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?

  1. 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.
  2. 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.
  3. 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 –
    • deep,
    • inward,
    • closeness in His presence
    • silence, quiet
    • transformational,
    • new,
    • spiritual disciplines
    • spiritual formation,
    • centering down
    • contemplation, contemplative prayer
    • meditation
    • repetition, mantra
    • breathing (prayer)
    • mystical
    • 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.  


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