Becoming Dallas Willard (Gary Moon)

Discussion in 'Book Reviews' started by BayouHuguenot, Sep 3, 2019.

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  1. BayouHuguenot

    BayouHuguenot Puritanboard Amanuensis

    This is a fine continuation of Eternal Living, which was a compilation of reflections on Dallas’s life. It covers his early childhood in the poverty-stricken Ozarks (and echoes some of Thomas Oden’s own memories), his move to Temple Tenn. and later marriage to Jane.

    Theme of the book: Dallas went to “the thing itself,” whether in philosophy or in prayer.

    Metaphysical Realism

    Is the object I see simply a representation of my own thoughts? If it is, can I ever really know the object in question?


    Moore and Husserl

    Moore was the first philosopher in terms of an analytic approach that Willard read. Moore helped explode the idealist thesis. Moore, however, left undone one crucial aspect: what to make of the human mind? Husserl filled in the gap.

    Husserl (as Dallas reports him): the basic problem is to understand consciousness and not try to hide philosophical problems by focusing on language or words. We have knowledge. We deal with reality and not merely some historical process.

    It is possible to have direct experience with a mind-independent world.

    The Philosophical Split and USC

    Brother Dallas came to USC when the analytic/continental split was beginning to harden. Some clarifications:

    Analytic philosophy: originally began as a break from idealism and focused on linguistic analysis. In its unChristian form it hardened and became Bertrand Russell.

    Continental philosophy: subjective starting point. It later became postmodernism. In its unChristian form it is the Critical Theory of today.

    Dallas was able to avoid the worst of this split by focusing on the philosophical classics. He focused more on questions of goodness, the soul, and moral development.

    Finishing Well

    Before his death, Dallas gave an outline to JP Moreland on where the spiritual formation movement should go:

    1) Metaphysical realism. There is a mind-independent world to which we have access. This also includes the soul, the kingdom of God, and the Trinity.

    2) Epistemic realism. We are in direct contact with objects of knowledge. Nothing stands between the mind and items of knowledge “in cases of direct awareness.”

    3) Models of the human person and Christian spiritual formation.

    4) Spiritually formative practices that are objectively testable.

    The final section when Dallas was on his deathbed was very good. Being weak and barely able to speak for weeks, before he died he said “Thank you” in a very clear voice to Someone else in the room.
  2. C. M. Sheffield

    C. M. Sheffield Puritan Board Senior

    I've read two of Willard's books (The Spirit of the Disciplines and The Divine Conspiracy) and listened to a handful of his lectures. Willard was a pietistic mystic philosopher who spoke much of "spiritual formation" and "spiritual disciplines" but little of Christ and his gospel. The posts you've made about him confirm that opinion. Further, he was an open-theist with very low views of God and his perfections. I cannot see how anyone who is doctrinally sound would think very highly of him.
    Last edited: Sep 4, 2019
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  3. BayouHuguenot

    BayouHuguenot Puritanboard Amanuensis

    "Spoke little of Christ" is simply false.

    As to my reading of him, he trained several prominent Christian philosophers (Bahnsen and Moreland). That makes me want to read about him.

    Part of my interest is metaphysical and epistemological realism. Willard was a leading figure in that field. He was also the authority on Husserl, in whom I am interested.
  4. BayouHuguenot

    BayouHuguenot Puritanboard Amanuensis

    By parity of reasoning:

    Some guys on PB promote Thomas Aquinas. I don't see how anyone who is well-grounded in theology can promote a guy who believes God is a cookie.

    Some guys on PB are sympathetic to Doug Wilson. I don't see how anyone who is well-grounded in theology can promote a guy whose church has been involved in rape and pedophilia scandals.
  5. C. M. Sheffield

    C. M. Sheffield Puritan Board Senior

    As with other mystics, much of what Willard says about Christ is incidental. Christ is rarely if ever the focus and aim. He seems to focus on Christ only insofar as it was useful for speaking of man's spiritual formation. His theology/philosophy is very man-centered.
  6. Taylor Sexton

    Taylor Sexton Puritan Board Junior

    I've seen this brought up several times on PB, and they are serious charges. Yet, I can't find a single thing on Google related to any instances of rape or pedophilia occurring, being accepted, or facilitated at Christkirk. What are you talking about here?

    (I know this is completely off topic, but you opened the door.)
  7. Jeri Tanner

    Jeri Tanner Moderator Staff Member

    *Moderating* Keep replies to the subject of Dallas Willard and not Doug Wilson on this thread. The door remains closed for this. :judge:
  8. BayouHuguenot

    BayouHuguenot Puritanboard Amanuensis

    I understand and respect that. I brought up Wilson as a parity of reasoning argument. I can use the same thing with Thomas Aquinas, who doesn't have quite the baggage.
  9. BayouHuguenot

    BayouHuguenot Puritanboard Amanuensis

    Let's suppose, ex hypothesi, that WIllard is a mystic who doesn't preach Christ. In the form of debate I will concede that for sake of argument. Is the thesis of the book identifiable and is it true? Moon argued that Willard applied Husserl's idea of the direct experience and knowledge of the ding an sich, pace Kant, to the Trinity.

    From this Willard argues that we can really know Jesus. From this established corrollary, we can also say that Jesus brings real knowledge. That's the point of hte book, besides the exciting biographical narrative.
  10. C. M. Sheffield

    C. M. Sheffield Puritan Board Senior

    Respectfully, no one needs Willard's clever philosophy to give them certainty that they can really know Jesus. The plain testimony of God is sufficient. By faith in God's Word, "you may know the certainty of those things in which you were instructed" (Luke 1:4). "Beware lest any man spoil you through philosophy and vain deceit, after the tradition of men, after the rudiments of the world, and not after Christ" (Col. 2:8).
  11. BayouHuguenot

    BayouHuguenot Puritanboard Amanuensis

    It's not his clever philosophy. Metaphysical realism is the same thing that Augustine, Athanasius--well, basically the entire Christian tradition taught. Willard just updated it as a response to Kant and postmodernism.

    And while the church has always taught metaphysical realism (what you call "a clever philosophy"), it hasn't always given good responses to post-Kantianism. Willard has. His essay "The God's eye-view" is the best thing ever written in response to modern Kantians.
  12. Tyro

    Tyro Puritan Board Freshman

    Reading Willard's contribution to the important volume Naturalism: A Critical Analysis was greatly beneficial to me. Who could seriously deny the chops on display in that work?

    But when Willard begins answering basic questions about the Christian faith itself, things begin to unravel. This video is 30 minutes long, and I apologize for that. But it's instructive.

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  13. BayouHuguenot

    BayouHuguenot Puritanboard Amanuensis

    That's fair. I guess my take on Christian thinkers is that I can read people I disagree with. I've read Turretin through several times, as well as basically every major Reformed theology, so I think I can handle it.

    And Willard on prayer is too good to ignore. I started experiencing mighty answers to prayer by following his advice.
  14. Tyro

    Tyro Puritan Board Freshman

    Of course I agree that one can benefit from reading someone with whom they disagree (I said as much in my post). But I think the central issue is the nature of the disagreement. Disagreeing with Thomas Goodwin about supralapsarianism or Calvin on baptism is nothing at all like disagreeing with Willard about how a sinner is justified or how one is included in the kingdom.

    The reason I provided the video is because it demonstrates something I think we often see with people like N.T. Wright - i.e., the only way to truly get to the core of what they really think is cross-examination. Books are written with great care and measured effort, and moderated debates involve the use of pre-written speeches and anticipated rebuttals. But the value of a probing cross-ex is in its ability to catch the person in moments of unprepared, spontaneous thought. Often you'll learn the most about what they really believe in such moments.
  15. Jeri Tanner

    Jeri Tanner Moderator Staff Member

    What did Dallas teach you that has caused you to begin having more answers to prayer, I'm curious.
  16. C. M. Sheffield

    C. M. Sheffield Puritan Board Senior

    The subject of prayer is one where Willard's open-theism becomes apparent.
  17. C. M. Sheffield

    C. M. Sheffield Puritan Board Senior

    This brief video is enough to demonstrate that Willard held to heretical views of God and His salvation.
  18. BayouHuguenot

    BayouHuguenot Puritanboard Amanuensis

    Talk to God like he is really there beside me. When I frame questions, and since I am a co-worker with God, I try to flesh out what these requests really look like and entail. That forces me to either dig in on the request or re-evaluate it. It's a form of give and take.
  19. Susan777

    Susan777 Puritan Board Freshman

    That was an interesting interview. If Willard cannot affirm that Jesus is God then whatever else the man has written has become irrelevant to me. There are a multitude of philosophers who enjoy a little God-talk but they are empty cisterns. Christian philosophers are a different matter. This man is apparently not a Christian.
  20. BayouHuguenot

    BayouHuguenot Puritanboard Amanuensis

    where in the interview did he say that because that runs against everything I have heard him speak on.
  21. BayouHuguenot

    BayouHuguenot Puritanboard Amanuensis

    That video was awful. I was begging for Steven Anderson two minutes in. I now apologize for all of the times I might have ridiculed Anderson's wackiness. Willard didn't deny Jesus was God. (And be careful how you frame that. I can write an advanced level Christology quiz which most of you all will fail because it depends on how certain terms are glossed, which glosses weren't always obvious in the early church).

    Willard was saying that being a Christian is more than just affirming the right propositions (most of which Satan could do).
  22. C. M. Sheffield

    C. M. Sheffield Puritan Board Senior

    Wow. Good thing we have you here to keep all of us simpletons straight. ;)
  23. Tyro

    Tyro Puritan Board Freshman

    Perhaps you missed the germane portions of the video. For example, when Willard was answering a question about people who believe and practice other religions, but do so devoutly - will they not be saved? From 15:30, here is Willard's response:

    "The way the question is often put - 'well, won't devout Buddhists and devout Hindus?' - well, it depends on what you mean by 'devout.' Now I believe that everyone who deserves to be saved will be saved, no matter where they are or what they do. And our scriptures talk about that, and they say things like, 'God looks on the heart and man looks on the outward appearance.'"

    Now, you wrote: "Willard was saying that being a Christian is more than just affirming the right propositions." I think that's just a hair or two off the bull's eye. Willard's argument is not that being a Christian requires more than affirming the right propositions - no, he's saying that being a Christian is not required at all. Devoutness is. For Willard, "no matter where you are or what you do," so long as God is pleased when he looks at your heart, and finds that you deserve to be saved, you will be. That's what he's saying here. So he just can't bring himself to say that a Buddhist or a Hindu will not be saved. The point that Bezel (the gentleman in the video) is making is that Jesus answered this question very differently, viz. John 8.

    Willard puts it even more plainly in an article he wrote for a 2001 edition of Cutting Edge. I will quote him at length:

    "What Paul is clearly saying is that if anyone is worthy of being saved, they will be saved. At that point many Christians get very anxious, saying that absolutely no one is worthy of being saved. The implication of that is that a person can be almost totally good, but miss the message about Jesus, and be sent to hell. What kind of a God would do that? I am not going to stand in the way of anyone whom God wants to save. I am not going to say "he can't save them." I am happy for God to save anyone he wants in any way he can. It is possible for someone who does not know Jesus to be saved. But anyone who is going to be saved is going to be saved by Jesus. 'There is no other name given under heaven by which men can be saved.'"

    This quote is helpful because it sheds light on what Willard says in the video. His position is that God looks at John Doe's heart and finds that it's good - "almost totally good" - and such devoutness of heart makes John Doe worthy of being saved by Jesus, even though John is actually a devotee of the god Vishnu and his avatar, Krishna. John's faith in the person and work of Christ is not what's relevant here (there isn't any) - his goodness of heart is. So Jesus will save John Doe even though he worships a rival, false god. Why? Because the Lord sees how good John's heart is, and recognizes that he is worthy of being saved.

    This is what people in this thread are responding to. And surely they are right to do so.
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  24. Kinghezy

    Kinghezy Puritan Board Freshman

    Thanks for the video. These men are very clever, much more clever than me. They may have something useful to say, but I always worry that I will not notice them sliding into area that I would prefer not to absorb. I find that there are discernable impacts from what a read, for instance if I happen to read a parenting book (a topic I generally try to avoid as a rule) that advocates spanking, I find myself overcompensating in using spanking. Not reading them is the standard I hold for myself, not for others. I would not exhaust what is out there simply focusing on Reformed writers and so would prefer to focus my energies there

    His responses strike me as like a politician, where to me at least, he evades the question. And his "depends what you mean by devout" (when I listened to it), struck me as Clintonesque in trying to equivocate what the plain meaning means. Not sure if I am being unfair or dense, but I am generally not impressed when people avoid the questions.
  25. Tyro

    Tyro Puritan Board Freshman

    I agree that Willard's response sounded like equivocation, but I will say that when seen against the backdrop of many other comments of his, as well as much of his written work, it's clear that he genuinely meant what he said there. He was trying to clarify that by "devout" he did not mean devoutly Christian, but rather that he meant the opposite. The possibility of salvation for "devout" non-believers was what he was asked about, and it was what he intended to convey in his answer - i.e., his belief that Jesus saves people because they have good hearts, whether they offer their worship to Christ or to Vishnu or to whomever. So by saying "it depends on what you mean by devout," Willard was clarifying that he was proposing something he knew wouldn't/couldn't be anticipated by the question - i.e., Willard's conception of devoutness is wholly independent of belief in or love to Christ.

    I hope the video was clarifying for people.
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