Search Results for: Aaron Preston

Gethsemane Epistemology, Pneumatic Evidence, and Divine Agape?: Reply to Aaron Preston

Philosophers have spent considerable time and effort trying to specify how humans can use speculative reason and other questionable theoretical resources to secure knowledge of God’s reality (or the lack thereof). Perhaps the supporters of the arguments of natural theology merit the prize for unmatched efforts on this front, but the payoff of their seemingly endless efforts seems dubious at best.

I contend that the latter efforts get things backwards. If a worship-worthy God exists, the main question is not about how humans can use speculative reason and other doubtful theoretical resources to secure knowledge of God’s reality. Instead, the key question is just this: how does God introduce and identify himself to cooperative humans, who have inadequate resources for finding God on their own.

This essay develops this lesson in reply to Aaron Preston’s proposal to maintain some kind of spectator evidence in natural theology. Christ-shaped philosophy, as I understand it, calls for a Gethsemane-oriented epistemology, but does not need the arguments of traditional natural theology.

The full-text of this contribution is available for FREE by clicking here.

Learning to Converse by Trial and Failure: a Rejoinder to Moser

In response to Moser’s “Gethsemane Epistemology, Pneumatic Evidence, and Divine Agape?” I clarify, reiterate, and further develop my critique of his proposal that Gethsemane Epistemology (GE) is definitive of Christian Philosophy. Moser thinks that it deserves this special status in part because of its epistemic superiority to other potential sources of theistic evidence/knowledge, such as Natural Theology (NT).

I again argue that it is far from clear that GE enjoys epistemic superiority to NT in any of the ways Moser claims, and hence that it is equally unclear whether it deserves to be regarded as definitive of Christian philosophy. Along the way, I consider whether Moser’s position rests upon a question-begging concept of “worship-worthiness,” whether he gives sufficient weight to the problem of peer-disagreement among Christian thinkers, and whether his Christian inclusivism is consistent with the epistemic superiority he claims for GE.

The full-text of this contribution is available for FREE by clicking here.

On the Purported Superiority of Gethsemane Epistemology

As part of the ongoing discussion at the “Christ-Shaped Philosophy” web project, in this paper I explore the purported superiority of Moser’s Gethsemane epistemology to alternatives like natural theology.

The topic is worthwhile in its own right, but also because it is closely related to the worry that Moser’s vision for Christian philosophy is unduly narrow.

The full-text of this contribution is available for FREE by clicking here.

Two Wisdoms? The Unity of Truth, the Spirit of the (Academic) Disciplines, and the Norms of Academic Philosophy

Paul Moser’s “Christ Shaped Philosophy” has generated a wide ranging discussion.

Early in that discussion, William Hasker argued that Moser’s call for disciplinary reform conflates two discrete concepts of “wisdom” (and by extension of “philosophy”).

Here, I argue (i) that these “two wisdoms” are not discrete, but interdependent aspects of a single wisdom, (ii) that current disciplinary norms in academic philosophy violate this interdependence, and (iii) that Moser’s call for reform is therefore justified.

The full-text of this contribution is available for FREE by clicking here.

Dallas Willard: My Beloved Rabboni

Two lines come to mind whenever I think of Dallas Willard.  The first is from John’s Gospel:  “No one ever spoke the way this man does” (John 7:46). The second is Plato’s description of Socrates from the closing line of the Phaedo: “the best, the wisest, and most righteous of all the men whom I have ever known.”

I first met Dallas when, as a sophomore at USC, I enrolled in his course on British Empiricism.  At the time, I had no idea what Philosophy, let alone British Empiricism, was.  Nor had I heard of Dallas previously.  But some of my Christian friends at USC had told me that he was a major Christian thinker, a “C.S. Lewis type”, and that I should really take a course with him while I was there.  And so I did.  Little did I know how it would change my life.

I found the reading dry, but Dallas’ teaching so rich and interesting that I couldn’t get enough.  With his encouragement, I decided to major in Philosophy.  At least that’s what it says on my diploma.  But looking back I think it’s more accurate to say that I decided to major in Dallas.  For me, philosophy doesn’t seem nearly so interesting or worthwhile when it’s done too differently from the way Dallas did it.  But done his way, I find it very worthwhile indeed – so much so that I took as many additional courses as I could (roughly ¾ of my major courses!) with Dallas, and after graduation and a brief stint studying Theology, I returned to USC to take my Doctorate under his supervision.

Dallas’ “way” of doing philosophy is difficult to adequately describe, because so much of it was a function of who he was as a person, an expression of his unique combination of intellect and character.  As Joe Gorra has so rightly observed, Dallas never approached philosophy from the standpoint of current disciplinary norms, which tend to be narrow, technical, and faddish.  Instead, he focused on broad, fundamental, and enduring issues, approaching them in a way that was rigorous but non-technical, and always historically informed (as opposed to focusing only or mainly on “the current debate”).

But this general description fails to do justice to the unique grandeur of Dallas as a thinker and teacher.  Part of that grandeur came from the astonishing scope of Dallas’ knowledge.  USC’s Philosophy Department Director and Distinguished Professor of Philosophy, Scott Soames, describes Dallas as “the teacher with the greatest range in the School of Philosophy [at USC], regularly teaching courses in logic, metaphysics, ethics, aesthetics, history of ethics, philosophy of religion, and the history of philosophy from the 17th through the 20th centuries, including both sides of the 20th century split between analytic philosophy and phenomenology.”   His colleagues at USC might be surprised to know that this impressive range represents only a portion of Dallas’ learning.  His range in Philosophy was matched by an equally impressive range in Christian theology and spirituality.  Several years ago Paul Weithman wrote of Robert Adams’ introduction to John Rawls’ posthumously published theological work, “I doubt that there is anyone else in the academy with the breadth of philosophical and theological learning needed to write it.”  My immediate thought upon reading this line was “He must not know Dallas!”

And then there were the countless lines of verse and song, from Shakespeare to Janis Joplin (yes, Janis Joplin!), and of course countless lines of Scripture, that Dallas had committed to memory, with which he’d occasionally season his talks, lectures and conversations.  I’ll never forget an instance after a talk at Wheaton when, in response to a question, Dallas quoted from memory what must have been nearly a full chapter from the book of Hebrews (the quote went on and on), weaving it into an impressive answer that left the audience amazed!

The scope of Dallas’ knowledge distinguished him from all but a handful of intellectual heavyweights.  But what distinguished him even from them, intellectually, was his ability to distill the wisdom of the ages and present it in accessible, memorable, and maximally insightful terms.  John Ortberg has given some examples of this in his recent tribute to Dallas.  Here are a few more:

  • Knowledge is the ability to represent something as it is on an appropriate basis of thought and experience.   (I like to call this “JTB without the jargon”!)
  • Reason is the ability to know things merely by thinking.
  • Wisdom is the settled disposition of the soul to act in accordance with knowledge.
  • A good person is one who has a settled intention to advance the various goods of human life with which he or she is effectively in contact.

Lines like these, defining important concepts and encapsulating key insights from the history of philosophy, were common fare not only in Dallas’ lectures, but also in informal conversation.   They fell from his lips like rain, usually expressed with a nonchalance that was entirely disproportionate to their significance, but beautifully consonant with Dallas’ own intellectual humility. Many of them burned their way into my mind upon first hearing them as an undergraduate, and they have stayed there ever since.  Even now I hear his voice echoing in my mind.

Dallas’ ability to formulate these intuitively clear and maximally insightful statements on just about any topic or concept you might ask him about, even off the cuff, is the single most impressive intellectual gift I have ever observed in any human being.  I have never seen it matched, and (alas!) have never been able to come close to doing it myself despite having studied with him for so many years.   In virtue of this gift, and insofar as the sorts of concepts Dallas dealt with are ultimately more significant than gravity and motion, it has always seemed to me that Sir Edmund Halley’s tribute to Newton is actually more fittingly applied to Dallas:

Then ye who now on heavenly nectar fare,

Come celebrate with me in song the name

Of [Willard], to the Muses dear;  for he

Unlocked the hidden treasuries of Truth:

So richly through his mind had Phoebus cast

The radiance of his own divinity.

Nearer to the gods no mortal may approach.

Of course, Dallas himself would balk at any such comparison – he was humble to a fault.  This fact points beyond Dallas’ intellectual gifts to his equally unmatched character.  Almost everyone who has ever written anything about Dallas mentions, and describes more adequately than I can, the aura of otherworldly peace and love that he exuded, and which suffused the whole atmosphere around him.  There was a calmness and stillness in Dallas that pervaded all of his other virtues, and which I think tended to impress people more than almost anything else about him.  He “radiated” peace and love, but not like a microwave or a light bulb; more like a “radiant heating” system which slowly and subtly sends heat through the floor, gently warming the air above.

Imagine, if you can, the kind of intellectual feast described above, held in a room warmed by Willardian “radiant heating,” gently bathing his students in peace and love while showering them with the aforementioned pearls of wisdom.  That is what it was like to be a student in one of Dallas’ classes. I count it as one of the greatest blessing of my life to have had this as a regular weekly experience for the better part of a decade.

Obviously, all of this entails that Dallas had a profound effect on my intellectual and professional life.  It is no exaggeration to say that whatever degree of intellectual sophistication and academic success I’ve achieved, I owe entirely to Dallas.  But Dallas was much more than a teacher and an academic supervisor to me.  Some people’s spiritual lives are colored more by angst than joy, and characterized better as a series of crises than as a consistent movement from glory to glory.  I am one of those people.

For me, philosophy began not in wonder, but in painful confusion about God and about the character of Jesus in the aftermath of a run-in with what Ronald Enroth would call an “abusive church” during my Freshman year at USC.  In that year before I met Dallas, I had been struggling to make sense of the experience, to figure out what true Christianity looked like, and how to carry on in the Christian life after having my faith shaken to the point of collapse.

Dallas’ calm kindness and deep wisdom were my most important sources of guidance and reassurance as I continued to struggle with these issues for many years.  He taught me not only philosophy, but theology; and not only taught me, but counseled me; and not only about faith, but about dating, about marriage, about having children, and on and on.   And not only did he counsel me, he also prayed for me, both in general, and in very specific terms when I needed it.

I have never told this story publicly, but I feel compelled to tell it now, to honor this great Man of God (and just so you know, “Man of God” is a term I never use precisely because it’s overused in some Evangelical circles; but when it comes to Dallas there’s no way around it:  that’s what he was).  On one occasion I was suffering from a rather severe depressive episode related to my spiritual angst.  Dallas spent an hour or more praying over me after which the depression was simply and entirely gone, and it has never come back.  Life has not been a bed of roses ever since – that’s the stuff of fairy tales – but since that moment I’ve always been able to find the strength to cope with life, often by remembering his prayer and invoking it over myself again.

As you can see, Joe Gorra’s statement that Dallas “never lost sight of the value of shepherding and caring for people” even in his role as a Professor is absolutely true.  Dallas was not just my teacher and my dissertation supervisor.  He was my beloved Rabboni.  I am grateful for his life. I will miss him for the rest of mine.

Aaron Preston
Associate Professor and Chair of Philosophy
Valparaiso University

The Writings of Dallas Willard Featured at the Hildebrand Project Seminar

The 2022 (12th Annual) Summer Seminar of the Hildebrand Project focused on the theme, “readiness to change: conversion and the Christian life.”

From the seminar’s description:

Dietrich von Hildebrand understood our readiness to change not only as the beginning of the Christian life, but also as the source of its continuance and completion. It is, one could say, the fundamental answer to the call, the vocation, to Christ. This was not a mere readiness to change a little here or a little there, but to be changed radically, at all levels of one’s being, to be made “a new creature in Christ” . . .

In our 2022 seminar, we take Dietrich von Hildebrand as a master of the spiritual life. In particular, we will explore the image that Hildebrand gives of the person “transformed by Christ.” For this, we will begin with his account of the “fundamental attitudes,” especially of reverence, in his book The Art Living. We will then explore his account of the supernatural virtues and attitudes — from metanoia (which Joseph Ratzinger says has “seldom been so accurately diagnosed”) and contrition to recollection and contemplation to humility and mercy.

In addition to putting Hildebrand’s work on the spiritual life into conversation with other Catholic writers, a panel discussion was devoted to the late Dallas Willard and the intersection of the themes of his work with Hildebrand. Panelist presentations were made by Aaron Preston, Dan Sheffler, and Walter Hopp (read by Preston).

2019 “Disappearance of Moral Knowledge” Symposium

Dallas Willard Ministries (DWM) recently released some interesting video presentations at a Center for Christian Thought hosted symposium on Dallas Willard’s Disappearance of Moral Knowledge, which we are also happy to promote here. The symposium is part of DWM’s recently launched Moral Knowledge Initiative. Introductory papers were presented by Gregg Ten Elshof on an “Overview of the Issues Presented in the Book” (see the Westmont 2018 presentation) and by Steve Porter “The Primacy of the Individual in Reclaiming Moral Knowledge.”

Jonathan Haidt and the Disappearance of Moral Knowledge: How Good Intentions and Philosophical Confusions Threaten to Perpetuate the Problem”

by Aaron Preston

Jonathan Haidt published The Happiness Hypothesis in 2006, and has become a leading public intellectual addressing matters of morality and ethics.  Dr. Preston chose to present an overview of Haidt’s work because, “As far as the project of making moral knowledge available as a public resource is concerned, Haidt is the one who is making an impact.” Haidt observes that we have lost “a richly textured common ethos with widely shared virtues and values,” and shares many of Willard’s concerns.  But he desires to restore virtue because of its importance to human happiness, and it is happiness itself, or more broadly emotion, that is the goal.  While Haidt needs better philosophical grounding to sort out his own understanding of reason, intuition and emotion, Preston sees him as a potential ally for the Moral Knowledge Initiative.

Response: Commentary on Aaron Preston’s, “Jonathan Haidt and the Disappearance of Moral Knowledge”

by Aaron Kheriaty

Kheriaty affirms much of Haidt’s work, but puts it in the category of “sociology of knowledge” which Willard says “deals with the causal conditions that bring about the general acceptance of certain thoughts and beliefs as representations of reality—moral or otherwise” (DMK 12). Any such knowledge generated by the social sciences is only knowledge by general consensus and can therefore easily disappear when this consensus changes. Studies of the human soul have fallen into this category (DMK 10). In response to Haidt’s heavy emphasis on emotivism in his moral psychology and philosophy, Kheriaty prescribes a regrounding in the part of classical platonic tradition “which we could roughly describe as the doctrine of participation: all normally functioning human beings participate by a kind of intuition in the logos – in a universal reason or ordering principle.  This participation allows us both to know the world, which is rationally ordered and intelligible, and to reason and deliberate together in the pursuit of truth and goodness.”  Accounts based on evolutionary psychology or the sociology of knowledge are incapable by themselves of recovering moral knowledge as a publicly available resource.

“The Disappearance of Moral Knowledge in Education”

by Mary Poplin

Following the exclusion of Christianity and any organized moral knowledge in the academy, the focus in teacher education became stages of development (e.g., cognitive, social and moral), all deeply embedded in scientific method. There is a loss of meaning that comes with an attachment to physical sciences because they cannot deal with the big issues of life. This has created a culture of despair on college campuses. Student health centers are being overwhelmed by students struggling with anxiety and depression, as suicide statistics in young people continue to rise. In the classroom, courses that address moral knowledge and goodness are in high demand because they offer hope for students examining their lives and looking to their future. But teacher training in the last several decades barely touches issues of morality or character. Today the emphasis is largely on culture, gender, and class seen through the lens of critical theory. This is the case in K-12 as well, which is a crucial time for character formation. With this educational trend, defining “the good person” becomes a significant challenge, but one of utmost importance so that students can know how to become good people.

Response to Mary Poplin’s “The Disappearance of Moral Knowledge in Education”

by Mike Austin

The university as we know it is in trouble. It is no longer a “uni”-versity because it’s not united. It is shifting from a marketplace of ideas to a platform for social change, and the understanding of who counts as a “good person” is weak. But our secular colleagues do have some access to moral knowledge that is grounded in the character of God, though it is perhaps indirect, which Austin encouraged us to make use of as we do our work. We can find common ground, insofar as there is knowledge about morality, human selves, and human flourishing, that is available outside of special revelation. This includes using the empirical work available to us via positive psychology to make our case. As Poplin points out, “scientific findings that relate to human flourishing reveal the advantages of living Christianly”: physical and mental health, longevity, the family, education, and more. We need more of this kind of work on Christian virtues, such as faith, hope, and love, at the academic and popular levels.

Law, Discursive Distortions, and the Loss of ‘Moral Knowledge’”

by Steven Smith

Smith’s central concern regarding moral knowledge is found in his reframing of the issue as the “very real, non-academic question that all of us constantly face: How should I live?  Or, in a communal version: How should we live together?” This allows him to write about the good person from a normative legal and moral perspective and articulate a possible way forward. He acknowledges we live in a world of “rampant normative pluralism” and identifies the challenge it presents for “modern legal and political theorizing, and in many respects for modern law.” He doesn’t hold out much hope for a “recovery through greater philosophical attention to ‘the good person’” as a merely human remedy, but recommends that ministry, rather than either law or philosophy, “is the best prospect for a recovery– if not of ‘moral knowledge,’ exactly– at least of a sensible, grounded normativity in our current society.”

“The Disappearance of Moral Knowledge in Law”

by Robert F. Cochran, Jr.

Cochran described the ways in which moral knowledge has been disappearing from legal theory over the last two centuries, and how these changes are manifested in legal ethics, lawyer counseling, law school and law practice. His paper particularly emphasized the influence of Oliver Wendell Holmes’s philosophy that there is no “higher law,” but that law is merely the assertion of power here on earth. While not very optimistic about the prospects of the return of moral knowledge in the legal field, Cochran pointed to the possibilities present in the New Natural Law theory being championed by John Finnis (emphasizing “the good person” as Dallas does), and noted that the newest member of the Supreme Court, Neil Gorsuch, was Finnis’s graduate student at Oxford. Cochran’s presentation ended on a hopeful note with a white board comparison of Finnis’s Natural Law and Natural Rights (2011) with Willard’s DMK and the similarities in what both authors are promoting.

Response to Cochran and Smith on Legal History and Ethics

by Scott Rae


In his response to Cochran and Smith, Scott Rae provided the following analysis of law and morality: “The authority of the law depends on the moral attitudes that undergird it, giving it the competence to order society that it claims to have.” He gave an example of the loss of moral knowledge as applied to physician assisted suicide, indicating a trend toward its wholesale adoption due to the prevailing attitude around the question of who is being harmed, along with the societal position expressed by Genontologist Joanne Lynn that, “there is nothing cheaper than dead.” Rae closed his paper with a quote from James Davison Hunter’s The Death of Character: “We want character, but without unyielding conviction; we want strong morality, but without the emotional burden of guilt and shame; we want virtue, but without particular moral justifications that invariably offend; we want good without having to name evil; we want decency without the authority to insist on it; we want moral community without any limitations to personal freedom.” And his own personal assessment, “It strikes me that the death of character and the disappearance of moral knowledge go together, which lends urgency to the recovery of moral knowledge.”

The Disapperance of Moral Knowledge: An Interview with the Editors (Part Three)

Earlier this year, Routledge released the posthumously completed volume by Dallas Willard, The Disappearance of Moral Knowledge (DMK), which was edited and finalized by Dallas’ former students: Steve Porter (Biola), Aaron Preston (Valparaiso), and Gregg Ten Elshof (Biola). Below is Part 3 of an interview with Steve, Aaron and Gregg (enjoy Part 1 and Part 2). This final part of the interview unpacks some of the implications of Dallas’ DMK, along with how one might think about the prospects for an institutional ‘return’ to moral knowledge. Update: To learn more about the DMK, visit In 2019, Dallas Willard Ministries also launched a Moral Knowledge Initiative that is worth considering and supporting.  

Thinking of your own work, which has been shaped by Dallas as your teacher and friend, what do you find in DMK to be the most challenging to your own thinking and assumptions, even to the point of puzzling, “Hey, Dallas, what did you mean by . . . ?”

Aaron: The final chapter contains a criticism of certain longstanding trends in Western ethical theory generally, not just in the 20th century. Plato’s Republic, for instance, comes in for some heavy criticism, as does the notion of the summum bonum, so central to Thomistic ethics. I found this surprising, because the impression I got from Dallas in the classroom and in other writings was that he thought well of these approaches to ethics. So I’ve had to refine my understanding of Dallas’ attitude toward them. I still think it’s true that he agreed with certain aspects of the thought of Plato, Aristotle, Aquinas, etc., but prior to working on DMK I didn’t realize that this was coupled with some very deep disagreements as well.

Gregg: Willard’s moral epistemology involves a fairly high confidence in the ability of ordinary people to simply recognize good, bad, right, and wrong in their interactions with others. He did not claim infallibility here. But he did seem to think people the world over could be counted on to fairly reliably track these things. At the same time, I believe he recognized the possibility of being trained out of reliable acquaintance with these things — not only that this could happen but that it has indeed happened at various times and places. I’d love to have talked to him more about (i) the grounds for his confidence in the general reliability of people the world over to recognize the ethical demand in the face of the other and (ii) whether or not anything can be said about how to recognize those situations wherein cultural training takes us away from moral knowledge. After all, on many of the more difficult questions in ethics (sexuality, war, punishment, distribution of resources), good people seem to experience the ethical demand in the face of the other quite differently.

Steve: In connection to Gregg’s point above, I was recently listening to a talk by Dallas in which he was saying that human persons ‘naturally’ respond to animals with care when animals are hurt or in trouble. He used as an example the response humans have when they find an animal caught in a net or in a fence. As a funny aside he said that animals do not stop to help us when we are caught in a fence. There was not much context to these comments in his talk, but I take it that this ‘natural’ response to the needs of others (including non-human others) in the course of human life is the practical basis for his confidence in the reliability of moral insight. Of course, from a Christian point of view we can turn to the intentionality of a morally good God in creating persons in his image, but Dallas did not think you had to accept Christian premises to ground the reliability of moral insight. Although, in his original talk on this topic — “The Redemption of Reason” — he does argue that “only the body of Christian knowledge and intellectual method can redeem reason, in our time, and for the future.” I would have liked to hear him expand on these points in greater detail.

Are there chapters in DMK that might be more fruitfully read and appreciated if understood side-by-side with other articles or books by Dallas? If so, which chapters and sources do you recommend?

Steve: Certainly reading the chapter on the disappearance of moral knowledge in Knowing Christ Today would be helpful, and in many respects the whole of that book is relevant. The “Redemption of Reason” manuscript is also helpful background information. There are at least two chapters in the collection of Dallas’ essays (Renewing the Christian Mind, edited by Gary Black) that are relevant: (1) “The Foundations of Moral Realization” and (2) “Truth in the Fire.” Lastly, the article in Philosophia Christi entitled “How Concepts Relate the Mind to Its Objects: The ‘God’s Eye Point’ of View Vindicated?” (1999) provides a clear presentation of the epistemology behind Dallas’ positive view of moral knowledge in DMK.

You have indicated to me that Chapter 1, “Moral Knowledge Disappears,” is ‘underdeveloped’ compared to the detailed history and analysis that appears in chapters 2-7. I take that to be less of a criticism of chapter 1 and more of an invitation toward an opportunity for scholars to take-up. If you had to conceptualize further work to be done, what would that consist of?  As a result of working on this book, are there other ‘disappearances’ that come to mind, which perhaps you wonder about in light of Dallas’ account?

Steve: Yes, I think there is a nearby disappearance when it comes to the disappearance of knowledge regarding Christian formation. I do not simply mean that if moral knowledge disappears then, by implication, Christian moral knowledge also disappears (there is that point, which Willard makes in the introductory chapter of Divine Conspiracy). Instead, I think there is a unique though similar story to be told about the disappearance of knowledge of spiritual growth. This is what the church historian Richard Lovelace termed ‘the sanctification gap’. Lovelace’s thesis is much broader in historical reach (going back at least to the Puritans) and only pertains to theological knowledge regarding sanctification, but I think some of lessons Willard draws about the disappearance of moral knowledge can be applied to the disappearance of spiritual knowledge.

Dallas thinks that there are two mistakes when it comes to ethical theorizing in the 20th century that in part kept ethical theory from getting much traction in grounding moral knowledge:

First, Dallas argues that there was a changing subject matter: the form of the good, the good person, the greatest good for the greatest number, the good as indefinable, etc. Dallas wonders how any theoretical progress can be made without a stable subject matter. I think we can see an analogue to this in Christian theology and spirituality. When you look over the history of Christian reflection on the nature of spiritual growth, you see it discussed in quite different ways. In some periods reflection is focused on experience of God, in other periods it is focused on church rituals, in still others we have a focus on an intellectual understanding of the Bible, charismatic experiences, behavioral obedience, and so on. In some ways, Richard Foster’s six streams of Christian spirituality (holiness, charismatic, contemplative, social justice, evangelical, incarnational) are representative of a changing subject matter that can stall coming to have any sort of agreed upon understanding of life with Christ. When it comes to spirituality, we are often not talking about the same phenomenon.

The second mistake Dallas uncovers when it comes to moral knowledge is that theorists approach ethics as an abstract, deductive science, like Euclidean geometry. But Dallas maintains that moral knowledge is not of this form. Moral knowledge is more like geography or medicine than geometry. The idea here, I think, is that you don’t study medicine in the abstract. It is a practice developed in life with persons (human anatomy, disease, cure, etc.). And you do not study or theorize about geography in the abstract. You need to walk the terrain and pay attention to the land.

Ethics, like geography and medicine, is a lived reality and theorization about ethics needs to take place in lived interaction with persons. This is equally true regarding knowledge of Christian spirituality. Knowledge of spiritual formation is a lived reality as well and we need to pay attention to the actual dynamics of spiritual formation in Christ in the lives of actual persons (this is sometimes called ‘spiritual theology’). Dallas would sometimes define spiritual formation as “a field of play for grace.” It’s a field of knowledge–a field of play–for grace.

The final chapter, Chapter 8, “Prospects for a Return to Moral Knowledge,” offers a general sketch of what needs to be done in light of the ‘disappearance’ of moral knowledge. In light of those prospects, what are some implications – some ‘lessons to be learned’ – here for professional philosophy?

Steve: The main two lessons from the history of 20th century moral thought are those I mentioned above: (1) a changing subject matter and (2) an inappropriate form of knowledge. But the other lessons to be learned are Dallas’ constructive proposals regarding (1) and (2). As a stable subject matter, Dallas recommends “the good person.” As the appropriate form of knowledge, Dallas recommends a phenomenological form. I imagine the implications of these points for professional philosophy depends on how far one judges the field has strayed from these points of view. Also, Dallas thought that one of the social factors in the disappearance was turning moral theorization and teaching over to professional philosophers. In one sense, Dallas thinks the university and the discipline of philosophy is the appropriate place for the development of moral knowledge simply because the university is meant to be the center of knowledge in our societies and philosophers have within their domain of study the nature of value. But, of course, he thinks the university–and philosophy in particular–has abdicated this role in society. Part of the abdication has to do with professionalization within philosophy where the field is driven more by getting published in the leading journals and impressing the guild than finding things to be as they are on an appropriate basis of thought and experience (i.e., knowledge).

How might Christian scholars [regardless of discipline] help contribute to this ‘return’ even though it is not just the responsibility of Christian scholars to contribute in this way?

Steve: Well, there is certainly something for everyone. I think the main thing Dallas would want for Christian scholars is that they come to see that they are working with knowledge and that Christianity is a knowledge-tradition. The first two chapters of Knowing Christ Today are key here. If Christian scholars can accept that there is moral knowledge and come to hold their moral beliefs as knowledge, then that puts them in a position to offer moral guidance. Dallas realized there is all sorts of societal resistance to this idea of offering moral guidance (e.g., the will to power), but he believed that having moral knowledge was the key to not getting caught up in the abuses of the past when it comes to moral teaching (e.g., moralizing or indoctrination). This is in part because moral knowledge is knowledge of the good person and the good person cares about the needs of others, including their need for autonomy.

Overall, there are several implications to be drawn from DMK for understanding culture, society and its institutional nodes of authority. For example, what implications do you see for issues of spiritual formation?

Steve: While this is not a book on spiritual formation, there are several ways the argument of this book connects with Dallas’ work in spiritual formation. Of course, that is clear from Dallas’ own writings in spiritual formation. In both Divine Conspiracy and Knowing Christ Today, Dallas situates Jesus’ on-going invitation to life in the kingdom of God, at least in the west, against the backdrop of the disappearance of moral knowledge.

So, the first way DMK connects with Dallas work in spiritual formation is that the comprehensibility of formation in Christ depends on the perceived possibility of moral knowledge. It is difficult to take Jesus’ answers to the fundamental questions of human existence seriously—as knowledge—if it is generally agreed upon in our culture that there are no right answers to those types of questions—there is no knowledge of such matters.

For instance, in Knowing Christ Today, Dallas writes,

Today, given the prevailing intellectual and cultural atmosphere, you are likely to pick up from your surroundings, with no special thought on your part, the conviction that there is no knowledge to be had of good and evil, no knowledge of God, and no divine presence in our world that enables us to transcend its merciless regularities. If that conviction settles in on you, you will live in terms of it and never enter the kingdom of God (140).

The second major connection has to with Dallas’ positive account of moral knowledge, which centers on an analysis of the good person as the fundamental subject matter of ethics. In DMK Dallas makes clear that a good person will seek out the means for becoming good and it is in Dallas’ spiritual formation writings that he develops the view that the means for becoming good involves confidence in the person of Jesus. Dallas writes in DMK:

A good person, then, is one who is committed to the preservation and enhancement, in an appropriate order of importance, of all the various goods over which he or she has influence, including their own moral goodness and well-being and that of others. Clearly, then, a good person will be one who cultivates their understanding of the various goods of life, and cultivates their capacity to reason clearly about those goods and about the conditions of their preservation and enhancement . . . A good person is one who chooses to be a good person, and who seeks out and implements, the means for becoming good. It does not just ‘happen’ (DMK, 373).

Of course, the means for becoming good include Jesus. In Knowing Christ Today, Dallas writes:

A really good person, as Jesus teaches, is anyone pervaded by love…How do you become a really good person? You place your confidence in Jesus Christ and become his student or apprentice in kingdom living. That amounts to progressively entering into the abundance of life he brings to us. You learn from him how to live in the kingdom of God as he himself did (KCT, 53).

This concludes the final part of a three-part interview. Enjoy part one and part two. In light of Dallas’ passing in 2013, the Evangelical Philosophical Society featured several tributes to him and his work. His work was also featured and often discussed in the pages of Philosophia Christi. The EPS website will continue to develop content related to “The Disappearance of Moral Knowledge” and its implications.