Over the last few weeks, I semi-simultaneously read three books that create a biographical sketch of Dallas Willard’s life. The resounding themes of all three, packed with testimony of influenced lives, is Dallas’s radiant life and radiant death. This book review describes Gary Moon’s Eternal living: Reflections on Dallas Willard’s teaching on Faith & Formation.
Moon’s Introduction to Eternal Living is an excellent concise biography of Dallas Willard without significantly overlapping the testimonies of the other nineteen contributors to the book. Moon’s Eternal living is arranged in three sections that correspond to three memorial ceremonies held after Dallas’s death. The sections combined share twenty personal testimonies from people whose lives were deeply and positively influenced by the life and work of Dallas Willard. The first memorial was with his family and close friends, the second was within the academic community where he was an imminent professor of philosophy, the third was to the world as a Christian author, mentor, and reformer of the global Church. I cried through many of the testimonies. Just typing that last sentence brought tears to my eyes.
Dallas Willard was born September 4, 1935, in depression-era Missouri. He attended William Jewell College, Tennessee Temple College, Baylor University, and University of Wisconsin–Madison. Dallas was an American philosopher who was probably best known for his teaching and books on Christian spiritual formation. Willard’s doctoral dissertation focuses (as would his career in Philosophy) on phenomenology, particularly the work of Edmund Husserl. Willard translated much of Husserl’s works into English. Dallas was a Professor of Philosophy at the University of Southern California in Los Angeles from 1965 until his death on May 8, 2013.
I was deeply touched by Chapter 2 which included contributions by Jane Willard (Dallas’s wife), Becky and Larissa Heatley (Dallas’s daughter and granddaughter), and John Willard (Dallas’s son). My heart went out to them. Many of the non-family contributors gave stunning praise for Willard’s character; such as Keith Matthews who wrote that “Dallas’s vocational life as a philosopher and his life of faith as a disciple of Jesus and a minister of the gospel flowed from the same source. Underlying virtue and integrity informed both his professional and person life, and the embodied result was a kind and gentle man, brilliant in thought and generous in relationship with God and others. In other words, he was a walking example of a virtuous man. And the beauty of this radiated to everyone who knew him” (p. 71).
My Most Underlined chapter portions go to Keith Matthews (The Beauty of a Virtuous Man), J. P. Moreland (Reflections on a Day with My Professor and Friend), and Alan Fadling (Developing Pastors and Churches of the Kingdom). However, these three contributors (and a few others) bumped my Scholar Cap rating to three caps for philosophical and theological technical language.
Brandon Paradise commented that “Dallas, by both the way he lived his life and the content of his teaching, imparted to me that a life dedicated to intentional spiritual formation into the character of Christ enables Christ’s followers to bring the kingdom into any place they go… [and that] …salvation is a lifelong process of increasing participation through spiritual formation in the divine life of the Trinity.”
J. P. Moreland, in describing Willards significant contribution to the arena of philosophy, outside of the church, noted Willard’s quip that “reality is what you bump into when your beliefs are false.”
Keith Matthews wrote that “Dallas convinced me that the gospel was not just about getting people forgiven and bound for heaven, but ‘an invitation to a life in Jesus, where I am learning from him how to live my life as he would live my life, if he were in my shoes.’ …and “discipleship is the basic entrance into faith, not an advanced option, and that a profoundly transformed life is available now in this life, not just the next… …[and] that spiritual disciplines are a means of grace and growth, placing me in God’s presence whereby I can be changed into his likeness; they are not meritorious actions that soon turn to legalism.”
Because Eternal Living is a collection of reflections from Moon’s research for writing the biography, Becoming Dallas Willard, it would not be reasonable to critique Eternal Living in comparison to biographies. Rather, I will simply say that the book is a wealth of information about Willard, his life, his relationships, and both his philosophical and theological thought life. It is an excellent companion to Moon’s Becoming Dallas Willard, or Black’s The Theology of Dallas Willard, or both.
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Eternal living: Reflections on Dallas Willard’s teaching on Faith & Formation, by Gary W. Moon, IVP Books, an imprint of InterVarsity Press, 2015. $11.24.
Tim Morris is the Director of Ecclesiolae Ministries Foundation, cofounded with Julie Morris. Ecclesiolae seeks to support Christians in their Spiritual Formation, Strengthening Ministry Marriages, and expanding the growth of MicroChurches within MegaChurches. Tim earned a BS in Business Management and completes an MA in Theology, from Wesley Biblical Seminary in the Spring of 2024.
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