It was an evening back in early September 2002. The weather was perfect, as usual. It was San Diego. I had left everything familiar behind and moved west for my first semester of seminary at Bethel West.
I was lonely. I was scared. I was adrift without a clue of what the future held. That’s okay when you’re pursuing the One who holds the future. But still not a fun place to be.
I arrived in late August and had a couple weeks before classes began. Since I didn’t know anyone, I roamed the city. I wandered the beaches. I explored the hills. I ate ice cream on Coronado Island, which isn’t nearly as delicious when you’re alone. (About a decade later Keri and I would enjoy ice cream together after a romantic dinner on Coronado Island — much more delicious!)
You can get to know every street and every corner of a city, and still be lost and aimless inside your soul. My faith was strong and my devotion to Christ was intense during this season; but I didn’t have a clue what I was going to do with my life when I started classes that fall.
I needed more than a GPS to find my way through this strange new interior landscape of my being. I was searching for the right guide(s) to take the wet soft clay of my 22 year old self, and being shaping me into the Jeremy God had in mind.
So, on a perfect evening under the San Diego moon I roamed into a book store and walked out an hour later with one of the greatest guides I would have encounter. I purchased The Divine Conspiracy by Dallas Willard. That book would probably give me more than the next 3 years of seminary classes combined.
I took that book back to my rented attic too short for me to even stand up in, plopped down in that old antique green chair and opened up not only a new book but a new vision for my life — a life of conspiring with the God of the Heavens. As Willard says:
To conspire is to act in harmony toward a common or agreed upon end. God wants to conspire with us, to act in harmony with us, so that we might walk in his footsteps. This conspiracy means that God calls us to give our lives to Him, to surrender completely, so we might live more fully, by walking with Him.
I regret not discovering the significance of his work until after hearing him speak once or twice at my church in college. For a teenager whose intellectual awakening had not yet happened, I remember yawning and falling asleep while he spoke. (He was NOT an engaging speaker, with his slow southern Missouri drawl.) Had I had the chance to hear him speak after my San Diego green chair experience with The Divine Conspiracy, I would have been on the edge of my seat, and standing a line like a fanboy afterwards hoping to meet him!
I know countless others have found their lives revolutionized and their eyes opened further to the reality of God-Among-Us through the writings and teaching of Dallas Willard. He was very special. I have handed The Divine Conspiracy to a number of people over the years, and can only hope they realize the explosive potential of the ideas within those pages.
Well, this is all a very long way to introduce Gary Moon’s new biography Becoming Dallas Willard: The Formation of a Philosopher, Teacher, and Christ Follower (2018). Here’s a description from the publisher:
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.
I am halfway through and am greatly enjoying getting to know the story of the man behind the books and ideas that have been so profound in my life and others. We can forget, at times, when reading some of the great men and women of faith, that there’s a real human person with a real life story behind them.
Before the success of bestselling books and thriving teaching career, there was lots of hardship, pain, death, discouragement, mess-ups, doubt, imperfect parents, the ups and downs of marriage, trying to put food on the table, etc. Willard became who he was through the real rugged realities of life in this sin-stained, broken world we know all too well.
So, let me recommend this book on his life, but also encourage anyone out there who hasn’t take the journey through The Divine Conspiracy yet to prayerfully consider it. But reader beware: that book is powerful stuff. You might not be the same person when you’re finished!
When I finished that book and stood up from that old green chair in that San Diego attic, I still didn’t know where my journey was taking me. But I was less scared and no longer alone. I had found a reliable guide to keep pointing me to Jesus. I had Dallas Willard now, and as John Ortberg says in the afterword of this new book, “his presence lingers.”