Personal Tribute to Dallas Willard (1935-2013)
By Alexander Venter, Ascension Day 2013
A great man of God – in the truest sense of the words – has passed into the kingdom of the heavens. After a protracted struggle with cancer Dallas Albert Willard entered the fullness of God’s presence yesterday, 8 May. He is now at home in the arms of the Father, Son and Spirit – and that of his extended family and friends, in the communion of saints. Our prayers are with his wife, Jane, and their children, John and Becky (and her husband Bill and child Karissa).
Like many others, I was honored to have Dallas as a most influential mentor and friend. I first met him through a colleague Trevor Hudson, at a pastor’s retreat in South Africa in 1987 (if I remember correctly Dallas came to South Africa on five ministry visits, leaving a rich legacy of spiritual formation in our nation). He taught on the “The Spirit of the Disciplines”, and then gave me a copy of his typed manuscript of the yet unpublished book. It was just before my marriage to Gill, so the manuscript became our reading on honeymoon – not as in appropriate as you may think! I mention this story to say that it was the new start of an intentional journey of spiritual formation toward Christlikeness – because we were so inspired by Dallas’ soft heart, gentle character, profoundly insightful mind, and diligent apprenticeship to Jesus.
Having Dallas stay in our home on some subsequent visits, and traveling to Cape Town with him on a ministry trip, was an absolute privilege. He was genuinely interested in my (and others) wellbeing. He listened deeply and loved truly. His sense of humor – understated yet witty and playful – was delightful. His capacity to talk about Jesus, scripture and shared-life in God’s Kingdom, was unending. More impressive was his humility and restraint, and his self-knowledge of his need for God’s intimate presence, seen in his regular withdrawal to his room for solitude. The sheer spiritual substance or “weight of glory” (as C.S. Lewis called it) that rested on Dallas spoke louder than all of his words.
He was generous and caring, always giving away the honorarium soon after it was given to him – at least on his trips to South Africa. He posted me a spiral bound copy of his A4 typed manuscript of “Divine Conspiracy” (a massive parcel). I hungrily ploughed my way through it – not that I understood it all – but I felt stuff shift deep inside me. After every couple of sentences I had to pause and think and pray. Without fail, Dallas’ writings leave me with a groaning for God’s increasing presence in my life, not to mention the unseen spiritual and mental formation that takes place. He also sent Renovation of the Heart and Knowing Christ Today as they became available – a faithful friend and mentor!
God has used a remarkable human being to leave an even more remarkable legacy of spiritual formation: the “with-God-life” of God’s Kingdom. Our best tribute to Dallas is to model and impart this kind of life (transformational apprenticeship to Jesus). The last two words he spoke before he went to heaven were so appropriate to his life and character, “thank you.” No, thank you, Dallas, and thank you, Father, for the gift of Dallas Willard.