Gregg Ten Elshof, chair of Biola’s department of philosophy and director of the Center for Christian Thought, observes the following about the impact of Willard on his life and whether Dallas was a scholar for the sake of Husserlian scholarship:
In the early 90’s someone introduced me to Dallas Willard’s book The Spirit of the Disciplines. That book completely reorganized my thinking about what it meant to be a Christian. Strangely enough, it was the first time that I can remember seriously entertaining the invitation to follow Jesus – this though I’d been a Christian my whole life. I am, and will eternally be, grateful for the opportunity to follow Jesus. So I am, and will eternally be, grateful for Dallas Willard.
For five years I was a student under Dallas’s direction at USC. Having been so deeply impacted by his written work, I was pleasantly surprised to find that he, himself, was far more compelling than anything he had written. To be with him was to draw near to the Kingdom of God. He seemed effortlessly to communicate the peace, security, love and acceptance of God by his mere presence. I found it nearly impossible to remain anxious about anything while with him. And it was my repeated experience to witness the disarming of anger, contempt, fear, and countless other inner ailments with a simple look, a gentle word, a touch.
Dallas is the best teacher I’ve ever met. His work in philosophy always penetrates to the perennial problem – that issue of central importance to the human condition – in whatever discussion he’s a part of. During his time with us, he loved to think, write, and talk about a philosopher by the name of Edmund Husserl. He saw in Husserl a few crucial insights required to make sense of our ability to have knowledge of the world. But he didn’t allow the world of Husserl scholarship (and it is a real world unto itself) to define his research agenda. Rather, he brought the insights of Husserl to bear upon urgent questions about life, meaning, and the Kingdom of God.
The simple and relaxed confidence so palpable and contagious in his person and so visible in his writing is the result of having deeply internalized these insights by means of decades of careful, nuanced, and often erudite scholarship. For Dallas, the big ideas and their relevance for life mattered more than did anything like Husserl expertise. As a result, his students (as I’ve experienced them anyway) are among the least likely in the field to lose the forest for the trees or to get bogged down in the technical trivia that often animates academic dialogue. He passed on the insistence on finding and addressing the urgent questions of our day.
Here is a life deeply worthy of celebration and imitation. I am grateful to God for the gift of Dallas Willard.
Gregg Ten Elshof