Quaker Mystic in "Evangelical" Garb

By David Sheldon

A Critique of "Celebration of Discipline" by Richard J Foster

*If you are interested in this subject area I suggest that you obtain the original 1978 copyrighted edition of Celebration of Discipline: The Path to Spiritual Growth by Richard J. Foster. I have heard that this edition has many things in it which are not in subsequent editions. If this is true, it is not hard to figure out why. The false teachings in it are overly prominent and, thus, easily exposed. They are "frightening!" This is convenient for critique because he overtly states what might only be insinuated in later editions or may have been left out but should be considered especially since many of his ideas seem to be "bursting forth" in our day. The below critique is of the original edition.

Celebration of Discipline

Through his book Celebration of Disciplines: The Path to Spiritual Growth, it was Richard Foster's endorsement of mystical practices that would be the launching pad of deception in which countless numbers of evangelicals would fall victim. The book was first published in 1978 and was such a big hit that Foster has since written two updated editions. It claims to have "helped over a million seekers discover a richer spiritual life infused with joy, peace, and a deeper understanding of God." Foster emphasizes that a person's spiritual growth is ultimately the result of twelve essential disciplines: meditation, prayer, fasting, study, simplicity, solitude, submission, service, confession, worship, guidance, and celebration. When these disciplines are routinely practiced, Foster says one will have an advanced spiritual life. Let's briefly look at how this book is entrenched in contemplative philosophy.

In chapter one The Spiritual Disciplines: Door to Liberation Foster introduces that spiritual disciplines are to "invite us to explore the inner caverns of the spiritual realm." (pg 1) Where in Scripture does it say that the goal of the Christian life is to explore the inner caverns of the spiritual realm? To the student of Scripture, does that not sound so foreign?! Foster goes on to state that "Recent converts-for that matter people who have not yet turned their lives over to Jesus Christ-should practice them." (pg 2) One can only wonder how it is possible to long after the true and living God without coming to Christ. Yet Foster just made room for that possibility completely ignoring Acts 4:12 which says, "And there is salvation in no one else; for there is no other name under heaven that has been given among men by which we must be saved."

Chapter two, The Discipline of Meditation, is where Foster says that everyone "should all without shame enroll as apprentices in the school of contemplative prayer." (pg 13) He favorably quotes Catholic mystics such as Thomas Merton, C.G. Jung, and Morton Kelsey; and exalts others including Francois Fenelon, Madame Guyon, Francis de Sales, George Fox, and Meister Eckhart. In a section of this chapter sub-titled Desiring the Living Voice of God Foster says that as humans we tend to abrogate our role as priests. "Human beings seem to have a perpetual tendency to have somebody else talk to God for them. We are content to have the message secondhand." He uses the Old Testament and specifically the Israelites and Moses as examples "of an almost desperate scramble to have a king, a mediator, a priest, a go-between." (pg 19) This is most unfortunate. The Israelites mediator was Moses to whom God spoke. Through Moses, God gave the priests instruction on how they should function as priest/mediator and the nature of that role. He also gave instruction to the High Priest about their role. The Old Testament details this in great extent. In the New Testament, and with the New Covenant, Jesus Christ is our only mediator. Foster downplays the role of a mediator as an excuse to not go to God ourselves. He instead emphasizes meditation because "it boldly calls us to enter into the living presence of God for ourselves." (pg 19) Let's clarify here that, meditation cannot be the mediation. Jesus is the Mediator while Scripture is the thing to meditate upon. The Scriptures themselves reveal to us just exactly how it is that Jesus Christ is our Mediator. It is true that if we are in Christ we are all priests unto God, but it is only because HE is our perfect High Priest, Himself. It is His mediation that allows us to be priests. Hebrews 7:21 says, "for they indeed became priests without an oath, but He with an oath through the One who said to Him, "The Lord has sworn and will not change His mind, 'You are a priest forever.'" Meditation without a mediator is subjective and rather hopeless.

The next sub-title in this chapter How to Meditate - First Steps begins with "The inner world of meditation is most easily entered through the door of the imagination." And "The imagination is stronger than conceptual thought and stronger than the will." Meditating on the Holy Bible and using our minds to understand the texts is never mentioned! The only mention of the Gospels in this section is in regards to utilizing all five senses in picturing the events of Calvary. Apparently, imagination is now the means for meditation with emphasis on being "open" to the voice of God. He says, "In learning to meditate, one good place to begin is with our dreams…" And, "If we are convinced that dreams can be a key to unlocking the door to the inner world, we can do three practical things." (p. 23) He then gives three ways to insure this happens to the greatest advantage: 1. Invite God to inform us through our dreams 2. We should begin to record our dreams 3. Ask for interpretation of dreams.

The next sub-title is How to Meditate-Specific Exercises. In this section, Foster talks about "centering down," what body positions one should have while praying. He reasons one should do this "to enter into recreating silence, to allow the fragmentation of our minds to become centered." (pg 24) Foster provides a step by step process of concentrating on breathing with the instruction to become silent outwardly and inwardly in order to "be attentive to the inward living Christ." (pg 25) It is the door to the inner world. This is a door, but unfortunately it is the door to opening your mind to the spirit realm. What is so baffling is that he conveys the concept as "Christian." He asserts that all Christians should know and practice this in order to grow spiritually. He further states that through your imagination "Jesus Christ will actually come to you." (pg 26) Deity can now be conjured?! Opening yourself to the spirit realm through breathing techniques and dreams has absolutely nothing to do with Christianity. There is no instruction for anything like this in Holy Scripture! In fact, making contact with the spiritual realm is strictly forbidden in the Scriptures and neither you nor I have any idea of what the consequences might be. If we think we can contact deity with our fallen imaginations, the "wrong deity" will be welcomed and hence we have been deceived.

At this point, we can introduce into our discussion the word occult, in its broadest sense. Occult literally means "hidden" things or "unrevealed" things. Foster takes the reader through an experience of "guided imagery" which I can only best describe as a self-induced trance like state of mind. (p. 27) It is for the purpose of "inner communion" with God. You are to picture yourself in a quiet place (he describes it vividly) where you end up on your back looking up. You are to then have a deep yearning to go into the upper regions beyond the clouds. Then he has you imagine your "spiritual body" rising up out of your "physical body" for a soothing joy ride into "outer space" for a brief period of time. All this guided imagination is for the purpose of you to rest in His presence and note carefully any instruction given. No human being is supposed to look into hidden things! Deuteronomy 29:29 NASB says, "The secret things belong to the LORD our God, but the things revealed belong to us and to our sons forever, that we may observe all the words of the law." For man to seek God is man-ward! That is why God has revealed certain things which are not hidden through His revelation, the Word of God. This is done by His Spirit illumining the truths of the Scripture about who He is and relating Himself to us. The only way we can come to God is through His Word which He spoke to us in His Son whom seeks man and saves man. This Son is our purification of sins, our High Priest who mediates Himself to us through His Word. Hebrews 1:1-4 emphasizes that reality, "God, after He spoke long ago to the fathers in the prophets in many portions and in many ways, 2 in these last days has spoken to us in His Son, whom He appointed heir of all things, through whom also He made the world.3 And He is the radiance of His glory and the exact representation of His nature, and upholds all things by the word of His power. When He had made purification of sins, He sat down at the right hand of the Majesty on high, 4 having become as much better than the angels, as He has inherited a more excellent name than they." On the contrary, Foster wants us to pick our own path and call it gospel. He wants us to pick our own path and call it spiritual growth. He wants us to pick our own path by entering into the spiritual realm through techniques. We cannot pick a path of our own choosing! Our postmodern culture says if you are an American you have the right to pick your own path and no one has the right to say someone else's path is wrong. As long as we all have wonderful spiritual experiences everything is ay ok. After all, spirituality is a big group hug defined by the creature and not the Creator, right?

Foster's book, in a nutshell, is a sad commentary on the state of those who think its mystical content is exceptional. "There shall not be found among you anyone who...uses divination...or one who interprets omens...or a medium...For whoever does these things is detestable to the LORD;..." Deuteronomy 18:10-12 NASB. Truth comes to us as light and all the while lies come to us as "light." We must be able to determine the difference.

Critique of and quotes taken from: "Celebration of Discipline: The Path to Spiritual Growth" by Richard J. Foster, Harper & Row Publishers, Inc., New York, N.Y., copyright 1978.

Copyright, David Sheldon, 2006; Revised Kerri Sheldon, 2013, all rights reserved.
Can be copied in its entirety for personal use or to be distributed, but not for profit.

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