When I was a child and our family went on a trip, my siblings and I played I-Spy, conducted scavenger hunts, or enjoyed the License Plate Game or Hey Cow. We read books or told stories. We asked our parents questions along the way concerning what we saw, when we would arrive, and what we could expect.
Traveling with God is similar in that there are stories to be told, activities to be engaged, and guides to help us along the way. For Nathan Foster and his journey with God, his activities have been the disciplines, his stories have been a mix of biblical narrative and unfolding personal experience, and his closest guide has been his father, Richard Foster, best known for his book Celebration of Discipline, a contemporary classic of Christian spirituality first published in 1978.
Celebration has sold millions of copies, and first impacted my life a little over a decade ago.
Now, Nathan Foster is leaving his own legacy of wisdom and Christian witness. The Making of an Ordinary Saint: My Journey from Frustration to Joy with the Spiritual Disciplines (BakerBooks, 2014) is an immersion in the disciplines, a revisiting of the teachings offered in Richard’s Celebration, and an honest recounting of Nathan’s personal experience seeking growth in the way of Jesus.
Nathan explores twelve disciplines: submission, fasting, study, solitude, meditation, confession, simplicity, service, prayer, guidance, worship, and celebration. For each discipline, he quotes his father. Then, he tells his story.
Nathan is forthright about his frustrations, however grand, and his progress, however slight. For those that assume the disciplines might be easier for some rather than others, they will discover this is not the case. They are a challenge for us all, regardless of autobiography. But they nevertheless have their reward, and are possible for us thanks to the grace given us in the life, death, and resurrection of Christ. This is what makes Nathan’s story enjoyable: we walk alongside him as he struggles, experience his disappointments, and celebrate his gains.
Among the stories Nathan tells, I particularly enjoyed the lessons he learned while on his bike, his discoveries while memorizing the Bible, his willingness to submit to his children, and his disorientation when suspending his use of technology. I also enjoyed his brief historical sketches of Christian saints (Laubach, Woolman, Buechner), a subtle form of contrast and encouragement. Nathan seemed to be suggesting that we all have a long way to go, but through persistence and trust in God’s grace, we can all advance in holiness.
If you enjoy memoir and have followed the spiritual formation movement, this book will be of interest to you. Nathan Foster is a good storyteller, and his struggle with the disciplines is reflective of what many experience today.
I found his story to be encouraging and insightful, hopeful and invitational.
For all seeking to grow as disciples of Jesus, the road will be marked with suffering but also with deep joy. Nathan Foster is walking that road, and calling us to join him along the way and discover the grace God has for us. May God honor his witness.
Note: I received this work in exchange for a review.
In recent weeks, I have been discussing contemporary challenges to religious belief with college students. Specifically, we have been making a case for Christianity, and our most recent discussion centered on the relationship between faith and science.
They also relayed that they understood scientific challenges to religious belief were serious indeed, and a source of doubt among others they knew, and even for themselves.
But Alister McGrath, a skilled theologian who was trained in the natural sciences at Oxford, has proposed a different avenue, perhaps one that falls within either the integration or dialogue models mentioned above.
Here is McGrath's proposal:
I therefore propose that we should challenge the dominant narrative of our time - the outdated "conflict narrative", sustained more by uncritical repetition than by historical evidence - and replace it with a narrative of enrichment. This narrative recognizes that, as human beings, we can be studied and understood at multiple levels - physical, biochemical, psychological and sociological. Yet none of these is adequate in itself, to give us a full understanding of who we are, and what we must do if we are to achieve fulfilment.
Christian theology offers an enrichment of a scientific account of the world. It is able to engage the four critical issues identified by the social psychologist Roy Baumeister as central to the human quest for meaning: identity, value, purpose and agency.
Read the entire presentation here. I have long found McGrath helpful, and you will likely encounter a challenge or two in this lengthy, but illuminating piece.
It is my perception that the conversation on the streets about science and religion remains stuck in the old framework, despite claims by McGrath and others that arguments in the disciplines of both the philosophy of science and philosophy of religion recognize that the old, Enlightenment models for science and religion are crumbling.
A partial way forward for all Christians to demand a new model, a new way of thinking about these things, that is both historically rooted and intellectually rigorous. McGrath gives us a start.
PSA: Scot McKight's little book One.Life: Jesus Calls, We Follow is $2.99 on Kindle.
When this book released I read it quickly, and proceeded to hand it off to high school seniors and college students as a nice, challenging book for those seeking to take a next step in their life with Christ.
Not bad for adult Christians, either.
On October 12, I preached a sermon on authority, the Lordship of Christ, and our response. We began with the Ten Commandments.
Click here to read our primary text: Exodus 20:1-17.
Download or listen to the sermon here.