Becoming Dallas Willard: The Formation of a Philosopher, Teacher, and Christ Follower, By Gary W. Moon alt

Becoming Dallas Willard

The Formation of a Philosopher, Teacher, and Christ Follower

by Gary W. Moon
Foreword by Richard J. Foster
Afterword by John Ortberg

Becoming Dallas Willard
  • Length: 304 pages
  • Dimensions: 0 × 0 in
  • Published: March 27, 2018
  • Imprint: IVP Formatio
  • Item Code: 9921
  • ISBN: 9780830899210

*affiliate partner

  • ECPA 2019 Christian Book Award Finalist
  • 2018 Foreword INDIES Book of the Year Award Finalists - Biography

Dallas Willard was a personal mentor and inspiration to hundreds of pastors, philosophers, and average churchgoers. His presence and ideas rippled through the lives of many prominent leaders and authors, such as John Ortberg, Richard Foster, James Bryan Smith, Paula Huston, and J. P. Moreland. As a result of these relationships and the books he wrote, he fundamentally altered the way tens of thousands of Christians have understood and experienced the spiritual life.

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.

In Gary W. Moon’s candid and inspiring biography, we read how Willard became the person who mentored and partnered with his young pastor, Richard Foster, to inspire some of the most influential books on spirituality of the last generation. We see how his love of learning took him on to Baylor, the University of Wisconsin, and the University of Southern California, where he became a beloved professor and one of the most versatile members of the philosophy department.

The life of Dallas Willard deserves attention because he became a person who himself experienced authentic transformation of life and character. Dallas Willard not only taught about spiritual disciplines, he became a different person because of them. He became a grounded person, a spiritually alive person as he put them into practice, finding God, as he often said, "at the end of his rope." Here is a life that gives us all hope.

"I knew Dallas Willard very well. He supervised my dissertation at USC, and upon graduation in 1985, he and Jane seemed to adopt my wife and me as their children. Those who did not know Dallas in person can get a good sense of him from his lectures and writings. But what has been a gnawing omission is the details of his life made available to the public—until now. Gary Moon's incredible book Becoming Dallas Willard fills this void and more. It is a first-rate, accurate, honest, timely, and riveting biography. If you enjoy Dallas's lectures and writings, you need to read this book. I am so thankful to Gary for doing such a careful and painstakingly accurate treatment of the life of the greatest man I ever met."

J. P. Moreland, distinguished professor of philosophy, Talbot School of Theology, Biola University; author of Love Your God With all Your Mind

"I will treasure this book for the rest of my life because Dallas is truly present in it."

Aaron Preston, associate professor of philosophy, Valparaiso University

"This is the best book I've read in a while—no exaggeration! I heartily recommend it, but with a warning wrapped in a prayer: get ready to weep, both in empathy for your friend's suffering and in gratitude for the beautiful life God fashioned through it. The eyes are the window of the soul. Jesus' ancient followers remind us that tears are a gift that cleans the window and allows light to flood the inner self. I'm a little brighter inside for having read this book. My prayer is that our Father may grant you the same gift through these pages."

Daniel Napier, associate professor of theology, Austin Graduate School of Theology

"Gary Moon has provided a detailed and intimate depiction of the life of Dallas Willard from his inauspicious beginnings in rural Missouri to his full stature as a philosophical and spiritual thinker of extraordinary intelligence, wisdom, and clarity. In addition to sharing numerous and often heart-rending stories of Dallas's accomplishments, setbacks, and defining experiences, Moon describes the development of Willard's philosophical and religious thought and how it informed, and was informed by, his experiences and actions. What emerges is a well-rounded description of a man whose humility, immense knowledge, commitment to truth, and dedication to the well-being of others left those whose lives he touched forever improved. This is the story of a good man, and we are indebted to Gary Moon for telling it."

Walter Hopp, associate professor of philosophy, Boston University

"An exceptional thinker and person whose work and example had a profound influence on so many, Dallas Willard was one of the truly wise men I have known. Gary Moon has written an engaging biography of this philosopher, university professor, and religious thinker who, though an ordinary man of the people, had an extraordinary impact. Moon weaves together the intriguing details of Willard's life, career, ideas, and writings to present an engaging portrait of a philosopher who made a real difference in our understanding of our times, in the lives of his students, for his many readers, and especially for those of us who were fortunate enough to know and work with him."

Brendan Sweetman, department of philosophy, Rockhurst University

"The Willard wit and charm appear on nearly every page of this edifying book. Those who knew Dallas well will learn more besides, much of it truly captivating. Gary Moon manages to weave what is anecdotally interesting with what is spiritually compelling, and the whole thing is layered with philosophical richness without which there would be no Dallas Willard. "

R. Douglas Geivett, professor of philosophy, Talbot School of Theology, Biola University

"I think many people will surprised, encouraged and, yes, pained by Dallas's journey. Still, this is a story that will prolong his important legacy."

Keith Matthews, Azusa Pacific University

"Only a man of Gary Moon's astute perspective, intellectual acumen, and spiritual insight could write a biography that accomplishes what most don't. Becoming Dallas Willard combines Dallas's ordinary but compelling life events with a thoughtful grasp of Willard's intellectual journey through spirituality, philosophy, and psychology. This is a rare accomplishment for a biographer, but reading this story has a third benefit beyond knowledge and understanding, which is the ability to change us as readers. Moon's words can move us so deeply that we are not just reading a book, but participating in our own personal transformation. This is an amazing biography for a time such as ours."

Roy M. Carlisle, acquisitions director at Independent Institute

"'Dallas was a wonderfully disruptive presence in the world,' may be the best description of the man whose theology has helped all of us understand and experience God and his kingdom in clear, hopeful, and magnificent ways. But Dallas's humanity was, to me, as strong a draw to him as his mind. Gary has managed to capture both the brilliance and the brokenness of Dallas, and I think the weaving of those two threads together is what God used to shape this most unique and winsome of men. This story is ministering to some of the most broken and wounded parts of my soul."

Nancy Ortberg, CEO of Transforming the Bay with Christ

"C. S. Lewis once wrote, 'no possible degree of holiness or heroism which has ever been recorded of the greatest saints is beyond what He [God] is determined to produce in every one of us in the end.' In Becoming Dallas Willard, Dr. Gary Moon presents in narrative a developing portrait of a modern saint, a man who both believed and lived the sober truth that real change is possible for all of us. Gratefully, Gary does not write a hagiographic account of one great man's life that awakens desire to become a truly good person but frustrates us with no idea of what to do. I intend to reread what Dallas wrote. His thoughts just might light the path to where I long to go."

Larry Crabb, psychologist, author, When God’s Ways Make No Sense

"Thank you for this beautiful look at one of my heroes. I remember many events where Dallas was speaking and I always left feeling that I had been in the presence of a true spiritual wise man. I will read this book again and again."

Ken Medema, concert and performing artist

"Dallas Willard has had an immense influence on many Christians in our time. His writings would also benefit the lives of many who are not yet familiar with his thought. Gary Moon's winsome telling of Willard's life and thought will deepen the appreciation of those who already know his work and will provide an insightful introduction to those who do not. In this well-written book, Dallas Willard's academic and spiritual legacy lives on."

Tremper Longman III, distinguished scholar of biblical studies, Westmont College

"'Let your light shine before others, that they may see your good deeds and glorify your Father in heaven.' This was the life of Dallas Willard. And yet, as nice as it is to know of these rare luminaries, such a light-filled life can seem unreachable for the rest of us. In Becoming Dallas Willard, Gary Moon helps us see that who Dallas became was not always who he was. It is encouraging to know that he, too, had a long way to go. Reading this biography has made Dallas's writings on spiritual formation all the more relevant and believable. If you have found Dallas's other books to be helpful in your spiritual life, reading this biography will round out the story and drive those points home. If you haven't read Dallas's other books, this biography is the perfect place to begin. Chances are that meeting Dallas in the pages of this biography will start you on the journey of a lifetime."

Steve L. Porter, professor of theology and philosophy, Biola University, editor, Journal of Spiritual Formation and Soul Care, PhD student of Dallas Willard (USC 2003)

"If you are reading this book to learn more about Dallas Willard, you will be richly rewarded with an intimate portrait of a brilliant, complex, wounded, and generous man. Even better, through Dallas you will learn more about Jesus of Nazareth and how to have a life of loving interaction with him here and now. Through faithful research and sensitive interviews, Gary Moon fittingly honors Dallas while supremely exalting Jesus. Dallas would want it no other way."

Sandra D. Wilson, spiritual director, retired family therapist and seminary professor, author of Released from Shame and Into Abba's Arms

"The main reason I took with absolute seriousness the disruptive ideas that Dallas taught about God and God's kingdom was that he obviously lived in these realities himself. The good news he shared was credible because of his own overwhelmingly radiant life. Dallas lived in the house of his own proclamation. Now, in this labor of love, Gary Moon has given us a believable glimpse into how Dallas became the person he was. By describing Dallas's slow and gradual journey of inner transformation within the crucible of his own challenging and sometimes painful life circumstances, this biography communicates the wonderful good news that real change is possible for each one of us. I believe that this book will light up a deep and intense longing in many hearts to live more faithfully as apprentices of Christ in the kingdom of God."

Trevor Hudson, Methodist minister in South Africa, senior fellow, Dallas Willard Center and Martin Institute, lecturer, Renovaré Institute for Spiritual Formation

"Gary Moon offers a fascinating depiction of the life of Dallas Willard in this wonderful biography. As a psychologist, I have always been interested in exactly how we develop in the ways that we do. Becoming Dallas Willard gives us deep insights into the formation of this man who would become a spiritual light for many Christians. Dallas's searingly difficult childhood produced aching losses that clearly come through these pages. This biography offers a glimpse into its subject's life that honors the realism of Dallas's philosophical identity. Not skipping over the foibles and failures, we see Dallas's early fundamentalist ideas contrasting with his inner experience. We understand the contributions of his revivalist upbringing and its impact on his marriage, parenting, work, and experience with God. Yet through all of the pain, all of the resulting challenges, all of the deep relationships he experienced, Dallas Willard's life shines most with a vibrant joy of being with God. It is an extraordinary book exegeting the life of an extraordinary man."

C. Jeffrey Terrell, dean, College of Education and Human Services, professor of counseling psychology, John Brown University

"What a gift it's been to read the biography of Dallas! It feels like getting to know him better and receiving more of God's gifting through him. The depth of thought, reflection, and mastery of not only Dallas's life but also the explanation of concepts from theology, psychology, philosophy are amazing. It's clear, powerful, compelling, and moving both for folks who knew Dallas and many who will meet him through this book."

John Ortberg, pastor, Menlo Church, author, Soul Keeping: Caring for the Most Important Part of You

"I only heard Dallas Willard speak once, many years ago. I was in the audience at the invitation of my friend Gary Moon as Dallas gave twelve precisely timed ten-minute talks. As I listened, I was overwhelmed with two things: the insightful truth that Dallas spoke about spiritual formation, and the simple and disarming way in which he spoke it. When I met Dallas after the sessions, I was overwhelmed with two other things: the humility that Dallas exhibited, and the joy that oozed out of him. In this marvelous book, Gary has helped me understand more fully what made Dallas tick. Gary, a master storyteller, provides many deep insights into Dallas's thinking and life for people who 'sit at the grown-up table.' But for those of us who 'sit at the kid’s table,' Gary puts the food where we can reach it. This book leads me closer to Jesus, the one who transformed Dallas and reminded him again and again over the years: 'I'm here. I see you. I've got you.'"

Curt Cloninger, storyteller

"One of the most astonishing things about Dallas Willard was how his speaking, teaching, and writing seemed so effortless. But, as this official biography so beautifully chronicles, 'Dallas Willard had to become Dallas Willard,' the beloved man whose words and ways have uniquely touched a whole generation. Here, through hard and often heartbreaking times, one can see God structuring Dallas's character and life. This book presents the powerful message that there is hope for each of us, because God's kingdom is here for the taking—if we want it."

Greg Jesson, writer and speaker

"Years ago, it was suggested to me that a great way to learn key teachings from St. Augustine would be to read a biography, where the sweeping yet nuanced ideas he wrote about could be understood in the context of the story—his life—from which they emerged. It helped! I find the same experience reading Gary Moon's comprehensive, instructive, and intimate biography of Dallas Willard. World-changing ideas and refreshing, freeing insights are set in the context of the tragically beautiful story—Dallas's life—from which they emerged. Whether you are familiar with Dallas's teaching or just beginning a journey of discovery, you will come to understand and appreciate more deeply the arc of his reason, passion, humility, and service."

Mindy Caliguire, author, speaker, founder of Soul Care

"The web of Dallas Willard's life is a highly complex, wondrous, and redemptive story woven from the strands of God's providence: family, friends, colleagues, events, institutions, ministry, teaching, writing, choices, pain, grief, healing, deep faith, and love. How difficult and maybe all but impossible task it is for a biographer to untangle and explain the story of any image-bearer's life, much less a giant in the land such as Dallas Willard. But Gary Moon does this in a kind, discerning, and wise manner. We can now know Dallas Willard much better—and be enriched and encouraged in the knowing—because his close friend Gary Moon has researched and written so clearly."

Christopher Hall, president, Renovaré

"You'll enjoy the intriguing story behind a man who lived in the kingdom of God here and now. Drawn skillfully from a variety of resources, Becoming Dallas Willard shows us how Dallas thought carefully, lived authentically, and loved well."

Jan Johnson, coauthor with Dallas Willard of Renovation of the Heart in Daily Practice, Hearing God Through the Year, and Study Guide to the Divine Conspiracy

"Gary Moon has put his heart and soul into this project—researching, writing, and carefully crafting what has become a quite remarkable book. . . . The result is a fascinating perspective on a big man who will continue to cast a long shadow over the church and its people for many years to come."

James Catford, chair of Renovaré Britain and Ireland, and former publisher at HarperCollins

"I am straining for the words to convey my deep gratitude for both a life so well lived and a story so well told. I cannot recommend this paradigm-shifting, page-turning, potentially life-altering biography highly enough. Take, read, and be changed."

Carolyn Arends, recording artist, author, and Renovaré Director of Education

"Dallas Willard was one of the greatest philosophical and theological minds of our time. His teaching and work has had a profound impact on my life and many others. I am grateful for the insights contained in this biography. It allows us to learn not just from the writings and teachings of Dallas Willard, but also from his own life journey."

John Kasich, Governor of Ohio

"If we are fortunate, once in our lifetime a human supernova presence streaks across our mental and emotional horizon, and the intensity of this light changes us forever. Dallas Willard was such a supernova for me. . . . Dallas’s brilliance, as important as it is, is far from the whole story. He possessed in his person a spiritual formation into Christlikeness that was simply astonishing. . . . The deepest, most fundamental reason for studying the life of another person is so we can learn to live our lives more fully, more truly, more authentically. This is why Becoming Dallas Willard is a genuinely important book."

Richard J. Foster, from the foreword



Part I: The First Thirty Years
1. Keep Eternity Before the Eyes of the Children
2. There Are No Unwanted Children
3. Coming of Age in Rural America
4. Running into Jane
5. Running into God
6. Academic Awakening
7. Which Path to Take?

Part II: Three Kingdoms
8. The Philosopher: Early Years at USC
9. The Philosopher: King and Queen of Campus
10. Formation at Home
11. Accidental Birth of a Movement
12. So Long as We Are Doing the Work Ourselves

Part III: Finishing Well
13. Ideas That Matter for Time and Eternity: Part One
14. Ideas That Matter for Time and Eternity: Part Two
15. Thank You!
16. Healing Light: Joining the Fellowship of the Burning Heart

A Letter from the Willard Family
Interviews and Correspondence


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Gary W. Moon

Gary W. Moon (PhD, Fuller Theological Seminary) is the founding director of the Martin Institute and Dallas Willard Center for Spiritual Formation at Westmont College in Santa Barbara, California. He continues to serve as the director of Conversatio Divina for the Martin Institute. He also serves as distinguished professor of psychology and Christian spirituality at Richmont Graduate University. He is the author of numerous books and curriculum resources including Apprenticeship with Jesus and Falling for God.