Many Christians have heard the name Dallas Willard, a professor of philosophy at University of Southern California and a prolific speaker and author within the evangelical church for many years. What many may not know is that Dallas Willard is a proponent of contemplative spirituality and emerging theology.
Recently, a Lighthouse Trails reader sent us a link to a 2009 video where John Ortberg is sharing the stage with Dallas Willard in front of a live audience. The session is called “Tough Questions.” We are presenting this video to our readers because we believe it is a case in point of the spiritual outlook of the contemplative’s life. That may seem like a strong statement to say about Dallas Willard, but when you hear him answer questions like “Is Jesus God?,” we think you will understand why we have said this. The “fruit” of contemplative prayer, in time, moves the practitioner further and further away from biblical Christianity.
In 1995, Dallas Willard was identified with Richard Foster and the “Spiritual Formation” (i.e., contemplative prayer/”spiritual disciplines”) movement by Rick Warren in Warren’s first book, The Purpose Driven Church where Warren said that the Spiritual Formation movement was a “valid message” and a “wake up call” to the church (p. 127). In 2005, Willard worked with Richard Foster to promote the very troubling Renovare Spiritual Formation Study Bible. Over the past several years, Willard has spoken frequently at Renovare (Foster’s organization) events. Their comradeship is clearly marked and continues that way today. The point being is that Willard resonates with Spiritual Formation and Richard Foster. That is a point that has at times been questioned, but the answer is very evident if one studies the history of Dallas Willard. And realizing the true nature of what is being called “Spiritual Formation,” that if one practices certain “disciplines” one can become more “Christ-like” regardless of being born again or not, the seriousness of the situation becomes evident. Being born again is not a criteria as far as the contemplative goes, even though Scripture is absolutely clear, “Ye must be born again” (John 3:7).
To understand a bit more fully what contemplatives typically believe as far as the authority of Scripture, it would be good to read something about one of the editors, Walter Brueggemann, of the Renovare Spiritual Formation Bible. Here you can see how the contemplative believes that Scripture is not “fixed” or set in stone but is ever changing. For Foster and Willard to include Brueggemann as a main editor in that “Bible” project speaks volumes.
That said, we have had readers contact us and say, “We know Richard Foster is a contemplative, but isn’t Dallas Willard ok? He isn’t contemplative is he?” The answer to that, which can be proven by the mystics who Willard has endorsed and promoted consistently for many years, is a resounding yes. For instance, at Fuller Seminary, Willard has taught a Spirituality and Ministry course where recommended reading includes Thomas Merton, Henri Nouwen, and Richard Foster. On Willard’s own website, he has been listing, under recommended reading, the names of numerous contemplative mystic advocates and teachers such as Jan Johnson, Ignatius of Loyola, Henri Nouwen, Madame Guyon, Teresa of Avila, and Evelyn Underhill. These names have been on his website for years and are there today.
Dallas Willard has endorsed the covers of books by authors such as Ruth Haley Barton (trained at the Shalem Institute, a learning center that has strong universalistic propensities, in her book Invitation to Silence and Solitude. Willard’s own books are endorsed by people such as goddess worshiper Sue Monk Kidd. He co-authored a book with contemplative Jan Johnson. In his own book, Spirit of the Disciplines (a very popular book in evangelical circles), he favorably quotes mystic monk Thomas Merton, Agnes Sanford, and George Fox.
In addition to many books where he has been clearly connected to contemplatives, he has sat on the board of the contemplative, now emerging, Allelon for a number of years with Leonard Sweet, Richard Foster, Brian McLaren, and Eugene Peterson. 1
With this introduction, showing Willard’s obvious embracing of those in the mystical contemplative camp, please watch the following video with discernment: http://mppc.org/toughquestions