Outside In or Inside Out? Willard and the body (Spirit of the Disciplines 5-6)

I’ve heard many well-meaning Christians say that no matter what is going on inside of us, we should do what is right. When we do what is right, the right thoughts and feelings will follow. I have found such thinking to be a disaster. And, though Willard starts off chapter 6 by claiming that we are not meant to separate body and soul into two parts. It seems to me, he is advocating yet another version of “fake it until you make it.”
In the middle of chapter 6, Willard begins to move in a direction that I am not as comfortable with. The primary weakness of The Spirit of the Disciplines comes in chapter 6. The big issue I have with chapter 6: Willard says the primary means for spiritual transformation is the body.
Willard says, “The union of spirituality with the fullness of human life finds its deepest ground in the identification of the person with his or her body.” Willard even seems sympathetic to the James/Lange theory of emotions. JL theory states that emotions are merely awareness of excited conditions of the body. (Thankfully, it seems most philosophy and even some science is moving away from this since Willard’s book was published.)
I would argue just the opposite. We find our deepest unity in the heart (the mind, desires, emotions, will, and conscience) and from the heart we live a life. I like what Willard is doing by connecting body and soul, but to make the body the center of spirituality seems to miss the core of Christ teaching.
In Matthew 23, Jesus criticized an outside in approach to spiritual life. He says the religious leaders were focused on the externals like the correct tithe but neglected the proper motivation like compassion and justice. In Matthew 23:26, Jesus said, “First clean the inside of the cup, so the outside of it may also become clean.” He says the religious leaders are like tombstones that are beautiful on the outside but full of impurity on the inside.
It is possible to discipline the body without the spirit ever coming in line with the externals. In fact, it is natural for such things to happen. Willard’s whole point seems to be that if we discipline the body, the spirit will follow. But what happens (like the case of the religious leaders) when it doesn’t?
Willard’s foundation for transformation seems all too external. Toward the end of the chapter, he says, “The very substance of our bodies is shaped by our actions, as well as by grace, into pathways of good and evil.”
My question is simple: Where do those actions come from? They come from the workings of the inner life. They come from the mind that thinks, the desires that want, the emotions that feel, the will as it chooses, and the conscience as it decides right and wrong. Failure to address these issues first is a failure to clean the inside of the cup first.


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