Just as Lighthouse Trails was about to issue a post this week about Celebration of Discipline’s (by Richard Foster) 40-year anniversary announcement (that we received by e-mail this month), we received the following e-mail from a Christian university graduate:
Three years ago this past September, I began my studies at Tyndale University in Toronto, Ontario. Right away, for one class, we were asked to study one author in particular whom I had never heard of, Richard Foster and his book Celebration of Discipline. I went online to do research and came across your website, and found your analysis of Foster to be spot on. As I read Foster, I realized he had completely bypassed the role of the Cross in bringing man into relationship with God, and instead substituted what he calls the “spiritual disciplines.” This is of course heresy.
For nearly sixteen years, Lighthouse Trails has tirelessly tried to warn the church about contemplative spirituality and how it entered the church in the first place largely through Richard Foster’s book Celebration of Discipline.
The following is a repost of a prior article we wrote about Celebration of Discipline. It would be a good idea to ask your own pastor if he has ever read Celebration of Discipline and if he has, what does he think. And if he has not read the refutation A Time of Departing and is willing to do so, Lighthouse Trails will gladly send him a complimentary copy of it.
First published in 1978, Celebration of Discipline has had a massive influence on today’s Christianity. 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 sitting on his library shelves. He may even have it sitting on his desk for easy reach and reference. Richard Foster, a Quaker and the founder of an organization called Renovare (meaning renewal), wrote the book, and even he may have had no idea the impact this book would have. But decades later, it is still being read, and in fact, Christian leaders and organizations continue promoting the book.
Foster said in the book, that we “should all without shame enroll as apprentices in the school of contemplative prayer” (p. 13, 1978 ed.). In other books and writings of Foster’s, he makes it very clear that this “contemplative prayer” is the eastern-style mantra meditation to which mystic monk Thomas Merton adhered. In fact, Richard Foster once told Ray Yungen (author of A Time of Departing) that “Thomas Merton tried to awaken God’s people” (at a conference in Salem, OR in the 90s).
Thomas Merton, who said he was “impregnated with Sufism” (Merton and Sufism, p. 69) and wanted to “become as good a Buddhist” as he could be (David Steindl-Rast, “Recollection of Thomas Merton’s Last Days in the West”), believed that “God’s people” lacked one thing—mysticism, and this is to what they needed “awakening.” Of Merton, Foster says: “Thomas Merton has perhaps done more than any other twentieth-century figure to make the life of prayer widely known and understood.” (Spiritual Classics, p. 17) And yet, Thomas Merton once told New Age Episcopal priest Matthew Fox that he felt sorry for the hippies in the 60s who were dropping LSD because all they had to do was practice the mystical (contemplative) stream to achieve the same results. (Interview) We couldn’t agree with him more. Both altered states are the same, but we differ from Merton and Foster in conclusions outcome—we know neither leads to God.
Listed under “excellent books on spirituality,” in some editions of Celebration of Discipline, Foster says of panentheist Tilden Edwards’ book Spiritual Friend that it helps “clear away the confusion and invites us to see that we do not have to live the spiritual life in isolation.” And yet, Tilden Edwards, founder of the “Christian”/Buddhist Shalem Institute in Washington, DC, said that contemplative spirituality was the “Western bridge to Far Eastern spirituality”(Spiritual Friend, p. 18). On the Shalem Institute website you can find numerous quotes, references, articles, and recommendations to panentheism, universalism, interspirituality, New Age, and Eastern thought.
In Celebration of Discipline, Richard Foster tells us “we must be willing to go down into the recreating silences, into the inner world of contemplation” (COD, p.13.) He goes on to say that the “masters of meditation beckon us.” Just prior to that remark, he quotes Carl Jung and Thomas Merton.
Celebration of Discipline has helped to pave the way for Thomas Merton’s panentheistic belief system. It has opened the door for other Christian authors, speakers, and pastors to bring contemplative spirituality into the lives of millions of people. The late Henri Nouwen, a popular contemplative who also followed the teachings of Thomas Merton, made a telling statement towards the end of his life:
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 (emphasis added – Sabbatical Journey, p. 51).
Essentially, the fruit of years of practicing mysticism by Nouwen was a departure from believing the Cross was the only way to salvation. This is the fruit of contemplative spirituality.
Today, countless ministers and ministries are promoting and endorsing Celebration of Discipline. If they really knew what Foster’s “celebration” was all about, we think many of them would race away from the teachings of Thomas Merton and Richard Foster and back to the Gospel of Jesus Christ.
Note: If your pastor or someone you know has a copy of Celebration of Discipline or quotes Richard Foster, be sure and give him a copy of Ray Yungen’s new booklet A Serious Look at Richard Foster’s “School” of Contemplative Prayer. Also, want to know what Spiritual Formation is (and its dangers), read this: Is Your Church Doing Spiritual Formation? (Important Reasons Why They Shouldn’t
Quotes by Richard Foster:
“Spend some time this week listening to contemplative music designed to quiet you, settle you, deepen you. (Compact discs and tapes from the Taize community, John Michael Talbot, and the Monks of Weston Priory are especially helpful).” Renovare’s Perspective Newsletter
“We now come to the ultimate stage of Christian experience. Divine Union…. Contemplatives sometimes speak of their union with God by the analogy of a log in a fire: the glowing log is so united with the fire that it is fire.” (Prayer: Finding the Heart’s True Home, p. 159)
“Christians . . . have developed two fundamental expressions of Unceasing Prayer. The first . . . is usually called aspiratory prayer or breath prayer. The most famous of the breath prayers is the Jesus Prayer. It is also possible to discover your own individual breath prayer. . . . Begin praying your breath prayer as often as possible.” (Prayer: Finding the Heart’s True Home, p. 122) [LT Note: Remember, Rick Warren promoted breath prayers in The Purpose Driven Life.]