Dallas Willard died today, May 8, 2013. But his witness to the possibilities of transformation by faith in Jesus Christ continues through his writings and the countless lives he impacted for the glory of God.
Willard has been one of a handful of writers who have mentored and discipled me through their writing. I read The Divine Conspiracy at exactly the right time in my life. He reminded me that Jesus matters for the details of my life, for the way that I live. He reminded me that the best life is life in Christ. As he wrote in The Divine Conspiracy:
“God’s desire for us is that we should live in him. He sends among us the Way to himself. That shows what, in his heart of hearts, God is really like – indeed, what reality is really like. In its deepest nature and meaning our universe is a community of boundless and totally competent love.” (11)
Willard helped me avoid “bar code faith,” a faith that would impact where I went when I died, but not what I did in the meantime. And he pointed me to God’s desire in Christ not only to forgive me of my sins, but to transform and renew me in the image of the Son through the Holy Spirit.
Dallas Willard also played an important role in helping me begin to see discipleship as normative for the Christian life, not an option only for an elite few. I still remember the first time I read this passage from The Great Omission:
“For at least several decades the churches of the Western world have not made discipleship a condition of being a Christian. One is not required to be, or to intend to be, a disciple in order to become a Christian, and one may remain a Christian without any signs of progress toward or in discipleship. Contemporary American churches in particular do not require following Christ in his example, spirit, and teachings as a condition of membership – either of entering into or continuing in fellowship of a denomination or local church. I would be glad to learn of any exception to this claim, but it would only serve to highlight its general validity and make the general rule more glaring. So far as the visible Christian institutions of our day are concerned, discipleship clearly is optional.” (4)
Richard Foster, author of Celebration of Discipline, notes Willard’s impact on his faith journey and writing. James Bryan Smith does the same in his trilogy, The Good and Beautiful God: Falling in Love With the God Jesus Knows; The Good and Beautiful Life: Putting on the Character of Christ; and The Good and Beautiful Community: Following the Spirit, Extending Grace, Demonstrating Love.
I wish I had been able to meet Dallas Willard. I thank God for his life and his literary legacy, which points not to himself but to the possibilities of life with God the Father, Son, and Holy Spirit. Willard refused to settle for less than the fullness of what God has actually offered to us. I am grateful for his legacy. May his family and friends experience the comforting and sustaining presence of the Triune God in this time.
“It is a world that is inconceivably beautiful and good because of God and because God is always in it.” – Dallas Willard (1935-2013)