Monday, January 16, 2012

Celebration of Discipline by Richard Foster

Celebration of Discipline: The Path to Spiritual GrowthimageCelebration of Discipline: The Path to Spiritual Growth by Richard J. Foster
My rating: 2 of 5 stars


This book is about 12 different spiritual disciplines and teaches us how we can incorporate them into our daily lives. I appreciate the idea of this book, however, I was not able to finish this book despite the easy listening audio format.

There were multiple things that I didn't agree with and then phrases that left me feeling quite uncertain about his exact beliefs. While I want to know more about and grow in applying spiritual disciplines to my life, I will be looking for other books to read.  In all fairness, I have heard some people rave about this and others who have walked away with the same uncertainty as I.  But after so many questionable ideas and too many thoughts I couldn’t agree on, I set this one aside. I personally feel it should not be read and think that there are more options that address the topic with better clarity.

Here is a wonderful, in-depth review of this book by Pastor Kirk Barger

I looked forward to reading this book by Foster, but after completing it, I must say I have quite a few concerns. I would agree with Foster that “superficiality is the curse of our age” and that the typical tenor of the 21st century church is primarily interested in instant satisfaction spiritually. Rarely do we see the spiritual disciplines (fasting, prayer, study, simplicity, etc.) practiced by individuals in full time Christian service or by the layperson in the pew. Foster blames the lack of spiritual disciplines on two problems—a philosophic problem (materialism)
and a practical problem (a lack of exploring the inward life). With that in mind, Foster breaks down his focus of the spiritual disciplines into three distinct sections—the inward disciplines, the outward disciplines, and the corporate disciplines.

Section one, the inward disciplines, includes meditation, prayer, fasting, and study. From the outset, I was confronted with an air of New Age mysticism whereby Foster encourages the hearing of God’s voice within (18), visualization (25), and lotus-like posture for meditating (28).  The boldest red flag for me, though, was when he referenced the practice of “old mystics” (31).  And although Foster did mention the need to meditate on Scripture, he only refers to this as “the
central reference point by which all other forms of meditation are kept in proper perspective” (29). 

Foster then takes this foundation of meditation and blends it together with several other disciplines. Meditation becomes a springboard for a deeper prayer life as one “listens to God.”  But instead of focusing on the fact that this message comes from God in Scripture, there seems, again, to be a focus on hearing God from within. He does the same thing in his chapter on “study.” He first says that study and meditation are “two distinct experiences” (64). Yet, as he expounds on how to use study, he immediately crosses over from objective learning to the experiential. Foster does have some good suggestions as to how to study, but this is only short lived as he quickly encourages the reader to study other nonverbal “books.” 

His second section—the outward disciplines—focuses on simplicity, solitude, submission, and service. I did appreciate his thoughts on the need for simplicity with regard to materialism, especially in guiding one’s focus toward God’s kingdom and not the stuff of the world. Unfortunately, his journey into solitude, though speckled with positive ideas for this discipline, still gives off the “scent of meditation” found earlier. I found the chapters on submission and service to be relatively helpful. 

Section three deals with the corporate disciplines of confession, worship, guidance, and celebration. I found only parts of this section worth reading. Again, Foster’s chapters on worship and guidance seemed—for the most part—to center on experience. I did find his chapter on celebration to be enjoyable, although he went too far by endorsing “holy laughter” (198).  Add to that the fact that he encouraged the creative gifts of fantasy and imagination, and we are right back where we started—mystical and ethereal. 

Are spiritual disciplines lacking and needed today in the 21st century? Yes. Does Richard Foster give a good and balanced approach on how to practice the spiritual disciplines?  No. He spends an inordinate amount of time in the experiential realm encouraging the reader to be—in my opinion—too self-focused, introspective, and mystical. Instead, the key is to be Biblically grounded and God-focused. Otherwise, one is treading on dangerous ground spiritually and theologically. Even though the book does focus on the need to be strengthened in the spiritual disciplines, I would not recommend this book due to the areas of concern mentioned above.

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