One Large Truth at the Heart of Faith: Remembering Dallas Willard

Mel Lawrenz, the author of Spiritual Influence and Minister at Large of Elmbrook Church, reflects on “one large truth” at the heart of faith, prompted by the passing of influential author Dallas Willard.

And we all, who with unveiled faces contemplate the Lord’s glory, are being transformed into his imagewith ever-increasing glory, which comes from the Lord, who is the Spirit. (2 Corinthians 3:18)

One large truth keeps dropping in front of my face ever since the death of philosopher and author Dallas Willard last week.

I’ve read numerous tributes by friends and associates of Willard’s and they keep bringing up this one large truth. I had just one conversation with Dallas Willard years ago, but it confirmed to me that he was driven by this one large truth. Many of my friends who have promoted spiritual formation in the last twenty years have also been speaking about this one large truth since Willard’s death.

John Stott spoke about this one large truth in his last public address given in the summer of 2007, saying that this truth is the sum of the Christian life.

The one large truth I am speaking about is this: the whole purpose of discipleship is for us to become more and more like Jesus.

This we already know. But just think of the consequences if we actually made this one large truth a singular focus, the one thing that really matters, in our lives.

  • Our discussions about discipleship would focus primarily on who we are, and what we do would never be an end in itself;
  • We wouldn’t be accused of crass bigotry when we are in honest discussions about same-sex marriage;
  • People who are lost would see qualities of personhood they would be attracted to;
    We would be offering a gospel that truly makes a difference in our communities and the world-right here, right now;
  • We would need fewer books and seminars on how to be good husbands or wives, moms or dads, because the fruit of the Spirit—love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, gentleness, faithfulness, and self-control—would shape all our actions and reactions;
  • Christian witness would never be about joining our club, but gaining one’s life;
  • We would have free and open faith discussions with Muslims and Hindus and atheists because our exchanges would be about the pursuit of truth, not power or control;
  • Rancor would sicken us, we’d have no interest in gossip, we wouldn’t have the time or interest to do probing inquiries to figure out who is “in” and who is “out”;
  • Prayer, worship, Scripture reading, and other disciplines would be real-time interactions with God, not means to certain ends.

So if this one large truth is true, and it it really is so large, why is it not sufficient for us? Why are our efforts at discipleship askew and ineffective? How is it that we can misbehave so badly, act in ways that are so un-Christlike, and not see our behavior as undermining the very thing we say we stand for? I ask myself this because even on a good day I slip so easily into interactions that would make me shame-faced if Jesus walked in the room.

Is it that we always want to improve on God’s simple things? Is it that we consider love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, gentleness, faithfulness, and self-control insufficient? Is it that we want to do things for which we can take credit?

Is it that when we start a new week or a new day the voices in our ears that dominate belong to the people we want to please, the bosses we must impress, the “important” people we want to like us, the problem people we are in never-ending dances with?

What a shame. When God has made his desires for our lives entirely unambiguous, it is a crime when we make other things more important. Maybe even idolatrous. When God shows us one large truth, we must keep it large in our vision.

Here is where I must say I cannot point fingers at other people—that there is no one who more disappoints me than me. That is true—but insufficient. Like everyone else, I cannot live swinging between overconfidence and paralyzing discouragement. Nothing much comes of zig-zag lives. Somehow we need the steadying power of focus on Christ.

Whether you have benefited from the thoughts of Dallas Willard or not, this much is true: he certainly helped us all by focussing on one large truth, which is this (in the words of another author, John Stott): “God wants His people to become like Christ. Christlikeness is the will of God for the people of God.”

For a study of the fruit of the Spirit, love joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, gentleness, faithfulness, and self-control, and spiritual disciplines, see Mel Lawrenz’s Patterns: Ways to Develop a God-Filled Life.

Related posts:

  1. Proclaiming Truth, Rejecting Heresy: Reflections on the Nicene Creed
  2. Remembering 9/11: Finding Hope in God in the Aftermath of Tragedy
  3. Celebrating the Life and Ministry of John Stott
  4. Monuments and Memorial Days: remembering who we are
  5. Mother’s Day Reflection: Raising Up a Hero of Faith

Posted by Andy

Filed under News