“What are the hard questions that smother faith?”—Dallas Willard
The question above comes from a conversation I had with my father, Dallas Willard, about this book. Answering hard questions is what he wanted the book to do. In other discussions, he articulated the spirit he wanted it to have: “Gentleness: Apologetics in the Manner of Jesus.” Not a gentleness marked by passivity, but a gentleness aglow with shoulder-to-shoulder journeying together over steep hills and through dark valleys. He wanted this book to help people wrestle with the common doubts and answer some of the hard questions, allowing more room for the Spirit to advance their faith.
Gentle was a word frequently used to describe my father; a gentleness that seemed to come from his many years in the light and easy yoke of Christ. Is gentleness an absence of power, or a power born through the Spirit and found in wisdom? Matthew 12:20 says Jesus would not even break a bruised reed or quench a smoldering wick, and yet his gentleness launched a worldwide revolution. In many ways, Jesus’s impact seems to be not in spite of his gentleness, but because of it.
Today apologetics has become something of a cage match revolving around proofs of God’s existence and involvement in the world. It has become a harsh battleground for the intelligent design-versus-Darwinism debate and other hot-button religion-versus-science arguments. What’s lost in today’s “apologetics” is to gently and lovingly address—even welcome—the honest doubts and questions that burden believers’ faith.
But the wisdom from above is first pure, then peaceable, gentle, willing to yield, full of mercy and good fruits, without a trace of partiality or hypocrisy. (James 3:17)
In the same way that “The Divine Conspiracy” addressed discipleship as the hole in our conception of the gospel, my father and I hoped this book would help return the field of apologetics to its wise and gentle roots.
This book began as a four-part series of talks given by my father in 1990 at Grace Church in Los Alamitos, California. As I listened to the cassette tapes a few years ago, I was impressed with the uniqueness of this teaching—particularly regarding the manner with which we should approach apologetics. I asked my dad if he would consider letting me transcribe the talks so that they could be published as a book. He immediately agreed, with the stipulation that he would make additions to the text to be sure that all the important topics were included.
Before we were able to work on those additional topics, my father began struggling with health issues and was eventually diagnosed with cancer. For many months he told me, “Don’t do anything with the book yet. We’ll work on it when I’m feeling better.” At the time of his passing, I still had just the list of additions he wanted to make, with various notes on specific topics.
Thankfully, he left us with papers and recordings that covered everything on the list. The Grace Church series provided significant content, forming the outline and progression of the book (you can listen to the audio version at www.dwillard.org), but notes from a similar series presented at Los Angeles Baptist College and notes for a course on Biblical Apologetics at the Simon Greenleaf School of Law provided excellent reference material to expand on that teaching. A few of my father’s papers and articles written for other occasions filled in some of his additional topics. This includes a very important paper entitled “Pain, the Existence of God, and Related Problems” which is the primary source for the chapter on evil.
I am particularly indebted to the late Frank Pastore of KKLA Radio in Los Angeles and to John Ortberg of Menlo Park Presbyterian Church, both of whom interviewed Dallas on numerous occasions and asked the hard questions about life and faith. Segments from recordings of those interviews provided additional content on specific topics throughout the book.
In bringing these pieces together, I felt like a tailor who has been blessed with a bolt of beautiful cloth and a perfect pattern. The fabric and pattern come entirely from Dallas; only the stitching is mine. My prayer is that I have sewn this together in such a way that the stitching doesn’t show and that my father’s thoughts and ideas are all that is seen. May this book help us do as he prayed: “To be simple, humble, and thoughtful as we listen to others and help them come to faith in the One who has given us life.”
Rebecca Willard Heatley