Introductory Note:

On Thursdays at Renovaré we like to share some news, highlight an initiative, or point you toward a creative work we think you might find interesting. Today, we get to do all three!

Elane O’Rourke is (among many other things) a pastor, spiritual director, writer, and a graduate of the Renovaré Institute.

Every student at the Renovaré Institute completes a project as part of the program. The only assignment parameter is that the project must enable the student to share what he or she has learned about Christian spiritual formation with at least 100 people. Each project is as unique as its creator, and incorporates the student’s gifts, calling, and sphere of influence.

(You may recall that we recently shared, as the first installment in this Renovaré Institute “Show and Tell” series, a video series on the six streams created by RI graduate Joe Davis.)

For her program project, Elane chose to compile A Dallas Willard Dictionary to help readers of Dallas Willard’s books understand his more complex concepts. Each entry provides an introduction, a concise definition, and supporting references from Willard’s books and essays. Just last month, a new revised and expanded edition of this book was released.

We’re so glad that has Elane agreed to sit down with us and share a little about her project and the new edition.

Renovaré Team

Renovaré: Hi, Elane! Thank you for taking some time today to tell us a bit more about your book A Dallas Willard Dictionary and the new edition that has recently been published. 

First of all, can you tell us about your history with Dallas Willard and his works? 

Elane: My first interaction with Dallas wasn’t one. I was in the Ph.D. program at U.S.C., where Dallas taught. As a grad student, all my time was spent in classes I had to take or sessions I had to teach, or discussing ideas with other grad students (in the basement) that were so utterly abstracted from actual life that they might have well been about the nesting habits of the lion-maned unicorn. Dallas taught in a different wing of the department, physically and intellectually. He did the weird” stuff. Had I known him then I might have finished that Ph.D.

I rediscovered Dallas a couple of decades later, through Richard Foster’s Celebration of Discipline and Renovaré. I read The Spirit of the Disciplines and was hooked. I found a way into the Fuller D.Min. course with him (I think it was the begging that did the trick), and then into the Renovaré Institute.

R: You are, among many other things, a graduate of the Renovaré Institute for Christian Spiritual Formation. What drew you to the RI

E: Dallas, first off. The two weeks with him at Fuller had taught me that I wasn’t alone in my views of God. I wanted more. 

More than that, though, I felt the Spirit calling me into community – into deep discipleship with others who wanted deep discipleship. My seminary hadn’t been much into prayer or discipleship, and while I was teaching it in my own churches, I was starved for compatriots.

R: So, A Dallas Willard Dictionary was originally done as a Renovaré Institute project. Can you tell me a bit about how you decided on this project and what it entailed? 

E: In the first break of the first session of the Institute, students gathered in little clusters to discuss what they’d been getting. These little clusters seemed to have one question each: What did Dallas mean by _______?” Words — technical terms used precisely — were getting in the way of the glorious beauty of the kingdom Dallas was describing. At some point during the Institute I told Dallas he needed to write a dictionary for all the non-philosophers and non-theologians who read his books. He said, You do it.” So I did.

I started by going page by page through all his books and articles, entering into a database any time he used a term in a technical way, the sentence context, and whether he was using a term or defining it. After that it was a project of gathering, sorting, collating, and explaining in laypersons’ terms.

R: For whom is this book intended? Is it more academic in scope, or is it set-up to be accessible to everyone? 

E: My goal was and is to invite people into the divine dance of the Trinity, and life in the present kingdom of God. A Dallas Willard Dictionary is designed to help people who don’t have a similar academic background to Dallas’s (or mine, for that matter). It’s intended to be a companion volume, though I understand that some people use it as a devotional. Such an honor.

R: Tell us a bit about the expanded version that just came out. 

E: After Dallas died, a number of books and collections were released, such as The Allure of Gentleness and Living In Christ’s Presence. These added both terms and nuance to Dallas’s prior works. In addition, during the intervening time I’d received some excellent critique from my dissertation team, Bill Gaultiere and J.P. Moreland. The second edition is restructured, contains a couple of rewrites that address the critiques (I hope!), adds new terms, and greatly expands the number and variety of references to include the newer texts.

R: Anything else you’d like to share? 

E: My sole goal is to cheer people on as they discover Dallas’s work, illuminating where I can. Every time someone tells me they find the Dictionary useful, I thank the Holy Spirit for her discernment and persistence. I pray that Dallas’s readers get even more of the rich texture and glorious hope present in Dallas’s books than I. If my little book, or my encouragement, help readers persist and ask questions, that is a win for the kingdom of God.

R: Thanks so much, Elane!

You can purchase A Dallas Willard Dictionary, Second Edition, on Amazon or through my website ( For a limited time I’m offering a discount to those who share their email with me and purchase from my website.