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BibleRenovation of the Heart

Lorin Friesen, October, 2015

This is the third and final section of the discussion of Willard. This essay is already longer than any other essay I have written, partially due to the extensive content contained within Willard’s books and partially because Willard places this excellent content within an inadequate framework. This content needs to be placed within an adequate theoretical framework. We will finish this essay by going through Renovation of the Heart, written in 2002. Because the previous essays have already discussed Willard extensively, we will focus upon ideas that are contained in this book and not mentioned elsewhere.

Willard distinguishes in this book between spiritual formation and spiritual transformation: “The human spirit is an inescapable, fundamental aspect of every human being; it takes on whichever character it has from the experiences and the choices that we have lived through or made in our past. That is what it means for it to be ‘formed’” (RoH, 13). But “That spiritual place within us from which outlook, choices, and actions come has been formed by a world away from God. Now it must be transformed. Indeed, the only hope of humanity lies in the fact that, as our spiritual dimension has been formed, so it also can be transformed” (RoH, 14). My hypothesis is that the spiritual realm interacts with the mental realm through mental networks. Thus, Willard is saying that the childish mind naturally integrates around flawed mental networks and that these core mental networks need to be reborn, which is precisely what mental symmetry says. My only complaint is that the distinction between spiritual formation and spiritual transformation is not always clear in RoH. As Willard says, “‘Spiritual’ is not automatically ‘good’. We must be very careful with this language” (RoH, 17).

Willard observes that the childish mind is driven by chaotic MMNs that reject Teacher order: “Among the associates of his youth, the endless talk of ‘meaninglessness’ — the meaninglessness of life and therefore everything in it — was merely an excuse to permit them to do whatever they wanted. Their life was organized (or, more properly, disorganized) around their feelings and wayward thoughts, with their will in tow” (RoH, 43). However, as was discussed earlier, one needs an environment that is guided by Teacher structure: “Life makes sense only if you understand its basic components and how they interrelate to form the whole. Evil, on the other hand, thrives on confusion. God is not the author of confusion” (RoH, 44). The result is what Kant calls radical evil, which wants to live within an environment guided by TMNs of order and structure but also wants the MMNs of personal identity to be exceptions to the general rule: “Underneath it all is the radical evil of the human heart — a heart that would make me God in place of God” (RoH, 55).

That is why the starting point for personal transformation needs to be personal honesty, which means accepting Perceiver facts about personal MMNs instead of protecting these childish MMNs and coming up with TMNs that rationalize these MMNs: “The initial move towards Christ likeness cannot be towards self-esteem, because of confusion about what self-esteem means, and because, realistically, I am not okay and you are not okay. We’re all in serious trouble. That must be our starting point... Denial — usually in some form of rationalization — is the primary device that humans use to deal with their own wrongness” (RoH, 49).

God is not guided by MMNs that impose themselves upon personal identity, but rather by TMNs of general order that function independently of personal identity. Thus, personal well-being depends upon acting in a manner that is consistent with the Teacher order of how things work: “The intelligent person recognizes that his or her well-being lies in being in harmony with God and what God is doing in the kingdom. God is not mean, but he is dangerous. It is the same with other great forces he has placed in reality. Electricity and nuclear power, for example, are not mean, but they are dangerous” (RoH, 51). This is a very important point.

Willard emphasizes that the process of spiritual transformation is characterized by Teacher order-within-complexity: “The spirit and inner being of the human, as well as the process of its renovation in Christ, is an orderly realm where, even in the disorder of its brokenness, God has provided a methodical path of recovery. Grace does not rule of method, nor method grace. Grace thrives on method and method on grace” (RoH, 25). I strongly agree. This means that it is very important to gain a Teacher understanding of the process of personal transformation, and to realize that this is a universal process and not just a set of religious doctrines: “We also need to understand the general pattern that all effective efforts toward personal transformation — not just Christian spiritual formation — must follow. Because we are active participants in the process and what we do or do not do makes a huge difference, our efforts must be based on understanding. The degree of success in such efforts will essentially depend upon the degree to which this general pattern is understood and intentionally conformed to” (RoH, 83). I would add to this that it is an alternative set of mental networks that makes free will possible. One can ‘intentionally conform’ to the process of personal transformation because this process is supported by the TMN of a general understanding, and this TMN provides an alternative emotional foundation to childish MMNs. Understanding the process is essential because it provides the emotional support that makes it possible to choose to follow a path of righteousness.

However, the general pattern that Willard describes does not include Teacher emotion, but rather portrays the components of concrete thought: “If we are to be spiritually formed in Christ, we must have and must implement the appropriate vision, intention, and means. Not just any path we take will do. If this VIM pattern is not put in place properly and held there, Christ simply will not be formed in us” (RoH, 85). Vision is important, but we have already seen that this internal Mercy image is an indirect result of Teacher understanding. As Willard says, “This is a vision of life that cannot come to us naturally, though the human soul-depths automatically cry out for something like it... it is a vision that has to be given to humanity by God himself, in a revelation suited to our condition” (RoH, 87). Similarly, right intention only becomes possible when a TMN of understanding emotionally supports a path of righteousness. Willard replaces righteousness with following God’s kingdom through the example of Jesus: “We intend to live in the kingdom of God by intending to obey the precise example and teachings of Jesus” (RoH, 87). As for the means, Willard points out that “I must find the means of changing my inner being... the means to that end are not all directly under my control, for some are the actions of God toward me and in me. But some are directly under my control. I can, while not ‘on the spot,’ retrain my thinking by study and meditation of Christ himself and on the teachings of Scripture about God, his world, and my life — especially the teachings of Jesus and the Gospels, further elaborated by understanding of the remainder of the Bible. I can also help my thinking and my feelings by deep reflection on the nature and bitter outcome of the standard human way in such situations... I can also consciously practice explicitly ‘self-sacrificial’ actions and other, less ‘demanding,’ situations... I can learn about and meditate upon the lives of well known saints” (RoH, 91). In other words, the choices that I make in the present are influenced by mental networks that grew as a result of the choices that I made in the past. This is a significant principle, but it is missing the core element, which is following a general Teacher understanding of how things work. Instead, one follows examples and learns what not to do. Willard points out the need for a general Teacher understanding, because he says that study creates the mental environment that makes it possible to respond correctly — but what is being studied is primarily the example of Jesus and the Gospels.

However, when it comes to the final step of actually viewing God from the perspective of Teacher thought, then Willard — as usual — pulls back. Willard emphasizes that the entire universe is characterized by Teacher order-within-complexity: “God has created all things in such a way that they are inherently intelligible. They have parts, these parts have properties, which in turn make possible relationships between the parts to form larger wholes, which in turn have properties that make possible relationships between larger wholes, that form still larger wholes, and so on. This basic structure of created reality applies to everything from an atom or grain of salt to the solar system or the galaxy, from a thought or a feeling to a whole person or a social unit” (RoH, 31). But instead of concluding that this universal Teacher order-within-complexity is a reflection of the character of God, Willard says in the very next sentence that “Ultimately, of course, the very existence of anything is mysterious in the sense that it rests on the mystery of God. What explains everything else, God himself, must be, in an important sense, unexplainable — though not necessarily completely unknowable” (RoH, 32).

A Cognitive Model

The starting point for mental symmetry is a cognitive model of how the mind works. Willard also begins his discussion of spiritual transformation in RoH with a cognitive model. Willard’s model divides the mind into six different components:

“1. Thought (images, concepts, judgments, inferences). 2. Feeling (sensation, emotion) 3. Choice (will, decision, character). 4. Body (action, interaction with the physical world). 5. Social context (personal and structural relations to others). 6. Soul (the factor that integrates all of the above to form one life)” (RoH, 30). And like mental symmetry, Willard appears to be saying that one achieves mental wholeness by placing all of the mind within an internal structure held together by a concept of God: “Spiritual formation in Christ is the process leading to that ideal and, and its result as love of God with all of the heart, soul, mind, and strength, and the neighbor as oneself. The human self is then fully integrated under God” (RoH, 31). Thus, at first glance it appears that what Willard is saying in 2002 is significantly closer to mental symmetry than what he said in either 1988 or 1998.

Looking at these six aspects in more detail, thought “reaches into the depths of the universe, past, present, and future, by reasoning and scientific thinking, by imagination and art — and also by divine revelation, which comes to us mainly in the form of thought” (RoH, 32). Notice how many different cognitive functions are being lumped together into the category of ‘thought’. It is as if Willard has taken every branch of the university and lumped them together into the single category of ‘other’. (Willard adds more details to thought later in the book.)

The other categories are more specific. Feeling “involves a tone that is pleasant or painful, along with an attraction or repulsion with respect to the existence or possession of what is thought of. How we feel about food, automobiles, relationships, positions, and hundreds of other things illustrates this point” (RoH, 33). This describes primarily Mercy thought along with Exhorter urges. Willard points out that “Feeling and thought always go together. They are interdependent and never found apart” (RoH, 33). This is is significant point that is emphasized by Damasio in Descartes’ Error, written in 1994.

Moving on to the will, “will or spirit is also, as we have noted, the heart in the human system: the core of its being” (RoH, 34). As mentioned earlier, it makes sense that Willard as a Contributor person would regard Contributor choice as a core aspect of human spirit and heart.

Body “is the focal point of our presence in the physical and social world. In union with it we come into existence, and we become the person we shall forever be... Human personal relations cannot be separated from the body; and, on the other hand, the body cannot be understood apart from human relations. It is essentially social. Therefore our bodies are forever a part of our identities as persons” (RoH, 35). Notice how Willard uses the term ‘forever’ twice. In other words, he regards Husserl’s connection between subject and object as eternally true. This is a very strong version of embodiment. If such a strong version of embodiment really existed within the mind, I am not sure that it would be possible to go beyond being a creature of one’s physical environment. Cognitively speaking, I suggest that what Willard describes as ‘the body’ is primarily MMNs from the physical body as well as Server thought and its ability to control the body. Willard says that “A re-formation of the body is one major part of the process of spiritual formation, as we shall see. The body is not, in the biblical view, essentially evil; and, while it is infected with evil, it can be delivered” (RoH, 36). In other words, one major aspect of personal transformation involves reprogramming MMNs that come from the physical body.

Turning to the social realm, “the human self requires rootedness in others... Our relations to others cannot be right unless we see those others in their relation to God... The infant who is not received in love by the mother and others is wounded for life and may even die” (RoH, 36). This describes the mental networks that represent people and culture. Notice that Willard does not distinguish between MMNs used to represent people and a TMN that is used to represent God.

Finally, the soul “is that dimension of the person that interrelates all of the other dimensions so that they form one life. It is like a meta-dimension or higher level dimension because its direct field of play consists of the other dimensions... Because the soul encompasses and organizes the whole person, it is frequently taken to be the person” (RoH, 37). Cognitively speaking, the soul would correspond to normal thought, which uses similarity, symmetry, and analogy to integrate the various mental networks and technical specializations of the mind.

Summing up, three of Willard’s cognitive dimensions involve primarily Mercy thought and MMNs: feelings, body, and social. Choice describes a key aspect of practical Contributor thought, soul corresponds to normal thought, and all the branches of academia fall into the remaining category of thought. Thus, while Willard’s cognitive model is useful, it is primarily a description of the heart and not the entire mind. As Willard says, “Understanding is the basis of care. What you would take care of you must first understand, whether it be a petunia or a nation. If you would care for your spiritual core — your heart or will — you must understand it. That is, you must understand your spirit... If you would form your heart and godliness or assist others in that process, you must understand what the heart is and what it does, and especially its place in the overall system of human life” (RoH, 27).

I am sure that by now I sound like a broken record (this is an old idiom that dates me) continually pointing out that Willard downplays abstract thought. However, I do this for five reasons: First, Willard is a philosopher. A philosopher lives in abstract thought. Willard says that Christian discipleship should apply to one’s job. When Willard downplays abstract thought, he is not applying Christian discipleship to his job. Second, Christianity needs to be reformulated as a universal Teacher theory. Willard comes closer to doing this than any author that I have read so far. But he continually pulls back at the last moment and will not take the final step. Third, as Willard points out, philosophy has convinced the rest of the world that it is the highest form of human thought. Willard is trying to redeem the world from the mess that philosophy has birthed, but Willard is still trying to do this as a philosopher, and the result is numerous pieces of an answer but no integrated solution. Fourth, Willard is an apologist for the emergent church, which is very good at recognizing the problem, but tends to be better known for its heresies than for its theology. Fifth, I suggest that the theory of mental symmetry can provide the general understanding that Willard is lacking, because it appears that Willard’s numerous specific statements can be explained as implications of the theory of mental symmetry.


We have examined the introductory section of RoH. Willard now turns to the details. In the interest of space, we will focus on elements that have not yet been discussed.

I complained earlier that Willard bundles all of academic thought into the general category of ‘thought’. Willard begins his detailed discussion of thought by dividing it into the four aspects of “ideas, images, information, and our ability to think” (RoH, 96). Willard’s definition of ideas describes a number of elements of Teacher thought: “Ideas are very general models of core assumptions about reality... They sometimes are involved with beliefs, but are much more than belief and do not depend upon it. They are ways of thinking about interpreting things” (RoH, 97). Using cognitive language, Teacher thought assembles Perceiver facts into general theories that are used to interpret specific items and experiences. Teacher thought uses a form of processing that is not rigorous, which cannot be summarized using abstract technical thought: “For all their importance to human life, ideas are never capable of definition of a precise specification; and yet people never stop trying to define, in their vain efforts to control them” (RoH, 97). As Thomas Kuhn pointed out, it is very difficult for a person or group to go through a paradigm shift that changes the TMN that guides the mind: “To change governing ideas, whether in the individual or the group, is one of the most difficult and painful things in human life. Genuine ‘conversion’ is a wrenching experience. It rarely happens to the individual or group except in the form of divine intervention, revolution, or something very like a mental breakdown... at a group level, the sixties illustrate this in the recent past of American and much of Western society” (RoH, 98).

Ironically, Willard describes precisely the flaw (which he also regards as ironic) that appears to characterize Willard’s thinking: “Ironically, it is often people who think of themselves as ‘practical’ or as ‘men of action’ — both, of course, major ideas — who are most in the grip of ideas: so far in that grip that they can’t be bothered to think. They simply don’t know what moves them. But ideas govern them and have their consequences anyway” (RoH, 97). Similarly, Willard regards himself as a pragmatic philosopher who focuses upon specific events without being biased by general theory, but he does not appear to realize that this itself is a general theory that is biasing everything that he writes, and that one is governed by ideas whether one recognizes it or not.

Willard does not seem to distinguish between the TMN of a general theory or paradigm, the MMNs of Platonic forms, and the implicit mental networks of culture and accepted practice: “Examples of ideas are freedom, education, happiness, the American dream, science, progress, death, home, the feminine or masculine, the religious, ‘Christian,’ ‘Muslim,’ church, democratic (form of government), fair, just, family, evolution, God, the secular, and so on. If you wish to see ideas in action, look closely at artistic endeavors in their various forms (especially today, movies and music, which encapsulate most of what is called ‘pop culture’), and efforts to persuade (especially today, politics and commercials)” (RoH, 97).

What is missing from this rather eclectic list is philosophy and scientific theory. Instead, Willard describes analytic philosophy as an aspect of thinking, which he defines as “the activity of searching out what must be true, or cannot be true, in the light of given facts or assumptions. It extends the information we have and enables us to see the ‘larger picture’ — to see clearly and to see it wholly. And it undermines false or misleading ideas and images as well. It reveals their falseness to those who wish to know. It is a powerful gift of God to be used in the service of truth” (RoH). This describes abstract technical thought, which starts from given facts and assumptions and comes up with conclusions that are known with certainty. Willard points out that Isaac Watts, the composer of well-known hymns “also taught logic and wrote a widely used textbook, Logic: The Right Use of Reason in the Inquiry after Truth”. Abstract technical thought works with a given set of Perceiver facts and Server sequences which it assumes to be sufficiently well constructed. Similarly, Willard suggests that abstract technical thought should be used to analyze the absolute truth of the Bible: “Of logic itself Watts said, The great design of this noble science is to rescue our reasoning powers from their unhappy slavery and darkness; and thus, with all due submission and deference, it offers an humble assistance to divine revelation... To take the ‘information’ of the Scripture into a mind thinking straight under the direction and empowerment of the Holy Spirit, by contrast, is to place our feet solidly on the high road of spiritual formation under God” (RoH, 106). It is good to use logic to analyze the Bible. It is ‘a powerful gift of God to be used in the service of truth’. But adding abstract technical thought to a foundation of fundamentalism will not ‘extend the information we have’, ‘enable us to see the larger picture’, or ‘see it wholly’. That is because fundamentalism is based upon the specific words of a specific book, while technical thought makes improvements within some specific context.

Fundamentalism combined with philosophy will also lead to the TMN of a limited mental concept of God, which will emotionally trap a person within that TMN. Willard describes this emotional attachment: “To bring the mind to dwell intelligently upon God as he is presented in his Word will have the effect of causing us to love God passionately, and this love will in turn bring us to think of God steadily. Thus he will always be before our minds” (RoH, 106). We can see this in the case of Willard who says that he loves the God of the Bible, but actually loves the God of the Bible as interpreted by the philosophy of Husserl. Thus, Willard says that “We must seek the Lord by devoting our powers of thinking to understanding the facts and information of the gospel. This is the primary way of focusing our mind on him, setting him before us” (RoH, 105). This illustrates the way that a TMN modifies rational thought. It does not change the facts themselves but rather alters the relative importance given to these facts. Thus, Willard regards the gospels with their pragmatic description of Jesus as more important than other more theological passages. (A TMN will always modify rational thinking. For instance, mental symmetry emphasizes Romans 12 spiritual gifts. The solution is to recognize that this will occur and evaluate a theory by seeing how much it can explain, the simplicity of the explanation, and what it ignores.)

Willard points out a number of shortcomings in the way that the typical Contributor person uses abstract technical thought. First, “We must be aware of the special danger of holding onto the contents of our thought life mainly because their ours and therefore ‘obviously correct.’ Arrogance of doctrine or tradition is still arrogance. It is one of the things God hates” (RoH). Willard is addressing here the personal mental networks that become mixed up with the use of technical thought. This often occurs in academia, where the official goal is to build the TMN of a general understanding, but this understanding becomes associated with personal MMNs because understanding is being discovered by people. In other words, when a person discovers a theory, then the Teacher emotions of that theory are being associated with the discoverer and are being interpreted by Mercy thought as feelings of personal importance, because Teacher emotion feels the same as Mercy emotion. For instance, instead of merely talking about the theory of relativity, we talk about Einstein’s theory of relativity. And because the theory of relativity is a general Teacher theory with strong Teacher emotions, Einstein is also regarded as an important person with great emotional status (in Mercy thought). But Einstein as a person was not that nice. Second, as I have mentioned, it is common for Contributor persons to belittle information that either contradicts or lies outside of the realm of their expertise. Here, the response is being motivated by the TMN that lies behind the area of professional specialization.

Third, abstract technical thought can become the servant of fundamentalism. Fundamentalism bases Perceiver truth in Mercy status. This leads naturally to the feeling that we (or I) am right and others are wrong. Willard describes this as “allowing our desires to guide our thinking: especially the desire to prove we are right. This goes hand-in-hand with intellectual self-righteousness and is often associated with the desire to have the approval of others in our crowd” (RoH, 111). Abstract technical thought is then used to support personal or cultural MMNs rather than the TMN of a general understanding — to prove that either I or we are right. Using religious language, the name of Jesus becomes the servant of either ego or tribalism.

Fourth, abstract technical thought needs to realize that thinking can be overwhelmed by Mercy emotions. The “final great danger has to do with the images that we admit into our minds. These may be images of intellectual authority or images of financial well-being or images of the macabre and horrible or images of power (domination) and sexuality, and so on. Our present American culture boasts of complete freedom in what one sees, says, and hears. Many professing Christians are paralyzed or even destroyed by adopting this freedom as a lifestyle. For they allow images into their mind that eventually overwhelm them” (RoH, 111). I have mentioned that the Contributor person often thinks that free will can always overcome desire. Willard is pointing out that emotional MMNs can overwhelm free will, limiting the power of the mind to choose. He says this explicitly later on: “No one can succeed in mastering feelings in his or her life who tries to simply take them head-on and resist or redirect them by ‘willpower’ in the moment of choice” (RoH, 118). This is a very important point, but it extends beyond the realm of Mercy experiences and Contributor choice. MMNs can also overwhelm Perceiver thought, impairing the ability to determine the facts. MMNs can lead to fixations for Exhorter thought, causing the mind to continually return to the powerful images. And MMNs also warp the thinking of Teacher thought by inserting extraneous feelings into the emotional processing of Teacher thought. Among other things, this point provides a strong cognitive reason for avoiding the psychological trauma of war.

We have looked at ideas and the ability to think. That leaves images and information. Willard clarifies that “closely associated with governing ideas are images that occupy our minds. Images are always concrete or specific, as opposed to the abstractness of ideas, and are heavily laden with feeling. They frequently present themselves with the force of perception and have a powerful emotional and sensuous linkage to governing idea systems” (RoH, 99). I suggest that Willard is describing the relationship between Platonic forms and Mercy experiences. Perceiver thought organizes specific Mercy experiences into categories, such as trees, circles, and examples of justice. For each Perceiver category, Teacher thought comes up with a general theory that explains the essence of this category, which leads indirectly to the internal image of an ideal version of this category — a Platonic form. While Platonic forms cannot be seen, one can trigger the mental network of a Platonic form with the appropriate specific image or experience. Willard illustrates this by saying that “in many Christian churches today the services is divided into ‘traditional’ and ‘contemporary,’ primarily over imagery and the explosive feelings attached thereto. The guitar and pipe organ are no longer just musical instruments, they are powerful symbols” (RoH, 99). I think that Willard’s comments are accurate. However, I suggest that his description of Platonic forms is incomplete. First, one can see that Willard is not distinguishing between a general theory in Teacher thought and the Platonic form in Mercy thought that is the expression of this understanding, because he refers to both of these as ideas. Second, while specific Mercy experiences can be emotional, Platonic forms are more emotional, because they relate many similar emotional Mercy experiences, they add the Teacher emotion of a general theory, and they exhibit the hyper-emotion that characterizes mental networks. Thus, a symbolic experience is emotional primarily because it triggers the mental network of a Platonic form and not because of the emotions contained within the experience itself. One can see that this is is the case because the same physical symbol will trigger vastly different intensities of emotions in people of different cultures and religions. For instance, the swastika is used in Korea to indicate the presence of a Buddhist temple and the swastika is a common symbol on a map or a building, whereas in Germany the swastika has such strong connotations that it is forbidden to use in public.

Finally, Willard says that “Information is first... Without correct information, our ability to think has nothing to work on. Indeed, without the requisite information, we may be afraid of thinking at all, or simply be incapable of thinking straight” (RoH, 103). Using cognitive language, Perceiver facts provide the bricks that are needed to build a general Teacher understanding; one needs facts to build a theory. Willard’s statements are very important, but I suggest that Willard is making too strong a connection between information and proclamation: “The first task of Jesus and his earthly minister was to proclaim God: to inform those around him of the availability of eternal life from God through himself... Jesus had to combat much false information about the Father and bring to life the correct ‘Father facts’... This he did by proclaiming the immediate availability of the kingdom of God from the surrounding heavens, by manifesting its presence through the use of its power to help people, and by teaching in various ways its exact nature” (RoH, 104). Knowledge does start with proclamation (and all education starts with rote learning), but this is an indirect way of sharing information. However, if truth is universally true, then it is also possible to point out truth when people encounter it. The problem is that fundamentalism can only proclaim truth, because it believes that it has the inside track to the ultimate source of truth.


Turning now to feelings, Willard says that a person can be enslaved by feelings generated by childish MMNs: “Those who continue to be mastered by their feelings — whether it is anger, fear, sexual attraction, desire for food or for ‘looking good,’ the residues of woundedness, whatever — are typically persons who in their heart of hearts believe that their feelings must be satisfied” (RoH, 118). What happens cognitively is that understanding is reinforcing desire; Teacher thought is coming up with the general theory that MMNs need to be satisfied. In contrast, the Teacher feelings generated by a concept of God make it possible to transcend childish MMNs: “The person who happily lets God be God does have a place to stand in dealing with feelings — even in extreme cases such as despair or loved ones or excruciating pain or voluptuous pleasure” (RoH, 119). Being personally transformed means acquiring new MMNs of personal identity which will express themselves as a new set of feelings: “One has to feel strong repulsion toward the wrong feeling one now has or is likely to have and at the same time strong attraction to good feeling that one does not now feel. This proves to be absolutely necessary in order to ‘put off the old person’ (involving the wrong feeling) and ‘put on the new person’ (involving the good feeling)” (RoH, 119). And one must replace one set of feelings with another set of feelings and not merely suppress emotions: “Let it be very clear that we are not in favor of denying feelings or repressing them. That is not the answer for our problem.” (RoH, 123). That is because a person cannot exist without core mental networks. To be alive is to feel: “People want to feel, and to feel strongly, and in the very nature of life they need to do so. The opposite of peace is really not war, but deadness... Feeling will then be sought for its own sake, and satisfaction in feeling alone always in turn demands stronger feeling. It cannot limit itself” (RoH, 125). “The proper course of action is to replace destructive feelings with others that are good, or to subordinate them in a way that makes them...constructive and transforms their effects” (RoH, 123).

Mental networks form an emotional hierarchy, with core mental networks imposing their structure emotionally upon lesser mental networks: “There is also order among feelings, and it is a much simpler one than most people think. When we properly cultivate with divine assistance those few feelings that should be prominent in our lives, the remainder will fall into place” (RoH, 128). This means that core mental networks will impact the mind widely: “Much of the great power of feelings over life derives not just from the fact that they touch us, move us, but from the fact that they creep over into other areas of our life; they pervade, they change the overall form of our life and our world” (RoH, 124). When some MMN based in a painful experience becomes a core mental network, then this will lead to bitterness, which will spread the pain of loss to the rest of the mind and make it impossible to move on from the hurtful experience — because it has become an emotional reference point: “This explains why it is so hard to reason with some people. Their very mind has been taken over by one or more feelings and is made to defend and serve those feelings at all costs. It is a fearful condition from which some people never escape... Poisonous emotions and sensations often take over entire social groups, blinding them and impelling them on terrible courses of destruction” (RoH, 124). However, Perceiver thought can gain the confidence to function amidst the emotional pressure of MMNs: “Feelings can be successfully ‘reasoned with,’ can be corrected by reality, only in those (whether oneself or others) who have the habit and are given the grace of listening to reason even when they are expressing violent feelings or are in the grip of them” (RoH, 125).

Peace and Love

Willard says that “The person who primarily wants the feeling of being loved or being in love will be incapable of sustaining loving relationships, whether with God or with other humans. And a person wants the feeling of peacefulness will be unable to do the things that make for peace — especially, doing what is right in confronting evil... We must never directly cherish, protect, or manipulate feelings, whether in ourselves or others” (RoH, 123). I am not sure if this is a universal principle, but it definitely applies to the two emotions of love and peace. That is because these are both expressions of generality.

A feeling of peace emerges when MMNs live within a grid that is ‘ruled’ by the TMN of a general understanding. One sees this illustrated externally by the peace that is imposed by the law and order of some political regime. Paul talks about something similar occurring within the mind: “Be anxious for nothing, but in everything by prayer and supplication with thanksgiving let your requests be made known to God. And the peace of God, which surpasses all comprehension, will guard your hearts and your minds in Christ Jesus” (Phil. 4:6-7). (The phrase ‘surpasses all comprehension’ gives the idea that God is ‘beyond rational thought’, but the word ‘surpass’ (hyperecho) is translated in other passages as ‘being higher in status’, or ‘ruling over’. This is consistent with the idea of a TMN ruling over the mind, especially since the ‘peace of God’ keeps the mind within the content of incarnation. Paul says something similar in Colossians: “As those who been chosen of God... Let the peace of Christ rule in your hearts, to which indeed you were called in one body; and be thankful” (Col. 3:12, 15).)

Love is an emotion that emerges from interaction between MMNs within Mercy thought. If this interaction is to be mutually beneficial, then one must seek the well-being of MMNs. With both peace and love, focusing upon the feeling itself will eliminate the general interaction that is required to create this feeling. For instance, when peace becomes the goal, then peace will be seen as the absence of conflict, because anything that disturbs the feeling of peace will be suppressed. Instead, a feeling of peace results when one is ruled over a structure of peace. Similarly, when love becomes the goal, then love will be seen as coddling specific MMNs and anything that attacks the integrity of an MMN will be seen as an absence of love: “You are making me feel bad. You do not love me.” In contrast, true love treats MMNs in a manner that ensures their long-term well-being, which may include the short-term pain of tearing them apart and rebuilding them upon a more solid foundation.

Willard says something similar: “What then are the feelings that will dominate in a life that is been inwardly transformed to be like Christ’s? They are the feelings associated with love, joy, and peace... [they] are not mere feelings but conditions of the whole person that are accompanied by characteristic positive feelings” (RoH, 128). We have already looked at love and peace. Similarly, I suggest that joy is the Teacher emotion that results from living within a general Teacher understanding, because it is a general positive feeling that transcends the pleasures and pains of specific Mercy experiences. As Willard says, “Joy is a pervasive sense — not just a thought — of well-being: of overall and ultimate well-being... It is deeper and broader than any pleasure. Pleasure and pain are always specific to some particular object or condition... But for joy, all is well, even in the midst of specific suffering and loss” (RoH, 133).

Hope and Faith

Moving on, Willard says that “Hope is anticipation of good not yet here, or as yet unseen. It is of course inseparable from joy” (RoH, 129). The Exhorter person talks a lot about hope, and I suggest that hope is an Exhorter desire based in the MMNs of Platonic forms. That explains why hope is ‘inseparable from joy’. Saying this in more detail, a general Teacher understanding leads to the emergence of Platonic forms which are idealizations of real Mercy experiences. As Paul says in Romans 8, “hope that is seen is not hope; for who hopes for what he already sees?” (v. 24). It is not hope when Exhorter thought is attracted to some MMN based in real experiences or objects. Instead, hope emerges when Exhorter thought is attracted some idealized MMN. Saying this another way, desire is being attracted to what is, while hope is being attracted to what could be. Desire is driven by goals; hope is attracted to values. Values will always express themselves in terms of specific goals and specific experiences, but the specific goal will be a partial and incomplete expression of the Platonic value. The distinction between goals and values is discussed further in the article on Tony Robbins. Willard points out that “Hope was not well regarded by the Greco-Roman world. It was thought of as a desperation measure... Christ, by contrast, bring solid hope for humanity” (RoH, 129). Similarly, hope in heaven is today seen as a form of escapism, because it is based in the absolute truth of the Bible, which leads to a Teacher understanding that is disconnected from Perceiver facts about the real world. Escapism turns into hope when absolute truth is replaced with universal truth, because it then becomes possible to realize the hope in the real world. Note that using Teacher thought to analyze absolute truth will lead to the formation of Platonic forms, but it is not possible to live within these Platonic forms because they came from a set of facts that are not connected with the real world. This also happens when reading science fiction or fantasy (which the Perceiver person likes to do). Platonic forms will form, and they will attract the attention of personal identity, but one cannot live in Tolkien’s Middle Earth or in the Star Trek universe. I used to read science fiction and fantasy, but I no longer find it attractive because the theory of mental symmetry has created a more powerful set of Platonic forms within my mind. Stated bluntly, I like my fantasy better.

The Contributor person emphasizes faith. I suggest that faith is Contributor thought acting as if something is true. Contributor combines Perceiver and Server. Belief is Perceiver thought holding on to some fact. Faith is Contributor thought adding a Server action to Perceiver belief. Faith is an expression of hope because Exhorter drive provides the motivation for Contributor planning. As Willard says, “Hope also is closely related to faith. Faith is confidence grounded in reality, not a wild, desperate ‘leap.’ It is, as Hebrews 11:1 says, substance and evidence or proof... Faith sees the reality of the unseen or invisible, and it includes our readiness to act as if the good anticipated and hope were already in hand because of the reality of God” (RoH, 129). In other words, faith is not Contributor thought jumping in Kierkegaardian fashion from the context of rational thought to the context of revealed truth. (Kierkegaard was probably a Facilitator person.) Instead, faith is technical Contributor thought being guided by Teacher understanding and motivated by Exhorter hope placed in Mercy Platonic forms. One sees this illustrated by modern technology. Science comes up with a Teacher understanding of how the world works. This leads to Platonic forms of new-and-improved gadgets. Contributor thought then uses technical thought to work out a plan to turn these Platonic forms into real gadgets, guided by the Teacher understanding of science. This turning of vision into reality guided by rational understanding is an example of faith. Christian faith applies the same kind of processing to the personal realm of the subjective.

Willard distinguishes between initial faith and hope and a pervasive faith and hope: “Romans 5:1 to 5 outlines and instructive and inspiring progression from an initial faith in God through Christ, with an accompanying an initial hope, to a subsequent or higher level hope that does not disappoint” (RoH, 130). “Godly character now brings about a different quality of hope. Character is a matter of our entire personality and life, which is now being transformed by the process of perseverance under God. Hope therefore now pervades our life as a whole” (RoH, 130). In other words, hope and faith begin when personal identity submits to a Teacher understanding of the nature of God, but they become pervasive when the MMNs of personal identity become reborn within a mental structure held together by the TMN of a concept of God. The former is a step of faith; the latter is a life of faith.

Willard describes the way in which many people today are ruled by feelings. In the past, “Individuals knew their roles without thinking about what to do with their minutes, hours, and days, and only rarely were faced with having to do with what they ‘felt like doing.’ The overall order in which they lived usually gave them great strength and inner freedom derived from their sense of place and direction, even in the midst of substantial suffering and frustration. In a situation such as today, by contrast, where people constantly have — or think they have — to decide what to do, they will almost invariably be governed by feelings. Often they cannot distinguish between their feelings and their will, and in their confusion they also quite commonly take feelings to be reasons” (RoH, 127). Using cognitive language, people used to be guided by implicit MMNs of culture and implicit TMNs of traditional order. Because these mental networks were solid, people could live their lives without experiencing self-doubt. Today, these core mental networks no longer exist (except in pockets of society). Therefore, the average person now looks for mental stability in the MMNs that do exist, which tend to be either childish MMNs or MMNs of embodiment. People had free will during the period of transition in which traditional mental networks were being replaced by a new set of mental networks, because free will requires a set of conflicting mental networks between which one can choose. But now that we live in a post-modern society in which even the memory of traditional mental networks is gone, free will is also being lost, and people are becoming emotionally ruled by childish and hedonistic MMNs, just as people in the past were emotionally ruled by mental networks of tradition.


My only complaint with Willard’s description is, as usual, when it comes to Teacher order and the nature of God. Willard says that “the secret to this peace is, as great apprentices of Jesus have long known, being abandoned to God... The person who is heartily abandoned to God knows that all shall be well because God is in charge of his or her life. My peace is the greatness of God” (RoH, 135). Peace does come from submitting the MMNs of personal identity completely to the TMN of a concept of God. But for the ‘great apprentices of Jesus’, this did not mean following the TMN of a general understanding of how things work. Rather, it generally meant living completely within some alternate reality governed by the TMN of a ‘heavenly realm’ that was separate and distinct from the earthly realm, rather than an idealization and completion of the earthly realm. Willard says this to some extent: “Beyond abandonment is contentment with the will of God: not only with his being who he is and ordaining what he has ordained in general, but with the lot that is fallen to us... Beyond contentment lies intelligent, energetic participation in accomplishing God’s will in our world. We are no longer spectators, but are caught up in a vivid and internal drama in which we play an essential part” (RoH, 151). Willard’s description makes sense. However, in order to cooperate intelligently with God’s will one must first have an intelligent understanding of the character of God. In addition, intelligent cooperation is only possible if each partner is responsible for part of the task: ‘You handle this part of the plan, while I handle that part’. But how can one cooperate with a universal being who presumably takes care of all of the plan? Willard reconciles the conflict between divine sovereignty and human will in terms of Contributor free will: “Why does not God just force us to do the things he knows to be right? It is because that would lose precisely that which is intended in our creation: freely chosen character” (RoH, 145). But this does not describe cooperation but rather stepping back, allowing another person to make the decision. As I have mentioned before, I suggest that the answer lies in distinguishing between specifics and generalities. God’s sovereign plan is stated in ‘general equations’, while humans have substantial freedom in choosing which specific people and events will be plugged into these general equations.

When human will is not held together by the general Teacher theory of a concept of God, then the result is fragmented free will and a complicated self-contradicting personality: “The constant character of the will apart from God is duplicity — or, more accurately, fragmentation and multiplicity. It wills many things and they cannot be reconciled with each other” (RoH, 147). The typical Cntributor person is often quite complicated, and this complicatedness indicates a mind that has not been integrated, purified, and simplified by the TMN of a general Teacher theory. Willard describes the single-mindedness that results from a mind that is submitted to and integrated by a concept of God: “‘Purity of heart,’ Kierkegaard once said, ‘is to will one thing.’ Before we can come to rest in such single-mindedness as a habitual orientation of all dimensions of our being, to allow it and to sustain it, a serious battle is required” (RoH, 153).

I suggest that this type of single-mindedness is the goal. However, Willard describes the single-mindedness that comes from using Contributor concentration to limit the mind to the TMN behind some technical playing field, rather than the purity of mind that results from constructing the TMN of a mental concept of God that is general enough to encompass all aspects of personal existence: “C.T. Studd once upset some of his missionary comrades in the Congo by what he called his ‘DCD campaign.’ ‘DCD’ stood for ‘Don’t care a Damn’ for anything but Christ. He made up a skull and crossbones insignia and imposed ‘DCD’ upon it, to wear on jackets and caps and stick on buildings and equipment. ‘His intention was that he and his missionary team should care for nothing before Christ (not even their family and friends). Nothing should be allowed to detract from that or conflict with it. All lesser desires had to be done to death (hence the macabre badge!)’” (RoH, 153). I too would find this upsetting, because it denies that Jesus is the incarnation of a universal God — which also appears to describe the thinking of Willard. To submit to Christ does not mean to suppress family and friends, but rather to bring all of existence within the domain of a general understanding of God’s character. Choosing a macabre logo indicates that what is really driving the mind is not the TMN of a general understanding of God but rather the MMN of religious self-denial. It is true that the path to mental wholeness is a narrow path which involves choosing not to satisfy childish MMNs or MMNs of embodiment. But the goal of following this path is not to become mentally limited but rather to escape the dead-ends of childish thinking, just as gaining an education means limiting one’s life in order to have many more options when one graduates. Saying this another way, if the goal is to achieve a pure mind in which all the desires point in the same direction, one way to do this is by using technical thought to prune all desires that do not point in the same direction as the ‘game’ which one is currently ‘playing’. This naturally happens when the Contributor person uses technical thought, and it leads to the formation of an implicit mental network that imprisons the mind within that technical field. The other way to achieve a pure mind is by using Teacher understanding to transform all of the desires so that they do point in a similar direction.

Willard appears to be somewhere between these two extremes. On the one hand, he talks about all desires pointing in the same direction under a concept of God: “To succeed in identifying our will with God’s will... Is for the first time to have a will that is fully functional, not at war with itself, and capable of directing all of the parts of the self in harmony with one another under the direction of God” (RoH, 156). On the other hand, he bases his concept of God in the absolute truth of the Bible rather than the universal truth of how the mind works (which the Bible accurately describes): “Our primary, practical aim in stepping free from ‘entanglements’ must be to overcome duplicity. And to overcome it we must become conscious of it, confront it, and take appropriate steps to forsake it. The point of reference in all of this is the explicit teachings of the Bible concerning the will of God” (RoH, 154). And he focuses upon using physical ‘spiritual disciplines’ to limit childish MMNs: “A major service of spiritual disciplines — such as solitude, fasting, worship, and service — is to cause the duplicity and malice that is buried in our will and character to surface and be dealt with. Those disciplines make room for the Word and the spirit to work in us” (RoH, 155). This is an accurate statement. However, notice that one is actively practicing these physical restrictions in order to allow the ‘Word and the Spirit’ to passively ‘work in us’. In contrast, when one has a general Teacher understanding of the character of God, then one can actively pursue mental wholeness, and disciplines such as solitude, fasting, worship, and service become tools that one occasionally uses to propel the mind along the journey toward mental wholeness.

The Body

Willard then turns to the transforming of the body. It is interesting to note that Willard emphasizes the incarnational nature of Jesus when discussing the physical body: “Our body is a good thing. God made for good. That is why the way of Jesus Christ is so relentlessly incarnational. The body should be cherished and properly cared for, not as our master, however, but as a servant of God” (RoH, 160). Willard’s comments are important. However, there are two sides to incarnation: Jesus was both God and man. It is good to emphasize the relationship between incarnation and physical embodiment. But it is equally important to emphasize the relationship between incarnation and a mental concept of God. Willard says that the body should be ‘a servant of God’ but if the relationship between incarnation and a concept of God is not defined, then being ‘a servant of God’ will end up being defined as how Christian saints throughout history have defined being a servant of God.

As usual, Willard adopts the perspective of the Contributor person, defining embodiment in terms of using choice to channel energy in order to exhibit control within a context defined by my environment: “My body is the only body whose energy is directly accessible for my own use and satisfaction. I access it by choice... Therefore my body is the original and primary place of my dominion and my responsibility... It is only with and through my body that I receive a place in time and space and human history. Through which I am given a family, a gender, language and national culture, and a set of talents along with opportunities to use them” (RoH, 161). Notice how Willard is equating conscious thought with Contributor thought. Contributor thought is driven by subconscious Exhorter urges; Contributor thought chooses between these urges guided by Perceiver facts and Server sequences acquired from the environment through subconscious thought. Similarly, Willard defines growing up as one Contributor will butting heads with another: “In developing my dominion I soon run into realities that do not yield to my will. Often these are the kingdoms of other individuals, organized around their desires and contrary to my own” (RoH, 162). The developing Contributor person then realizes that choices feed mental networks — which drive choices: “I begin to experience destructive emotions, especially fear, anger, envy, jealousy, resentmen. These may, in time, development is settled attitude of hostility, contempt, or indifference. Such attitudes make the ready to harm others or to see them suffer, and these attitudes quickly settle into my body” (RoH, 162). Willard is accurately describing what it means to grow up as a Contributor person (especially a male Contributor person). Willard’s description is illuminating, but I suggest that other cognitive styles have a different perspective. Everyone grows up with a mind that is ruled by childish MMNs acquired largely through embodiment. But this ‘fleshly nature’ exhibits itself in quite different ways depending upon cognitive style.

Because Contributor thought is one step removed from Server thought, which controls the body, Willard does not fully appreciate the distinction between Server thought and the body: “Those readinesses and feelings that run our life, whether we are aware of them or not, reside in fairly specific parts of our body, and they reveal themselves to others through our body language” (RoH, 162). There is some truth to this, but as far as I can tell it is neurologically inaccurate. The memory for actions lies in the left parietal lobe and not in the muscles. The physical self-image is located within the right insula, a part of the brain, and not in the physical body itself. Habits are controlled by the basal ganglia, automated by the cerebellum, and triggered by mental networks residing in the orbitofrontal cortex. These brain responses can be triggered by the physical body, often express themselves through physical mannerisms, and lead to physical symptoms such as muscle tension, but the actual ‘mind of the flesh’ is in the brain and not the body. The only ‘thinking’ that occurs outside of the brain is within the gut, where there is a mini-brain known as the enteric nervous system, which has only 1/200 as many neurons as the brain. (This neurology is discussed in detail in Natural Cognitive Theology.) This may sound like minor quibbling but Willard, in keeping with the philosophy of Husserl, says that “The body lies right at the center of the spiritual life — a strange combination of words to most people. One can immediately see all around us that the human body is a (perhaps in some cases even the) primary barrier to conformity to Christ” (RoH, 159). I suggest that the body is a ‘primary barrier to conformity to Christ’ just as the Atlantic Ocean is a primary barrier to traveling from America to Europe. But this does not mean that the Atlantic Ocean lies at the center of Europe, or that ‘the body lies right at the center of the spiritual life’. Instead, I suggest that it is the soul that lies at the center of the spiritual life (which Willard later discusses as the part of the mind that holds everything together). I am not suggesting that the body plays no role in spiritual transformation. Any attempt to transform self that ignores the physical body is doomed to failure. But by the same token, the body also does not lie ‘right at the center of the spiritual life’, because this implies that the mental networks of embodiment provide the reference point for evaluating other mental networks.

A major aspect of what Paul calls ‘the flesh’ is the mental networks of embodiment that are programmed by emotional experiences from the physical body. These cannot be ignored because they are triggered by physical sensation: “You need no help from supernatural sources to engage in fornication... indulgences and passions and desires for what is evil... Just follow the inclinations now built into your bodily existence and they will all happen. Just let the demands of your ‘members’ guide your life. These are the ‘parts’ of our life that are ‘upon the earth,’ in the sense that they do not come ‘from heaven’ or God” (RoH, 163). Saying this cognitively, the mental networks of embodiment are not based in the TMN of a ‘heavenly understanding’ of the nature of God. As I have suggested many times, the only way to rebuild these mental networks is by becoming driven by an alternate set of mental networks: “The grace in question is not merely a judicial action, though it involves that too. It is above all a presence and power and life, which provides an alternative to the merely natural forces (flesh) accessible to the an individual in and through the body” (RoH, 164).

As was mentioned previously, Teacher emotion provides grace for Mercy identity in two ways. First, there is the judicial aspect (that N.T. Wright emphasizes). Teacher thought finds childish MMNs and MMNs of embodiment emotionally repulsive, because they are chaotic and contradictory. But when Teacher thought views these MMNs indirectly through the lens of Contributor incarnation, then they become specific illustrations that expand the generality of a plan of salvation. This is like viewing a child directly as opposed to viewing a child as a student of a respected school. Second, there is the righteousness that personal identity acquires from Teacher thought, because the TMN of a general theory will motivate personal identity to behave in a manner that is consistent with general understanding. Replacing MMNs of embodiment with righteousness is a process that takes time, like peeling away the layers of an onion, and during the intermediate stages one will find that one is driven by two sets of mental networks, one based in understanding and the other in embodiment: “When our heart comes to new life in God, the old ‘programs’ are still running contrary to our new heart, and for the most part they are running in our body and its parts or members” (RoH, 166). Willard describes these two aspects using the illustration of a steamship: “The steamship whose machinery is broken may be brought into port and made fast to the dock. She is safe, but not sound. Repairs may last a long time. Christ designs to make us all safe and sound. Justification gives the first — safety; sanctification is the second — soundness” (RoH, 225).

An attitude of religious self-denial will naturally conclude that the physical body is evil: “Sincere people really do find evil in their body and wrongly blame the body for it. This misguided and terribly harmful attitude toward the body correctly sees the power of sin that really is in the actual body and its parts. But it mistakenly assumes that the evil is the body and its parts, and does not know how to think about the readiness to sin, the sinful meanings and intentions, that have come to possess those parts through their habituation in a world of sin” (RoH, 168). The problem does not lie with the physical body, but rather with MMNs that drive a person to seek short-term sensory gratification. The solution is to place MMNs of embodiment within the context of a general understanding that allows sensory pleasure to be enjoyed in a constructive, integrated manner over the long term. In other words, the physical body is not Mercy bad but rather Teacher fragmented. Saying this another way, the problem is the centrality of the MMNs of embodiment: “The human body is betrayed in its own nature when it is thus made central to human life. It is created for spiritual life in the kingdom of God and to be honored — indeed, glorified — in that context” (RoH, 169). Therefore, it makes rational sense to submit MMNs of embodiment to the TMN of an understanding of God: “Our ‘reasonable service,’ the only thing that makes any sense for a human being who trusts Christ, is to ‘present your bodies as a living and holy sacrifice, very pleasing to God.’ ... The mark of the renewed mind is what it will ‘not even think.’ And this freedom from even the thought of evil... requires that the automatic responses toward evil are no longer running the body and its parts” (RoH, 171). When MMNs of embodiment are submitted to the TMN understanding of a concept of God, then one will naturally respond physically in a manner that seeks, preserves, and enhances total well-being.

Willard suggests making spiritual transformation more applicable to the physical body by involving more explicitly the parts of the physical body: “I recommend that you then lie on the floor, face down or face up, and explicitly and formally surrender your body to God. Then take time to go over the main parts of your body and do the same for each one... Give plenty of time to this ritual of sacrifice. Do not rush. When you realize it is done, give God thanks, arise, and spend some time in praise. An ecstatic reading (chant and walk or dance) of Psalms 145 — 150 would be an excellent exercise in this context. Put your body into it. Later, share what you have done with a spiritual friend or pastor, and ask him or her to bless it” (RoH, 173). This type of physical activity can be helpful, but I suggest that it also misses the point. One does not submit the body more to God primarily by going through physical rituals. Instead, one does so by constructing a Teacher understanding of God that applies to more of the physical realm within which the physical body lives. And that is something that Willard does not really do in any of the material that I have read, which is why the MMNs of embodiment remain the reference point for Willard’s discussion about how to escape the MMNs of embodiment.

The Social Realm

Moving on now to the social realm, Willard says that “To assure an anxious child we may say, ‘Everything is okay now.’ But it never is. In this world it is never true that everything is okay, and perhaps it is least true in those very situations where we feel the need to say it. Every human circle presupposes for its’ really being okay’ a larger context or circle that supports it... Ultimately, every human circle is due to dissolution if it is not caught up in the life of the only genuinely self-sufficient circle of sufficiency, that of the Father, Son, and Holy Spirit. For that circle is the only one that is truly and totally self-sufficient” (RoH, 180). In other words, MMNs of personal identity can only exist free of worry within an environment guided by the TMNs of general understanding. Saying this another way, personal freedom requires the rule of law.

But the mere presence of some general order is not sufficient. A bureaucracy, for instance, is guided by TMNs of general procedure, but most people are not okay when they encounter a bureaucracy. The TMNs of natural physical law are also insufficient because eventually every person will die and leave the physical realm. If human existence ends with personal annihilation, then everything is not okay. Instead, what is needed is a TMN of universal order that transcends physical life, which is connected to finite existence through the structure of Contributor incarnation, and expressed through the Holy Spirit by a Mercy environment of universal love. In summary, Willard’s statement is potentially profoundly true, but only if one comes up with a general Teacher understanding of the character of God that ties everything together — which Willard consistently avoids doing.

I have suggested that the childish mind is ruled by MMNs that struggle for emotional domination. Similarly, Willard says that “The exact nature of the poison of sin in our social dimension is fairly easy to describe, though extremely hard to deal with. It has two forms... These two forms are assault or attack and withdrawal or ‘distancing.’ They are so much a part of ordinary human existence that most people think they are just reality, and never imagine that we could live without them” (RoH, 181). ‘Assault’ occurs when one MMN imposes its structure upon another, while ‘withdrawal’ tries to avoid triggering MMNs that might impose themselves. MMNs are formed out of emotional encounters, which is why “Both assault and withdrawal primarily involve our relations to those close to us” (RoH, 182).

Willard claims that “spiritual formation, good or bad, is always profoundly social. You cannot keep it to yourself. Anyone who thinks of it as a merely private matter has misunderstood it” (RoH, 182). There is some truth to this statement, but I suggest that most social interaction is occurring within the minds of people as MMNs that represent people and emotional situations get triggered and interact. The strongest mental networks in a child’s mind are usually the MMNs that represent parents: “If a child is totally received in its early years by its parents and siblings, it will very likely have a rootedness about that enables it to withstand most forms of rejection that may come upon a human being in a lifetime. It will carry its solid relationships to and from its family members throughout life, being sustained by them even long after those loved ones are dead” (RoH, 180). Notice how ‘social interaction’ is continuing within people’s minds ‘long after’ the actual people die, telling us that social interaction is primarily an internal interaction between MMNs that represent people. There is also a profound internal ‘social interaction’ that occurs between cognitive modules within each person’s mind, and the way that I treat Mercy thought within my own mind, for instance, will have a major bearing upon how I treat people with the cognitive style of Mercy.

If every person’s mind is composed of seven interacting cognitive modules, then this places a different light on the Western focus upon individuality, because the only way that I can become an individual is by learning how to interact with the subconscious parts of my mind. Willard complains that “Individual desire has come to be the standard rule of everything. How are we to serve one another in intimate relations if individual desire is the standard for everything and if what we desire can be acquired from many competing providers?” (RoH, 191). “What, then, does devotion to another mean when one or both parties are constantly shopping for ‘a better deal’ or constantly appraising one another in the light of convenient alternatives?” (RoH, 191). If most social interaction is occurring internally between MMNs within the minds of people, then the only way to improve a close relationship, such as a marriage, is to improve the MMNs that are associated with that relationship. Leaving one’s partner for another partner will automatically damage the relationship because these MMNs will receive incompatible input and respond with deep discomfort. Saying this more simply, every broken personal relationship leads to the accumulation of ‘emotional baggage’, and the closer the relationship that is broken, the stronger will be the baggage associated with ‘the ex’.

Turning to the internal interaction between the members of Trinity, Willard claims that “Within the Trinity there is, I believe, not even a thought of ‘First, Second, and Third.’ There is no subordination within the Trinity, not because of some profound metaphysical fact, but because the members of the Trinity will not have it” (RoH, 184). I suggest that this statement is not theologically accurate. The biblical story starts with God the Father interacting with the Jews. This laid the foundation that allowed Jesus to become incarnate, and Jesus’ rebirth made it possible for the Holy Spirit to live within people’s minds. That describes a first, second, and third. It is also clear that Jesus the incarnation ultimately submits to the general understanding of God the Father, while the Holy Spirit brings to mind what the Father and the Son have spoken. Here too there is a first, second, and third. I suggest that Willard is defining the interaction of the Trinity as the opposite of human childish interaction. If childish MMNs try to impose themselves upon one another, then Willard concludes that the personalities of a perfect God would not impose themselves upon one another. But that defines God as the opposite of childish identity, which means that childish MMNs are still imposing their structure upon the rest of thought. Instead, I suggest that the interaction between the persons of the Trinity is guided by the TMN of a general understanding of mental wholeness. In other words, one notices that the concepts of God that form within the mind interact in a certain manner, and one sees that this internal interaction corresponds to the interaction described in the Bible. This leads to the hypothesis that the persons of the actual Trinity interact in a similar manner. This does not mean that God the Father is always the first person of the Trinity. Instead, theory predicts that the angelic realm is a mirror image of the human realm and that the Holy Spirit is the first person of that realm and ‘God the Father’ the third person. I am not aware of any attempt by Willard to analyze the angelic realm, consistent with Willard’s approach of building theory upon specific events but not taking the next step of being guided by a general understanding (except, of course, the general understanding of Husserl).

As a result, Willard is somewhat dismissive of the benefits of education: “The deep root is not ignorance (at least not ignorance of the things you learn getting an ‘education’), not prejudice, and not intolerance... Ignorance, prejudice, and intolerance, far from being the primary source of evil, draw upon the still deeper-lying soul structure of assault and withdrawal, without which they would have little effect” (RoH, 193). This is an accurate assessment, given the state of current ‘education’. And Willard is accurate in blaming childish MMNs and the way in which they naturally interact. However, the only way to truly transcend this is to rebuild childish MMNs within an internal structure held together by the TMN of a general understanding, and building such a TMN does involve education, an education that includes most of what passes today for ‘education’ but goes beyond it to deal also with core issues and universal principles of morality. However, that sort of education is inconsistent with the philosophy of Husserl, because it means being guided by a general understanding. Willard somewhat says this: “The first main element in the transformed social dimension is for individuals to come to see themselves whole, as God himself sees them. Such a vision sets them beyond the rules and limitations they have received their past relationships to others” (RoH, 194).

Willard adds that “The second element in the spiritually transformed social dimension is abandonment of all defensiveness. This of course could occur only in a social context where Christ dwells... That is not to say we should impose all the facts about ourselves on those close to us, much less on others at large” (RoH, 195). This is an accurate statement, but as we saw when looking at the rule of law, one can only lay down one’s weapons of defense (both physically and mentally) when one lives in an environment that is ruled by a peace imposed by the TMN of a mental concept of God.

Turning now to another aspect of social interaction, Willard says about marriage that “The problem is not divorce — though divorce generates a set of problems all its own. The problem is that people do not know how to be married. They do not actually get married in many cases, though they go through a legal and possibly a religious ceremony. They are, sad to say, incapable of marriage — the kind of constant, mutual blessing that can make to people in conjugal relation literally one whole person” (RoH, 190). Using the language of mental symmetry, the real marriage occurs within people’s minds as male thought integrates with female thought. At this mental level, Western society is primarily homosexual and not heterosexual, because male type technical thought with its Perceiver facts and Server sequences avoids interacting with the MMNs of female thought. Instead, Western society does its best to try to keep these two separate from one another. Willard touches upon this more general problem by saying that “to heal the open sore of social existence, there is no doubt we must start with the marriage relationship — or, more inclusively, with all men and women are together in our world. If that relationship is wrong and its many dimensions, all come through it will be seriously damaged” (RoH, 193).

As was mentioned before, almost every Christian book that I have read about personal transformation quotes the phrase ‘Be transformed by the renewing of the mind’ from Romans 12:1-2. Willard’s book is the first that I have read that actually refers to the succeeding verses that describe the seven spiritual gifts. (It appears that vs. 9-15 recap the seven spiritual gifts, with v.9 applying to the Perceiver, v.10 to the Server, and so on). In Willard’s words, “Christ’s apprentices would be carrying out their particular work in the group life with the grace and power that is not themselves, but from God, and each one would be exhibiting the following qualities (verses 9-21)... This is the most adequate biblical description of what the details of a spiritually transform social dimension look like. We should pause to contemplate it” (RoH, 196). Unfortunately, Willard does not ‘pause to contemplate’ spiritual gifts but rather presents the descriptions of the spiritual gifts in verses 6-15 as a disconnected list of 22 character traits. Again we see Willard’s preference for specific facts and his distaste of general theory.

Paul clearly indicates that he is describing an integrated structure and not just a set of disconnected traits: “As in one body we have many members, and the members do not all have the same function, so we, though many, are one body in Christ, and individually members one of another” (v. 4-5). However, instead of analyzing this text as a general theory, Willard concludes with religious self-denial: “Not having the burden of defending and securing ourselves, and acting now from the resources of our new ‘life from above,’ we can devote our lives to the service of others” (RoH, 196). When one ignores Teacher theory and concludes with a Mercy attitude of self-denial, then one is not describing a ‘new life from above’.

The Soul

I have suggested several times that the MMNs of transformed identity reside within an internal grid held together by the TMN of a concept of God. This grid appears to correspond to the soul. Willard says that “The soul is that aspect of your whole being that correlates, integrates, and enlivens everything going on in the various dimensions of the self. It is the life center of the human being. It regulates whatever is occurring in each of those dimensions and how they interact with each other and respond to surrounding events in the overall governance of your life. The soul is ‘deep’ in the sense of being basic or foundational and also in the sense that it lies almost totally beyond conscious awareness” (RoH, 199). This describes normal thought, which acts as the mental glue that integrates the various mental networks and technical specializations within the mind. Perceiver thought and Server thought construct the ‘roads’ and ‘intersections’ of this internal ‘road system’ along which thought travels. For the Contributor person, this associative network is largely ‘beyond conscious awareness’, because Contributor-controlled technical thought works within some limited context and is not consciously aware of the connections that exist between contexts. In contrast, I suggest that the four simple styles of Perceiver, Server, Teacher, and Mercy are conscious in various aspects of the soul.

The childish mind does not have an integrated soul. That is because Perceiver and Server thought can only build connections between mental networks if they have sufficient confidence to do so, and this confidence grows gradually as one holds on to facts and sequences in the midst of emotional pressure. Building an integrated soul also means thinking in an interdisciplinary manner that is not locked into the specializations of technical thought. The end result is that “In most actual cases, the individuals are not in harmony with themselves, much less with truth and with God. Their habitual condition is one of conflict, and one of acting other than how they themselves intend or regard as wise... the failure of good intentions is the outcome of the underlying disconnects or ‘wrong connects’ between thoughts, feelings, and actions, permitted or enforced by their disordered soul” (RoH, 201).

Willard says that “of all the dimensions of the human being that must be dealt with in understanding spiritual formation, the soul is by far the most controversial and inaccessible in today’s world” (RoH, 202). I too have found this to be this case. Even though normal thought guides normal existence, academia focuses upon using technical thought, while art and religion are generally driven by mental networks. Academics may discover mental networks and use technical thought to analyze mental networks, while art and religion may use technical thought to express mental networks, but normal thought (or common sense) seems to be rather uncommon in today’s juxtaposition of specialization and emotional infatuation. As Willard suggests, “It is possible that the reason modern intellectuals have failed to find soul is that soul really is no longer present in their individual lives. Perhaps something like a soulless life really is possible” (RoH, 203). One of the strong points of Husserl’s philosophy it is that it does at least officially recognize the existence and importance of normal thought and internal content. Thus, Willard includes the soul in his model of the mind, but he also includes it almost as an afterthought, as if he as a Contributor philosopher is viewing it from a distance. For him, the soul ‘lies almost totally beyond conscious awareness’.

An integrated soul requires more than just a ‘highway system’ of Perceiver facts and Server sequences. It also requires an emotional landscape of Mercy and Teacher emotions. Without this landscape, there will be no reason to drive along the highway system, because there will be no strong emotions to attract the attention of Exhorter thought. Using an analogy, there is no point in visiting other cities if every city contains the same collection of chain stores and fast food outlets. As Willard says, “In the absence of meaning, boredom and mere effort and willpower is all that is left. ‘Dead’ religion or a dead job or relationship is one that has to be carried on in ‘meaningless’ human routine. In boredom and carrying on by mere willpower, almost nothing can be endured, and people who are well-off by all other physical and social standards find such a life unbearable. They are ‘dead souls’” (RoH, 203).

When technical thought continues to be used in some specialization, then this will cause a TMN to form, motivating a person to continue using technical thought within that specialization. This causes people to optimize expertise in areas that may have no intrinsic value: “Where life meaning is lacking, performance is at a premium... Performance presupposes an artificial context in which some portion of life, action, or experience is present as a whole, meaningful, unique, flowing — transcendent to ordinary existence. This may be in some area of art, or in sports, or in politics” (RoH, 203). When the TMN behind some limited specialization drives behavior, then there is a natural tendency for this TMN to motivate a person to limit thought and activity to the restricted context of this limited specialization: “Fanaticism... is the result of inherently meaningless lives becoming obsessed with performance and then trying to take all of their existence into it. Being a fan of . . . is treated as something deep and important” (RoH, 203).

Willard says that “Sin or disobedience to what we know to be right distances us from God and forces us to live on our own. That means it makes soul rest impossible and is very destructive to the soul. ‘He who is partner with a thief hates his soul,’ the proverb says” (RoH, 210). When one violates what one knows to be right, then one is choosing to ‘take shortcuts across the field’ rather than stick to the ‘highway system of the mind’. This type of chaotic behavior will obviously distance the mind from a concept of God that is based in Teacher order-within- complexity. One sees this illustrated by the thief, who deliberately bypasses the internal structure of ownership and commerce (as well as the external structure of walls and doors) in order to acquire physical objects.

In contrast, building an internal ‘highway system’ upon the law of God will restore the soul, because it causes the mind to naturally flow in a manner that is consistent with ‘how things work’: “There is much more to the law than just rules or Commandments. It provides a picture of reality: of how things are with God and his creation... The law of the Lord gratefully received, study, and internalized the point of obedience is ‘perfect.’... It therefore converts or restores the soul. Seek it and receive it” (RoH, 211).

Because the soul assumes structure and content, spiritual reformation always includes the law, but this law is a description of how things work, guided by a general Teacher understanding, along which the mind naturally flows: “Spirit, covenant, and law always go hand-in-hand within the path of spiritual formation, for it is the path one who walks with God. And on this point we are in the greatest of dangers today. There are many who in effect, if not in intent, do just what Jesus said not to do. They annul the law and teach others to do the same. That ends all prospects of spiritual formation” (RoH, 213). When one believes that Perceiver truth is based in Mercy importance, then one will view morality as something that is imposed upon society by people. One will then try to become free of oppression by rebelling from law. However, the goal is to act and think naturally in a manner that is consistent with a general understanding of God’s character, expressed through how things work: “Law comes with grace into the renewed soul. There is no such thing as grace without law. Even in human relationships, graciousness must have an order if it is to be graciousness. It is not some formless blob of ecstatic indulgence... There is in fact an inner affinity between the law and the soul. That is why rebellion against the law makes the soul sick and distances it from God” (RoH, 215).

It is also possible for a person to have an internal ‘road system’ that drives him to naturally act in ways that are destructive: “‘The soul of the wicked desires evil,’ the proverb tells us, and will even harm those closest to him. In his deepest depths he is committed to wrongdoing” (RoH, 207). Notice how the default mental road system of the evil man is causing him to instinctively harm even those who are close to him. One is reminded of the fable of the scorpion and the frog. Quoting from Wikipedia, “A scorpion asks a frog to carry it across a river. The frog hesitates, afraid of being stung, but the scorpion argues that if it did so, they would both drown. Considering this, the frog agrees, but midway across the river the scorpion does indeed sting the frog, dooming them both. When the frog asks the scorpion why, the scorpion replies that it was in its nature to do so.”

Willard’s statements so far make sense. However, when it comes to the nature of God and the soul, then Willard says something that is inconsistent with what he says elsewhere: “Many people are surprised to learn that God, too, has a soul, and even translators the Bible often do not seem to know what to do about it... In these and other cases the word ‘nephesh’ (or soul) occurs in the Hebrew texts with reference to God. This is done in order to indicate the utter depth of the response of God to the wickedness of his people” (RoH, 205). Notice that Willard is focusing here on a different aspect of soul. So far, Willard has examined soul as ‘That aspect of your whole being that correlates, integrates, and enlivens everything going on in the various dimensions of the self’, which implies a mind full of content that is being correlated and integrated. But Willard says that God’s soul indicates ‘the utter depth of his response’. ‘Depth’ is a word that does not imply structure and content, consistent with Willard’s underlying assumption that the nature of God is ultimately unknowable.

Willard gives several biblical examples that he says illustrate the ‘depth’ of the soul: “Lot, fleeing the destruction of Sodom, does not want to have to live out in the mountains, and he pleads with God to let him go into a tiny town nearby... His exterior life has been wiped out, and he is pleading for his soul, his essence, to be able to survive” (RoH, 206). The essence of Lot’s existence was living an urban lifestyle rather than a rural lifestyle (see Gen. 13:12). Like the typical city slicker who has never killed or plucked a chicken, Lot does not want to live in the mountains. Living in the city him was the mental ‘road system’ that held Lot’s mind together. Willard’s second example involves Isaac: “Consider Isaac wishing to give his blessing to his eldest son, Esau and to enable it to come from his most profound depths he asked Esau to prepare a favorite meal of wild game that he has caught: ‘Prepare a savory dish for me such as I love, and bring it to me that I may eat, so that my soul may bless you before I die’” (RoH, 206). Here one is dealing with a meal composed of the right ingredients prepared in the familiar fashion. Isaac cannot go to the local fast food outlet to get his favorite dish. His only option is to ask his son to prepare it. Again, one is dealing with a mental road system, and not just a contentless depth. Finally, Willard suggests to “Consider Jesus’ teaching that it does not profit one to gain the whole world and lose his or her own soul... What it means is that your whole life is no longer under the direction of your inner stream of life, which has been taken over by exteriors” (RoH, 206). If an ‘inner stream’ has ‘direction’, then one is dealing with something of shape and substance. Jesus is saying in this parable that there is no point in owning anything if one does not have the mental capability to use and enjoy it. That is because the inner structure of the mind — the soul — makes it possible to enjoy and use physical objects. This would be like giving a book in French to someone who does not speak French.

The point that I am trying to make is that regarding God as a transcendent, mysterious being does not belong in Christian theology. It is a natural expression of fundamentalism, which thinks that God is too holy to be comprehended by mere mortals, it is a natural expression of mysticism, which forms a concept of God through Teacher overgeneralization, and it is a legitimate option when one lacks the ability to come up with a general understanding. However, Willard is a philosopher who is trained to think clearly and when he regards God as transcendent and ultimately mysterious, then we have seen that this does not lead to a high concept of God, but rather ends up replacing his concept of God with the philosophy of Husserl. As we have seen, Willard makes many specific statements regarding the nature of God. But when it comes to making general conclusions about the character of God, then Willard seems to adopt the approach of mysticism rather than theology, even though Willard says elsewhere that God deals primarily with generalities and not specifics: “God is great enough that he can conduct his affairs in this way. His nature, identity, and overarching purposes are no doubt unchanging. But his intentions with regard to many particular matters that concern individual human beings are not” (DC, 246).

Moving on, Willard notes that “The soul has very much been at the center of traditional Christianity. But in the contemporary context you will hear very little about the soul in Christian groups of whatever kind in the Western world, and you will see very few people seriously concerned about the state of their own soul... Some conservative and evangelical churches still sometimes talk about saving the soul, but even this much less than used to be the case; and once the soul is ‘safe’ it is usually treated as needing no further attention” (RoH, 208). I suggest that this is because the Christian message of absolute truth has become marginalized. Western society in general used to be guided by the absolute truth of the Bible. Therefore, following absolute truth meant a whole pattern of responses that covered major aspects of one’s personal life. This is no longer the case. In Willard’s words, “The acknowledgment of the soul, which is necessary to carry through with spiritual formation, is made more difficult by the elusiveness of the soul and the loss of Christian traditions and terminologies for comprehending it” (RoH, 208).

Today, most human existence is guided by the Teacher order of secular modern civilization, in which one studies the physical world in an objective manner that excludes the personal and the internal. As a result, “Our religious contexts have suffered from harmful influence by the secular intellect, which frankly abhors the soul... We have very much lost ‘soul’ language and are embarrassed by it” (RoH, 208). The solution, I suggest, is to rebuild soul upon a rational understanding of the mind that is based upon universal truth about the human condition. Thanks to the theory of mental symmetry, I no longer feel embarrassed discussing the soul, or feel like I am a loser because I am pursuing the salvation of my soul rather than physical riches. Instead, I now notice the brittle, flimsy, and fragmented souls that others use to cover their spiritual nakedness. As Willard says, “Once we clearly acknowledge the soul, we can learn to hear its cries. Jesus heard its cries from the weary humanity he saw around him. He saw the soul’s desperate need in those who struggled with the overwhelming tasks of their life” (RoH, 208).

Willard concludes RoH by describing the sort of person and society that emerge at the other end of following the process of spiritual transformation: “Let us draw together the results for studies in previous chapters to form a composite picture of ‘the children of light,’ drawing on how they have changed the various essential dimensions of their being” (RoH, 218). ‘Children of light’ is an appropriate term to describe people whose minds are illumined by the light of a general Teacher understanding. In the words of Willard, “They think about God. He is never out of their mind. They love to dwell upon God and upon his greatness and loveliness, as brought to light in Jesus Christ. They adore him in nature, in history, in his Son, and in his saints” (RoH, 218). Willard adds that “because their mind is centered upon God and oriented with reference to him, all other good things are also welcome there” (RoH, 219). Willard’s advice is good. However, because Willard’s concept of God is based in a combination of fundamentalism and the philosophy of Husserl, one finds that ‘all other good things’ are not welcome. Instead, Willard’s consistently avoids discussing theology and the laws of science, as well as most secular research. The more pragmatic aspects of being ‘children of light’ that Willard does discuss make good sense: “Children of light really are devoted to doing what is good and right. Their will is habitually attuned to it... Their body has come over to the side of their will to do good. It is constantly poised to do what is right and good without thinking... All of the above is not just at the surface. It is deep, and in a certain obvious sense, it is effortless. It flows” (RoH, 220).

Fundamentalism believes that it has the inside track to the source of truth. Therefore the primary goal is to preach this truth to others. However, the primary goal should be to reach wholeness in order to become a ‘child of light’. As Willard says, “A fundamental mistake of the conservative side of the American church today, and much of the Western church, is that it takes as its basic goal to get as many people as possible ready to die and go to heaven. It aims to get people into heaven rather than getting heaven into people” (RoH, 238). When people become ‘children of light,’ then outreach will naturally follow: “It is, I gently suggest, a serious error to make ‘outreach’ a primary goal of the local congregation... The most successful work of outreach would be the work of inreach that turns people, wherever they are, into lights in the darkened world” (RoH, 244).

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