Generally, what I find is that the ordinary people who come to church are basically running their lives on their own, utilizing ‘the arm of the flesh’—their natural abilities—to negotiate their way,” he says. “They believe there is a God and they need to check in with him. But they don’t have any sense that he is an active agent in their lives. As a result, they don’t become disciples of Jesus. They consume his merits and the services of the church. … Discipleship is no essential part of Christianity today.”He says these problems are theologically grounded: “We don’t preach life in the kingdom of God through faith in Jesus as an existential reality that leads to discipleship and then character transformation.” He adds, “When you don’t have character transformation in a large number of your people, then when something happens, everything flies apart and you have people acting in the most ungodly ways imaginable.”
The last “great outbreak” of the kingdom of God in the Western world, according to Willard, was the Wesleyan movement, which transformed both people and public institutions “without regard to churches or not churches.” When I ask Willard about later revivals such as the 1970s Jesus Movement, he says that they haven’t changed public institutions, particularly academia.