Preparing for Heaven
We can be grateful that Gary Black Jr. has been able to bring to us the penetrating insights of Dallas Willard on the subject of death and the life to come. And Gary does it all with exceptional skill and sensitivity. Dallas made a wise choice in asking Gary to bring this material into published form.
The genesis for this book grew out of extensive material Dallas had written down for a course he taught at the University of Southern California on death and immortality. And now, with Dallas’s own impending death, the issues became highly focused and personal. Here is someone who had read, studied, and thought long and hard over the philosophical, religious and theological dimensions of death and the life to come and who now was himself preparing to make this very transition.
Many will be taken by the moving conversations the two of them had in the final weeks and even hours of Dallas’s earthly life. And they are moving indeed! But there is more, so much more. Together, they wrestle with thorny questions such as: “Is there an intermediate heavenly state before the final resurrection?” and “Is there work for us to do in heaven?”
Perhaps for me, the most striking aspect of this book is Gary and Dallas’s contention that we will continue to learn and grow and even increase in personal character formation following our bodily death. They take deadly aim at the popular notion that at the moment of death, every ounce of sin is simply erased as if it never existed and that we will become perfectly completed, whole, and finished. Dallas called this the “cosmic car wash” view of heaven. He clearly understood how devastating this approach was to any serious transformative change in this present life. Given this approach, character development and the transformation of heart, mind, and soul into Christlikeness could then be viewed as nonessential or simply a luxury in the Christian life, certainly having no actual connection with the life to come. In contradistinction, Dallas saw a deep connection between the spiritual formation we are developing now in this life and the formation we will continue to experience into eternity. Our life and death and the life that is to come are delicately and deliberately interconnected. With laser-like insight, Dallas perceived that we would need to grow, develop, learn, and mature in character if we are “to endure the eternal realities of the Kingdom of Heaven.”
In these pages, Gary explores what Dallas expected would likely be the course of human existence in heaven. Black writes, “If you are looking for a grand vision of the type and quality of life that lies far beyond the reach of the current imaginings . . . if you are looking for a purpose that is worthy of devoting your life to, if you are wondering about the enduring reality of heavenly existence and its eternal call, this book is for you.”
“Dallas Willard taught a generation how to live well. Now his friend Gary Black, Jr. tells how Willard will teach another generation how best to enter eternity. I am profoundly grateful to Gary for telling this story so that we might learn to live and die in a Christlike manner.” (Scot McKnight, author of The King Jesus Gospel)
“What happens to you when you die? Gary Black gives us a fresh chance to reflect on the teachings of the Scriptures, as well as on the words and life and ‘radiant death’ of his friend, Dallas Willard.” (John Ortberg, senior pastor of Menlo Park Presbyterian Church and author of All The Places To Go)
“Preparing For Heaven is a beautiful account of friendship, a profound vision of afterlife, and a wise and inspiring guide for how we can and must live now, given that bright image of heaven.” (Shauna Niequist, author of Bread & Wine)
“Black was a long-time student of Dallas Willard and also a close friend. As Dallas always insisted, a good death must be the end result of a life well lived. This book shows Dallas’ philosophy of life as an end in itself and as a means to dying well.” (JP Moreland, Distinguished Professor of Philosophy, Biola University and author of The Soul: How We Know Its Real and Why It Matters)
“Preparing for Heaven is a powerfully formative and tender book that is intellectually and spiritually profound while also emotionally stirring. The discussions on the life to come will alter your present life and carry you to a hope and joy in Jesus that is palpable and transformative.” (Keith J. Matthews, Professor of Spiritual Formation and Leadership, Azusa Pacific Seminary)
“Gary Black Jr. challenges us to think of heaven as a present reality not just a future hope. Combining the insights of a scholar and the heart of a pastor, Black stirs the soul to imagine an eternal kind of life available right now.” (Mike Lueken, Pastor, Oak Hills Church)
“If you wonder what heaven will be like, and especially if you wonder what your reaction might be the unmitigated presence of God…you need to read this book. Gary Black, Jr and his discussions with Dallas Willard are a sound guide for exploring the afterlife.” (Todd Hunter, author of Christianity Beyond Belief)
“I’m grateful that Gary has been able to capture not only Dallas’s thoughts on Heaven but also his experiences as he first glimpsed its splendor and glory. As a result, we have a better vision of how we can prepare for life in the kingdom of heaven now and forevermore.” (Jane Willard, wife of Dallas Willard)
“Preparing for Heaven opens up new vistas in how we see God’s life for us. Our crabbiness and pettiness fade as we gaze wide-eyed into the ‘glorious riches’ of joining God in the cosmic plan of the renewal of all things.” (Jan Johnson, co-author of Renovation of the Heart in Daily Practice and Hearing God through the Year)
“Here, we are given a window into an unusual life, and death— reflecting on life and death in light of Willard’s years of philosophical and theological beliefs. It is Willard and Black’s gift to us, the master and his apprentice together, a conversation with consequences, for now and forever. ” (Steven Garber, The Washington Institute, and author, Visions of Vocation: Common Grace for the Common Good)
(San Francisco: HarperOne; (October 13, 2015)) 320 pp, Hardcover. ISBN: 0062365525. ISBN-13: 978-0062365521.
Prologue: Eternity in a Peach Box
Introduction: Preparing for Evermore
Part 1. The Problem: What We Misunderstand About Heaven
Chapter One: Beyond the Cosmic Car Wash
Chapter Two: A Good Death?
Chapter Three: Why We Exist
Chapter Four: The Substance of Spirit
Chapter Five: Choosing Eternal Life
Part 2. The Solution: Heaven at Hand
Chapter Six: Honesty
Chapter Seven: Fearlessness
Chapter Eight: Power
Chapter Nine: Beneficial Relationships
Chapter Ten: Joy
Conclusion: Final Things