In memory of Dallas Willard, who died today at the age of 77, I am posting some of my favorite Dallas themed posts. For more on his death and his legacy, see my Storify here.
This week, I am profiling people who have had the most influence on my Christian spiritual life. Today’s profile is of a thinker who made me fall in love with Jesus.
His Influence: As a young evangelical pastor, Dallas Willard was troubled by how much he had to “grind it out” to get visitors to the church and get them to come to salvation. He felt that much of his efforts were a form of manipulation and didn’t reflect what he thought he remembered from Jesus’ ministry. He began to study the Gospels more closely and discovered that people were incredibly drawn to Jesus. Willard began to ask himself, “What was it about Jesus that drew so much attention and what was it that made others want to be close to him and follow him?” Willard saw Jesus as gentle, relaxed, purposeful, unhurried, loving, compassionate, and understanding. Willard began to wonder if Jesus knew something about what made up the good life and how to live in the Kingdom of God? These questions led Willard to pursue graduate degrees in philosophy and he would eventually become an accomplished professor at the University of Southern California. For thoughtful Christians and pastors, he would be known as the author of books such as The Spirit of the Disciplines, Renovation of the Heart, and his master tome, The Divine Conspiracy.
What I have learned from Willard. Around ten years ago, God broke me down in order for him to become the center of my life and for me to no longer rely on my own strength. I began frantically looking for writers and preachers who could guide me into the next phase of my spiritual life. I wasn’t interested in superficial religiosity and greeting card theology. I needed something meaty and hearty that would demand something of me and challenge me to pursue Christ at all costs. I picked up The Divine Conspiracy and discovered the power of the Sermon on the Mount and that led to grand passages that I barely paid attention to in the past such as the 10 Commandments, Fruits of the Spirit, Colossians 3, and 1 Corinthians 13. But most of all, Willard taught me about the nature of Jesus and what it means to follow him. The concept of the Kingdom of God was foreign to me before but Willard showed me that this was Jesus’ major theme in all of his preaching and teaching. From Renovation of the Heart, I learned what makes up the human spiritual self and how each part can be changed into Christlikeness. Willard, for all of his intellect and philosophical skill, is also very practical and is very thoughtful in finding ways to phrase things in a way that anyone can understand and remember it. Thus, I can quote Dallas Willard in my sleep: love – to will the good of another, peace – the absence of will, faith – confidence based on reality, hope – anticipation of good not yet seen, discipleship – learning to live the kind of life that Jesus would live if he were I.
If I had not discovered Willard, my spiritual life would have been earnest but lacking intention and focus. I would not have discovered my mission in life, which is to become more like Christ in order to spread the work of his kingdom. I would not have started these ministry efforts to help ordinary Christians find growth in their spiritual life. I am eternally indebted to Willard and his writings.
What Dallas Willard can teach you: “The greatest issue facing the world today, with all its heartbreaking needs, is whether those who, by profession or culture, are identified as ‘Christians’ will become disciples – students, apprentices, practitioners – of Jesus Christ, steadily learning from him how to live the life of the Kingdom of the Heavens into every corner of human existence.”
Willard recommendations: If you want to experience Dallas Willard for yourself, check out these recommendations.
The Divine Conspiracy – This book will set the foundation for the need for discipleship and how life with Jesus is the only way to live.
Renovation of the Heart – Once you have the foundation, you will need a guide to become more Christlike. This book shows how each part of ourselves can be transformed into Christlikeness.