I first read his name when following up a comment by John Ortberg, then teaching pastor of Willow Creek Community Church, Chicago. I was in the car park of Eastleigh Leisure Centre and was listening to a tape (yes it was 1995) of a talk John Ortberg gave on ministry.
He declared that we must ‘call people to live the life we are living’.
The words hit me. I could call people to the Christian life I believed in, but not the one I was actually living. Did I want others to have the over-worked and stressed life I was enduring?
A little research and I discovered that much of John Ortberg’s thinking in this area came from a writer called Dallas Willard. I didn’t know many called ‘Dallas’ and I was to discover that I knew of no one who had grasped the faith as well as him. A one-time Baptist pastor, he went on to be Professor of Philosophy at the University of Southern California. I have read pretty well everything he has written on the Christian faith, and many times over. He has been described as the CS Lewis of modern days. I have scoffed when heard others so described. But I believe his work surpasses that of CSL.
The editor of Christianity magazine, Ruth Dickinson, enjoyed his work and suggested that we run a profile based on a Leadership File recording back in 2011, when Dallas was over helping promote his latest book Personal Religion Public Reality?. I was delighted that she wanted more to fill out the interview and so was able to interview him over the phone from his home in Los Angeles. Little did I know that this would be our last conversation. Dallas went to be with Christ in May this year. Thankfully we were able to iron out a few recording gremlins and offer the show for broadcast in August.
The focus, as so much of Dallas’ work, is the kingdom of God. As a young Baptist pastor he pondered the question of why he was spending so much time trying to get people to hear him, and yet Jesus spent so much of his time trying to get away from people! His reading of the Gospels suggested that it was because Jesus ravishes people with the kingdom of God - what Dallas calls, ‘the range of God’s effective will: where what God wants done, is done’. He believed we can know God acting in our lives to accomplish His purposes. Indeed, ‘a disciple is someone who is learning from Jesus how to live in the kingdom of God as he would live their life if he were they.’
If you have any opportunity to speak for Jesus, maybe speaking on the kingdom would be a good place to start. Why not check out Dallas’ recording and be refreshed and inspired?