May 09, 2013
Dallas Willard, R.I.P.
Dallas Willard died Wednesday at age 77. He was a USC philosophy professor and an important evangelical author whose writings on spiritual formation and spiritual disciplines helped greatly increase evangelicals' attention to those features of Christian faith and thought. Christianity Today has full coverage. Among his many, many works and activities on spirituality, moral reasoning, and philosophy, Dallas gave counsel to the group of evangelical and Catholic law profs (several from this blog) who are engaged in a project "Evangelicals and Catholics Together on Law." MOJ-friend Bob Cochran of Pepperdine Law School sends these reflections on Dallas's life and death:
Dallas was a friend, mentor, and co-author. He and I will publish an article on "Jesus and the Civil Law" in the forthcoming book, "Law and the Bible: Justice, Mercy, and Legal Institutions" (InterVarsity Press). My mind has been very much on Dallas in recent weeks. His daughter Becky has been sending me (and others) updates.
I met Dallas about 15 years ago, after having read some of his books. He was giving a series of lectures at Pepperdine. We went for a walk between lectures and he gave me some very helpful advice on a book "Christian Perspectives on Legal Thought," that was in the works. One of the things that Pepperdine made the speakers in this particular series do was to tell their lives' stories. Some speakers resisted. Dallas, coming from a Southern Baptist background, was used to giving testimonies. The most striking detail of his story was the following: Dallas came from a farming family. Though he did quite well in high school, and had a special love for philosophy, his father thought that the best way for a person to grow up was to work for a time as a migrant worker. Dallas traveled throughout the South as a migrant agricultural worker. At night, he slept in the open air, but would stay up late reading Plato by candle light. What a picture.
On several occasions, I described a program to Dallas that we were having at Pepperdine. He always wanted to come. He was quite interested in Christian faith being manifested in the law and the life of lawyers. His reasoning was something like this: We all have our own kingdoms-the areas of life over which we have influence. We pray "Thy Kingdom come; thy will be done." His Kingdom comes, in part, as Christians take their kingdoms and seek to conform them to God's will. They should ask, what would Jesus do if he were me-a corporate lawyer, a law professor, or a migrant worker? Dallas was always interested in how we were working these things out at Pepperdine. I think he always agreed to come to my programs. My next question was always, "Would you comment on what is said?" He always said he wanted to come anyway; it was not necessary that he comment, but he would be glad to do anything he could to help. I always said that having him comment would help. (Dallas's daughter Becky always got mad at Dallas and me because she was supposed to control his calendar.) Dallas approached every topic from a fresh angle. Over the years, he came, listened, and commented on: Steve Smith's assessment of whether there is a higher law, Ellen Pryor's thoughts on being a Catholic and a lawyer (and whether Luther was more realistic), the relationship between evangelical and Catholic views of law (thereby influencing the soon-to-be-released "ECT on Law"); and what the Bible (Jesus in particular) might say about the civil law.
I saw Becky in church on Sunday. They knew the end was near. Just seeing her and her family moved me to tears, as we sang songs of God's faithfulness. I once heard Dallas say that Christians should take a somewhat cavalier attitude toward death. I asked Bill (Dallas's son in law) about that on Sunday. He said that Dallas's practice was as good as his theory. I got an email this morning from Becky. She said: "His passing was quiet and gentle. We know that he was willing to stay and continue his work, but his longing was to be home with Jesus. In the day before his passing, he shared part of what he was experiencing: The veil was parting and revealing the glorious reality of the great cloud of witnesses." (She is not given to overstatement.) If I were a better person, I would be glad that he is now among them. For now, what I know is that I will miss him and I am thankful that God made such a person.
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