UPDATE: Dallas Willard died on May 8, 2013. See: A Tribute from InterVarsity Press.
Dallas Willard was teaching Philosophy classes and working on his PhD when he became actively involved with InterVarsity at the University of Wisconsin-Madison. He described finding an organization on campus committed to seriously seeking God as a “tremendous relief.”
“To have a group of people, including some faculty members, working out the practice of devotion in a setting where there are so many ways that one can go, is a wonderful thing,” he said. “InterVarsity has nourished so many people through their spirit of openness and freedom, while at the same time taking the Bible and the teachings and person of Jesus Christ very seriously. I don’t think there’s any group that matches that on the campus.”
A Capacity to Be Biblically Serious
Dallas was attracted to the examples set by InterVarsity leaders, particularly John Alexander, who had been a professor of geography before becoming president of InterVarsity. “It was that capacity to be biblically serious, to hold to the central teachings of what Lewis called ‘mere Christianity,’ and yet to be open enough to be willing to discuss anything,” he said.
After completing work on his PhD, Dallas became a professor of philosophy at the University of Southern California (USC), a position he has held since 1965. Along the way he has written a number of books, some in his field of Philosophy, and some for Christian publishers. His book The Divine Conspiracy was selected as Christianity Today’s Book of the Year for 1999.
A Missionary on Campus
Dallas frequently speaks at InterVarsity events, such as last year’s Midwest Faculty Conference. He calls himself a missionary on campus. He believes he is best as a missionary when he focuses on being a Christian example through top quality teaching and writing. “The things that I do, the things that I say have an impact on my students and on my colleagues,” he said “So I feel that there is definitely a greater need for the Christian presence in academics.”
The university campus is not a totally Christ-less environment. “Of course his presence has always been on the campus,” Dallas asserted. “But he calls us to follow him there. I think InterVarsity really does that.”