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Reflections on a Wise, Master Teacher

7 May 2007

Today a brother in Christ challenged me to do some writing, some “meta-teaching” that draws from the prolific and wise Dallas Willard and interprets him in more accessible language for broader public consumption. What an intoxicating invitation…but sobering.

There are few topics of any kind more exciting to me than Dr. Willard’s writing on discipleship to Jesus. He teaches as he writes, gently, humbly and yet with uncommon depth and power and hope. He loves Jesus and puts his full confidence in Him as the most brilliant man who has ever lived. No amount of pondering Jesus’ deity is an adequate substitute for simply taking Jesus at His word and doing what He said to do while He was on this earth showing us how it is done. Thanks, GS, for the invitation to explore this.

A cautionary word: One of these days, one of Dr. Willard’s USC proteges – or perhaps Willard’s dear friend Dr. Richard Foster (_Celebration of Discipline_) – will launch off and sponsor a festschrift in Willard’s honor. Those who have been fortunate to study at Willard’s feet will be best equipped to render him accurately and well. If we accomplish anything here, it will inevitably be superseded by those who walked (and indeed now walk) with Dr. Willard as he works out the crowning achievements of his career – his “careen,” as he now fondly refers to it – and offers his thoughts on how the disappearance of any body of moral knowledge in today’s world can be remedied by Christ’s disciples living fully in obedience, faith, hope and love. I look forward to their work and do not wish to preempt them in any way.

One last thing. To listen to Dr. Willard’s teaching in both the written and spoken word is to be impressed with his humility. But to interact with him is to be more impressed still. I have only corresponded with Dr. Willard once, during my first trip through _The Divine Conspiracy_ a few years back. I was thrilled with his exegesis of the Discourse on the Hill (Matthew 5-7), but one of his interpretations just seemed to strike me at odd angles. It made absolutely no sense at all. So I fired off a quick e-mail to Dr. Willard setting forth my competing reading of the verse in question and smugly went back to work on the rest of his book, never thinking he would ever notice an unsolicited e-mail from the Texas Panhandle backwoods, much less respond to it. But respond to it he did, acknowledging that he had a tough time with that passage himself and wasn’t sure he had the right reading of it. And then he said, “what is important to me is that you GET it.” What he meant, clearly, was that instead of simply parroting what Willard had SAID in the book, I had come to understand the way in which he was REASONING and had actually exerted that reasoning method myself.

It’s hard to get across what that means, but if it means anything at all, it is that Willard has no interest in being the subject of what we’re exploring here. He does not wish to be the center of attention, and he does not need to be right. What he wants is for us to GET it: that is, to adopt Jesus’ premises, to learn to reason as Jesus reasons and then to work out the implications in our lives by applying what we learn. Willard wants to be transparent, not correct; faithful, not famous. Perhaps that is what I love about him more than anything.

There aren’t many folks who pass this way in cyberspace, but if you happen by and want to chime in with your reflections on Willard and his teaching, by all means sound off.


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