Dallas Willard, The Provocative Thinker of Our Time

Dallas Willard, The Provocative Thinker of Our Time

By Paul Keating

     The idea of Jesus as a "thinker" is almost a laughable expression to many in our post-Christian culture. Even more so, Jesus "The Logician" is an absurdity, but that is just what the famous devotional author Dallas Willard contended.1

     Willard is known for his many best-selling books including The Divine ConspiracyHearing God, and The Great Omission which are considered as some of the greatest modern works on discipleship and spiritual formation. However, many are unaware of his impressive career as a professor of philosophy at the University of Southern California for 47 years. He is regarded by many of his colleagues as one of the "most popular, versatile, and dedicated teachers the school of philosophy has even known."Willard was considered a pillar of the undergraduate program who modeled the icon for what Christian scholarship should resemble around the world. This background in philosophy served as the foundation of his devotional writings throughout his life.

     His remarkable career began as a young Baptist assistant pastor in the 1960's. As Willard served his church, he became convinced that he was "abysmally ignorant" of God and the should. It was during this period of his life that he felt God telling him, "If you stay in the churches, the university will be closed to you; but if you stay in the university, the churches will be open to you."He decided to study philosophy because he believed that Jesus' teachings and philosophers' teachings were addressing the same questions.

     From his earliest collegial studies, Willard demonstrated a provocative mind. He remembers shocking his colleagues by saying "If you could find a better way, Jesus would be the first one to tell you to take it. And if you don't believe that about Him, you don't have faith in Him, because what you're really saying is that He would encourage you to believe something that is false." This type of provocative thought is what he strived to instill in others throughout his career as an author and Christian thinker. He challenged Christians to use their minds as part of their spiritual formation and to ask the important questions that ultimately matter.

     Dallas Willard passed away on May 8th, 2013 to cancer, survived by his wife Jane, his two children John and Becky, and granddaughter Larissa. His legacy lives on through the countless lives of those who interacted with him, read his works, and sat under his teaching.


Willard, Dallas. The Great Omission: Rediscovering Jesus's Essential Teachings On Discipleship. Pymble, NSW: HarperCollins e-books, 2006.

2 Bell, Susan. “In Memoriam: Dallas Willard, 77.” USC Donsife. May 10, 2013. https://dornsife. usc.edu/news/stories/1401/in-memoriam-dallas-willard-77/ (accessed March 2, 2017).

3 Scheller, Christine. “'Divine Conspirator' Dallas Willard Dies at 77: Dallas Willard was on a quiet quest to subvert nominal Christianity.” Christianity Today. May 8, 2013. 
http://www.christianitytoday.com/ct/2006/september/27.45.html?order=&start=1 (accessed March 2, 2017).