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January 1981 · Vol. 10 No. 1 · p. 37 

Book Review

Celebration of Discipline: The Paths to Spiritual Growth

Richard J. Foster. New York, NY: Harper and Row, 1978. 179 pages.

Reviewed by John Fast

Rarely does one read a book with intellectual integrity that is also immediately practical. Rarer still are books dealing with the “inner life” that transcend superficiality. Foster’s Celebration of Discipline more than adequately does both. For this original work, which is well on the way to becoming a modern devotional classic, the author (a faculty member at Friends University in Wichita, Kansas) received a “Writer of the Year” award in 1978.

This book explores and defines traditional disciplines which are central to experiential Christianity. Practising and experiencing the presence of God is consciously structured in three stages: the inward, the outward and the corporate disciplines. Meditation, prayer, fasting, study, simplicity, solitude, submission, service, confession, worship, guidance and celebration are the specific areas covered. Foster initiates each discussion with a wide use of Scripture. The particular discipline is then placed in historical perspective. The author’s familiarity with classic devotional literature, his wide use of secular thought, and his rootedness within the Quaker tradition (as evidenced by the many contributions from George Fox, John Woolman, Thomas Kelly and others) provide the reader with a unique and integrative setting for exploring spiritual formation and also infuse this book with a truly ecumenical spirit.

But the author’s real genius moves us beyond description to implementation. Step by step suggestions show the sacrifices needed and the possible rewards which might accrue to the novice wishing to pursue that particular discipline. The practical suggestions on how to begin the journey place spiritual growth squarely back into our own set of experiences and show us how to proceed from there without the deadly legalism so often recommended in this genre of literature.

In guiding us along the path to spiritual maturity, Foster has struck a healthy balance between individual and corporate worship. The author has also maintained a creative tension in highlighting both inner and outer expressions of faith. But perhaps the greatest strength of Celebration lies in its audience appeal. It was written for ordinary people. Almost everyone can read it with measurable success and constant challenge. For that reason I recommend it highly to pastors, teachers, and leaders as an excellent resource for topics such as “worship,” “the devotional life,” or “spiritual growth.”

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