I (Helen) read Celebration of Discipline: The Path to Spiritual Growth because our church’s summer series was inspired from its content. As I’ll be preaching on the role of Scripture in one’s walk with Jesus, I thought it would be appropriate to see what author Richard Foster had to say on the topic! I may or may not use this book as a resource for my sermon prep, but for the most part, I found the book inspiring and helpful as I contemplate my own walk with Jesus.
The book is divided into chapters on the different disciplines, including Meditation, Prayer, Fasting, Study, Simplicity, Solitude, Submission, Service, Confession, Worship, Guidance, and Celebration. The first four are labelled “Inward Disciplines,” the middle four are referred to as “Outward Disciplines,” and the remaining four are called “Corporate Disciplines.” I found this framework helpful as I thought of the application of each discipline. It is quite readable, which surprised me, as I had been warned beforehand that it was “dry.” I didn’t find this to be the case.
I was encouraged by the “Study” chapter, as the author really encourages inductive study. Foster opens his description of this discipline by saying, “The purpose of the Spiritual Disciplines is the total transformation of the person. They aim at replacing old destructive habits of thought with new life-giving habits. Nowhere is this purpose more clearly seen than in the Discipline of study” (p. 62). He goes on to lament that many Christians do not study their Bibles, even while “they may sing with gusto, pray in the Spirit, live as obediently as they know, even receive divine visions and revelations” (p. 62-63). He emphasizes that “Good feelings will not free us. Ecstatic experiences will not free us. Getting ‘high on Jesus’ will not free us. Without a knowledge of the truth, we will not be free” (p. 63). It is spiritual to use our brains to think and to study. I loved that Foster set out to emphasize this and to encourage believers that the intellectual study of Scripture is not lacking in spirituality.
My favorite chapter in this book was the one on the topic of Submission. When I set out to reading this book, and saw that there was a chapter/discipline by this name, I was somewhat leery. Given that this book was written nearly forty years ago, I assumed that this was going to be a chapter on marriage. I was pleasantly surprised to read the following:
Jesus’ example and call to follow the way of the cross in all human relationship form the basis for the teaching of the Epistles on submission. The apostle Paul grounds the imperative to the Church to ‘count others better than yourselves’ in the submission and self-denial of the Lord for our salvation…(Phil. 2:4-7). The apostle Peter, in the middle of his instructions on submission, directly appeals to the example of Jesus as the reason for submission…(1 Pet. 2:21-23)…As a preface to the Ephesian Haustafel [rules for the Christian household – a literary form found in Ephesians 5:21-6:9, Colossians 3:18-4:1, Titus 2:4-10, and 1 Peter 2:18-3:7] we read, ‘Be subject to one another out of reverence for Christ” (Eph. 5:21, italics added). The call for Christians to live the cross-life is rooted in the cross-life of Jesus himself.
The Discipline of submission has been terribly misconstrued and abused from failure to see this wider context. Submission is an ethical theme that runs the gamut of the New Testament. It is a posture obligatory upon all Christians: men as well as women, fathers as well as children, masters as well as slaves. We are commanded to live a life of submission because Jesus lived a life of submission, not because we are in a particular place or station in life. Self-denial is a posture fitting for all those who follow the crucified Lord… (p. 117).
I would love to quote more of Foster’s chapter on submission, but I’m probably beyond the allowable amount as it is! The next time I teach Colossians, or if I ever teach Ephesians, a large portion of this chapter will certainly be required reading for my students! It is the most straightforward treatment of the co-submission called for in the Epistles, that I have ever had the pleasure of reading.
One chapter I found myself disagreeing with, however, was the chapter on Prayer. Some of Foster’s language made me think of open theism. The Internet Encyclopedia of Philosophy defines open theism as “the thesis that, because God loves us and desires that we freely choose to reciprocate His love, He has made His knowledge of, and plans for, the future conditional upon our actions. Though omniscient, God does not know what we will freely do in the future.” While this may sound appealing on a surface level, it is actually a dangerous idea: that God’s actions are dependent on our prayers, and that God does not know the future. The repercussions of this are enormous and frightening. I don’t know if Foster would define himself as an open theist, but as I conducted a brief google search of “Richard Foster open theism,” I found that others have detected this tone in his writing as well.
Despite the chapter on Prayer, I found the majority of the content encouraging, challenging, and engaging. I would recommend this book, but with a warning about the language used in the description of the Discipline of Prayer.