I re-read Celebration of Discipline by Richard Foster for my Spiritual Formation class at Capital Bible Seminary. The first time I read it I think I was looking for something that was not there. This time I just read it to see what God might want me to change. It was refreshing the second time.
I think Foster's strength in the book is that he translates for the evangelical community the historical writings on the topic of spiritual disciplines. Most people who are reading the book want to hear from God. Foster's membership with the Friends, that values the mystical side of Christianity, helps him to take seriously listening to the voice of God in prayer and meditation. Foster handles the subject with depth and gives an accessible introduction to the historic practices of the disciplines. In other words, people are hungry to hear the voice of God and are looking for reliable answers from someone with sounds experiences that ring true.
Sometimes Foster justified his position well. At other times Foster simply assumed his premise as true without bothering to prove it. Certainly confession of sin is biblical, but Foster did not support from Scripture the practice of public confession of sin. This is not always appropriate. We must be 'as wise as serpents but gentle as doves' when it comes to public confession. I'm not saying that it is always wrong but idealizing it in a book like this may cause some immature believers to confess their sin in a body who will in turn use it against the party making the confession.
He took the standard position that if we hear a subjective prompting of the Lord it must always be in line with the Bible's clear revelation. Certainly God knows the movements of every sparrow. At the same time, I think some small and routine matters may not require a “Word from the Lord”. I would have liked to hear Foster explain when and when not to seek the voice of the Lord on a matter.
Having participated quite a bit in church government, I found the chapter on guidance quite intriguing. For Foster, the discipline of guidance was foremost an issue that the group would handle. So we are really talking about decision making of a congregation or other group. Often we bring processes of decision-making in from the business world and implement them at the church. In other words, we are making decisions via human effort, the flesh. We are sowing in the flesh and wondering why we are not reaping a spiritual harvest. A few months ago a friend of mine explained to me how the board he is on do not make decision except by a unanimous leading of the Spirit.
With the charismatic movement being a strong force at the time of his writing, I wish he would have written more about that movement. It may have been a distraction to his purpose, but he assumes the charismatic gifts to be active and working. That made me somewhat suspect of his other premises. I would have liked to know clearly where he stood.
I would recommend it for sure to the mature Christian who needs to grow closer to the Lord. I would not want to expose someone to his position who is not ready to read critically the passages about the charismatic gifts. I also would be wary of someone who does not have a good grasp on doctrine or exegesis. I believe pastors, elders, deacons and other lay leaders would benefit from studying this book. Anyone who has grown cold in the faith or has taken up daily devotions as a mere heartless duty would benefit developing a listening heart. Foster believes God is still speaking in an illumination sense. Many who have taken up the cause to stand for the finality of God speaking as revelation in the Bible also make our present age one like to that of the deist profess. Foster and other writers like him are a solution to the mindset of placing God far, far away a long time ago.