Becoming Dallas Willard: A Book Review

biographies book dallas willard spiritual formation Mar 27, 2018

Over the last couple of weeks, I’ve been reading and loving a new biography written by my friend, Gary Moon, of the Dallas Willard Center at Westmont College. The title is Becoming Dallas Willard: The Formation of a Philosopher, Teacher, and Christ Follower. What a well-written, enjoyable-to-read book!

It was a gift to reflect on so many intersections and near-path-crossings with Dallas over the years. For example, when Gem and I married in 1985 and moved one month later to Southern California, we joined the staff of a church where Dallas had been an early Sunday adult class teacher (then Faith Evangelical Church, now The Church at Rocky Peak).

That church was only three miles away by back canyon road from the Willard home in Chatsworth. In Becoming Dallas Willard, Gary references at least four messages Dallas taught at that church.

I remember reading The Spirit of the Disciplines when it came out in 1988. Those were years when “unhurried” was not in my vocabulary, nor anywhere near my lifestyle. Looking back at my copy (faithfully marked up in red pen), I see many of the ideas Dallas offered in that book that would soon become key insights in my own formation        .

I was never in Dallas’s inner circle like other friends of mine: Todd Hunter (who is bishop now under whom I am an Anglican priest in the Diocese of Churches for the Sake of Others) and James Bryan Smith (of The Apprentice Institute), to name two.

Perhaps the main reason I never reached out to Dallas directly was that God provided a Dallas-like mentor to me in 1990 in Chuck Miller (Barnabas, Inc.). For nearly thirty years, Chuck mentored me in Christ-like life and leadership.

But, I remember when I was on staff with The Leadership Institute, we invited Dallas to come speak to our first four generations of The Journey in May 1998. I still have those recordings. What a gift to hear Dallas talk then about “Abiding,” “The Spiritual Disciplines,” “Living Godly in a Postmodern Age” and “Developing Models for the Church.”

On that retreat, I sat with Dallas and Chuck as they talked about a book Chuck had waited at least 20 years to write and which would capture his insights on Christian life and leadership over those years. Dallas, who was then the editor of a spiritual formation series hosted by NavPress, invited Chuck to write it for that series. (Renovation of the Heart was the flagship title in that NavPress Spiritual Formation Book series).

I remember how encouraging and gracious Dallas was in that conversation. Unfortunately, two car accidents spaced a year apart would delay the completion of Chuck’s book by nearly 10 years (The Spiritual Formation of Leaders) and so he self-published.

There would be a number of continuing “path crossings” at college chapels, church services, banquets and, finally, at Dallas’s last major public ministry engagement at Westmont College at the “Knowing Christ Today” conference.

I could tell Dallas was physically drained that weekend from his ongoing battle with cancer, but his spirit was perhaps brighter and more potent than I’d ever witnessed. The rich insights of that conference were captured later in Living in Christ’s Presence (IVP).

I still remember receiving a message from Jan Johnson, one of Dallas’ good friends, on the morning of May 8, 2013 when he “entered into the joy of his Master” (as the service folder from the family memorial said it).

I remember Gem and I standing with family and friends at the graveside in Chatsworth as we were saying our farewells. As each of us walked by to drop a single rose on the casket, I remember thinking and praying, “Lord, would you help me live a life like Dallas lived?”

Dallas’s writing and speaking over the years was a source of wisdom, guidance and encouragement in the way of kingdom life in Jesus that I was seeking to cultivate for myself, my family and the communities I shepherded along the way. Becoming Dallas Willard has provided me some wonderful context and history to help me understand and appreciate even more Dallas’s teachings over the years.

I urge you to take a moment to purchase a copy for yourself. I can already tell that this is going to be one of the most important (and enjoyable) books I read in 2018.

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