Richard Foster wrote Celebration of Discipline "for all those disillusioned by the superficialities of modern culture, including modern religious culture." He struck a nerve. Since its publication in 1978, Celebration has sold more than 1.5 million copies in 14 languages. Through his writing and his ministry, Renovaré, Foster has reintroduced evangelicals to spiritual formation. Brandon O'Brien talked to Foster about it all.
Why did Celebration of Discipline do so well?
It appeared at a point in history when people sensed the way we were doing ministry wasn't working. Leaders were lost to moral failures. People wanted something more substantial. There was a longing to connect to the great historical conversation about the growth of the soul. Most people were only aware of the early church and then us today—maybe a few had heard of the Reformation. With Celebration I introduced people to the historical conversation.
If superficiality is the curse of the modern age, what's the curse of the postmodern age?
Distraction. With the Internet and entertainment, so many different ways to keep people's minds constantly shifting, they don't have to think. And, of course, churches sometimes play right into that—with fast-paced services that keep people jumping all over the place. That's why solitude and silence are among the most important spiritual disciplines for today.
What other spiritual challenges are unique to our age?
We have taught a gospel for some decades now that has cut people off from a life of holiness and discipleship with Jesus. We have preached, "Assent to certain truths and you'll get into heaven when you die." The main focus has been getting into heaven. The gospel of Jesus—"repent for the kingdom of heaven is at hand"—is about entering into a life with Jesus now. And that includes heaven, of course, when we die. But life formation begins right now.
How does this affect holiness?
Today discipleship is thought of as a sort of extra for the super Christian. Not so! This is for everybody. Salvation is a life with Jesus that begins now and continues on. Death is just a transition from this life to greater life.
What distinguishes discipleship for Christians today?
Today the Western world needs a deep emphasis on community life. That can take many forms. But we have to have fresh expressions of community life that are deeper than what we experience in normal church settings, where people see each other once a week—or even less often. The aim of God in history is forming an all-inclusive community of loving persons with God at its center.
Revivals of the past brought positive changes in society as well as the church. Today we seem to distinguish spiritual renewal from social action. Why is that?
We have forgotten that we wage spiritual warfare on all fronts at once—personal, social, institutional. Revival certainly begins in the individual. But it works its way out. The social implications can't be ignored. Loving God and loving neighbor go hand in hand. William Penn said, "Religion doesn't take us out of the world. But it pushes us into the world and excites our endeavors to mend the world." This is part of the task of revival.
What spiritual discipline do pastors most need?
To find at least one other person to open your life to. In my case, I fell into a friendship—a 40-year friendship—with a Lutheran pastor down the street. It began when I went to him and said, "Bill, you know a lot more about prayer than I do. Would you teach me what you know?" He was a great teacher. Even though we moved apart geographically, we've kept in regular communication. It just takes one person. Ask God for someone like that.
Dallas Willard once told you, "You need to decide if you are the minister of the people or a minister of Christ." What's the difference?
Dallas knew that I was being pulled in all kinds of directions because of people's expectations for a pastor. If I'm a minister of the people, then I'm controlled by what the people think and feel. If I'm the minister of Christ, then he is the one who calls the shots, and then I serve the people. Be a minister of Christ, then your work among the people finds its proper place.
All this sounds very serious. But in all of this we're to enjoy God and enjoy one another. The life that is pleasing to God does not come by gritting our teeth, but by coming to love God, love Jesus, and love the people around us. So we learn to relax, live by faith, and not get too intense and anxious about it.
Copyright © 2011 by the author or Christianity Today/Leadership Journal.
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