on August 1, 2003
This is a Christian classic. Foster has written a comprehensive guide to spiritual disciplines. It is deep, yet accessible. Most of the reviews here agree with that.
I've read this book 5 times in 8 years. I've been in churches where multiple people were reading it at the same time. I've been in small groups where everyone read it together. I've seen mature Christians read it. I've seen new Christians read it. And I've concluded that THIS BOOK CAN BE DANGEROUS.
The reason I say that is that even in the most non-legalistic churches I've ever seen, I've seen immature Christians stumble in part because they are overwhelmed by everything in this book. And when I say "stumble", I'm talking about people going back into severely addictive lifestyles. And the pressure they felt from feeling like they have to do all these disciplines contributed to that.
Unfortunately, it's easy for any of us to filter even the most well-intentioned, well-written book through our false self, that part of us that is performance- and fear-oriented. Spiritual disciplines do not change us; they open our hearts to the change that the Spirit of God wants to bring.
Again, I think this is a phenomenal book. But lest we feed our heads instead of our hearts and lest we frustrate ourselves with a standard of righteousness that Foster never intended, I'd like to humbly, humbly suggest some things:
* I personally recommend that people start with Henri Nouwen's "Way of the Heart" for a primer on spiritual discipline. It is just much simpler. The big stuff can come later. (Other books by Merton, Nouwen, Keating, etc., will work just as well.)
* Get a spiritual director--I'm not talking about a pastoral counselor, though it may be a pastor; I'm talking about a spiritually mature guide who is only interested in your spiritual development, not your money or your time.
* Read this book with other people who can provide feedback to you on how they see you responding.
* Keep it simple: Pray, pray, pray; trust the Lord to guide your heart into other disciplines. Attempt other disciplines when your motivation is to honor God and mortify your flesh, not when it is to "get something", even if that "something" is spiritual maturity.
I first discovered "Celebration of Discipline" through Terry Glaspey's "Great Books of the Christian Tradition." Glaspey listed Foster's book as one of the top ten (cream-of-the-crop) books that every Christian ought to read and know. His opinion is obviously shared by many others as shown in Christianity Today's listing of "Celebration of Discipline" as one of the top twenty most influential books of the 20th century. Why is the book so influential? Because it gives Christians important and practical details regarding the scriptural key (self-discipline) to living a holy life which is the door to true liberty in all its facets. The 12 spiritual disciplines he expounds on, if faithfully practiced, will lead to inward and outward harmony (wholeness; holiness) with oneself as well as social harmony with others both within and without (as an evangelistic light) the corporate body of Christ. Four disciplines are allotted to each one of the spheres (inward, outward, and corporate) and valuable insights from the spiritual masters within Christian history are provided as supplements to the biblical foundation that grounds the book.
Another book that makes a nice companion to this one is Dallas Willard's "The Spirit of the Disciplines." Willard's book is highly recommended by Foster who considered it the book of the decade (1980s) and now considers Willard's new book "The Divine Conspiracy" as the one he has been searching for all his life because of its biblically comprehensive, holistic and practical nature. Both Foster and Willard value the deep, spiritual insights of the older Christian classics (including those penned by so-called Christian "mystics") as seen by their many references and quotes. Also, both authors have seen that the deep spirituality that underlies those classics flowed from a self-disciplined life. Those who think that God will progressively sanctify them apart from their obedient and disciplined life are sorely mistaken and, if they don't change their thinking and practices, are in for a rude awakening.
A few words regarding the spiritual discipline of meditation are in order. Meditation in general involves learning through practice to control one's thoughts and redirect one's attention for the purpose of sustained concentration on a given object (whether physical via the eyes or mental via the imagination or spirit). This is NOT always easy, especially at first, because our thoughts tend to be wild and bounce disjointedly from thought to thought in a stream of consciousness. This is one reason why vocal prayer (which IS easy) is important during private prayer times to aid in concentration. This is also important to understand in order to appreciate the purpose of repetition in, for example, Eastern Orthodox practice (read "The Way of a Pilgrim" and notice the anonymous author's use of the Jesus Prayer and its corresponding fruit in his life). This is NOT "vain" repetition, but repetition with an important, sacred goal! Having made this point, I appreciate Foster's emphasis on obedience. He stated that "Christian meditation, very simply, is the ability to hear God's voice and obey his word." Obedience is indeed integral to Christian meditation and holy living because the Christian purpose of such a discipline is to sensitize us to the Holy Spirit's "still, small" voice. I also appreciated Foster's balanced understanding of detachment and attachment. He stated: "The detachment from the confusion all around us is in order to have a richer attachment to God." Amen! I am glad to find myself in a growing company of Christians of various denominations who appreciate the importance of Foster's book and the greater importance of practicing the disciplines in order to live a "devout and holy life" (*) that is pleasing and acceptable to God. (* Also recommended: William Law's "A Serious Call to a Devout and Holy Life")
on April 12, 2001
_Celebration of Discipline_ is one of the finest Christian books of our time. I read it as an "assignment" with a men's study group, and at first, was a bit ambivalent about this ethereal-sounding spiritual book from a Quaker. I began it reluctantly, but shortly realized that what I was reading was solid, no-holds barred steps towards maturity in Christ, through discipleship and productive living.
Foster speaks of the "inward disciplines" the "outward disciplines" and the "corporate disciplines" of the Christian life. As I flip through the book, I find myself in need of a tune-up.
It's that kind of book. It's one that you'll never master, but the joy is in the journey, and in following the Savior with the full passion of your heart. He's calling us to the life of Discipline and discipleship, not to a willy-nilly external Christianity. _Celebration_ is a breath of fresh air in an era of "easy believism" and cheap grace.
Foster has touched a generation of believers with this timeless classic.
I read a portion of this book yearly. As I grow older, I discover how my understanding of how to approach God changes. My capacity to be quiet and listen, and to consider His presence strengthens with each year. Foster discusses the ways through the centuries, and from Christ's own example, how to meditate, how to pray, how to study, how to be in solitude, and so on. Never does Foster compromise biblical Christianity with tradition, or with a new age view of contemplative discipline. Have your Bible open, and be ready to be challenged to rethink experiential faith in ways as old as the New Testament. Keep "Celebration" handy too... it isn't a one-sitting kind of book. It isn't so thick or difficult to understand, but to integrate these disciplines will require slow and careful reading of this book.
on May 27, 2004
Richard Foster's work inspirationally motivates the reader to consider disciplines as a means to draw into a closer relationship with God. In an age of overwhelming materialism, rationalized Church teachings, and reflexively dogmatic positions works dealing directly with the spiritual are rightly greeted with a genuine sense of joy and enthusiasm.
A continual distraction throughout the work, however is Foster's highly assertive style. The tendency reveals itself in implicit assertions that the disciplines are in and of themselves inherently good and that their purposes are self-realized or attained experientially. If the chapter on fasting is considered, it is difficult or impossible to find a thesis for the purpose of fasting. If the chapter on prayer is considered, "personal prayer" and "prayer for others" are categorized separately; the thought is then asserted that it is appropriate to pray for ourselves in the terms, "if it be thy will" but not appropriate to do so for others.
In the end, Foster's work is rightly seen as a source of strong encouragement - a conversation with a knowledgeable friend sharing thoughts and experiences. It does this well. However, it should be looked at with a more critical eye, if regarded as a source of teaching. Many assertions and ideas are left unsubstantiated and may be misleading, misguided, or wrong.
There's nothing truly new or profound in this book. That's part of the beauty of it, and maybe is inherent in the title. This is a celebration of old things, a rediscovering of what is ancient and classic, not a load of new ideas and pop culture catch-phrases. There are twelve steps here, but this is no twelve-step program.
Richard Foster has done his homework. Seems like he's read just about every classic Christian writer, every saint, every mystic, and many others besides. He has found some common themes, and he presents them here in a simple form for us less well-read folk. I, for one, am grateful.
Foster addresses twelve oft-misunderstood disciplines: meditation, prayer, fasting, study, simplicity, solitude, submission, service, confession, worship, guidance, and celebration. He works hard to present why these are valuable disciplines, what the reward will be for pursuing them, and what it looks like to pursue them. At the end of most chapters, he offers practical suggestions for incorporating these seemingly ancient disciplines into a 21st century lifestyle.
The call that runs through all of the disciplines is a cry to listen, listen, LISTEN to an everpresent and persistently speaking God. Foster repeatedly praises the simple life, time in solitude and silence, and rest. In a society that is constantly distracted, this is a valuable and needed cry.
A Quaker, sometimes he goes a little overboard. I'm not as fond of silence and direct speech as he is, and I found his chapters on worship and celebration a touch on the weak side. But overall, this is a truly incredible book. I believe Foster to be one of the few Christian mystics of our time, to rank with Lewis, Bonhoeffer, and Schaeffer. Read this book slowly, and with much prayer.
"Every Discipline has its corresponding freedom. If I have schooled myself in the art of rhetoric, I am free to deliver a moving speech when the occasion requires it. Demosthenes was free to be an orator only because he had gone through the discipline of speaking above the ocean roar with pebbles in his mouth. The purpose of the Disciplines is freedom. Our aim is the freedom, not the Discipline. The moment we make the Discipline our central focus, we turn it into law and lose the corresponding freedom."
-- if you'd like to discuss Celebration of Discipline with me, e-mail me at firstname.lastname@example.org. But be nice.
on January 4, 2000
Celebration of Discipline by Richard Foster is an excellent starting point for those brave travelers who wish to travel deeper into the forests of Christian Spirituality. Mr. Foster introduces us briefly to what each path holds; all the while showing us practical steps we can take to get us started in each area. This book is exceptional as an introductory not only because it gets us started down the path but because it calls us deeper and deeper in. I wholeheartedly recommend this book to all Christians; and to all those interested in the life lived in and by the Spirit.
on June 23, 2005
Since college, when a number of my dormmates read through this book, I have desired to partake in a 'Celebration of Discipline.' When a fellow brother suggested that I choose something that several of us could study together my thoughts we immediately thrust to this work. I knew I would need the accountability of a group to not just read but seek to apply the principals present by Richard Foster.
The book is separated into 12 individual disciplines and further broken down into three groups, 'The Inward Disciplines,' The Outward Disciplines' and 'The Corporate Disciplines.' Foster opens with a warning, encouragement and guidelines for embarking on the journey of living a life in the disciplines. This first chapter should certainly not be taken lightly and is important to a successful incorporation of this lifestyle. What follows are easily understood insights on disciplines such as meditation, prayer, fasting, study and worship. While the book is easily read, the material presents significant challenges for everyday practice.
I believe this book is best undertaken in a group setting. Much of what he writes could be constrained to theory without the driving force of the Body and Spirit on an individual believer. Foster managed to challenge all in our small group, both those of conservative and liberal leanings. Throughout the book Foster makes a number of statements that will spark dialoge among all bents of the Christian community. I found this a wonderful aspect to develop and strengthen the body.
This is a book to be purchased and practiced in pursuit of the deeper, intimate walk with God for which so many of us yearn.
on September 14, 2004
Foster provides an excellent overview of 12 spiritual disciplines (in 3 categories), along with practical tips on how to implement them in our lives. Of course, there is a great challenge here presented: actually doing it! As Foster notes, many of the disciplines have fallen out of favor in our day. (Fasting, in particular, is a rare occurence in many Christian communities.)
Foster also does an excellent job emphasizing that the Disciplines are instrumental in the walk of faith. They are not to be made into spiritual "laws", but rather are to be freely chosen for the purpose of spiritual growth (that is, growing in one's relationship with God).
If you want a very easy to read, practical book about how you can begin forming habits that will help you grow in your love relationship with God and man, this is a great place to look.
on March 21, 2000
I revisited this guide after 20 years to find the call to the deep was still as profound as the first day I read it. In teaching it to the College and Career Class, I found their response was the same. It is the awe and wonder of a breathtaking sunrise. Words forgotten in our modern vocabulary like simplicity, solitude, fasting and submission came into a new light for a new generation. The use of celebration and discipline in the same sentence opens a new insight into the mind of God. It's not recommended for those content with the status quo. This book peals back the pretence of normal Christian life and reveals the requirement for action inwardly, outwardly, and corporately. It takes away all our excuses. In conjunction with the study guide, it brings us into relationship with God, ourselves and others. "If you've done it to the least of these my children, you've done it to me."(para) It is a primer for discipleship transforming the spiritual into the practical of our daily lives.