Monday, February 7, 2011

The Right and Wrong in Richard Foster

It is certainly a misconception by many who are vaguely aware of the meat and substance of Reformed theology, piety, and practice that we of the Reformed persuasion are lean on the area of private spiritual devotion. So you have the likes of Richard Foster, Dallas Willard, Donald Whitney, et al. filling in the demand for more "instruction" on "spiritual formation," in the hopes of accelerating sanctification.

But whereas Scripture has laid out the three means of grace, i.e., the preaching of the Word, the Sacraments, and prayer, as the ways by which God has promised to meet us, build our faith, and hence produce the gratitude that is the ground of all God-pleasing obedience, gurus of "spiritual discipline" make much of introspection and obsessive "fruit-hunting" through devices that are really extrabiblical, taking more from mysticism than the catholic Christian faith.

We must engage in times of private devotion through personal Bible study and prayer, most especially in the context of family worship, with the fathers leading the charge. But these expressions of piety must not emanate from us wanting to prove to ourselves that we are somehow worthy of God's love but must come from a source outside of ourselves—the objective declaration that we are already loved by God through faith in Christ, with this love merited for us by the latter's active and passive obedience, and because we are secure in this love, we are then free to love and serve God and our neighbor.

"I agree with Richard Foster's concern to step away from our daily routines and to be silent before the Lord, to receive his commands and promises, and to pour out our cries, praises, and intercessions to the Father, in the Son, by the Spirit. Many of us coming out of pietistic evangelicalism may easily over-react, neglecting—even ridiculing—habits of daily Bible reading and prayer that nourish our souls. I think Foster is right that the problem for evangelicalism today is not that it is too monastic, but that it is too worldly. However, Christ has not left us as orphans, to fend for ourselves by finding spiritual directors and our own means of grace. He promises to work in us by his Spirit through preaching and sacrament. Christ is not dead. Nor must he be pulled down from his throne in order to be present in our lives. Paul says that he is present objectively through his Word and Spirit.

When it comes to his methods, Foster's advice is consistent with his message. Where Scripture teaches that Christ's objective work outside of us in public history is the gospel—'the power of God for salvation,' Foster writes,

The most important, most real, most lasting work, is accomplished in the depths of our heart. This work is solitary and interior. It cannot be seen by anyone, not even ourselves. It is a work known only to God. It is the work of heart purity, of soul conversion, of inward transformation, of life formation....Much intense formation work is necessary before we can stand the fires of heaven. Much training is necessary before we are the kind of persons who can safely and easily reign with God.

This trajectory of the spiritual disciplines leads us to a host of means of grace besides Word and sacrament, and these other means are actually methods of our ascent rather than God's descent to us in grace. Instead of drawing us outside of ourselves, this trajectory takes us deeper into ourselves, clinging to what is happening within us rather than what happened for us, outside of us, two thousand years ago. The most important, most real, most lasting work is not accomplished in the depths of our heart but in the depth of history, under Pontius Pilate. It is precisely because of that accomplishment that we have every reason to meditate on the riches of our inheritance each day. And because of Christ's work ouside of us, in history, we are not only justified but are being transformed from the inside out.

We do not need more spiritual directors, but more pastors who feed us, elders who guide us, and deacons who care for the flock's physical needs. Realizing more and more what it means to be living branches, we need more and more to put to death the actual deeds of unrighteousness and live more and more to the Father, in the Son, by the Spirit.

Baptized into Christ, fed richly by his Word and at his Table, let us not leave the festive day forgetful of God's service to us but be led back each day into His Word and into the world with joyful hearts to be conformed to Christ's image as we work, play, raise children, steward earthly resources, enjoy dinner with friends and breaks with co-workers. Live from Christ's work for you, with Christ's work in you, toward Christ's return to deliver you from this present evil age. Don't feed off of your New Year's resolutions; rather, feed off of your union with Christ. You are part of the harvest of which the glorified Christ is already the firstfruits! Then resolve again, every day, to return to Christ, to recall your baptism, and to repent of all that weighs you down and distracts you from running the race with your eyes fixed on him." (Michael Horton, The Gospel-Driven Life [Grand Rapids, MI: Baker, 2009], 156-157, italics original).


  1. It's an honor to have you commenting on my blog, Bro. Daniel.

  2. Great post.I wrote a negative review of his book just to warn people:
    Right after that someone bought it on Amazon. Oh well. He's also now into the contemplative prayer movement itself, as is Beth Moore, which is disturbing.


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