What Your Soul Needs: A Review

Dallas Willard, the philosopher and author of several books on Christian spirituality, passed away in May 2013. He and John Ortberg, another writer on Christian spirituality, were friends. Ortberg’s latest book, Soul Keeping: Caring for the Most Important Part of You, is in part about that friendship. In an interview promoting the book, Ortberg said in a way it was kind of like Mitch Albom’s most famous book, only the Tuesdays were spent with Dallas rather than Morrie. While the book is ostensibly about the soul, the friendship between Willard and Ortberg is what drives the book along and gives it its most touching moments.

Toward the beginning of the book, Ortberg quotes Willard’s definition of the soul as “that aspect of your whole being that correlates, integrates, and enlivens everything going on in the various dimensions of the self. The soul is the life center of human beings.” The soul, Willard also says, “is something like a program that runs a computer; you don’t usually notice it unless it messes up.” It is not, contrary to popular opinion, the “ghost in the machine,” the one part of us that lives on after everything else about us dies. No, as the deepest part of us, the soul seeks to integrate the body, the mind, and the will. The bulk of the book is spent explaining what the soul needs to be healthy: things like rest, blessing, and gratitude. Often in the book, when Ortberg wants to learn something about the soul, he makes the trek to Willard’s Box Canyon home. There, Willard steals the scene every time with quotes like these:

• “One of the hardest things in the world is to be right and not hurt other people with it.”
• “The main thing you will give your congregation—just like the main thing you will give to God—is the person you become. If your soul is unhealthy, you can’t help anybody.”
• “Arrange your days so that you experience total contentment, joy, and confidence in your everyday life with God.”
• “Churches should do seminars on how to bless and not curse others.”

The one unfortunate thing about the book is that, from looking at it from the outside, you would never know the role Willard plays in it. Maybe that’s the publisher’s fault. And maybe he would have wanted it that way. But kudos to Ortberg for featuring his friendship with Willard so prominently, even though as the author he had to know he would be upstaged from time to time. As with any of his books, Ortberg’s trademark self-deprecating humor is on display, but in this area it’s his generosity of soul that sticks out the most.

Note: Thanks to the publisher for a copy of this book in exchange for an honest review.