that response will become added to that mental network. Saying this another way, a mental network will take ownership of the behavior that it motivates.

The childish mind is naturally motivated by MMNs of culture and personal status. Righteous thought and behavior, in contrast, is motivated by the TMN of a general understanding. For instance, I currently spend most my time analyzing authors such as Willard and posting essays on my website. I do not do this for personal honor because no one is paying me and at the moment not very many people read my website. Instead, I do this research in order to further my understanding and to lay a proper foundation for the time in the future when people will want this information. Thus, what currently motivates my work is not the MMNs of personal status but rather the TMN of a general understanding.

Because a mental network takes ownership of what motivates, a response will only be motivated by a TMN if it is not being motivated by an MMN. That is why altruism is required. Jesus describes this quite clearly in the Sermon on the Mount: “Beware of practicing your righteousness before men to be noticed by them; otherwise you have no reward with your Father who is in heaven. So when you give to the poor, do not sound a trumpet before you, as the hypocrites do in the synagogues and in the streets, so that they may be honored by men. Truly I say to you, they have their reward in full” (Matt. 5:1-2). In other words, the natural response is for behavior to be motivated by MMNs of personal status. Behavior will only become connected with the TMN of a mental concept of God if it is not driven by MMNs of culture and status.

Notice that a general Teacher understanding provides a positive motivation for secrecy. Instead of merely not being motivated by people, one is choosing to be motivated by an understanding of the character of God. Notice also that altruism is a temporary requirement that changes the motivation from MMNs to a TMN. As long as the TMN of a concept of God remains the primary motivation, it is possible to reintroduce MMNs of personal status and personal reward to this general context.

The next spiritual discipline is sacrifice. Willard says that “We abstain from the possession or enjoyment of what is necessary for our living — not, as in frugality, from what is really to some degree superfluous anyway. The discipline of sacrifice is one in which we forsake the security of meeting our needs with what is in our hands. It is total abandonment to God, a stepping into the darkened abyss in the faith and hope that God will bear us up... The cautious faith that never saws off the limb on which it is sitting never learns that unattached limbs may find strange, unaccountable ways of not falling” (SoD, 175).

Willard’s concept of ‘abandonment to God’ is similar to his concept of miracles that was discussed earlier. We saw there that Willard regards a miracle primarily as God disrupting the Teacher order of natural law and societal structure. Similarly, Willard’s concept of sacrifice chooses to function in ‘the darkened abyss’ apart from the Teacher structure of natural law and societal status. However, if one has a general Teacher understanding of the character of God, then one is not abandoning oneself to God but rather submitting to the ultimate Teacher order of how things work. For instance, the engineer who designs and builds an airplane and then flies in this airplane is literally choosing to sit on an ‘unattached limb’ that flies through the air without any visible connection to the ground. However, the engineer is not abandoning himself to God but rather being guided by a Teacher understanding of how things work — an understanding that includes higher concepts such as aerodynamics and strength of materials.

The other problem with a spiritual discipline of sacrifice is that it is easy to equate sacrifice with self-denial. Then the mental reference point for self-denial is not the TMN of a concept of God but rather the MMNs of personal identity. Stated simply, one is not following God but rather denying self. Self-denial can start a person on the road to personal transformation, but it ultimately needs to be replaced by the positive emotion of following God. That is because one can only deny self if a self exists to be denied. But how can one truly transform this self if it must remain present in order to denied?

The Positive Disciplines

Willard describes these first seven spiritual disciplines as ‘disciplines of abstinence’, and we have seen that they are movements away from physical content and childish identity. We have also seen it is possible to use these disciplines as byproducts of the positive goal of learning how to be guided by Teacher understanding. Willard refers to the remaining disciplines as ‘disciplines of engagement’. We will now examine these and see what sort of positive content they add. As Willard says, “The disciplines of abstinence must be counterbalanced and supplemented by disciplines of engagement. Abstinence and engagement are the outbreathing and inbreathing of our spiritual lives, and we require disciplines for both movements” (SoD, 175).

The first positive discipline is study: “In the spiritual discipline of study we engage ourselves, above all, with the written and spoken Word of God. Here is the chief positive counterpart of solitude. As solitude is the primary discipline of abstinence for the early part of our spiritual life, so study is the primary discipline of engagement” (SoD, 176).

We saw when looking at solitude that thinking about nothing leads to a quite different concept of God than thinking about something. Here we find Willard saying quite clearly that one should combine solitude with thinking about the content of the Bible, which is different than staring at a candle or repeating the syllable ‘Om’. However, we also saw that a mystical experience is typically followed by a lot of study that tries to make sense of this mystical content. Thus, one wonders why Willard mentions solitude first before mentioning the content of Scripture. Willard quotes Calvin Miller as saying that “Mystics without study are only spiritual romantics who want relationship without effort” (SoD, 176), which implies that Willard views himself as a mystic who studies. Thus, what Willard says is good but also ambiguous. I have found a similar ambiguity with most Christian theologians and preachers. On the one hand, they generally avoid fully embracing mysticism. On the other hand, they are equally adamant about holding on to some form of mysticism. They usually reconcile this contradictory approach by saying that the nature of God is paradoxical. But if I cannot make sense of some subject, it does not logically follow that the subject does not make sense. The problem could also lie with me. The student who does not understand math does not conclude that math itself is irrational but rather that his understanding of math is inadequate.

Willard adds that “In study we also strive to see the Word of God at work in the lives of others, in the church, in history, and in nature. We not only read and hear and inquire, but we meditate on what comes before us; that is, we withdraw into silence where we prayerfully and steadily focus upon it. In this way its meaning for us can emerge and form us as God works in the depths of our heart, mind, and soul” (SoD, 177). In other words, one should view the Bible as a source of universal truth that applies to many areas of existence. And one should see the Bible as words that apply universally to all aspects of personal identity. This is good advice, but I suggest that one can take it one step further. What is missing is the general Teacher understanding that ties everything together — the Teacher understanding that creates the mental concept of a universal God. Telling a person that everything that he reads in a book is from a universal being is not the same as telling a person how everything that he reads in a book describes a universal being.

One sees this same flavor in Willard’s study of the Sermon on the Mount in The Divine Conspiracy (which we will examine later). Most of what Willard says is good, but it feels fragmented. And Willard specifically says that Jesus taught in a fragmented manner that was tied together by the MMNs of his audience and not by the TMN of a general understanding: “The secret of the great teacher is to speak words, to foster experiences, that impact the active flow of the hearer’s life. That is what Jesus did by the way he taught. He tied his teachings to concrete events that make up the hearers’ lives. He aimed his sayings at their hearts and habits as these were revealed in their daily lives. He still takes us today in the fullness of our flight, moving right along, assuming our assumptions, and he gently but firmly lets the air out of our balloon” (DC, 114). I strongly agree with Willard that God directs people and society by influencing their core mental networks. However, I am equally convinced that God himself (and Jesus as the incarnation of God) is carrying out an integrated agenda based upon an integrated understanding. We may be fragmented, and God may have to deal with us in a fragmented manner, but this does not mean that God himself is fragmented. Similarly, Willard seems to suggest that one should deal with character attributes in a fragmented manner. For instance, he talks about conducting “a six-week seminar on how genuinely to bless someone who is spitting on you... Or suppose the announced seminar was on how to live without purposely indulged lust or covetousness. Or on how to quit condemning the people around you. Or on how to be free of anger and all its complications.... Imagine, also, a guarantee that at the end of the seminar those who have done the prescribed studies and exercises will actually be able to bless those who are spitting on them, and so on” (DC, 314).

Moving on, the next positive spiritual discipline is worship. Willard says that “The study of God in his Word and works opens the way for the disciplines of worship and celebration. In worship we engage ourselves with, dwell upon, and express the greatness, beauty, and goodness of God” (SoD, 177). Using the language of mental symmetry, worship is an emotional interaction with the general Teacher theory that describes the character of God.

Mysticism leads to a feeling of direct union with God. In contrast, Willard says that worship should focus upon the content of Jesus the incarnation: “The Christian’s worship is most profitable when it is centered upon Jesus Christ and goes through him to God. When we worship, we fill our minds and hearts with wonder at him — the detailed actions and words of his earthly life, his trial and death on the cross, his resurrection reality, and his work as ascended intercessor” (SoD, 178). Focusing upon the life of Jesus is far better than creating a feeling of mystical union with God or using emotional tricks to fool the mind into feeling that it has encountered God. However, as with study, I suggest that it is possible to go one step further. Worship that focuses upon the life of Jesus typically emphasizes experiences of self-denial, such as the son of God being born in a dirty manger among the animals, or the physical torment that Jesus went through when being crucified. But if Jesus truly is an incarnation, then his physical life is an exemplar of universal principles, and one worships God by focusing upon the universal principles of which Jesus is the exemplar.

Willard does this to some extent, because he emphasizes studying the life of Jesus and not just his death and resurrection. However, one can see what it means to take worship one step further by comparing the beginning of the book of Revelation with the end. Willard quotes from Revelation 4 and 5 where everyone is bowing before God in endless worship. But what one finds at the end of Revelation is a holy city. This city contains no temples where people worship God. Instead, everyone lives in the presence of God. Instead of attempting to focus upon God in worship, everyone lives in a manner that is an expression of the character of God.

Related to worship is the spiritual discipline of celebration: “Here is one of the most important disciplines of engagement, yet most overlooked and misunderstood. It is the completion of worship, for it dwells on the greatness of God as shown in his goodness to us. We engage in celebration when we enjoy ourselves, our life, our world, in conjunction with our faith and confidence in God’s greatness, beauty, and goodness. We concentrate on our life and world as God’s work and as God’s gift to us” (SoD, 179). Celebration goes beyond the worship described at the beginning of Revelation in two ways: It is active instead of passive and includes personal experiences instead of focusing totally upon God. (One can see this transition from passivity to activity in Revelation 14 with ‘the ones who follow the lamb wherever he goes’.) Blind faith in absolute truth will naturally ‘overlook and misunderstand’ celebration, because blind faith believes that one should deny self in order to focus fully upon God, as one sees illustrated at the beginning of the book of Revelation.

The problem is that if people are not righteous — if Server actions are not being guided by a general Teacher understanding of the character of God — then celebration will tend to turn into a party that ignores the very concept of God, or that uses emotional tricks to give people the illusion that they have encountered God while actually being guided by MMNs of culture and childish identity. Willard addresses this potential shortcoming by seeing God as the source of good experiences: “Faith in its celebration sometimes becomes a delirious joy coursing through our bodily being, when we really begin to see how great and lovely God is and how good he has been to us” (SoD). Unfortunately, I have seen too many celebrations that claim to be celebrating the goodness of God when in fact the focus of attention is upon the personal status of religious leaders and the mode of celebration is a carbon copy of secular culture.

Moving on, the next spiritual discipline is service. Willard says that “Service is the high road to freedom from bondage to other people. In it, as Paul realized, we cease to be ‘menpleasers’ and ‘eyeservants,’ for we are acting unto God in our lowliest deeds” (SoD, 182). We see here the principle of altruism described earlier, in which one acquires the trait of being righteous by choosing to follow the TMN of a concept of God rather than MMNs of personal status. As Willard says, those who have personal status can become righteous by choosing to perform actions that lack personal status: “The discipline of service is even more important for Christians who find themselves in positions of influence, power, and leadership. To live as a servant while fulfilling socially important roles is one of the greatest challenges any disciple ever faces” (SoD, 183).

This is a significant principle. However, Willard uses it primarily as a way of not being guided by childish MMNs rather than as a way of learning how to be guided by TMNs of understanding: “I may also serve another to train myself away from arrogance, possessiveness, envy, resentment, or covetousness” (SoD, 182).

This negative focus leads to several inadequacies. First, one can gain the impression from the previous quote that it is wrong to have a self and that one should always serve others. But the problem is not having a self but rather being guided by childish MMNs. The goal is not to suppress personal identity but rather to transform self by placing it within the structure of a general understanding.

Second, focusing upon denying childish MMNs turns them into core mental networks that provide the structure for thought and behavior. When one thinks in terms of certain mental networks, then one cannot abandon these mental networks. Willard talks about people stuck in the life of menial service: “Can this be applied by the mother of six who must leave her little children uncared for in a derelict neighborhood to support them by scrubbing office floors at night? Can it be applied by the refugee from Central America who pushes his ice cream cart around the neighborhood, ringing his bell as he goes?” (SoD, 182). A focus upon service tends to glorify such menial actions, whereas a focus upon understanding provides a way out of this predicament, because it builds the mind upon a different set of mental networks. One sees this to some extent in the immigrant who works hard in order to go to college or send his children to college. Willard says that others should “do all they reasonably can to help them” (SoD, 182), but being guided by understanding will naturally drive people to help themselves and others to escape poverty.

Third, focusing upon the positive benefits of righteousness provides a motivation for people with wealth and status to perform service. That is because righteousness is a form of wealth and status before God. Thus, one performs service guided by an understanding of the character of God not to deny wealth and status but rather to acquire lasting internal wealth and status. Willard says that “To be ‘great’ and to live as a servant is one of the most difficult of spiritual attainments. But it is also the pattern of life for which this bruised and aching world waits and without which it will never manage a decent existence. Those who would live this pattern must attain it through the discipline of service in the power of God, for that alone will train them to exercise great power without corrupting their souls” (SoD, 183). It is very important to learn how to ‘exercise great power without corrupting one’s soul’. And I suggest that the only way that one can truly do this is to realize that the greatest power comes from purifying one’s soul. However, when the goal is for a ‘bruised and aching world’ to ‘manage a decent existence’, one is still thinking in terms of the childish MMNs of a bruised and aching world, and the purpose is to remove suffering. Instead, I suggest that one should be motivated primarily by the positive goal of realizing the internal vision of ‘the kingdom of God’. But these internal Platonic forms of God’s kingdom of goodness will only form within Mercy thought if the mind becomes guided by a general Teacher understanding of God’s character. And starting from a general Teacher understanding is precisely what Husserl says that one should not do.

The next spiritual discipline is prayer. Willard says that “Prayer is conversing, communicating with God. When we pray we talk to God, aloud or within our thoughts” (SoD, 184). If a mental concept of God is based in general Teacher understanding, and if Teacher thought uses words to build theories, then it make sense that one interacts with a mental concept of God through the use of words. If an image of God is based in a universal understanding that applies to all areas of thought, then prayer will have the cognitive effect of connecting all aspects of thought with the concept of God. And if this general understanding has turned into a TMN, then talking to God will trigger this TMN, causing it to impose its structure upon the current context. As Willard says, “The effect of conversing with God cannot fail to have a pervasive and spiritually strengthening effect on all aspects of our personality. That conversation, when it is truly a conversation, makes an indelible impression on our minds, and our consciousness of him remains vivid as we go our way” (SoD, 184). One will then see the finite world with its flawed MMNs in the light of the integrated understanding provided by a TMN, and this TMN will impose its structure upon childish MMNs: “After the conclusion of each period of definite communion with God, he will set himself to undertake every legitimate risk, to do the right without fear of consequences... The many groups into which his fellows are divided will be seen by him in the light of the whole, and he will ever strive to bridge gulfs” (SoD, 185).

This does not mean that a mental concept of God is limited to words. We saw this when comparing the verbal theories of philosophy with the exemplars of science. Instead, one is using words to interact with a general theory that is applied and extended through the use of Server actions. In the words of Willard, prayer is “a way of co-laboring with God to accomplish good things and advance his Kingdom purposes” (SoD, 184).

Going further, Willard says that “Prayer as a discipline has its greatest force in strengthening the spiritual life only as we learn to pray without ceasing... We can train ourselves to invoke God’s presence in every action we perform. This is an experiential fact that has been proven in the lives of many disciples of Jesus, ancient and modern. God will meet us in love, and love will keep our minds directed toward him as the magnet pulls the needle of the compass” (SoD, 186). ‘Praying without ceasing’ is a good goal. But how does one achieve this goal? Willard gives the example in another book of a missionary who trained himself to think about God every minute: “With much effort and practice he trained himself to bring God, and what is of God, back before his mind every minute or so, and from this he constantly drank in power to guide and strengthen himself” (KCT, 149).

It is important to distinguish between a universal theory and a theory that appears universal to me. Willard’s sample missionary made God feel universal by thinking about God every minute. But one can use the same method to make a concept of mother and father feel universal, by choosing to think about one’s parents every minute. One can tell that this is an artificial feeling of universality because training to do this took ‘much effort and practice’. Similarly, Willard talks about ‘training ourselves to invoke God’s presence in every action’. Notice that I am doing the invoking; I am continually calling upon God. And if one looks at the ‘ancient and modern’ examples to which Willard refers, most of them created the feeling of being continually in the presence of God by repeatedly calling upon God.

In contrast, if one constructs a universal understanding of the nature of God, then praying without ceasing comes naturally because one is recognizing that the TMN of a concept of God applies everywhere. Recognizing is quite different than invoking. This brings us to the difference between righteousness and habit. Righteousness allows Server actions to be guided by a general Teacher understanding of God’s character. Habit, in contrast, uses repetition to build Server confidence in some sequence of responses, and this habit leads indirectly to the formation of an ‘understanding’ in Teacher thought. Notice that this is a non-verbal theory that is based in actions rather than words. What is happening is that Teacher thought notices that similar Server actions are being repeated, and Teacher thought then comes up with a general path that represents the essence of this habitual action. Among other things, this interaction helps to make action smooth and elegant. This is a legitimate cognitive mechanism. However, it is an artificial method for creating the feeling of a universal concept of God. In the extreme, it leads to the endless repetition of Eastern religion, or to the Orthodox Christian practice of hesychasm. Jesus warns against this practice in his introduction to the Lord’s prayer: “When you are praying, do not use meaningless repetition as the Gentiles do, for they suppose that they will be heard for their many words. So do not be like them; for your Father knows what you need before you ask Him” (Matt. 6:7-8, NASB). Instead of practicing ‘meaningless repetition’, one needs to recognize that a concept of God already is universal.

Note that both righteousness and habit will lead to the formation of a TMN that will emotionally attract the attention of thought. As Willard says, “God will meet us in love, and love will keep our minds directed toward him as the magnet pulls the needle of the compass. Habit will be confirmed in gracious interaction, and our whole lives will be bathed in the presence of God” (SoD, 186). However, what holds habit together is not the universality of my understanding of God, but rather the pervasiveness of my habit of calling upon God. Again we see the necessity to start with a general Teacher understanding of God, which contradicts the philosophy of Husserl.

The next spiritual discipline is fellowship. Willard says that “Personalities united can contain more of God and sustain the force of his greater presence much better than scattered individuals. The fire of God kindles higher as the brands are heaped together and each is warned by the other’s flame. The members of the body must be in contact if they are to sustain and be sustained by each other” (SoD, 186). Similarly, I have found that it is possible to explain Christian doctrine and the concept of a Christian Trinitarian God if one starts with the seven different Romans 12 spiritual gifts interacting together to reach mental wholeness.

Willard recognizes the connection between fellowship and spiritual gifts: “The diverse gifts or graces of the Spirit — all of which are needed in some measure by each person from time to time — are distributed among the separate members of the body of Christ, the church... Each man is given his gift by the Spirit that he may use it for the common good” (SoD, 187). But Willard defines spiritual gifts socially as an interaction between people, quoting from the list in 1 Corinthians 12: “One man’s gift by the Spirit is to speak with wisdom, another’s to speak with knowledge. The same Spirit gives to another man faith, to another the ability to heal, to another the power to do great deeds...” (SoD, 187).

This list in 1 Corinthians 12 describes a valid aspect of spiritual gifts. But I suggest that the internal interaction between cognitive modules that occurs within the mind is more fundamental than the social interaction between spiritual gifts described in 1 Corinthians. First, if one starts from the list in Romans 12, one can explain far more than if one starts from the list that Willard quotes. Second, the way that one treats subconscious cognitive modules within one’s own mind will determine how one treats people with that cognitive style. If I suppress Mercy thought within my own mind, for instance, then I will also be dismissive of Mercy people. Thus, what Willard says about spiritual gifts is good but not enough. It may be that Willard shies away from Romans 12 spiritual gifts because they are ‘too cognitive’ for the philosophy of Husserl. In addition, even though Willard says that all of the gifts ‘are needed in some measure by each person from time to time’, and even though Willard’s philosophy says that one should recognize the legitimacy of normal thought, Willard’s profession as analytic philosopher is still based upon the underlying assumption that all of the gifts are not needed but rather that the gift of Contributor-controlled technical thought is ultimately superior to other spiritual gifts. Thus, Willard’s profession implicitly denies his statement that “Fellowship is required to allow realization of a joyous and sustained level of life in Christ that is normally impossible to attain by all our individual effort, no matter how vigorous and sustained” (SoD, 187), because analytic philosophy firmly insists that the ‘individual effort’ of Contributor-controlled technical thought can realize a ‘sustained level of life in Christ’ if it is applied in a ‘vigorous and sustained’ manner.

The next spiritual discipline is confession. Willard says that “In it we let trusted others know our deepest weaknesses and failures...We lay down the burden of hiding and pretending, which normally takes up such a dreadful amount of human energy. We engage and are engaged by others in the most profound depths of the soul” (SoD, 187). However, Willard also says that confession “may be easily abused, and for its effective use it requires considerable experience and maturity” (SoD, 189).

I suggest that an understanding of cognitive styles makes it possible to naturally let others ‘know our deepest weaknesses and failures’ without abusing confession. Confession is open to abuse when it focuses upon the MMNs of personal failure and confesses these personal failures to others, because one then becomes emotionally entangled with other individuals and MMNs of personal status gain control over personal identity. For instance, if I confess that I struggle with thoughts of lust and if I confess to my partner specific episodes in which I lusted, then that person has the power to blackmail me, either explicitly or implicitly. Communist governments kept records of private behavior in order to control and blackmail citizens, and Western government agencies now do the same. In contrast, confession acquires a totally different form when is guided by the TMN of understanding the nature of cognitive styles. For instance, instead of confessing specific experiences where I lost my temper or acted in a judgmental manner, I can admit that I am a Perceiver person and that one of the weaknesses of a Perceiver person is a tendency to lose one’s temper when there is perceived injustice. I do not have to confess each individual experience of losing my temper, because we all know the problem that Perceiver persons have with losing temper. Instead, one can focus upon the general problem of helping a Perceiver person to overcome problems with anger. Thus, one is addressing one’s deepest weaknesses while still protecting MMNs of personal identity from either explicit or implicit blackmail.

The final spiritual discipline is submission. Willard says that “The highest level of fellowship — involving humility, complete honesty, transparency, and at times confession and restitution — is sustained by the discipline of submission” (SoD, 189). But he also says that submission “is not a matter of an iron hierarchy in which unwilling souls are crushed and driven. Instead, it functions in the power of truth and mercy inhabiting mature personalities” (SoD, 189). How does one practice submission without imposing authority?

Willard gives a partial answer, but I suggest that one can go further. He says that one submits by calling “for help to those recognized as able to give it because of their depth of experience and Christlikeness — because they truly are ‘elder’ in The Way” (SoD, 190). He adds that “these ‘wise’ people will not be looking at themselves as ‘leaders’ actually. Their being examples we submit to is but one aspect of their submission to servanthood” (SoD, 190). But what are these ‘wise leaders’ servants of? What are they submitting to? When one believes that truth is based in the MMNs of personal status, then being regarded as an expert will make one feel that one does not need to submit to the opinions of other experts, which will lead to arrogance rather than servanthood. That is what normally happens. The solution, I suggest, is for experts to submit to a standard is independent of the opinions of people, and that standard comes from the structure of the mind. If the goal is to reach mental wholeness, then those who are further along this path will naturally exhibit the character and personal benefits that come from having a mind that works well. Others will then naturally look to these individuals for advice so that they too can experience the personal benefits of mental well-being, while those who are regarded as experts will remain servants of how the mind works so that they do not regress mentally to following MMNs of personal status and approval.

Concluding our discussion of SoD, Willard’s diagnosis of the problem is accurate. We often view Jesus’ words as something hopelessly idealistic that are impossible to follow: “Jesus’ commandments become overwhelmingly burdensome to us. In fact, many Christians cannot even believe he actually intended for us to carry them out. So what is the result? His teachings are treated as a mere ideal, one that we may better ourselves by aiming for but know we are bound to fall glaringly short of” (SoD, 2). Stated simply, the average person does not take Christianity seriously. Willard suggests that the person who wants to become serious about Christianity will practice spiritual disciplines. And we have seen that most of these spiritual disciplines are helpful. However, I suggest that it is inadequate to hold to “a nonfoundational doctrine of ethics that simply describes what ethical people do and a consequent concern for the formation of ethical people within Christian theology” (SoD, 6). As I pointed out before, observing ‘what people do’ may be sufficient when one is dealing with simple tools such as hammers and shovels, or even practical skills such as playing a violin. But it is inadequate when dealing with computing devices such as smart phones — and the minds of people.

Going further, I suggest that a pragmatic approach that focuses merely upon ‘the formation of ethical people within Christian theology’ is inadequate because it fails to recognize the emotional stranglehold that a paradigm has upon the thinker. Before forming ethical people within Christian theology one must first struggle to form Christian theology within non-ethical people. I am not suggesting that one can separate theology from ‘forming ethical people’. When one is pursuing theology, one must be very careful to apply what one knows, or else one will end up with twisted theology. Instead, I am suggesting that there is a sequence. We all grow up with minds driven by flawed, childish MMNs. As Husserl points out, this type of thinking is pre-verbal and we usually use words to rationalize our childish behavior. However, it is also possible to use words to construct a theology that is different than childish behavior, leading to a concept of God that is based in an understanding of universal principles of how things work — how the universe works, how the mind works, how the supernatural realm works, and how God works, because God is a universal being. When this concept of God turns into a TMN, then this will emotionally drive a person to conform to the character of God, leading eventually to reborn MMNs of culture and personal identity. I am not talking about starting with some postulates about the character of God and then using abstract technical thought to logically deduce a set of conclusions. That can be helpful for working out the details of a theory, and I did use a form of technical thought (based upon cognitive mechanisms) to work out many of the details of how the mind functions. However, if one wishes to truly transform the mind, then the underlying emotional motivation has to be transformed. If one observes how modern science has transformed the world, one notices three primary stages. It began with a scientific revolution in which scientists such as Kepler, Galileo, and Newton gained a new understanding of how the world works — a theology of the natural world. This was followed by the industrial revolution in which scientific understanding transformed how people did things — a righteousness of the natural world. Finally, the consumer revolution began in about 1880, when science and technology started to transform people’s personal lives. These three stages have completely transformed the way that we live. If the goal is to transform personal identity, and if one gains knowledge through observation, then it makes sense to observe the process that has utterly transformed the way that we physically live. And if one observes that process, one notices that it started with a new theology, which was followed by a new righteousness, in which people stopped copying others and allowed actions to be guided by understanding. This led inexorably to a transformation of daily life that was far more profound than anything produced by the monks with their spiritual disciplines. I am not suggesting that science and technology have transformed the human heart. They have not, and the spiritual barrenness of modern society is a tragedy, which Willard accurately describes. But I am suggesting that the process of transforming the human heart is similar to the process by which the natural world has been utterly transformed, and that one can learn from this process.

The Divine Conspiracy

In order to limit the length of this file, the 74 page discussion of Willard’s book The Divine Conspiracy has been placed in another file. Please click the link to continue reading.

Renovation of the Heart

The 26 page discussion of Renovation of the Heart has also been placed in another file. Please click the link to continue reading.


In conclusion, Dallas Willard was a man of deep insight as well as a man of transformed heart. As Christianity Today states, “Listening to Dallas's thoughts was to get lost in the sheer joy of seeing a master craftsman at work. Except it wasn't about the craft. It was about the life and reality and goodness of the God behind the thoughts.” He was also an original thinker: “The doctrine of sufficient depravity is one of a thousand truths from Dallas that seem novel and yet, the more we reflect on them, point to the most fundamental tenets of our faith.” The extensiveness of Willard’s insight is reflected in the length of this essay.

Two things struck me when analyzing Dallas Willard:

First, I kept stumbling across deep insights that corresponded with what I had discovered using cognitive analysis. Many of these insights I have not read elsewhere, but rather have had to work out on my own as I struggled to understand and transform the mind. (Maybe I have not read widely enough. But when one is doing interdisciplinary research, then it is not possible to read everything about every subject.) This extensive correspondence between what Willard says and what mental symmetry predicts provides corroborative evidence for the theory of mental symmetry.

Second, even though Willard’s insights correspond in detail what the theory of mental symmetry says, Willard’s consistently opposes following a general theory. For some reason, I have come up with almost the same conclusions as Willard using a methodology which Willard says that one should not use. When the same Perceiver facts can be placed within a different general package, then there is disagreement at the level of paradigm rather than truth, at the level of Teacher theory rather than Perceiver fact. A paradigm shift takes the same facts and places them in a different general package. What I am proposing is a paradigm shift. Willard used a combination of fundamentalism and analytic philosophy to uncover a set of facts. Mental symmetry uses a combination of cognitive model and correlative evidence to discover almost the same set of facts.

One evaluates paradigms on the basis of their explaining power. I suggest that the theory of mental symmetry provides a superior paradigm because it can explain the insights of Willard, the thinking of Willard, and numerous aspects of thought and existence that Willard does not discuss, including systematic Christian theology.