Becoming Dallas Willard

The Formation of a Philosopher, Teacher, and Christ Follower

by Gary Moon

Dal­las Willard was a per­son­al men­tor and inspi­ra­tion to hun­dreds of pas­tors, philoso­phers, and aver­age church­go­ers. His pres­ence and ideas rip­pled through the lives of many promi­nent lead­ers and authors, such as John Ort­berg, Richard Fos­ter, James Bryan Smith, Paula Hus­ton, and J. P. More­land. As a result of these rela­tion­ships and the books he wrote, he fun­da­men­tal­ly altered the way tens of thou­sands of Chris­tians have under­stood and expe­ri­enced the spir­i­tu­al life.

Whether great or small, every­one who met Dal­las was impressed by his per­son­al atten­tion, his calm con­fi­dence, his wis­dom, and his pro­found sense of the spir­i­tu­al. But he was not always the man who lived on a dif­fer­ent plane of real­i­ty than so many of the rest of us. He was some­one who had to learn to be a hus­band, a par­ent, a teacher, a Christ follower.

The jour­ney was not an easy one. He absorbed some of the harsh­est and most unfair blows life can land. His moth­er died when he was two, and after his father remar­ried he was exiled from his stepmother’s home. Grow­ing up in Depres­sion-era, rur­al Mis­souri and edu­cat­ed in a one-room school­house, he knew pover­ty, depri­va­tion, anx­i­ety, self-doubt, and depres­sion. Though the pews he sat in dur­ing his ear­ly years were not offer­ing much by way of love and mer­cy, Dal­las, instead of turn­ing away, kept look­ing for the com­pa­ny of a liv­ing, present, and per­son­al God.

In Gary W. Moon’s can­did and inspir­ing biog­ra­phy, we read how Willard became the per­son who men­tored and part­nered with his young pas­tor, Richard Fos­ter, to inspire some of the most influ­en­tial books on spir­i­tu­al­i­ty of the last gen­er­a­tion. We see how his love of learn­ing took him on to Bay­lor, the Uni­ver­si­ty of Wis­con­sin, and the Uni­ver­si­ty of South­ern Cal­i­for­nia, where he became a beloved pro­fes­sor and one of the most ver­sa­tile mem­bers of the phi­los­o­phy department.

The life of Dal­las Willard deserves atten­tion because he became a per­son who him­self expe­ri­enced authen­tic trans­for­ma­tion of life and char­ac­ter. Dal­las Willard not only taught about spir­i­tu­al dis­ci­plines, he became a dif­fer­ent per­son because of them. He became a ground­ed per­son, a spir­i­tu­al­ly alive per­son as he put them into prac­tice, find­ing God, as he often said, at the end of his rope.” Here is a life that gives us all hope.



The main rea­son I took with absolute seri­ous­ness the dis­rup­tive ideas that Dal­las taught about God and God’s king­dom was that he obvi­ous­ly lived in these real­i­ties him­self. The good news he shared was cred­i­ble because of his own over­whelm­ing­ly radi­ant life. Dal­las lived in the house of his own procla­ma­tion. Now, in this labor of love, Gary Moon has giv­en us a believ­able glimpse into how Dal­las became the per­son he was. By describ­ing Dal­las’s slow and grad­ual jour­ney of inner trans­for­ma­tion with­in the cru­cible of his own chal­leng­ing and some­times painful life cir­cum­stances, this biog­ra­phy com­mu­ni­cates the won­der­ful good news that real change is pos­si­ble for each one of us. I believe that this book will light up a deep and intense long­ing in many hearts to live more faith­ful­ly as appren­tices of Christ in the king­dom of God.”
Trevor Hudson, Methodist minister in South Africa, senior fellow, Dallas Willard Center and Martin Institute, lecturer, Renovaré Institute for Spiritual Formation
What a gift it’s been to read the biog­ra­phy of Dal­las! It feels like get­ting to know him bet­ter and receiv­ing more of God’s gift­ing through him. The depth of thought, reflec­tion, and mas­tery of not only Dal­las’s life but also the expla­na­tion of con­cepts from the­ol­o­gy, psy­chol­o­gy, phi­los­o­phy are amaz­ing. It’s clear, pow­er­ful, com­pelling, and mov­ing both for folks who knew Dal­las and many who will meet him through this book.”
John Ortberg, pastor, Menlo Church, author, Soul Keeping: Caring for the Most Important Part of You

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