(September 4, 1935 — May 8, 2013)
In another lifetime, before I became the man I am today, I was searching…searching for I didn’t quite know what. I was utterly weary of a paper-thin Christianity propped up by cheap certitude recycling tired clichés. I was yearning for something deeper, richer, fuller. Yes, I was searching, but I hardly knew where to look. I was embarrassingly ignorant of “the good stuff.” With nowhere else to turn I began reading the Early Church Fathers, philosophy, and classic literature. Maximus the Confessor, Søren Kierkegaard, and Fyodor Dostoevsky were a big help, but I needed something contemporary — I needed a well dug in my own time.
One afternoon I was in my library. I was deliberately looking for a book that would “give me a breakthrough.” I couldn’t settle on anything. So I prayed: “God, show me what to read.” And I sensed…nothing. I went downstairs feeling a bit agitated and slumped into a chair. Within a minute or two Peri walked into the room, handed me a book and said, “I think you should read this.” She knew nothing of my moments ago prayer, but she had just handed me a book, and told me to read it. This was my Augustine-like “take and read” moment. It sent chills down my spine. The book was Dallas Willard’s The Divine Conspiracy. The strange thing was Peri had not read it and had no more idea who Dallas Willard was than I did. Neither of us were sure how the book had even made its way into our house. But, oh my, was it ever an answer to prayer!
The next day I was on a flight to who-knows-where and I took out the book given to me by an angel named Peri. I began to read. And my life changed forever. Hyperbole? No. Stone cold fact. Reading Dallas Willard’s Divine Conspiracy was like having a door kicked open in my mind. It opened my eyes to the kingdom of God. And the kingdom of God is, well, everything!
Here’s what Richard Foster says about The Divine Conspiracy…
The Divine Conspiracy is the book I have been searching for all my life. Like Michelangelo’s Sistine ceiling, it is a masterpiece and a wonder. I would place The Divine Conspiracy in rare company indeed: along-side the writings of Dietrich Bonhoeffer and John Wesley, John Calvin and Martin Luther, Teresa of Avila and Hildegard of Bingen, and perhaps even Thomas Aquinas and Augustine of Hippo. If the parousia tarries, this is a book for the next millennium.
In one way or another — directly or indirectly — Dallas Willard was my gateway to “the good stuff.” Over the next few years I completely read myself into a new (and much better!) place. In short order I would find N.T. Wright, Walter Brueggemann, Stanley Hauerwas, John Howard Yoder, René Girard, Frederick Buechner, Thomas Merton, Miroslav Volf, Scot McKnight, Hans urs Von Balthasar, David Bentley Hart — like I said, all the good stuff. But it all began with dear, dear Dallas Willard, my beloved divine conspirator.
Jesus, I never had the opportunity, so please tell Dallas I said thanks.
PS: Here’s a picture of what most every page of my well-worn copy of The Divine Conspiracy looks like. My barely legible scrawl at the bottom of the page says, “preach this.” And believe me, I did!
Here’s a picture