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Wednesday, May 8, 2013

On Meeting Dallas Willard (1935-2013)

By Brian Nixon
Special to ASSIST News Service

ALBUQUERQUE, NEW MEXICO (ANS) -- The Christian church has lost one of its most articulate spokesman and thinkers. Dr. Dallas Willard, 77, received his award in the early hours of today (Thursday, May 8th, 2013), after a short battle with pancreatic cancer.

Dr. Dallas Willard

His death came as a surprise to many as it was only on May 6, 2013, that he revealed on his Twitter page that he was suffering from Stage 4 cancer.

Willard will be remembered for his many books (Spirit of the Disciplines, Renovation of the Heart, Divine Conspiracy, etc.), but also for his kind soul and penetrating mind. As department chair of philosophy at University of Southern California, Willard encouraged the pursuit of truth with a clear intellect and open heart.

A friend of mine, Christine Scheller, was able to interview Dallas for Christianity Today magazine in 2006. During a brief conversation with Christine after her interview, she told me that Dallas was an amazing human being, honest, spiritual, and very humble. Christine mentioned his deep love for his wife, Jane, and family. I was pleased to hear this; a man who lives what he teaches, I thought.

Cover of his book

Likewise, several of my professors at Biola University’s Apologetics Program (I was enrolled in the certificate course) were former students of Willard, including J.P Moreland. Concerning Willard’s influence on his life, J.P Moreland writes on his website, “The influence of Dallas Willard towers over everyone else. I was honored to have him as my dissertation supervisor at the University of Southern California and Hope and I have counted Dallas and his wife Jane as dear friends and mentors for twenty-five years. Dallas impacted me in his combination of a rigorous intellect with a vibrant walk with Jesus, his fresh, penetrating ideas about the kingdom and how to live in it, and by the reality of God that pours out of his life. I cannot overstate my debt to him.”

For my part, I met Dallas Willard once, at a conference in Costa Mesa, California. He was co-speaking alongside of Os Guinness, David Wells, and others for a God and Governing seminar sponsored by Trinity Law School. I remember walking up to Dallas in the lobby, thanking him for his work and Christian commitment. He simply looked at me, and with humble smile, said, “You’re welcome.” He then asked what I did. I mumbled something about being an educator. Again, he smiled. He then signed a copy of his book, Divine Conspiracy, for me.

Inscription by Dallas Willard to Brian Nixon

The inscription simple read: “For Brian—Isaiah 64:4. Dallas.”

For those not familiar with the passage, Isaiah 64:4 reads: “For since the beginning of the world men have not heard nor perceived by the ear; nor has the eye seen any God besides You, Who acts for the one who waits for Him.”

A beautiful text! And a memorable verse to ponder Dallas’ influence on the Church. Dallas listened for God to speak, he perceived God through his ears and intellect, waited for God to lead, and told the rest of us about his encounters.

May we learn to do the same!

Brian Nixon is a writer, musician, minister, and family man. You may contact him at

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