Richard J. Foster has written numerous books and is founder of Renovaré, a Christian non-profit organization dedicated to promoting spiritual formation through the use of spiritual disciplines. Celebration of Discipline: The Path to Spiritual Growth1 was first published in 1978 with subsequent versions published in 1988, 1989, and 2018. This is a review of the fortieth anniversary edition published in 2018.
The book is written in an engaging style. In addition, who can argue that discipline or spiritual disciplines are not important to living the Christian life? The Apostle Paul said that he buffeted his body to make it his slave (1 Cor 9:27). In that context Paul was stressing being disciplined and intentional in serving the Lord.
Spiritual disciplines are something every Christian should practice. However, the Biblical record about spiritual disciplines is a bit different from what is offered by Foster. Foster derives his methods of practicing spiritual disciplines mostly from ancient Catholic mystics.
Celebration is organized into four parts. There is an introduction followed by sections describing inward disciplines, outward disciplines, and corporate disciplines. He discusses many things under each category. The question is whether the practices which Foster promotes are Biblical. To answer that, I will look at Celebration one chapter at a time, with each heading corresponding to its respective chapter title in Celebration.
II. THE SPIRITUAL DISCIPLINES: DOOR TO LIBERATION
Foster says the problem spiritual people have is superficiality. He encourages them to become deep people. We can be the answer to a hollow world through the “classical disciplines”2 (p. 1). These disciplines allow us to explore the inner caverns of the spiritual realm.
He wants us to have contact with the spiritual world. He is not pointing us to Christ, but to a mystical experience based on practices of mystics of the past, and not necessarily the Bible. Paul warned us of this in Col 2:8: “Beware lest anyone cheat you through philosophy and empty deceit, according to the tradition of men, according to the basic principles of the world, and not according to Christ.”
Foster says anyone who longs for God can practice these disciplines. He does not even have to be a believer in Christ (p. 2).
There are two obstacles to practicing these disciplines. Philosophically, many doubt that they can reach beyond this materialistic world. Practically, we do not know how to explore the inward life (p. 3).
Foster rightly says we cannot solve the problem of sin through legalism and willpower. We can only do it through the spiritual disciplines. Unfortunately, he does not see the solution as being transformed by the Word of God through the renewing of our minds by the work of the Spirit (Rom 8:4-6; 12:2). Walking by belief in God’s Word and believing more truths found in it seem irrelevant to Foster. However, the Bible says that belief is essential to pleasing God. Foster does not mention it (see, however, Heb 11:6; 2 Cor 5:7).
A more basic question is: instead of telling them to walk by belief, why didn’t Paul tell Christians to live by the spiritual disciplines?
The first discipline Foster discusses is meditation. It involves entering the inner world of contemplation and following the “masters of meditation.” Contemplative prayer is central to it (p. 15).
Foster says that the Bible supports the idea of meditation by using two different Hebrew words to describe it. Each word stresses changed behavior as a result of meditation (Gen 24:63; Ps 1:2; 63:6; 119:97) (p. 15).3 However, the words used in the Bible for meditation mean to think about, ponder, muse, to contemplate, and to mull over, just like their English counterparts.
Foster emphasizes that this meditation should be done in solitude. God speaks to people who are willing to listen (p. 16). Foster makes the point that God still speaks to such people today. This is a result of meditation.4
According to Foster, people like Moses learned to hear God’s voice. They could then obey what He told them to do (p. 19). God will do the same with us. We can have mystical and subjective encounters with Him. But if that is the case, why do we need the Bible?
People who have had such mystical experiences include Catholics and Eastern Orthodox, whom he calls “faithful believers.” Since there is no certainty such people believed in Christ alone for eternal life apart from works, it seems that Foster is saying we should derive spiritual practices from unbelievers.
Foster tries to distinguish between “Christian meditation” and Eastern forms of it. In the former the goal is to fill the mind, while in the latter to empty it. He admits, however, that one must empty the mind before he can fill it (p. 21). The imagination is the tool for filling our minds with the correct things. Foster cites several mystics who drew mental pictures for themselves and says that while our imagination can be untrustworthy, it can also be used for good (p. 25). Foster thinks God sanctifies our imaginations while meditating (p. 26).
But imagination is the act of forming a mental image or picture of an object not present to our senses. God prohibited the Jewish people from making images of Him for worship (Exod 20:4; Lev 26:1; Deut 5:8). The word for image includes the idea of a mental one. In addition, the Bible does not hold our imagination in high esteem. In Gen 6:5, it says that the imagination of the thoughts of man’s heart was evil continually.
The Bible takes a dim view of images and imagination because they are not real. Why should we expect imagination used in meditation to produce truth about the true God?
In preparing to meditate, Foster says we can only learn by doing. He suggests setting a specific time and place to do it each day. It should be a place of solitude. While many different positions are possible, he suggests sitting in a chair, palms up, with one’s feet firmly planted on the floor.
Foster says that there are different forms of meditation. He correctly says that we should meditate on the Scriptures and cites Mary as an example (Luke 2:19). However, he says that focusing on the Scriptures is how we keep “other forms of meditation” in their proper perspective (p. 29). This suggests that meditation is more than pondering what the Word of God says and means.
In addition, Foster introduces imagination into the process. He says we should center on a word or phrase of the Bible for a period of time. Then we should live in all of our senses what the text is saying. We should smell and hear what is going on. We should feel what the people are feeling and touch what they are touching. We use our imagination to accomplish it (p. 30). But how do we picture ourselves in places we have never been or seen and be accurate to what the Bible says? Foster doesn’t say. For him, imagination is reality. In this process we need to be “active participants.” It is then that Christ will teach us in an audible way (p 30).
One form of meditation is called “re-collection” or “centering down.” The person is to confess his anxieties and enter into silence. This allows him to listen to what God wants to say. However, this is Eastern mysticism, seeking to empty one’s mind and filling it in a mystical manner.
Foster says we can also meditate on creation. We can focus on a flower or animal and allow its characteristics to sink into our minds. God will audibly speak to us as we commune with nature.
In a similar vein, we can meditate on the events of our time to gain a perspective of their significance. With a Bible in one hand and a newspaper in the other, we can receive from God prophetic insight on things going on around us.
In all of the forms of meditation Foster discusses, he says we can hear the voice of God. However, his examples come from past mystics and not from the Biblical text.
Instead of following these unbiblical examples, the Christian should meditate on God’s Word. We need to think about it and ponder its meaning. We need to see what God has said in His Word. Not surprisingly, there is no command in the Bible for believers to engage in contemplative meditation. Instead, there are many examples of righteous people thinking about God’s Word (Ps 1:1-2; Luke 2:19).
Foster points out the importance of prayer in a person’s life. He says that, “Prayer is the central avenue God uses to transform us” (p. 33). He observes that if we are unwilling to change or be transformed, prayer will not be a noticeable characteristic of our lives. Rightly he observes that when we pray correctly we begin to think God’s thoughts. In addition, prayer is communion with God. He says prayer is transforming, but this may be confusing the result with the cause.
In discussing things that discourage people from prayer, Foster says that some may think only spiritual giants pray a lot. He says that God will meet us where we are. God wants to hear from all of us (Isa 65:24; Jer 33:3).
Foster gives good advice when he says that we should not be discouraged from praying because we have the idea that things cannot change (p. 35). The Bible does indeed teach that prayer can affect outcomes.
Most of the chapter on prayer is devoted to intercessory prayer. As with meditating, Foster says we need to learn how to pray. This is consistent with the Bible as well, as Jesus taught His disciples how to pray (Luke 11:1). Foster found learning to pray was a liberating experience because he was free to experiment.
Foster makes a valuable observation concerning prayer. He says that when praying for others, Jesus never said, “if it be your will” (p. 37). Neither did the Apostles or prophets. He says the reason for this is because they knew what the will of God was before they prayed. Foster says we should pray the same way. However, we do not know what God wants in every situation, while Foster relies on mystical practices to find out. He also recognizes that there will be times when we do not know what God wants in a given situation. The Bible tells us to ask Him for wisdom so we can learn what He wants (Jas 1:5). By describing his own experiences, Foster tells us how he learned to pray. He says we can know if we are praying correctly if the requests come to pass (p. 38). This is a logical conclusion based upon his view of learning God’s will. However, it does not take into account that God sometimes changes His mind about something as the result of prayer. In addition, when God says “no,” it doesn’t always mean we are asking for something outside of His will. Paul’s thorn in the flesh situation is a case in point (2 Cor 12:7-10). In Dan 9:14-19, we see another example. Daniel prayed that the kingdom would come immediately. God said it would happen after seventy sevens of years.
These examples, as well as others, tell us that what God wants can change based upon human response. His will is dynamic, not static.
Our prayers should indeed reflect what God wants (1 John 5:14). However, no matter how we pray, God wants to hear from us (1 Thess 5:17).
Foster describes how we should pray for others. He appeals to mystical practices again by saying, “We begin praying for others by first quieting our fleshly activity and listening to the silent thunder of the Lord of Hosts” (p. 39). Listening for guidance is the first step. God will audibly tell us what to do. Foster argues that God’s will comes through a mystical voice, not from the Scriptures.
This leads Foster to inform us how we can better get in touch with God and receive divine guidance to pray for others. Once again he appeals to imagination. “The imagination is a powerful tool in the work of prayer” (p. 41). We should draw pictures in our minds of what we want to occur.
At this point, he provides a caution. He recognizes his method could be challenged. He says that in using the imagination we are not trying to conjure up something in our mind that isn’t so (p. 42). Rather, the intention is to ask God to tell us what to do. It is not an attempt to manipulate God or tell Him what to do. However, contra Foster, the fact is that imagination is the product of our own mind and is not real.
Foster reminds us that prayer is work (p. 45). He equates prayer to any other kind of work. We may not like work, but after working for a while we begin to like it. What is interesting is that Foster offers no Biblical support for this observation. Instead, he appeals to people and so-called masters of past ages.
Daniel’s prayer in Dan 9:4-19 gives us a better pattern for prayer. After studying portions of Jeremiah and hearing what the prophet said, Daniel prayed! Daniel did not use his imagination or wait to see if God was going to audibly talk with him about what he should do. Foster introduces his mystical methods into prayer and they sound very enticing, but they are devoid of Biblical truth.
Foster gives two reasons why people do not fast. The first is the abuse of the practice in the Middle Ages. The second is that we live in a modern society that wants instant gratification (p. 47).
To counter these problems, Foster mentions examples of Biblical heroes who fasted, including Jesus. He also mentions “great Christians” of the past who fasted and valued the practice (p. 48). The implication is that if these spiritual giants fasted, so should we.
Foster defines Biblical fasting as “abstaining from food for spiritual purposes” (p. 48). It should not be done for reasons of vanity or power. He also mentions partial fasts when certain types of both food and drink are avoided (e.g., Dan 10:3).
In looking at Biblical examples of fasting, Foster says that individuals often did it in times of distress, grief, or repentance from sin. He assumes it is for everyone, regardless of tradition and culture. He ignores the fact that in the Bible those who fasted came from an Eastern culture and tradition, as well as the fact that it was often accompanied by wearing sackcloth and putting ashes on oneself. Foster does not mention these other practices or suggest we do them.
Foster maintains that Jesus assumes His disciples will fast (Matt 6:16-18) but says that it is not a command. Jesus was giving instruction on the proper exercise of a common practice of His time. He did not speak a word about whether it was a right practice or if it should be continued (pp. 52-53).
Although it is not a command, Foster says all Christians should fast. He says that Matt 9:14-15 implies that the disciples of Jesus will fast after His death and ascension (p. 53). Foster considers this the most important statement in the NT on fasting.
However, in this passage Jesus associates mourning with fasting. Foster does not discuss this issue and whether the statement is simply saying the disciples will mourn the departure of the Lord. For those in an Eastern culture, fasting was an expression of grief.
Even though there is no command to fast in the NT, Foster says it is expected. He implies that Christians who don’t fast will not grow spiritually. In Foster’s view, we are operating under “cheap grace” by shying away from calls to obedience if we don’t fast (p. 54).
The chapter on fasting concludes with instruction on how to fast. Foster gives some practical guidance on how to ease into fasting, including doing it over different periods of time.
It is clear, however, that Christians are not commanded to fast. It was practiced by the Jewish people and other ancient Eastern peoples. Every Christian has freedom in Christ and should discern for himself or herself whether to fast.
Foster places a high value on the discipline of study and says it is essential for spiritual transformation (p. 63). It involves a “careful attention to reality” that allows the mind to “move in a certain direction” (p. 63). It is more than acquiring knowledge. It includes adherence to what is being studied.
According to Foster, there are four steps in the process of studying. They are repetition, concentration, comprehension, and reflection. Repetition helps focus the attention. Concentration focuses the attention on what is studied. We must avoid distraction (p. 65). Comprehension focuses on the knowledge of truth, and with it learning is accomplished (p. 66). Foster assumes that in doing so we learn truth or a true perception of reality. However, this depends on what is being studied. A person can study evolution, understand it, but not be convinced it is true.
Foster explains that reflection “defines the significance of what we are studying” (p. 66). It is essentially meditation and allows us to see things from God’s perspective. This allows us to obey God.
Whatever can be said about these four steps, it is significant that Foster omits the idea of belief. Through belief, we agree with God about what we are studying. We are persuaded that it is true (2 Cor 5:7).
Perhaps Foster assumes that belief is automatic, when in fact it is not. On the other hand, the fact that he does not mention belief may suggest he does not consider it important.
Next, Foster introduces what and how to study. We can study books or “nonverbal books.” He gives helpful guidance about books when he says we need to understand what is written, what the author means, and then evaluate whether the author is right or wrong. According to Foster, to properly study we also need the help of experience, other books, and live discussion with others. These will help refine our thinking (p. 68).
These things can help our study of the Bible. In studying the Bible, we are not merely amassing information. Foster says the goal is to be changed. While this is helpful, it seems to make the Bible a self-help book. Instead, learning about God from the Scriptures is transformative. It should cause us to love Him more by realizing His greatness.
Foster warns that all too often people “rush to application” and bypass understanding and interpretation. As he correctly observes, people “want to know what it means for them before they know what it means” (p. 69).
Foster suggests that a person should have a study “retreat” where he can go to a secluded place to study for a weekend. While this may be helpful for some, it does not promote regular study. Second Timothy 2:15 suggests regularity in studying God’s Word.
It seems that Foster takes a self-centered approach to studying and maintains we should study what we need (p. 72). This is suitable at times, however, it should not dictate general study habits. We need to embrace and study all of Scripture, even if we don’t see a pressing need of what we are studying.
Unfortunately, Foster says that we should study the “experiential classics in Christian literature” when studying the Bible (p. 72). Things like The Confessions of St. Augustine can guide us in our spiritual walk, in his view. He does not address whether these kinds of works contain false teachings. It is more important for Foster that we “experience” what we read (p. 72).
Foster views “nonverbal books” as the most important field of study. This is “the observation of reality in things, events, and actions” (p. 73). He mentions several obvious things in this field of study such as nature, human actions and relationships, current events, human institutions and cultures, and ourselves. This is good. However, it is sad that Foster places the study of creation and the world as more important than God’s Word. After all, God’s Word, the Bible, tells us the truth about the world in which we live and the people who occupy it.
There is good information about study and learning in this chapter, but it falls short for several reasons. Foster fails to make God’s Word the priority, and he ignores the value of belief in God’s Word. Christians are transformed when they regularly believe God and what He says in His Word.
Now Foster moves to what he calls the outward disciplines.
In this chapter, Foster develops the idea that, “Simplicity is freedom. Duplicity is bondage” (p. 79). Simplicity is having a single focus and is the discipline that deals with an inward reality that results in an outward lifestyle. Without the outward expression, the inward reality is called into doubt.
Foster describes duplicity, or what simplicity is not. He admonishes people not to have faulty attitudes when it comes to money, wealth, and possessions. The choice is serving mammon or serving God. He rightly concludes that Christians cannot serve both. According to Foster, there is always the danger of turning simplicity into legalistic asceticism. Asceticism renounces possessions, but simplicity puts them in the proper perspective (p. 84).
Based upon Matt 6:33, Foster says that “the central point for the Discipline of simplicity is to seek the kingdom of God and the righteousness of his kingdom first” (p. 86, emphasis his). Certainly every Christian is commanded to seek first the kingdom of God and His righteousness. That was Jesus’ main point in the Sermon on the Mount. Foster is correct to point out that Christians should place God’s kingdom and righteousness first in the priorities of life. He also correctly observes that this attitude is related to freedom from anxiety.
Foster mentions three attitudes that free people from anxiety.
If what we have we receive as a gift, and if what we have is to be cared for by God, and if what we have is available to others, then we will possess freedom from anxiety. This is the inward reality of simplicity” (p. 88, emphasis his).
This is helpful and shows that Christians should have an attitude reflecting God’s grace. This results in dependence on God and is freeing when it comes to possessions.
At this point, Foster does not explain how this attitude is a spiritual discipline. Jesus is telling us what attitude and motive every Christian should have every day. However, Foster explains how when he discusses the outward expression of simplicity. It is a discipline to make the inner reality of simplicity an outward expression (p. 89). He offers many suggestions of how we can outwardly practice this discipline and train the inner spirit.
To get an idea of what he is saying, I think it will be helpful to list the first three suggestions. Foster says we should buy things for their usefulness and not their status. We should reject anything that can lead to addiction, and we should develop a habit of giving things away (pp. 90-91). It is a learn by doing approach. Foster’s list of helpful suggestions are practical ways to exhibit a kingdom first attitude, but they do not necessarily guarantee that a person will develop a kingdom first attitude or motive. Once again, Foster says nothing about the need to believe the truth Jesus taught.
Unfortunately, unlike Jesus, Foster does not mention eternal rewards as a motivation for seeking the kingdom of God first (Matt 6:19-21). Instead, Foster focuses only on the here and now. Also, Foster does not define what the kingdom is, whether it will be a literal kingdom on this earth and later new earth, or if it is an ethereal mystical kingdom that is now in the hearts of Christ’s followers. A future literal kingdom can be a strong motivation to place that kingdom first.
Foster sets the stage for this discipline by astutely suggesting that, “our fear of being alone drives us to noise and crowds.” But he points out that “loneliness and clatter are not our only alternatives” (p. 96). Instead, we can enter into inner solitude and silence that will free us from loneliness and fear. In Foster’s view, solitude is necessary in order to hear the divine whisper. Once again, we see Foster’s mystical tendencies. Solitude and silence become means whereby God audibly speaks to us.
To support his claim for solitude, Foster cites numerous Biblical examples of Jesus spending time alone. He considers Jesus’ example sufficient to show the need to seek moments of solitude and silence. However, there is no Biblical command for solitude and silence per se. While solitude is a good idea, based on Jesus’ example and the example of many other devotional people from history that he mentions, it is not something we are commanded to do.
The discipline of solitude is closely associated with the discipline of silence. They go hand in glove. Foster maintains that “without silence there is no solitude,” and silence “always involves the act of listening” (p. 98).
Foster says that “the purpose of silence and solitude is to be able to see and hear” (p. 98). He does not mention what we are supposed to see and hear. However, the discussion that follows suggests it involves discernment when it comes to what we should say.
He implies that silence and solitude are instrumental to being able to control one’s tongue or speech. When practicing silence and solitude, we learn when to speak and when not to speak. He cites several Biblical examples about speech and controlling it; e.g. Prov 25:11; Eccl 3:7; Jas 3:1-12. This is a helpful discussion.
Since some might feel uncomfortable or anxious about spending moments alone in silence, Foster shows the importance of doing it by discussing how, when we say uncontrolled things, we are offering the “sacrifice of fools” (pp. 99-100). He also observes that another reason we do not like to be silent is that it brings on a sense of helplessness. We cannot manipulate others or justify ourselves when we remain silent.
Foster mentions that silence is “intimately related to trust” (p. 101). We won’t let God have control of our lives unless we trust Him. God takes control when we are silent. Foster concludes by telling us that “silence brings us to believe that God can care for us – reputation and all” (p. 101). For Foster, it seems people need to practice silence and solitude before they can believe God or His Word.
To practice solitude and silence, Foster says we must enter the “dark night of the soul” (p. 102). He does not derive this expression from the Bible, but from St. John of the Cross. The goal is to have all distractions, whether imagination, mind, will, emotions, or whole person put into a suspended state so that God can work (p. 103). This suggests God can work only under certain conditions. On the other hand, there is value in having focus, but Foster appears more concerned about emptying distractions than having focus. Once again, his mystical tendencies are subtly implied.
Since “spiritual disciplines are things that we do.” Foster makes some practical suggestions on how to practice solitude and silence. First, we can “take advantage of the ‘little solitudes’ that fill our day” (p. 105). He provides some simple examples of these moments, like when we have a cup of coffee in the morning or driving to work in bumper-to-bumper traffic.
We can also develop a “quiet place” that is designed for solitude and silence. He suggests that we make a small room in our homes for such a purpose, like a small chapel. He also suggests doing good deeds without speaking or offering any explanation. Four times a year we should withdraw for several hours to focus on reorienting our life goals. This last one was surprising and seems out of place with his other suggestions. His idea is to listen to God’s audible instruction while focusing on your life goals. Then finally, we should take a retreat once a year with no other purpose in mind but solitude. All these moments of silence are designed to be able to “listen to God’s speech” (p. 109).
Once again, we see that for Foster, the practice of spiritual disciplines is to place us in a mystical position to audibly hear God speak so we can follow instruction. It begs the question, why do we need the Bible?
Foster begins the chapter by describing what submission accomplishes before defining what it is. The reason he does so is to try and remove misconceptions about this discipline.
He maintains that a spiritual discipline is a means to an end. It is the pathway to spiritual growth. His fear is that “the moment we make the discipline our central focus, we turn it into law and lose the corresponding freedom” (p. 110). He also warns that people can turn the discipline of submission into a legalistic adventure.
Foster then describes the result of properly practicing this discipline. It is the ability to do away with “always needing to get our own way.” He then discusses the destructiveness of living life by always trying to get our own way and then suffering frustrations that go with times when we don’t. He correctly observes that people often will outwardly submit in some manner but inwardly be in rebellion. His conclusion is that this is unhealthy and not in accord with what Jesus taught.
The chapter provides some good descriptions of how the attitude of submission plays out in different circumstances. Foster makes an insightful comment in this discussion about relationships between people. “Usually the best way to handle most matters of submission is to say nothing” (p. 112). These are good and practical observations.
Foster then defines submission by reference to Jesus and quotes Mark 8:34. The concept of self-denial lies at the root of the discipline of submission. Realizing he is writing to a western and modern audience, Foster is careful to describe self-denial. It is refreshing for once that Foster bases his arguments on Scripture instead of so-called devotional masters or mystics of the past.
According to Foster, our happiness does not depend upon getting what we want. Self-denial is simply a way of understanding this truth. He cites examples of Jesus and the Apostles to show real self-denial. If we practice it, it will save us from self-indulgence (pp. 113-14).
By using Jesus, Foster shows that Jesus lived a life that was in submission to the Father’s plan in both how He lived, as well as His death on the cross. He bore His cross daily to serve others and put them first. Foster rightly observes the revolutionary nature of this concept. It was Jesus who taught that the last will be first and the first will be last. The “compelling reason for submission is the example of Jesus” (p. 117).
He then proceeds to give numerous examples of what submission looks like in daily life. His examples convey how close the idea of submission is to loving others, which is an important Christian obligation. It is the idea that a person regards someone else’s needs as more important than his own. This is true in marriage, family, and parenting.
There are limits to submission. According to Foster, Christians are to be submissive until it becomes destructive. He bases this on several Scriptures, including 1 Pet 2:13-14 which says,
Therefore submit yourselves to every ordinance of man for the Lord’s sake, whether to the king as supreme or to governors as to those who are sent by him for the punishment of evildoers and for the praise of those who do good.
But then observes that it was Peter who told authorities that he had to obey God rather than man (Acts 4:19-20; 5:29).
It seems that what Foster means is that when there is a conflict between being submissive to authorities in life and being submissive to God, we are to submit to God. By submitting to God in such a circumstance, one could become a martyr (e.g. James in Acts 12:1-2).
Foster gives a number of examples that show that in some circumstances it is difficult to know how to submit. It is complicated because human relationships are complicated. He concludes this section by telling us that we need the Holy Spirit to inform and instruct us about what to do in these types of situations.
A Christian should rely on the guidance of the Holy Spirit, but this comes from God’s Word. While Foster doesn’t say so specifically here, his approach is that such guidance is obtained through mystical practices whereby a person puts himself in a position to hear God audibly speak.
Foster then provides seven ways to practice submission and places them in a list by priority. We are to be submissive to:
4. Neighbors or those we meet in the course of our daily lives
5. Body of Christ or church
6. The Broken and despised; e.g., widows and orphans
7. The World.
Foster does not provide any Biblical references for the order of this list. The only Biblical citation mentioned is Jas 1:27, in relation to widows and orphans.
While his list contains most categories in which a Christian should be submissive, some could argue about the order. For example, should neighbors come before the Body of Christ? Because Foster did not provide Biblical support for his list, we cannot see how the priority of the list was developed.
Foster concludes the chapter with remarks about the problem of the time in which we live. He remarks that in modern society there is a perception that authority does not reside in positions or titles.
Not all who are in authority possess spiritual authority. Foster remarks, “Spiritual authority is God-ordained and God-sustained.” He says spiritual authority is marked by “compassion and power” (p. 124).
Foster’s writings beg some questions about being submissive to authority. Should Christians be submissive to people who are in a position of authority, but do not possess any spiritual authority? Can’t we disregard such authority?
He does answer them in a general way. “Revolutionary subordination commands us to live in submission to human authority until it becomes destructive” (p. 124). He then refers the reader back to his discussion on the limits of submission.
Foster then adds some personal comments that submission should reflect common courtesy to those in authority. It is commendable that Foster maintains that Christians should be submissive, and such a sentiment is sorely needed today. Our greatest example, Jesus, was submissive, even to the point of death on a cross (Phil 2:8).
While Foster makes some helpful suggestions, it is difficult to miss the fact that he places an unhealthy emphasis on mystical experiences. Anybody who accepts the inspiration of the Scriptures will find himself wondering why Foster does not rely upon the Word of God to transform the believer through the power of the Holy Spirit.
The next edition of the JOTGES will contain the second half of this review of Celebration of Discipline.
1 Richard J. Foster, Celebration of Discipline: The Path to Spiritual Growth, 4th ed. (New York, NY: HarperCollins Publishers; 2018).
2 The classical disciplines are classical because they are central to experiential Christianity and have been practiced by all the “devotional masters” over the centuries.
3 The Hebrew word for meditation used in Gen 24:63 is a hapax legomenon, and the meaning is uncertain. The passage concerns Isaac’s going out into the field for an evening stroll. Meditation may not necessarily be in view.
4 One wonders who may be speaking to those practicing Foster’s method of meditation. It is important to note that Foster does not believe the Bible is inerrant, and he seems to place more emphasis on mystical experiences than on the Bible.