Dallas Willard has succumbed to cancer at age 77.
I first met Dallas Willard in 2001. I was organizing the first ever Emergent Village Theological Conversation. I had scheduled Nancey Murphy and her husband, Jim McClendon, to be in conversation with us — both of them had been professors of mine at Fuller Seminary. But Jim died in late 2000, putting the whole event up in the air. Nancey decided to keep her commitment, and we were her first public event after Jim’s death.
Dallas agreed to join us as well, in Jim’s stead, even though he and Nancey agreed on virtually nothing. And it was magical. Dallas was kind and generous. He and Nancey talked and laughed and cajoled one another. At one point — and everyone who was there will remember this — he was telling us about his childhood Christianity. He stood up and broke into the cadence of a Southern preacher, spun around, and mimed skipping sinners across the lake of fire. To see such an accomplished philosopher do such a thing was, frankly, breathtaking.
I also remember this: Dallas needed someone to move his car, so I got his keys and went to move it. He drove a humble car — a sedan of some kind. And when I started it up, a tape started playing in the tapedeck. It was the Bible on tape. Then I noticed that strewn across the passenger seat were all the books of the Bible on tape. Again, I was astonished: one of the most accomplished Christian authors of our time was listening to the Bible on tape. (To this day, I keep a small iPod with the audio Bible on it because of his example.)
I saw Dallas at several other conferences and events over the years after that. But my last encounter with him was just as memorable as my first: