A few minutes ago I learned that Dallas Willard, philosopher, teacher, writer – but mostly deeply devoted follower of Jesus – died today, just a few days after he was diagnosed with stage 4 cancer. It is a sad/joyous day for the hundreds of thousands, perhaps millions, of people (including me )whose lives were changed by his words and example.
Those of you who have been following my blog know that God has gifted me with the opportunity to meet some of the most important people of the Spiritual Formation world totally because I was in the right place at the right time. (see the postings in the category My Journey). Because of that, I am blessed to have two vivid personal memories of Dallas Willard.
The first was at a conference at Calvin College in Grand Rapids, Michigan. My colleague and I, Bill Boersma, eager readers of everything Dallas had written, arrived at the meeting room early. We looked around the nearly empty auditorium and there was Mr. Willard himself having a cup of coffee and a bagel. Thank goodness Bill was with me! I never would have dared, at that point in my life, to try to meet him. But Bill marched right up to him, shook his hand and introduced us both. Dallas was warm and welcoming so we chatted for several minutes, mostly trying to learn how to bring the remarkable things we had learned from him to a large congregation like Christ Memorial. I don’t remember much of what he said, other than “don’t give up” which in the end was the most important thing he could have said; I was too busy thinking, “I can’t believe I am talking Dallas Willard!”
The second memory took place in San Antonio, Texas, in 2009 at an international Renovare conference. Dallas Willard had already spoken along with Richard Foster, John Ortberg, Eugene Peterson, James Bryan Smith and Chris Webb. After the speeches, all of these amazing heroes of spiritual formation sat on the stage as a panel and that auditorium rocked with “holy laughter” (as Richard Foster describes it) as these icons made hilarious jokes about each other before getting down to the business of discussing “the Jesus Way.” I remember thinking as I took all this in that this might be the last time all these men were together on the same stage. Sadly, today that prediction came true. Dallas is gone.
I will leave it to others to summarize Dallas’ many and lasting contributions to the under- standing of what it means to be a disciple of Jesus and to live in the Kingdom of God. If you haven’t already read Divine Conspiracy or Spirit of the Disciplines, The Great Omission, or Hearing God, I hope you do. Let me just close with words from his friend Bill Heatley who sat by his bedside during Dallas Willard’s last hours yesterday:
“I’m sitting in the hospital room, watching over my dear friend, Dallas, reading and posting from The Divine Conspiracy on his FB and Twitter accounts and amazed by his words and his life. . . . a thousand generations will be blessed because of his love of God and his eternal life in Christ. I’m in the “splash zone” of everyone who is praying for him. It’s hard to describe but the kingdom is aglow all around me.”
What more could anyone want in their last moments than to die surrounded by friends with the kingdom aglow all around them. I can’t think of anything. Can you?
- Dallas Willard dead at 77 (standupforthetruth.com)
- Dallas Willard, a Man of Deep Love and Christ-like Character (thehighcalling.org)