Dallas Willard died on May 8. Or I should say, quoting Pascal, what he once believed, he now sees. Perhaps no other figure in the past 50 years has caused so many North American evangelicals to think so deeply about what it means to follow Christ, not only in the sense of believing his teachings, but also imitating his practices. Along with his protégés/colleagues Richard Foster and Eugene Peterson, Willard was tremendously generative toward the burgeoning renaissance of intentional spiritual formation by disciples of Jesus.
A philosopher who taught at the University of Southern California for over half a century, he said the four great questions humans must answer are:
1. What is reality?
2. What is the good life?
3. Who is a good person?
4. How do you become a good person?
His concern was to answer those questions, live the answers and show others how to do so. Willard was certain that no one has ever answered those questions as well as Jesus.
In his teaching, speaking and writing, Willard led the trending surge about discipleship. He would ask leaders and congregations, “What’s your plan for discipleship? And how’s that plan working?” When it was often clear that there was no intentional plan, he would teach some main disciplines for the spiritual life. These included disciplines of abstinence (such as solitude, silence, secrecy, frugality and fasting) that released us from the entanglements of the world’s claims on us. And having cleared the lot, we could then build the house through disciplines of engagement such as study, service and submission.
These practices led us to follow Jesus “on earth as it is in heaven.” “The gospel,” he would say, “is not about going to heaven when you die; it is about going to heaven now.”
His deep joy and humility impacted the way evangelicals think and live. His teaching and embodying of the way of Jesus changed my life irrevocably.
So I salute Dallas Willard and the trend toward discipleship and spiritual formation that he fueled, remembering him with his best quote: “The aim of God in history is the creation of an all-inclusive community of loving persons, with himself at the center of that community as its divine sustainer and most glorious inhabitant.”
Thank you, God, for your servant, Dallas Willard.