EMERGING TRENDS IN THE CHURCH TODAY – RICHARD FOSTER’S CELEBRATION OF DISCIPLINE (Part 2)
Previously, we introduced the author of the (once) popular Celebration of Discipline (COD), Richard Foster. We discussed several items that he brings up in COD. In this posting, we will examine those topics in more detail and respond to some of his most aberrant teaching. To those who think the ‘EMERGING CHURCH’ issues are dead, I would say that the opposite is true. Emergents may call themselves different names (e.g. Progressives, Missional.…etc.), but their theology and practices have been so ingrained with Christian theology, seminaries, books, sermons, small groups….etc., that it is important to be reminded of these key issues.
Roman Catholicism has gone for centuries largely unnoticed by Evangelicalism. Within smaller pockets of Roman Catholicism, several aspects of medieval mysticism has survived and for the most part has gone unnoticed by Evangelicals until more recently. A few groups such as the Quakers, have always kept some aspects of mysticism alive and noticeable within Evangelicalism.
Classical mysticism was virtually unknown in Evangelical circles until 1978, when Quaker minister Richard Foster published Celebration of Discipline (COD). COD radically changed many Evangelical’s understanding of spirituality.
Foster reintroduced to the Evangelical church the so-called “masters of the interior life” – Foster’s name for the medieval and early mystics that he repeatedly writes about.
“Is there a proper time for meditation? When a certain proficiency has been attained in the interior life, it is possible to practice meditation at any time and under almost every circumstance. Brother Lawrence in the seventeenth century and Thomas Kelly in the twentieth both bear eloquent testimony to this fact. Having said that, however, we must see the importance for beginners and experts alike to give some part of each day to formal meditation.” (R.Foster, Celebration of Discipline, p.27)
Foster attributes these mystics (and they alone) with discovering the key to true spiritual life. Surprised? You should be, because I would think that the first place to compare these ideas is to look at what the Bible teaches on these issues. Unfortunately, Foster doesn’t always rely on the Bible as his source for his theology. Not only does he make these claims, he has convinced many Christians that he is right. It seems as if his views have grown exponentially over time – starting out looking more linear in pattern but over the last few years it has exploded onto Christian teachings across all denominational groups – ranging from traditional mainline to Evangelical Christianity.
One writers states that –
“new forces and new players have popularized Foster’s ideas to a new set of Christians and it seems to be rapidly taking hold. This is due to the efforts of organizations such as Youth Specialties, numerous Bible colleges [seminaries], and a rash of books and speakers, all introducing mystical practices and theology to our young people and our young ministers. Many of these, having grown up in churches that no longer major on the teaching of Scripture, and are thus lacking Biblical discernment, are easy prey for spiritual sounding techniques, especially those that promise such personal and life changing encounters with God.” But today, even solid Evangelical Churches fall prey to this brand of theology.
For example, let me first look at my own church to see how this is playing out. In the seminaries of the Christian & Missionary Alliance (C&MA), future pastors are getting a boatload of training in mystical practices and theology. The C&MA has long been viewed as relatively conservative in doctrine with a focus on missions and discipleship that in many ways have exceeded many other Christian groups. But today, seminary professors are doing things that would have been unheard of even 10 years ago. Let me briefly share one example of this. At the Alliance Theological Seminary, a class requires its participants to visit a Roman Catholic monastery for period of time ranging from one day to spending an entire week engaging in exercises such as monastic meditation, long periods of silence and solitude, the use of various breathing techniques during these times of mediation, maintain a certain posture during this time, as well as other mystical techniques. The students are getting exposed to this practice and brand of theology that is NOT Evangelical to say the least. Does this mean that these future pastors and leaders will graduate with an understanding that this approach to their walk is normal and will they be passing it on to their future congregations, classes….etc.? How can it not mean that?
These practices, at times, can include things like meditation but with a different focus of emptying your mind. This is a perspective that Richard Foster teaches in COD in his original 1978 edition. Foster goes on to say that after emptying your mind, you are in a better position to hear God speaking to you. But, even Foster issue a WARNING that interacting with spiritual forces could be dangerous if these forces are not from God. This meditative state is relying on your efforts to reach a state of not being distracted while also being in tune with voices you hear, feel,…etc., are from God. How do you know?
This is opposed to the view from Scripture which shows mediation to be a time of focusing on God’s word – NOT emptying your mind. These practices can also include paying special attention to times of silence and solitude – again to focus on emptying your mind followed by listening to God (or whomever else talks to you in this moment), experience a DEEPER life with God…..becoming unified with God (Eastern Mysticism teaches this but is it Biblical ?). This may appear to sound like a valuable “religious” experience, but again, is this what the Bible teaches us to do?
Whether you agree or disagree about these practices, at a minimum, they depart from historic Protestantism as well as Evangelical Christianity. In my view, when more emphasis is placed on early church and Roman Catholic monastic traditions, it is difficult to see how the Bible supports these practices. In fact, a great deal of these practices share more in common with Eastern Mysticism than they do with clear teaching from Scripture. These traditions hold the Desert Fathers in high esteem as a source for these traditions – that in itself is worth a separate discussion in a future posting on this blog.
It quickly can be seen how the effect of this approach strays widely from Evangelicalism and the Bible. The following is a brief description of some of Foster’s major beliefs –
Gary [Gilley]……states that “the Celebration of Discipline alone, not even referencing Foster’s other writings and teachings and ministries, is a virtual encyclopedia of theological error. We would be hard pressed to find in one so-called evangelical volume such a composite of false teaching. These include faulty views on the”
- subjective leading of God (pp. 10, 16-17, 18, 50, 95, 98, 108-109, 128, 139-140, 149-150, 162, 167, 182);
- approval of New Age teachers (see Thomas Merton below);
- occultic use of imagination (pp. 25-26, 40-43, 163, 198);
- open theism (p. 35);
- misunderstanding of the will of God in prayer (p. 37);
- promotion of visions, revelations (pp. 108, 165, 168-169, 171, 193);
- endorsement of rosary and prayer wheel use (p. 64);
- misunderstanding of the Old Testament Law for today (pp. 82, 87);
- mystical journaling (p. 108);
- embracing pop-psychology (pp. 113-120);
- promoting Roman Catholic practices such as use of “spiritual directors,” confession, and penance (pp. 146-150, 156, 185); and affirming of aberrant charismatic practices (pp. 158-174, 198).”
Without agreeing or disagreeing with all of these points, some of them raise some serious issues with what Foster is teaching.
We will continue to look at more specifics during future blog posts.
Until next time, take care!
(356) EMERGING TRENDS IN THE CHURCH TODAY – RICHARD FOSTER’S CELEBRATION OF DISCIPLINE (Part 1)
We are approaching the 40th anniversary of Richard Foster’s Celebration of Discipline. As much as had been written about this book and its author by both fans and critics, one would think that those promoting it would be up-to-speed on the issues involved – many of which are questionable if not controversial to say the least. My church bookstore has not just one copy of Foster’s Celebration of Discipline but a handful of copies being offered to congregants who may not have any idea of the teaching they will be exposed to by reading the book. NOT A GOOD WITNESS for the church. UGH!!!!
So, in many ways, some of this information will be a review of previous postings on this topic. Why repeat? Well, because the propagation of aberrant theology is continuing to occur and more people need to understand for themselves what they are getting into with Foster’s works.
First published in 1978, Celebration of Discipline has had a massive influence on evangelicalism. Proclaimed by Christianity Today as one of the ten best books of the twentieth century, “the influence of Celebration of Discipline is all but incalculable”. Ok, well let’s attempt to calculate – Celebration of Discipline has routinely ranked as high as third in popularity among Christians – the Bible being ranked first.
The publisher states in the 20th anniversary edition – “Since its publication, Celebration of Discipline has helped over a million seekers discover a richer spiritual life infused with joy, peace, and a deeper understanding of God. Hailed by many as the best modern book on Christian spirituality, Celebration of Discipline explores the “classic Disciplines,” or central spiritual practices, of the Christian faith. Along the way, Foster shows that it is only by and through these practices that the true path to spiritual growth can be found.
Dividing the Disciplines into three movements of the Spirit, Foster shows how each of these areas contribute to a balanced spiritual life. The inward Disciplines of meditation, prayer, fasting, and study, offer avenues of personal examination and change. The outward Disciplines of simplicity, solitude, submission, and service, help prepare us to make the world a better place. The corporate Disciplines of confession, worship, guidance, and celebration, bring us nearer to one another and to God.
Foster provides a wealth of examples demonstrating how these Disciplines can become part of our daily activities-and how they can help us shed our superficial habits and “bring the abundance of God into our lives.” He offers crucial new insights on simplicity, demonstrating how the biblical view of simplicity, properly understood and applied, brings joy and balance to our inward and outward lives and “sets us free to enjoy the provision of God as a gift that can be shared with others.” The discussion of celebration, often the most neglected of the Disciplines, shows its critical importance, for it stands at the heart of the way to Christ. Celebration of Discipline will help motivate Christians everywhere to embark on a journey of prayer and spiritual growth.
- “If everybody in the country could read—and heed—this book, what a difference it would make to the planet.”
- “Foster has challenged us to see Christian faith … as a life of spiritual transformation.”
- “Foster has taught me more about prayer and living faithfully than just about any other living author.”
- “This seminal work on the practice of spiritual disciplines is never outdated.”
- “Richard Foster has given us a rare gift… The celebration of each discipline in this book hands us a tool that can be useful in helping us to integrate our inner and outer lives.”
- “The best modern book on Christian spirituality….. No other book apart from the Bible has been so helpful to me in the nurturing of my inward journey of prayer and spiritual growth.”
So, one can easily see the effect of Foster’s book on Christian communities and the importance and priority given to what Foster has to say about our faith and walk.
Richard Foster, is a Quaker, so his spiritual life is grounded in the subjective “inner light” presupposition of the Friends. He is highly steeped in the Roman Catholic mystics, drawing from dozens of them for his theology. More than that, Eugene Peterson informs us that Foster has “‘found’ the spiritual disciplines [in the mystics] that the modern world stored away and forgot” (p. 206). Foster’s views are also formed by Quaker mystics and even secular thinking, most surprisingly Carl Jung, “self-confessed demon-possessed psychologist”.
Unfortunately, the influence has helped to saturate the church with mystical contemplative prayer and the New Age. Most likely, your pastor has a copy of this book in his library. You have read the book at some point in the past or you know someone who has. Your church is teaching a class using the book as the basis for the class….etc.
What are some of the concepts that Foster conveys in Celebration of Discipline (COD)?
=> In February 2008, Christianity Today ran an enthusiastic cover story about Evangelicalism’s recent embrace of medieval Roman Catholic mysticism entitled The Future lies in the Past.1 The article traced the beginning of the movement as follows: “The movement seems to have exploded in a 24-month period in 1977-1978, which saw the publication of Richard Foster’s bestselling Celebration of Discipline: The Path to Spiritual Growth and Robert Webber’s Common Roots: A Call to Evangelical Maturity.”2
The article views Foster as one who continues to guide the movement: “From Dallas Willard, Richard Foster, and living practicing monks and nuns, they [those going back to Roman Catholic mysticism] must learn both the strengths and the limits of the historical ascetic disciplines.”3 In essence, the article states that not only was Foster was instrumental in starting a movement but also the movement is still growing 30-plus years later.
=> In another article from the Critical Issues Commentary, Bob DeWaay talks about his first-hand experience with this movement. He states –
“The irony about this particular CIC regarding Foster’s 1978 book is that in 1978 I myself was living in a Christian community committed to practicing much of what he promotes in Celebration of Discipline (even though we had not learned it from him directly). So I am not criticizing a practice about which I know nothing (or one in which I have no experience). I am criticizing a practice I foolishly allowed to deceive me for a significant portion of my early Christian life. When it comes to being deceived by mysticism, I have had abundant involvement. The only way I escaped it was through discovering and adopting the Reformation principle of sola scriptura.”
He goes on to bluntly state that
“Foster’s ‘journey inward‘ is unbiblical and dangerous. I will show that most of the spiritual disciplines that he calls ‘means of grace’ are no means of grace at all—but a means of putting oneself under spiritual deception.”
How can you spot some of these warning signs in other books that you may come across?
- Ideally, you find reliable biblical commentary from other leaders you trust. What is reliable? –> Are the commentaries based more on God’s word than someone’s opinion? Are you comparing the teachings beings presented to God’s word. Are you praying for guidance from the Holy Spirit? These are all critical parts of this process.
- In some cases, you may want to read the controversial material first-hand to ensure you are getting your information straight from the source while minimizing someone else’s bias in their view of the material.
- Also, I have found a very common and easy observation of the common language being used by many of these teachers promoting this brand of theology. It is NOT that the words used are bad in and of themselves. But rather, their usage MAY tip off their bias because there is a trend with many of these writers using these types of descriptives in much of their writings. Here are a few examples –
- closeness in His presence
- silence, quiet
- spiritual disciplines
- spiritual formation,
- centering down
- contemplation, contemplative prayer
- repetition, mantra
- breathing (prayer)
- over fascination with early church monastic teachings
- references to the Dessert Fathers (& Mothers)
- use visualization and imagination
The Journey Inward
Foster describes the idea of the disciplines that are the topic of his book: “The classical Disciplines of the spiritual life call us to move beyond surface living into the depths. They invite us to explore the inner caverns of the spiritual realm.“4 He makes it very clear what the theme of his book is and he does it without using much of Scripture to justify his conclusions – so much for sola Scriptura.
Foster goes on to write, “In one form or another all of the devotional masters have affirmed the necessity of the Disciplines” (Foster: 1). Who are these devotional masters?
We will take a look at that in Part 2. To close out this segment, are a few topics and statements that Foster brings up in COD that we will review in Part 2 also.
Foster states –
“We must be willing to go down into the recreating silences, into the inner world of contemplation. In their writings, all of the masters of meditation strive to awaken us to the fact that the universe is much larger than we know, that there are vast unexplored inner regions that are just as real as the physical world we know so well. . . . They call us to the adventure, to be pioneers in this frontier of the Spirit. (Foster: 13)
Foster teaches his readers to use their imaginations to experience Biblical stories with the five physical senses. Here is what he claims will happen:
“As you enter the story, not as a passive observer but as an active participant, remember that since Jesus lives in the Eternal Now and is not bound by time, this event in the past is a living present-tense experience for Him. Hence, you can actually encounter the living Christ in the event, be addressed by His voice and be touched by His healing power. It can be more than an exercise of the imagination; it can be a genuine confrontation. Jesus Christ will actually come to you. “(Foster: 26)
‘In your imagination allow your spiritual body, shining with light, to rise out of your physical body. Look back so that you can see yourself lying in the grass and reassure your body that you will return momentarily. Imagine your spiritual self, alive and vibrant, rising up through the clouds and into the stratosphere. . . Go deeper and deeper into outer space until there is nothing except the warm presence of the eternal Creator. Rest in His presence. Listen quietly, anticipating the unanticipated. Note carefully any instruction given. With time and experience you will be able to distinguish readily between mere human thought that may bubble up to the conscious mind and the True Spirit which inwardly moves upon the heart.” (Foster: 27, 28)
Foster talks more about PRAYER.
Often people will pray and pray with all the faith in the world, but nothing happens. Naturally, they were not contacting the channel. We begin praying for others by first centering down and listening to the quiet thunder of the Lord of hosts. Attuning ourselves to divine breathings is spiritual work, but without it our praying is vain repetition (Mt. 6:7). Listening to the Lord is the first thing, the second thing, and the third thing necessary for successful intercession. (Foster: 34)
Foster talks about getting more wisdom from others in the faith to help us in our walk –
“No doubt part of the surge of interest in Eastern meditation is because the churches have abrogated the field. How depressing for a university student, seeking to know the Christian teaching on meditation, to discover that there are so few living masters of contemplative prayer and that nearly all of the serious writings on the subject are seven or more centuries old. No wonder he or she turns to Zen, Yoga, or TM.” (Foster: 14)
I will stop for now. Hopefully, by now you can start to see some of the concerns that I have from what Foster is teaching from COD.
==> In Part 2, we will begin to dissect Foster’s Celebration of Discipline and look at the theology that is being promoted from a biblical perspective.
(355) EMERGING TRENDS IN THE CHURCH TODAY – DON FRANCISCO
Each time I think that people are up to speed and understand the issues related to the “Emerging Church” and how widespread their influence has been over the last several years, there seems to be new headlines, new books, and even a recycling of previous teaching and previous influences that crop their head up again for another round. So, the battle continues. But, I knew that – Scripture makes that very clear – especially during the latter days of the church age.
Here is the latest casualty – an oldie, DON FRANCISCO has followed after ROB BELL‘s influence and has turned on the Bible and Bible-believing Christians (as if there are other types of Christians?) –
Artist Don Francisco berates Christians for believing the Bible is true
by A. Spreeman on July 6, 2015
How does one believe in the Gospel without believing that Scripture is 100 percent truth? That it is our sufficient authority, and God’s own inerrant, infallible, breathed-out Word? How do you easily convince thousands of fans that those Christians who believe such things are somehow idol worshipers? Talk about a heart-breaker. An extremely influential Christian celebrity has not only departed from Christian doctrine, he is arrogantly throwing other Christians under the bus for believing (gasp) that the Bible is true.
Two-time Dove Award winner Don 30 Francisco is a singer/songwriter best known for songs like He’s Alive, Adam, Adam Where are You” and I’ll Never Let Go of Your Hand. Surprisingly, Francisco is now scolding Christians who believe that the Bible is without error. In fact if you believe in the infallibility of Scripture, you are “dead,” and need to stop drinking the Kool-Aid, Don says. He posted this message on his Facebook page:
I love the Scriptures. Anyone who’s heard my songs knows that, and I shouldn’t even have to say it. God speaks to me through them constantly. The Bible is the most wonderful book in the world. Those who have given their lives to preserve it and translate it didn’t die in vain, for without them we wouldn’t know that God came to Earth and lived as one of us, died on the Cross to show us His love and forgiveness, and rose from the dead to take away all our fears. And those are just the main points….
My problems begin with those who would try to make this book into a god. There is only one Foundation, Jesus Christ, and anyone who attempts to build on another one will be using an unstable and deadly cornerstone. I understand those of you who have ‘drunk the Kool-Aid’ (believed in the inerrancy/infallibility thing because you’ve been taught to believe it– I used to be one of you), but it’s time to arise from among the dead and believe the Gospel. For those of you who intentionally use this doctrine to control others, may God have mercy on your soul! May you soon travel the Damascus Road as Paul did. source
I think the mercy needed here is for Don and his adoring fans agreeing with him, rather than those who cling to the truth of God’s breathed-out Word. Breaking news: the Bible judges us, not vice versa. Where did this arrogance come from? Why are thousands so readily thanking him and agreeing with him? Why did I get blocked from his Facebook page, and my comments deleted? What could possibly have influenced him in this dreadful direction?
I will close with a powerful passage from Scripture from the book of Jude that gives a glimpse into the issues the church is facing today –
1 Jude, a bondservant of Jesus Christ, and brother of James, To those who are called, sanctified by God the Father, and preserved in Jesus Christ:
2 Mercy, peace, and love be multiplied to you.
3 Beloved, while I was very diligent to write to you concerning our common salvation, I found it necessary to write to you exhorting you to contend earnestly for the faith which was once for all delivered to the saints. 4 For certain men have crept in unnoticed, who long ago were marked out for this condemnation, ungodly men, who turn the grace of our God into lewdness and deny the only Lord God and our Lord Jesus Christ.
5 But I want to remind you, though you once knew this, that the Lord, having saved the people out of the land of Egypt, afterward destroyed those who did not believe. 6 And the angels who did not keep their proper domain, but left their own abode, He has reserved in everlasting chains under darkness for the judgment of the great day; 7 as Sodom and Gomorrah, and the cities around them in a similar manner to these, having given themselves over to sexual immorality and gone after strange flesh, are set forth as an example, suffering the vengeance of eternal fire.
8 Likewise also these dreamers defile the flesh, reject authority, and speak evil of dignitaries. 9 Yet Michael the archangel, in contending with the devil, when he disputed about the body of Moses, dared not bring against him a reviling accusation, but said, “The Lord rebuke you!” 10 But these speak evil of whatever they do not know; and whatever they know naturally, like brute beasts, in these things they corrupt themselves. 11 Woe to them! For they have gone in the way of Cain, have run greedily in the error of Balaam for profit, and perished in the rebellion of Korah.
12 These are spots in your love feasts, while they feast with you without fear, serving only themselves. They are clouds without water, carried about by the winds; late autumn trees without fruit, twice dead, pulled up by the roots; 13 raging waves of the sea, foaming up their own shame; wandering stars for whom is reserved the blackness of darkness forever.
14 Now Enoch, the seventh from Adam, prophesied about these men also, saying, “Behold, the Lord comes with ten thousands of His saints, 15 to execute judgment on all, to convict all who are ungodly among them of all their ungodly deeds which they have committed in an ungodly way, and of all the harsh things which ungodly sinners have spoken against Him.”
16 These are grumblers, complainers, walking according to their own lusts; and they mouth great swelling words, flattering people to gain advantage. 17 But you, beloved, remember the words which were spoken before by the apostles of our Lord Jesus Christ: 18 how they told you that there would be mockers in the last time who would walk according to their own ungodly lusts. 19 These are sensual persons, who cause divisions, not having the Spirit.
20 But you, beloved, building yourselves up on your most holy faith, praying in the Holy Spirit, 21 keep yourselves in the love of God, looking for the mercy of our Lord Jesus Christ unto eternal life.
22 And on some have compassion, making a distinction; 23 but others save with fear, pulling them out of the fire, hating even the garment defiled by the flesh.
24 Now to Him who is able to keep you from stumbling,
And to present you faultless
Before the presence of His glory with exceeding joy,
25 To God our Savior,
Who alone is wise,
Be glory and majesty,
Dominion and power,
Both now and forever.