Friends establishes Dallas Willard Chair in Christian Spiritual Formation, names Dr. James Bryan Smith as first chair

Friends University is pleased to announce the establishment of the Dallas Willard Chair in Christian Spiritual Formation. The new endowed chair is named after Dr. Dallas Willard, an American philosopher known for his breakthrough understanding of the process of Christian formation – a field of academic study that focuses on discipleship and education and helps Christians deepen their faith and enhance spiritual growth.

“This new position will enable a dedicated faculty member here at Friends to promote Christian spiritual formation based on a curriculum for Christlikeness,” said Dr. Amy Bragg Carey, president of Friends University. “As a national leader in the promotion, education and study of spiritual formation, which is in our DNA at Friends, we believe this chair will enhance academic excellence by attracting and retaining high-caliber faculty now and in the future. It will benefit not only our students, but the formation movement that is building across the country and the world.”

Carey said the first person to hold the Willard Chair is Dr. James Bryan Smith. Smith serves as associate professor of religion at Friends University and is executive director of the Apprentice Institute. He is a nationally recognized speaker and author of the Apprentice series of books (The Good and Beautiful God, 2009; The Good and Beautiful Life, 2010; The Good and Beautiful Community, 2011) and other books including Room of Marvels (2007) and The Magnificent Story (2017).  The Apprentice Institute was founded in June 2010 to advance the field of Christian spiritual formation by promoting higher-level thinking, deeper conversation and a creative track for growing closer to God.

Smith served as a teaching assistant for Willard over the course of seven years and spent much time learning from him inside and outside the classroom. Willard’s teaching shaped Smith’s understanding of God, the Christian life and the process of formation, and Smith developed the Apprentice series of books as a way of communicating Willard’s teaching in a more accessible format.

Through his work in spiritual formation, Willard suggested that Christians live their lives in a way that is reflective of Jesus, embracing love, humility and gentleness. Though Willard died in 2013, the new position at Friends will sustain his work through future generations.

“Dallas’s dream was to see formation built into a discipline, that it would take root in our colleges and universities and the study of spiritual formation would continue to flourish,” Smith said. “It is our vision that we can renew our world and the Church through the formation of new people and new communities by living a radical Christian life in conformity to the teachings of Jesus, as his apprentices.”

Willard’s wife, Jane L. Willard, and his daughter, Rebecca Willard Heatley, are excited to see his legacy in spiritual formation live on at Friends.

“We are humbled to know that the curriculum is based on Dallas’s approach to spiritual formation and delighted that his legacy will continue to bless future generations of Friends students through this permanent endowment. It warms our hearts to know that Dallas’s work and memory will continue to be a part of his friend Jim’s ministry for many years to come,” Heatley said.

The new chair was generously funded with an endowment of $2 million, including gifts from various donors who believe the way to ensure excellence and continuity in the area of Christian spiritual formation at Friends is to have the prestige and national recognition of an endowed chair in the name of Dallas Willard.

Friends University offers a Christian Spiritual Formation undergraduate degree and a Christian Spiritual Formation and Leadership master’s degree. For more information, visit For more information on Dallas Willard, visit

Friends University, a Christian University of Quaker heritage, equips students to honor God and serve others by integrating their intellectual, spiritual and professional lives.