A Denver Post article “Filling spiritual voids, not just pews” is subtitled “Richard Foster’s treatise on disciplined faith turns 30,” speaking of Foster’s now 30-year-old Celebration of Discipline. Howard Baker, a professor at Denver Seminary says: “He’s definitely the pioneer among Protestants.” Foster’s book has now sold 2.5 million copies, with over half of those sold just in the last 12 years since Rick Warren gave credence to Foster in his own book, The Purpose Driven Church, recognizing Foster as a key player in the spiritual formation movement. Warren said the movement was vital and needed for the body of Christ and would bring the church to full maturity.
Rick Warren isn’t the only one who has recognized Foster as a pioneer in the Christian church today. Others have heralded him as well. The Denver Post article points out that Celebration of Discipline was “named by Christianity Today magazine as one the top 10 religious books of the 20th century.” Donald Whitney, professor at Southern Baptist Theological Seminary, acknowledges Foster’s tremendous influence when he says: “Perhaps the most influential book on spirituality in the twentieth century is Richard Foster’s Celebration of Discipline.1
While Whitney does reject Foster’s mystical propensities, there are virtually no Christian leaders who are issuing stern warnings about the teachings of Richard Foster and the detrimental affect his writings have had on the Christian church. Even those like Whitney, who seem to see Foster’s mysticism as a negative, still recognize Foster as an overall positive influence. However, such a mindset has paved the way for Foster’s spiritual formation to become an integral part of Christianity today, and perhaps one of the main reasons that contemplative spirituality has taken hold to some degree in nearly every denomination.
Lighthouse Trails has thoroughly analyzed and critiqued Foster’s teachings in our published work by Ray Yungen, A Time of Departing , as well as in many well-documented articles. such as our most recent one Celebration of Discipline – 30 Years of Influence!.
To capsulate, Richard Foster believes that anyone can practice the spiritual disciplines, including the discipline of going into the silence, and become more like Christ. Foster, who emulates the late panentheist monk, Thomas Merton, would agree with Merton who believed that divinity resides in every human being. That is why Foster did not hesitate to include panentheist Thomas Kelly in his book, Streams of Living Water. Foster quoted Kelly as saying “Deep within us all there is an amazing inner sanctuary of the soul, a holy place, a Divine Center, a speaking Voice, to which we may continuously return” (A Testament of Devotion, p. 29). It is in that same book, Kelly says that “[i]n that abiding yet energizing Center we are all [all human beings] made one” (p.38).
It is this belief that all is one and that this oneness can be realized through meditation that makes Foster’s spirituality so dangerous and contrary to biblical Christianity. In Streams of Living Water, Foster talks about “a vision of an all-inclusive people.” This vision would fit Henri Nouwen’s calling who said: “Today I personally believe that while Jesus came to open the door to God’s house, all human beings can walk through that door, whether they know about Jesus or not. Today I see it as my call to help every person claim his or her own way to God.”(From Sabbatical Journey, Henri Nouwen’s last book, page 51, 1998 Hardcover Edition)
No one can argue that Celebration of Discipline and Richard Foster have had a tremendous influence in Christian spirituality today. But what must come to the table of discussion in Christian circles is is this influence for the better or for the worse?