Thursday, May 16, 2013
Last week, Trinity Forum Senior Fellow Dallas Willard died, just a couple of days after publicly confirming a stage 4 cancer diagnosis. He was 77, and leaves behind his wife of many years, Jane, two children, a grandchild, and legions of friends, students, colleagues, and readers who will forever be grateful for the life, example, thought, and work of this extraordinary and humble man.
Dallas served as a professor of philosophy at the University of Southern California (USC) for the past 40 years, as well as a Senior Fellow of the Trinity Forum for the past decade. He was a best-selling and prolific author, an ordained minister, an extraordinary thinker, and a gifted translator of philosophy and theology to the curious and thoughtful layman.
But he may be best known for the manner in which he helped so many better know God. He was a passionate advocate for intentional spiritual formation and discipleship, and focused much of his thought and writing on helping the faithful realize “the kingdom of God” – or what he called “the with-God life.”
Dallas also sought to deepen (and as appropriate, correct) the public understanding of knowledge itself. His philosophical publications were concentrated in the areas of epistemology, and the philosophy of mind and logic, and he applied his scholarly insights to the assumptions and fashions of thought of our time. Against the widespread cultural presumption that the scientific or empirical is the only reliable, verifiable form of knowledge, Willard asserted that moral and spiritual knowledge is reliable, based in reality, and necessary for living wisely and well. In an interview with Christianity Today, he asserted that “The idea that knowledge – and of course reality – is limited to [the world of the natural sciences] is the single most destructive idea on the stage of life today.” One of his last works, Knowing Christ Today, explicitly takes on that destructive idea, and makes the case that moral knowledge is discoverable, reliable, and a proper foundation for discerning reality and responding appropriately.
Even more powerful than his writing was his example. It was hard to be in Dallas’s presence and not be almost instantly aware of a difference in him – he was staggeringly productive, but resolutely unhurried; clear and critical in his analysis, yet unfailingly kind, and unmistakably wise. There was a sense of the numinous about him. J.P. Moreland, in a recent tribute, put it beautifully: “Dallas lived and practiced what he wrote, and there was a Presence in, around, and through his presence.”
We mourn his passing, but celebrate his remarkable life, and the new life he now enjoys, forever beyond the reach of disease and death. Below are just a few of his works we highly recommend, as well as a couple of downloadable podcasts of Dallas’s remarks at recent Trinity Forum events, and other resources. We commend to our readers these works of an extraordinary man, who loved and walked with God, lived joyfully and justly, and finished well.