Dallas Willard and Teresa of Avila

The late Dallas Willard was a professor at the University of Southern California’s School of Philosophy. He wrote a number of influential Christian books including The Divine Conspiracy, The Spirit of the Disciplines, and Hearing God. Included in Willard’s contributions to the Christian community was how he refocused our attention on the importance of God’s kingdom, spiritual disciplines, and being a disciple (or apprentice) of Jesus.

I had a chance to hear Willard speak on several occasions and had a couple brief conversations with him. He was gracious and brilliant with an ability to discern an issue quickly and provide practical insight. I asked him if he had any advice on time management. I said, “God has given me so much to do, I’m not sure how to prioritize.” He responded, “God doesn’t give you more to do than you can get done. If you have too much to do, it isn’t coming from God.” No wonder the conversations were brief.

Willard had great appreciation for Teresa of Avila. In his book The Great Omission: Reclaiming Jesus’s Essential Teaching on Discipleship he devotes a few pages to her book The Interior Castle. Willard says, “this book and this author immediately announced themselves as a unique presence of God in my life. The book provided instruction on a living relationship with God that I had found nowhere else.”

He says Teresa’s teaching helped him gain an “appreciation of the dignity and value–indeed, the vast reality–of the human soul.” This countered instruction so many of us have received equating our sinfulness with worthlessness. “Teresa urges us to start on the path to transformation by ‘considering our soul to be like a castle made entirely out of a diamond or of very clear crystal, in which there are many rooms.'” Exploring all the rooms of the castle leads us “to become the radiant beings that [God] intends.”

Willard says, “Most of what I know about . . . God speaking to us, I learned from studying and putting into practice what Teresa says in Dwelling Place Six, Chapter Three. It is still, I think, the best treatment ever written of what it is like for God to speak to his children.”

In studying The Interior Castle it became clear to him “why things go as they do in the lives of professing Christians. There is still today not much good information on this. But if you will look at ordinary ‘church life’ with Dwelling Places One through Four in hand, you will be able to understand a huge amount of what is really going on, and of what to expect, for good and for ill, and you will be able to give good counsel and direction to yourself and others as you go through the process of life together.” He describes Teresa as “an absolute master of the spiritual life” who “possesses an amazing depth and richness of spiritual theology.”

As we move through the rooms of the Interior Castle, Willard says, “there is a reliable order and sequence to growth in the spiritual life.” This “is the layout, this is what is to be gone through, here is where you start, here are some things to do, and here is what you may expect to happen and what it means.”

“Finally, Dwelling Places Five through Seven proved to be, for me, the finest treatments of union with Christ and with God that I have found in spiritual literature.” Willard says there are other helpful books regarding our union with Christ, but for “the descriptive analysis of the details of what it is really like, nothing ever surpassed Teresa’s Castle.”

Willard concludes with some observations on how to read The Interior Castle since “It is not a model of easy reading . . . and must be approached as if you are mining for treasure–which you are.”

  1. Read it non-stop and mark themes and divisions as you go. (This blog should provide some assistance with the major themes.)
  2. “Then go back and read it slowly from beginning to end. This time mark striking passages for further study.”
  3. Then meditate on those passages you highlighted.
  4. “Call upon ‘His Majesty’ to assist you as he assisted Teresa. And the diamond castle that is your soul will increasingly glow with the divine presence.”

In the next post we will move to Chapter Three of the Sixth Mansions. Remember Willard’s comments about this section of the book: “It is still, I think, the best treatment ever written of what it is like for God to speak to his children.”  Join me as we learn more about “Hearing God”.


– Passages above are from The Great Omission: Reclaiming Jesus’s Teachings On Discipleship. 2006. HarperCollins Publishers.

Jesus Follower, Blogger, Public Speaker. Teresaofavilaturns500.wordpress.com

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Posted in 6th Mansions - Chapter 3
4 comments on “Dallas Willard and Teresa of Avila
  1. Love this. My pastor has quoted DW often and wow, what an amazing metaphor to consider from Teresa. We DO consider ourselves worthless when we heed the lies of the devil. But…one of my favorite hymns:

    “Before the Throne of God Above”
    By Charitie L. Bancroft, 1863

    When Satan tempts me to despair
    And tells me of the guilt within,
    Upward I look and see Him there
    Who made an end of all my sin.
    Because the sinless Savior died
    My sinful soul is counted free.
    For God the just is satisfied
    To look on Him and pardon me.

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