A Man Who Lived Humbly

In the coming days, there will be many wiser, deeper, more theologically profound voices who speak both their grief and their love in the passing of Dallas A. Willard. There will be many words said, many who voice their gratitude, many who share stories of life transformation, transformation brought about by Jesus, but facilitated by Dallas’s work and teachings.

What I will say of my very brief encounters with Dallas in person, and with his teachings and writings in depth, is this: he was a man who lived humbly with his God.

In the times that I was able to spend with Dallas, what impacted me the most was not necessarily his great knowledge (although that was profound) or his incredible ability to communicate the complexity of God simply (which was a stunning gift) but the way that the gospel of Christ communicated itself so freely through his humble spirit.

I remember watching at a particular conference at which Dallas was a keynote speaker, as person after person came up to speak to him, to ask a question, to express their thanks. Although he was clearly traveling with a small carry-on suitcase, notably on his way to check out from the hotel and get to the airport, he stopped for each one that stopped him. He listened, intently, despite the fact that he inevitably had a plane to catch, a timeline to follow. He interacted with love, no matter how often people waylaid him. Just watching him made me feel as if Christ were in our midst.

At another event, where I was a minor speaker to his headline event, I traveled with him to a small gathering of students—students whom he exhorted to a dedication to the Truth, to Reality, to things that can be known, and the reality of the knowledge of Christ in that context. He listened to their eager visions, and gave leavening advice only when he was asked. Afterward, when he was shuttled to a teaching event, I asked him a question that trembled in the secret places of my heart:

“Dallas, given all of the struggle, all of the ways that the Church has gotten it wrong over the centuries, how do you still have hope for the institution as a whole?”

I remember holding the door for him as he entered the venue and answered my heart’s cry both kindly and clearly.

“I have hope in the Church,” he said smiling, “because I know Who her head is.”

Amazing, how a simple answer can resolve so many years of meandering within my own soul.

More amazing still was the gift that Dallas then gave me before he stood up to teach a room full of believers longing for more. In the shuttling to and from venues, I realized that Dallas’s time of teaching hadn’t received any prayer (not that God couldn’t or wouldn’t cover it). I noted this timidly to Dallas, and he, even knowing my question earlier, turned to me and asked me if I would pray.

In Numbers 12:3, we are given the only description of Moses’s character or physical attributes that explicitly appears in the Old Testament: Now Moses was a very humble man, more humble than anyone else on the face of the earth. Although Dallas would shudder at being compared to the greatness of a biblical character such as Moses, I know that I will remember Dallas both for the wisdom that he brought to us about the Kingdom of God and the Gospel of Christ, and, equally as keenly, his humility.

We are greater because we have known you, and poorer because you have gone, Dallas. But, over all, we are rich in Christ because you more fully cleared the path to His goodness and grace for us.

Thank you.

May you rest in peace, and rejoice with Christ.