Dallas Willard (1935-2013)

Here is a question you might get asked during ice-breaking sessions: Who would you like to meet in heaven? Or is that a book title?

Other than the obvious like Jesus (he is omni-present anyway), the prophets and disciples and definitely Paul (loads of questions to ask him though the line will be long), my list will consist mainly of writers.

C.S. Lewis tops the list and now I'll have Dallas Willard in it as well. I bought a couple of his books back in my book craze days but have not read him until last week, albeit a different and newer ebook edition. 

He was indeed brilliant. John Ortberg gave a splendid tribute to him as per my post yesterday. (I think I have listened to Ortberg's sermons before in mp3 - I really like his writing and how he puts it here.)

For Dallas's students and friends—and these categories largely overlapped—the best moments, the ones I will miss the most, were the moments with no hurry, no schedule constraint, nothing in the world but time and God and love. Then you could ask him, "Hey, Dallas . . ." (There are a thousand stories that begin with the statement, "Someone asked Dallas.")
"Hey Dallas . . ." You could see him thinking—not about the problem, which he had worked out long ago, but about how to express it in a way that those of us listening might be able to grasp it. So that it would not be a "pearl cast among swine"—one of dozens of Scripture passages I heard him explain better than any professional exegete.
Dallas and I used to play a game. I would ask him for definitions of all kinds of words. And every definition would contain a clarity and freshness and precision that would require folks to sit and reflect for a while. "Hey Dallas . . . ," and then I'd ask him about any word or concept that mattered, and would receive a brief education in the possibilities of redeemed thought.
The word spirit. "Disembodied personal power."
Beauty. "Goodness made manifest to the senses."
disciple is "anyone whose ultimate goal is to live as Jesus would live if he were in their place."
Dignity is "a value that creates irreplaceability." (This one, he graciously attributed to Immanuel Kant.)
Dallas was ruthlessly committed to logic, clarity of thought, and the constant cultivation of reason. He held such commitments because they were indispensible to navigating reality, and because helping people navigate reality is indispensible to love.
"Hey Dallas, what is reality?"
"Reality is what you can count on."
"Hey Dallas, what is pain?""Pain is what you experience when you bump into reality."
Because of this, Dallas had a deep aversion for Christian speakers or writers who use emotion to manipulate a temporary response from their listeners—a response that bypasses their "mental maps" and leaves the audience in worse shape than when they started. He said at one conference that speakers should never tell stories. This prompted a group of publishing types to propose the "Dallas Willard Study Bible," with all the stories taken out. (Pretty much just Leviticus.)
"What is spiritual maturity?"
"The mature disciple is one who effortlessly does what Jesus would do in his or her place."
"What exactly does it mean to glorify God?"
"To glorify God means to think and act in such a way that the goodness, greatness, and beauty of God are constantly obvious to ourselves and all those around us. It means to live in such a way that when people see us they think, Thank God for God, if God would create such a life."
For many, he was a little like the wardrobe in Narnia. It's not about the wardrobe; it's about a luminous world to which the wardrobe opens.
Yet you love the wardrobe after all.


  1. Thanks for sharing all these definitions. Powerful indeed.

  2. Yea, they are certainly amazing.

  3. I found this interesting Pearlie ...

    "Dallas had a deep aversion for Christian speakers or writers who use emotion to manipulate a temporary response from their listener"

    Wonder if he felt the same about folks who simply got emotional (i.e. showed [com]passion when they spoke?

    Heard Dallas Willard speak a few times and have to admit that he was one of the driest speakers that I have ever heard. Methinks he could have showed a bit of passion or emotion.

  4. Wish I had the chance to hear him speak. But some are definitely better writers than speakers. It is rare for me in Malaysia to have the opportunity to hear these good scholars, pastors and writers. I once heard I. Howard Marshall...and yup, it was like you said of Willard :D

    Anyway, DA Carson will be speaking here in Kuala Lumpur next week. He is both a good writer and speaker. He comes here every 2-3 years for our Klang Valley Bible Conference, God bless him. I am trying to make it to attend.

    In defense of Willard, we see the difference between those who speak in demagoguery and those who truly speak with fervor and warmth in the Spirit.


Post a Comment

Popular posts from this blog

Father I thank You