My heart is heavy. I just got the news that Dallas Willard died today at 5:55 am. He had been battling pancreatic cancer for a number of months. He was 77 years old. He was born on September 4, 1935 and died on May 8, 2013.
Dallas’ passing was peaceful and gentle. He told his family that although he wanted to stay with them and finish his work he was also longing to be home with Jesus and that he was experiencing moments when the veil was parting and revealing the glorious reality of the great cloud of witnesses.
Ten months ago I spent twelve days with Dallas in a monastery taking a Doctor of Ministry class from him, “Spirituality and Ministry.” I was blessed not only to be his student, but to have a number of meals and conversations with him at that time.
Then two months ago at his “Knowing Christ Today” conference Dallas smiled at me, “It’s good to see you Bill.” It was then that I hugged him for the last time.
Dallas Willard’s Legacy
Dallas Willard was a philosophy professor at USC for most of his life. At the same time, he was a tireless minster of Jesus’ gospel that the Kingdom of God is now open to anyone who will put their trust in him. He had an extensive ministry of teaching, writing, and providing informal spiritual direction to pastors and leaders. Many consider him the father of the Evangelical Christian movement toward spiritual formation in Christ.
Dallas is perhaps best known for his book Divine Conspiracy, which was Christianity Today’s Book of the Year in 1999. Many great Christian thinkers and leaders have worn the cover off of that groundbreaking book. No doubt his greatest legacy though will be the countless pastors and leaders he personally mentored alongside of Jesus. (See Christianity Today’s tribute of Dallas Willard.)
Dallas and his wife Jane have been dear personal friends and mentors to Kristi and I. Their caring, wisdom, and prayers have done so much to bring us closer to Jesus Christ and to release and empower us for greater ministry to pastors, pastors wives, ministry leaders, and all kinds of people. They are a main inspiration behind Soul Shepherding’s ministry of cultivating intimacy with Jesus for pastors. (The Soul Shepherding tag on Dallas Willard has posts featuring life lessons from Dallas.)
Last summer Dallas told Kristi and I, along with about twenty other pastors, that he was passing the baton to us. We wanted him to keep running his race for Jesus here on earth, but now his race continues in heaven — and the baton is in our hands.
The Kingdom of the Heavens
It means so much to me to know that Dallas is in my Great Cloud of Witnesses, that he passed the baton to me and is cheering me on (Hebrews 12:1). No one has done more to help me to follow Jesus Christ than Dallas Willard. I am “Jesus’ Apprentice” because of him. Right now I so wish I could talk to him again, to hold his hands and pray, to receive another word or affirmation of blessing from him, to thank him for all he’s meant to me.
I’ve spent many hours in personal conversation with Dallas. I can never forget his way of listening to me, asking me the key questions, encouraging me to do all that I do with and for Jesus Christ in God’s kingdom. I’ve spent thousands of hours listening to his teachings and reading his books, but what I’ll remember most is the hours that he listened to me with such grace. Each minute was and is precious.
Dallas lived and ministered from the Kingdom of the Heavens. Now he is all the way in! He’s probably just now figuring out that he “died!” His life was hidden with Christ in God (Colossians 3:3) and that’s where his love, joy, peace, identity, meaning, and power came from. That life of his spirit and soul is continuing in far greater glory than ever before! “You will never taste death,” Jesus promised his followers (John 8:52).
Dallas helped me to venture my life, moment-by-moment, on the life of the Spirit of the risen Christ around me and within me. He helped me learn to live in the Kingdom of the Heavens now.
The Best is Yet to Come from Dallas Willard
Dallas died with his book on “The Disappearance of Moral Knowledge” unfinished. He’d been working on this for years, which was Dallas’ way. He was never in a hurry! It was out of his own unhurried life with Jesus that he taught us to “Ruthlessly Eliminate Hurry.” God is using some of Dallas’ philosophy students and colleagues to finish this.
It is fitting that the man who showed us how to “Abandon Outcomes” to God would do so even in his death.
How do I say goodbye to the best man I’ve known? How do I let go of the person who has been most like Jesus to me?
In my grief I find comfort from these words of Charles Spurgeon, preached in a sermon over one hundred years ago:
Often the death of man is a kind of new birth to him; when he himself is gone physically, he spiritually survives, and from his grave there shoots up a tree of life whose leaves heal nations. O worker for God, death cannot touch your sacred mission! Be content to die because death may be to you the enlargement of your influence…
We shall come to our true stature and beauty and put on our royal robes, our glorious Sabbath-dress. (Bright Days, Dark Nights with Charles Spurgeon, p. 209.)
Dallas Willard, a dear soul friend to me, has put on his glorious Sabbath-dress.
O Father God, we are so sad to lose Dallas Willard. May Jane and all of the Willard family, along with the countless friends and students of Dallas’, sense the reality that underneath us are your everlasting arms of comfort.
Thank you Lord that we haven’t lost Dallas in spirit, that he is more alive than ever, embraced in your Trinity of Love, worshipping and serving you with a multitude of angels and saints, and cheering the rest of us on from the Great Cloud of Witnesses. Yes, we take heart from Dallas as we run our life’s race of faith, fixing our eyes on Jesus and seeking to advance your Kingdom of the Heavens. May we all run better races because of Dallas Willard. In Jesus’ name we pray. Amen.