Dallas Willard Dies at Age 77

I only found out this morning that Willard was sick. Have had a heavy heart all day thinking about what a tremendous human being he is, and what a profound impact he’s had upon my life. Just clicked on my news feed to see that Christianity Today is reporting that Dallas Willard has died today. I’m totally heartbroken. Christianity Today posted a profile they did on Dallas just a few years back. It’s worth reading. Here’s an excerpt from an earlier blog post I wrote when I found out Willard was sick:

I owe Dallas Willard a tremendous debt. Willard was the first teacher who taught me about the gospel of sin management. He was the first one to show me the gaping hole in my gospel, and shared with me the gospel of the kingdom of God that runs rampant throughout the New Testament. He’s part of why I wrote the book An Evangelical Social Gospel? He taught me about the kingdom of God and opened my eyes to a robust new world of understanding. He’s had a massive impact on my generation of Christians, especially Christian leaders, myself included. His reflections on the Sermon on the Mount in The Divine Conspiracy are among the most meaningful things I’ve ever read.

More than anything, Willard taught me that a disciple is a student who sits at the feet of Jesus day in and day out. A disciple is someone who is with Jesus, learning to be like him, so that when we encounter the world around us, we do exactly what Jesus would do if he were in our shoes. That one fully formed concept would have been enough to be thankful to him forever. There’s much more, though.

I love the way he explains grace: “Grace is not opposed to effort, it is opposed to earning. Earning is an attitude. Effort is an action. Grace, you know, does not just have to do with forgiveness of sins.” I think of this often, especially when I’m faced with the hard road of obedience, or a shortcut that would hurt myself or others.

One more thing I love that he taught me. I use this over and over when talking about fidelity. In talking about marriage in the Divine Conspiracy, he talks about the allure of an affair – the fantasy. He says the problem is that most people don’t follow the fantasy all the way through. If you want to have a fantasy about having sex with the beautiful woman at work with whom you are infatuated, have the whole fantasy. Imagine yourself having this torrid affair, fine, but then imagine getting caught. Imagine the pain on your wife’s face. Imagine telling your kids. Imagine yourself moving your stuff out of the house while your kids sob. Then see if you are still in the mood. I love this because it works not just for fidelity in marriage but in anything. Follow all the way through. Consider our actions in the long-term not just the short-term. It can absolutely change the way we see the world we live in, and the part we all play.

There are tons of other things as well. What did Willard teach you? I’d love to see some folks share what you love about him, what you have learned.

Here’s a quick bio from Willard’s wiki page:

Dallas Albert Willard (September 4, 1935-May 8, 2013) was an American philosopher also known for his writings on Christian spiritual formation. His work in philosophy has been primarily in phenomenology, particularly the work of Edmund Husserl. He was Professor of Philosophy at The University of Southern California.[1] 

In addition to teaching and writing about philosophy, Willard gave lectures and wrote books about Christianity and Christian living. His book The Divine Conspiracy was Christianity Today’s Book of the Year for 1999.[4] Another of his books, Renovation of the Heart, won Christianity Today’s 2003 Book Award for books on Spirituality and The Association of Logos Bookstores’ 2003 Book Award for books on Christian Living.[5]

Willard believed passivity to be a widespread problem in the Church (loosely summed up in his phrase “Grace is not opposed to effort {which is action}, but to earning {which is attitude}”).[6][7] He emphasized the importance of deliberately choosing to be a disciple of Jesus Christ (someone being with Jesus, learning to be like Him).[8][9][10] An important outgrowth of the choice to be identified as a disciple of Jesus is the desire to learn about activities that aid spiritual transformation into the likeness of Christ.[11]

In this regard, being an apprentice of Jesus (someone being with Jesus, learning to be like Him), involves learning about activities that might help one grow in the fruit of the spirit, namely love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness, and self-control (Galatians 5:22-23).[12][13][14] Such activities might include spiritual exercises practiced throughout the ages such as prayer, fellowship, service, study, simplicity, chastity, solitude, fasting.[15][16] Willard explains the crucial role of engaging in spiritual exercises in his book The Spirit of the Disciplines: Understanding How God Changes Lives—a book that was written after In Search of Guidance: Developing a Conversational Relationship with God.

Willard has a recommended reading page on his website listing specific titles by Thomas a Kempis, William Law, Frank Laubach, William Wilberforce, Richard Baxter, Charles Finney, Jan Johnson, Dietrich Bonhoeffer, Jeremy Taylor, Richard Foster, E. Stanley Jones, William Penn, Brother Lawrence, Francis de Sales, and others.[17]

He was influenced by many, including Jacques MaritainAquinasAugustineP.T. ForsythJohn Calvin and John WesleyWilliam LawAndrew MurrayRichard BaxterTeresa of AvilaFrancis de SalesBrother Lawrence, and the Rule of St. Benedict.[citation needed]

He served on the boards of the C.S. Lewis Foundation and of Biola University.[18]

About Tim Suttle

Tim Suttle is a pastor, writer, and musician. He is the author of several books: Shrink: Faithful Ministry in a Church Growth Culture (Zondervan 2014), Public Jesus (The House Studio, 2012), and An Evangelical Social Gospel? (Cascade Books, 2011). Tim's work has been featured at The Huffington Post, The Washington Post, Sojourners, and other magazines and journals. Tim is also the founder and front-man of the popular Christian band Satellite Soul, with whom he toured for nearly a decade. He has planted three successful churches over the past 13 years and is the Senior Pastor of Redemption Church in Olathe, Kan. Tim's blog, Paperback Theology, is hosted at Patheos.


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