Early May 2013, I found out that Dallas Willard had died. My wife read an announcement of his death on social media as we rode together in a car. We both shed tears.
This surprised me. I had never mourned a public figure. I never met Dr. Willard, but heard him speak on three occasions: in 2006 at Church of the Resurrection in Leawood, Kansas, in 2009 at the Renovare Conference in San Antonio, and in 2011 at the Apprentice Conference in Wichita.
But I had read his books. One beautiful benefit of the written word is the opportunity to commune with other minds. Through his writings, Dr. Willard had deeply impacted my thinking.
At his death, in a very full sense I felt grief rooted in hope. Dr. Willard was in Christ. I am quite confident he still is.
Since Dr. Willard’s death, his fellow kingdom workers and scholarly colleagues have prepared his last manuscripts for publication. I have continued to seek the treasures, old and new, God so graciously brought forth in him.
It was only a matter of time before a work like Eternal Living: Reflections on Dallas Willard's Teaching on Faith and Formation would be produced. The book is a collection of essays written by many who knew Dr. Willard best. It is structured on three pillars of Willard’s life and work: the personal and familial, the scholarly and academic, and the pastoral and ecclesiological.
Many of the contributors are familiar: Richard Foster, J. P. Moreland, Gary Black, Todd Hunter, James Catford, John Ortberg, and others. Contributions by family members Jane Willard, Becky Heatley, Larissa Heatley, and John Willard add authenticity and insight. Willard was a human being, possessing faults. But he was good, thanks to the sanctifying work of God. Gary Moon, director of the Martin Family Institute and Dallas Willard Center for Spiritual Formation at Westmont College, served as editor for this collection.
The essays range from anecdotal to analytical, possessing something for every reader. For anyone seeking to grow in any field of endeavor, it is important to identify models for living, and to follow them. Dr. Willard taught valuable lessons as a friend and family member, as a scholar, and as a disciple of Jesus Christ.
One of my favorite passages in this book is from an essay by James Bryan Smith of Friends University. Dr. Smith cites numerous questions he asked Dallas through the years, one of which was, “So Dallas, which do you think is right, Arminianism or Calvinism?”
I have wondered this myself, both who is right, and what Dr. Willard might think.
Smith recalls Willard saying “Neither.” Willard then “went on to say that both were right, and both were wrong, and he did not fit into either camp.”
In each reflection, we are reminded that Dr. Willard understood that in order to thrive as a friend, family member, scholar, or disciple, Jesus is of utmost importance. We are disciples first. The question is, "Of whom?" Willard feared “Willard-ites.” Rightly so. His best students will learn to look beyond Willard to the one who summoned him forth as a witness.
Reformers are often memorialized, and their time is heralded as the coming of the kingdom. We build statues and tell stories of their past victories, often as an excuse to avoid the task before us. Eternal Living could be regarded as a monument, or a charge.
I choose the latter.
As a student of Dr. Willard, I hope to continue his legacy, not by celebrating Willard, but the God who gifted us with such a life. The church is in continued need of reformation. There remains among us a hunger for knowledge of God.
May God rise up for us more teachers like Dallas Willard, who will immerse us in the Trinitarian reality of God and the everlasting kingdom, disciple us in the good news of Jesus, and help us to know eternal life, both now and forever.
Note: Thank you to InterVarsity Press, who mailed me a copy of Eternal Living.