New books on spiritual formation: Eldridge, Benson, Foster and more…

I just finished an oddly fascinating book, John Eldridge’s Walking With God (Nelson; $22.95) a book which was not exceptionally well written nor a sustained example of good teaching.  Still, I wanted to weigh in, suggesting it to interested readers for a variety of good reasons.  For those who haven’t heard of popular evangelical superstar John Eldridge, you should know that he wrote two fine early books, The Sacred Romance and The Journey of Desire (recently reissued as Desire: The Journey We Must Take to Find the Life God Offers) that I really liked.  They were passionate and spiritual, full of purpose and meaning and joy.  These notions were well captured in a later book which was good, too: Waking the Dead: The Glory of a Heart Fully Alive.  Like several other vibrant evangelical authors, Eldridge is convinced that many of us missing our dreams, afraid to honor the desires of our hearts, and are sleep walking through a routine life and routine faith.

He took a wrong turn (in my estimation, a view that seems to be more accepted than when I first voiced it, but is still the minority report) with the famous, mega-seller Wild at Heart.  I disdained the book for many good reasons and still get good feedback from the long and feisty review I did several years ago. (You can read it here.)  Although I tried to affirm some of the insights in the book, and admitted it resonates with many,  it was still the most critical review I’ve ever done.  Mr. Eldridge’s mix of bad theology, psycho-spirituality and macho gender assumptions combined for an odd and dangerous book; I didn’t even touch the one he and his wife did for women, Captivating.  Ugh.  When he did, though, a fabulously fun, brief book about the Bible’s unfolding narrative, and our privilege to be passionately involved in God’s epic plan to rescue the planet–Epic, it was called, and you can buy or rent the DVD talks, that are great—I cheered.  I’m not at all against the man, despite his truly unbiblical view of gender, and the strong rebuke I wrote in that review.  You can visit his interesting website for tons of stuff here.

Walking With God (with the subtitle that tells you, in a phrase or two, the strengths and weakness of this book, Talk to Him, Hear From Him, Really) is his new one, a book that is essentially a journal Eldridge kept over a year, with plenty of insistences that readers pay attention to the way God speaks to us. 

Like I said, I don’t think this is brilliant.  There are a few sections that seem overblown, and I feel badly that a guy with such obvious talent and passion for the things of God is bogged down with inner hurts, past issues, self-doubt, and needlessly high expectations for transcendent moments.  He’s got such a craving for some large sense of joy, nearly a fetish for joy.  He is striving so hard—and teaches that that is normative—to fight for joy.  I got tired and filled with self-doubt just reading about his singular Quest for God’s Voice. I, like Eldridge, like most of us, have baggage—issues, fears, hurts, sin, and I don’t think I take any of it lightly. I, too,  am grieved by my own sin and long to know the comfort of a loving Abba.   Still, his daily inner conversations (if this journal is typical, which I have no reason to think it isn’t) are some days exhausting.

I am not so sure everyone is as deeply hurt as Eldridge assumes, although (as I have written not long ago in a blog post about the Psalms of lament) it is obvious we all have hurts and anguish, and need not fear sharing our hurts and troubles and doubts.  I appreciate Eldridge’s call to be real, to be more self-aware, to live with daily faith, to sense God’s Spirit throughout the day and I found some of his entires about how God wants to touch us in very deep places to be very moving.   I think he frets a bit too much, and yet his intensity doesn’t seem to have the depth that such a book would demand.  Still, it is instructive to see how he yearns for healing.

I also believe that we can learn to sense and follow the promptings of the Spirit. And I believe this sometimes happens through signs and wonders.  Yet, when he says God gives him “words” or mysterious phrases it made me wonder why God is so inarticulate, mono-syllabic, in his revelations to Mr. E.  These “words” of revelation are not the way God has typically communicated in the past, and Eldridge’s unquestioning assumption that these are, in fact, from God, struck me as both a bit weird and a bit prideful.  (Couldn’t he have at least cited something of the Pauline literature on “words of knowledge”, told of some church service where such was appropriately manifested, or drawn on the work of, oh, say, Jonathan Edwards whose meaty and wise Religious Affections guides us in these precise matters.  Surely, if he is commending this practice of listing for cryptic words to ponder, he should explain where this is shown in Scripture as a way of God’s revealing things to us, and, further, some guidance about how to discern which are the words from the Spirit and which are just stuff spilling freely from our overactive imaginations or subconsciences.  He doesn’t really explain this much, just tells us how God wants to give us these phrases from time to time.  Unlocking their meaning becomes a major part of his spirituality. 

I have experienced a bit of this first hand so do not mock him, as some might.  Still, as naturally as John tells of it, sharing this or that phrase, and how it has blessed him to discern its appropriate meaning, I am a bit skeptical.  How, really, does he “hear” this voice speaking?  (The words he gets are, interestingly, predictable.  For instance, he gets “intimacy” but not “fair trade.”  God wants him to ponder His “love” but doesn’t say much (that he reports, at least) about “racism.”  Why is this?  And, why doesn’t it occur to him?  As he sometimes says, Geez Louise.

In my diatribe against the macho madness in Wild at Heart, I affirmed his reflections on spiritual warfare, wanting to honor him where I could, and aware that he was at least offering some insight about this controversial and complicated arena.  In Walking With God he is deeper into resisting the work of Satan’s agents, and some of his stories are compelling.  Many of his ruminations, and teachings, though, are nearly off the chart weird, more psychobabble than theology, with little or no serious exegesis.  He is obsessed with past “agreements”, as he calls them, pacts we make (unknowingly, with slips of the tongue and subsequent formation of heart-deep attitudes) with the demonic.  You know, we “agree” with the accusation “you’ll never amount to anything” and thereby are bound–psychologically, and spiritually, perhaps eternally, held back by bad self-image and evil spirits, smelly guys that he sometimes senses as a foreboding and menacing presence in his home. I found myself riveted, but wishing for more, well, balance and insight.  Cliches, I know, but there you have it; his reminders to work on this stuff just didn’t get very deep, despite the drama.

As is often the case with bad doctrine and incoherent worldviews, a legitimate insight becomes absolutized and consequentially distorted.  At times, his call to break with past ways works as a metaphor, but his insistence on this literal spooky narrative of the devil binding us seemed to (at times) trivialize the very real possibility of the need for rites of deliverance.  Sometimes, he is offering interest
ing insight (he notes something spiritually awry when a son brings some artifact into the house that had very pagan connections) and other times he seems to say how the demonic works, without much reliable explanation.  The casual flavor of his teaching, coupled with his earnest yearnings and constant reference to the heart, his heart, your heart, God’s heart, makes this friendly, touching, but dangerous.  Just because he’s sincere, and telling stories, doesn’t mean he’s well-grounded in Biblical teaching or the history of the church’s best thinkers on this stuff.  Maybe he is, but it doesn’t come across in this casual, instructional memoir.

I am not at all opposed to honest memoir and at times Eldridge’s year’s worth of reflections really works—his longing for friends, his severe grief over the loss of a beloved family dog, his desire to pray with his sons, his recovery from a riding accident, which necessarily slows down his active outdoorsy lifestyle.  Interestingly, the book seems to work best when it is not at its most intentionally passionate or instructional; the heavy dramatic portions most often seemed precious.  At times, I wanted to give him a bit of his own macho medicine and tell him to just buck up and quite blubbering. 

Still, I couldn’t put this book down, which says something about the strength of the writing, the narrative, the story, the insight or the four-season structure of the book.  I wondered what God was doing in his life, or at least what Eldridge thought God was doing, and was astounded at his vulnerability in sharing his journey with such honesty.  Who doesn’t want a life of walking dearly and daily with God?  For those with time and inclination—especially if you don’t have a real community that talks like this, or a regular spiritual director or soulfriend—it is worth the investment to buy books as companions on the journey, even as conversation partners that you might not fully agree with, and this one could be useful and enjoyable.  Walking With God (which has a website, too, with more stories and continued teaching about various subjects he raises in the book) helps remind us to pray persistently, to be attentive to God’s active involvement in our lives, to resist the banal and secularizing forces of contemporary life that marginalize and silence our active, speaking, loving, God.  Right or wrong about some details, quirky or not in his own expressions of his unique brokenness, fully brilliant in his proposals for finding hope and healing or not, exceptionally graceful in his creative writing or not,  Eldridge is a guy who has bravely laid it out there for us, a year in his Colorado life, a memoir of seeking God’s voice and guidance.  We suggest it to you, to be read with discernment, and expectation.  Maybe like him, you, too–I, too–will be more able to hear the still small voice of God, day by day, and live out a more daring discipleship in the year ahead.

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A more wise and much better written volume in this quest to hear God’s voice is the remarkable (and in some ways surprising) new book by Leighton Ford.  As a lifelong colleague of Billy Graham, I have assumed Dr. Ford’s many books to be fine but non-essential; good workman-like stuff on evangelism, missions, basic Christian growth. 

The Attentive Life: Discerning God’s Presence in All Things (IVP; $18.00) is an extraordinary book about fixed hour prayers, a practice that I do not feel at all drawn to.  It is a prayer tradition–“praying the daily office” or “praying the divine office”—that many are writing about these days, and many of the books about it are truly inspiring.  Ford shares Eldridge’s bold claim that God is still speaking but tells the tale of learning to discern God’s voice with less bathos and in truly beautiful prose.  Perhaps he is from a different generation (in his retirement years, he is older than the youngish boomer Eldridge) so is less inclined to spill his guts (as we ungraciously put it) or perhaps he just isn’t as needy and broken as Mr. Eldridge.  Still, he writes as the elder evangelical statesman he is, graciously and wisely telling how he has shifted from a public ministry of evangelism (“making new friends for God” as he puts it) to a ministry of spiritual direction and reflecting on his inner journey.   He deeply hungers not just to serve God but to know God, and in the pace of life, the daily grind, he yearns, like Eldridge, to be more spiritually alive.  The Attentive Life chronicles this new desire to “be attentive” and more deeply nurture a viable set of practices that facilitate such spiritual intimacy with God.

Mr. Eldridge’s memoir tells of his long quiet times, his journaling, his struggle with simple phrases the Spirit seems to lay on him.  It is earnest, individualist, and typically evangelical with no apparent connection to the wider body of Christ or the insights of church history.  Ford, in contrast, has submitted himself to this new (for him) discipline of fixed hour prayer, of joining others all over the world who have, for centuries, bowed in prayer at certain times during the day.  These set practices, regular prayer, using historic prayers from a standard prayer book, set the stage for a mature discernment of the very things for which Mr. E searching.  As Ford’s good subtitle puts it, Discerning God’s Presence in All ThingsHere is the IVP website that includes Q & A with Ford, a video clip and book excerpts.  Nice!

Let me be candid.  I have no intention of starting the fixed hour prayer custom; I don’t care that many find it helpful.  (Many find other things helpful, too, like street preaching and drinking prune juice, but I’m not drawn to those customs, either.)  Nonetheless, I found great, great solace in these pages, and great if quiet joy in his journey.  That mainstream evangelicals like Ford are quoting Thomas Merton (for instance) and helping others to take seriously what the monks and mystics know is just so exciting.  Whether one is drawn to the actual habits of using the classic prayers or not, the creation of rituals and solitude, even daily, is very important, and Ford draws us to this very nicely.  Thanks to InterVarsity Press for their “Formatio“ line of books, of which this book is a part, books that are well written and designed lovingly, to enhance our spiritual lives in contemplative and prayerful ways.

 Here is what the IVP website says:

 Formatio is a line of spiritual formation books written by men and women steeped in the traditions of the church and designed to lead you on a journey of transformation that ends in the life-giving presence of God.

Attentive To God is a perfect example of the kinds of things the Formatio line is about.  We highly recommend it.  Here is a videotaped interview with Dr. Ford where he delightfully explains his writing of the book. 

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Fixed hour prayer is explained even more elegantly in a new book by the very fine writer–one of the best penmen today—the sweet, spiritual, understated, exceptionally clear and always enjoyable Robert Benson.  His new one is called In Constant Prayer (Nelson; $17.99.)  It is easy to read and spectacular.  Really it is.  As I hoped, it would be itself prayerful, gentle, nice.  And, as I hoped, it would be clever and funny and a bit witty.  It was.  It is!

Whether he’s writing about Saint Benedict’s habits for ordinary folk (The Good Life), baseball (The Game), eucharist and learning to love (The Body Broken), vacationing (Home By Anot
her Way
), gardening (Digging In), or compiling his own handsome prayerbook (Veniti), Bob Benson is always interesting, clever, gracious and quietly inspiring.  He is one of those writers who has a “fan base” who will read anything he writes.  Of course, he has written about prayer before, in the well-rendered Between the Dreaming and the Coming True and in the 1999 release, Living Prayer.  Not a bad oeuvre for a guy who spends a lot of time messing around in his backyard.

You can check out excerpts of his books at his own bookshelf, here.

As I noted in the rave blog post announcing this book, you must know that it is the first of a projected 7-set series called “Ancient Practices.”  To be published by Nelson, these will explore various ancient practices (shared by Muslim, Christians, and Jews) which are increasingly being found useful for seekers and pilgrims in our postmodern world.  There will be books on tithing, sabbath keeping, fasting, pilgrimage, sacred meals, and so forth.  More on these in a moment”¦.

* * *

It is a bit inaccurate to say that Mr. Benson’s book, In Constant Prayer, is the first in the series.  It is the first that explains and invites us to one of the particular historic practices, the first specific one of the others to follow.  The actual first in the series, though, is the overview of them all, just out, an introduction and invitation to the series, to the practices, one which, as such, stands as a fine overview.  The very first in the Ancient Practices series, then, is the very, very enjoyable Finding Our Way Again: The Return of the Ancient Practices, authored by Brian McLaren (Nelson; $17.99). He sets the stage, warms us up, as it were, for the rest of the project.  McLaren not only gives a very lovely overview of these practices, but makes a very solid case why they are so urgently needed in these unhinged, epoch-changing, postmodern times–I love this stuff, this cultural analysis and spirituality.  With his cultural expertise, his pastoral experience, his openhearted and increasingly ecumenical involvements, Brian McLaren is the perfect author to make this case, to offer the invitation, to explain the importance and relevance of  this life-giving way of life;  this book does it wonderfully.  A life shaped by engaging in ancient-future practices like these makes perfect sense as he weaves the story.  Reading Finding Our Way Again made me want to live differently, take small steps, be more intentional about ways to make this whole spiritual journey work, and it did not overwhelm.

Half a year from now I will surely name Finding Our Way Again as one of my favorite books of the year.  Although not disconnected from Brian’s unofficial eldership in the emergent village or his role as a major voice in that evolving conversation, this new book is a step away from controversies about epistemology, post-modernism and theology or (as with Everything Must Change) global politics.  Brian does hang out with a very wide variety of folks—Christians and otherwise—and dialogues with everyone from secular environmentalists to conservative CBA authors.  His wide interests and ecumenical spirit come through clearly in this generous book but it is not a call to activism, not a call for new kinds of Christianity, nor a call to “think globally/act locally” as are his other recent (important) works.  This is a gentle, spiritual guidebook to thinking about what practices might best facilitate true spiritual growth.  As a pastor and fellow-seeker, Brian is a capable of such teaching and is kind.  As an evangelist (he’s written two books on apologetics and one on evangelism) he cares about unchurched folks coming to know Christ, and this offer to be formed by ancient ways could be useful for those who are seeking faith.  The tone is conversational, light, inviting.  The idea of the project itself, which will not be completed until 2010, is weighty.  Some of the writers (Scot McKnight, Dan Allander, Phyllis Tickle) are themselves weighty scholars and mature writers.  McLaren’s introduction to it all is done with a perfect touch, conjuring up both the significance of this stuff, and offering a light invite to take it in as a glad experiment in faith. 

Visiting the tradition of the daily office–praying seven times a day as Psalm 119 instructs—is, as mentioned, the first one to follow Brian’s introduction, and was written by Robert Benson.  Benson has a great little glossary in In Constant Prayer about such stuff (what is a breviary, what is the Divine Office, where do words like lauds or compline or vespers come from?) and tells truly lovely stories about saints, ordinary folk like Bettie, who pray a lot.  I personally enjoyed his description of different kinds of prayer books and his joy in finding various ones; his little names for them made me chuckle.  Mostly, though, he unfolds the reasons and mysteries of this kind of regular prayer, and how it has effected his pretty ordinary life. His own foibles, his funny stories about his own less than stellar success, and his conviction that it all matters made for a truly great read.  It is inviting and hopeful, even as I say, again, that it is not my custom, although he did make it sound pretty righteous, pretty cool.  It may not be your custom or intention, but reading about it sure can’t hurt, can it?  And it will surely be a fabulous reading experience, perhaps even if you are not Episcopalian.

Other books have been released in recent years on this topic, some from authors who are themselves from faith traditions that do not carry out this practice.  Arthur Paul Boers, for instance, is a Mennonite pastor and very good author (you should know his spectacular book about going on a hiking pilgrimage along the Spanish El Camino de Santiago, called The Way is Made by Walking.)  A few years ago, he–urban pastor, peace activist, Anabaptist theologian–took up the fixed hour prayer practice, and wrote a small book about at least a part of this, called The Rhythm of God’s Grace: Uncovering Morning and Evening Hours of Prayer (Paraclete Press, $15.95.)  Scot McKnight did a book last year, also with Paraclete, called Praying With the Church (not, notably, praying in church) with the great subtitle, Following Jesus Daily, Hourly, Today ($15.95.) Most significantly, Phyllis Tickle made a truly historic contribution, in an extraordinary publishing event, with her seasonal three-volume Liturgy of the Hours, then a pocket-sized abbreviated one, and a beautiful edition called The Night Offices: Prayers from Sunset to Sunrise.  We are fond of the Northumbria Community prayerbook called Celtic Daily Prayer, and there are so many more…

* * *

Catholic monks have long been maligned—by me, especially–for being simply unbiblical in their escape from the world; I have written else where that we ought not so greatly esteem the Desert Fathers and any others who fail to be leaven in the world by irresponsibly eschewing ordinary life and social obligations.  Although that may be a bit harsh as an over-reaction, it is an impulse of my Reformed tradition that I think is correct.  Still, some of those who have spent the longest time in ancient prayer practices have been the very ones to most clearly remind us of God’s presence in the ordinariness of mundane life.  (And, in cases like Merton, say, have energized a faith-based and spiritually-driven historic movement for peace and justice; where would Dan Berrigan be if not for Merton?  Dorothy Day without her Pittsburgh retreat house and spiritu
al director?)  Which brings me to the new book by Sister Macrina Wiederkehr, whose sweet book Tree Full of Angles has helped many of us “see the holy in the ordinary.”  Yes!  Now, guess what?  Her beautiful new release is a small hardback with a beautiful cover, winsomely entitled Seven Sacred Pauses: Living Mindfully Through the Hours of the Day (Ave Maria; $18.95.)  Again, we are seeing many of our best spiritual writers, in the longing to know God deeply and attend to God’s presence in the ordinary hardships and joy or real life, drawing upon the practices that have sustained many before us.  Wiederkehr has thrilled many with her past books, including a co-authored one with Joyce Rupp (whose new book, by the way, is simply called Prayer.)  From all this comes a sacramental view of reality, a worldview shaping set of experiences that cannot help but be fruitful as we learn to live in all things before God, and for God. 

* * *

As I’ve implied by this observation against the near Gnostic, anti-cultural approach of many monastics, not all spiritualities yield care about and fidelity in the complexities of life in the real world.  Some contemplative habits and monastic disciplines (and charismatic excesses and fundamentalist dispensationalism, too) fail to facilitate a fully human, incarnational, spirituality.  Some encourage either pious narcissism or apocalyptic resignation.  Some are so mystically focused on God alone that they miss the beauties and duties of living in a real creation.  We need not embrace the panenthism of Matthew Fox, say, to glory in and expect to find God in our daily vocations as earth-dwellers, culture-formers, history-makers.  That is, true spirituality should make us more human and alive, not less so; our union with Christ heals the very image of God within as we are restated to our task to rule with Him over all things earthly.

Brokenness and Blessing: Toward a Biblical Spirituality by Frances M. Young (Baker; $16.99) is a book which does encourage fruitful human witness in this world of wonders.  It is not disengaged, but engaged, not romantic but real.  As Marva Dawn puts it on the back cover, “”¦Young’s profound insights draw us into the kind of biblical spirituality needed for this century–a spirituality of discovering our limitations, wrestling, following, imitating, emptying, and longing”¦.”

Young, a Methodist minister and theology professor in England (with a Ph.D. from Cambridge) works this magic–authentic spiritual formation and judicious cultural engagement—by placing our inner journey within “the overarching story of the Scriptures, read as a unity.”  This is an urgent project and Ms Young does it with not only wise Scriptural exegesis, but with a close and inspiring medley of images, stories, autobiography.  This is a book that is serious and rewarding!

I would be remiss, in this celebration of recent books on  solid spirituality, not to mention one of last year’s favorites, one of the books I named as a “best of” in last years end of the season award lists.  I refer to the very important overview of the history of spirituality, and a call to new ways to engage the best practices of the best spiritualities in our contemporary culture written by the late, great Robert Webber.  It was called The Divine Embrace: Recovering the Passionate Spiritual Life (Baker; $16.99 )and offers a non-dualistic, culture-transforming, fully ecumenical, historically-rooted and creatively contemporary call to live out of God’s love as well as anything I know.  That, too, is a serious work, but it is the sort of meaty spirituality we need if we are going to get further than the self-absorbed, very sincere, and very shallow efforts of some of the best of our CBA evangelical superstars.

* * *

No contemporary author has done as much to introduce modern readers, especially Protestants, to the classic contemplative traditions and the best historic spiritual masters as Richard J. Foster, who has just graced us with a brand new book, Life With God: Reading the Bible for Spiritual Transformation (Harper; $24.95.).  We love his Renovare small group resources and testify that his guidance—writing and speaking—in these areas is reliable and healthy and very, very usable.  His Celebration of Discipline and Prayer: Finding the Heart’s True Home are true classics, among the most important books of our time.  His Streams of Living Water (now in paperback) is a personal favorite, offering the best thinking and insights of various aspects of the Body of Christ to help us mature into a fully developed, balanced and faithful spirituality.  In an era that is only getting more hectic, busy, and, frankly, more worldly, his books Freedom of Simplicity and The Challenge of the Disciplined Life: Christian Reflections on Money, Sex, and Power are under appreciated and under-used resources.  Such books are lifelines of Biblical sanity leading us to inner depth and public courage, showing the way to fidelity and shalom.  We cannot recommend them enough!

Colleagues and friends such as Eugene Peterson, Dallas Willard, and Walt Brueggemann helped Foster in his large project of last decade, the creation of a devotional/study edition of the NRSV Bible, The Renovare Spiritual Formation  Bible (Harper; $39.95) whose notes are specifically about spiritual formation.  Again, it hasn’t sold nearly as well as I would have expected, and think it is a truly under-appreciated treasure.  Check it out if you haven’t, please.  I would think that it was his work with this sophisticated Bible project that gave rise to Richard’s most recent writing emphasis—Biblical study.  (This is not new for him, of course, and he has in every book insisted that the best and most faithful and most enduring spiritual practices must be Biblical in nature.)

Life With God (Harper; $24.95) is the first new Foster book in over a decade.  It has been endorsed, of course, by leaders from across the church—J.I. Packer, Lauren Winner, Will Willimon, David Neff etc.  In it, he deftly works, this time more intensely, with the interplay of spirituality and Bible reading.

As with most of Foster’s books, this one offers plain teaching, much Bible study, stories of ancient saints and quotes from spiritual classics.  He doesn’t make it difficult with deep dissertation or complex theology, although this is what the Apostle Paul would have surely called “meat.”  Foster does not, though, go out of his way to offer tender stories, clever illustrations, or moving parables.  There is nothing sentimental or schmaltzy here; it is not condescending or manipulative.  I wouldn’t call it inspirational.  It is very helpful, though, and there is a exceedingly helpful chart in the back outlining all kinds of spiritual traditions, practices, outcomes, and such.  This is a solid teacherly book.

Learning to read the Bible, though, in ways that intentionally effect our lives–the spiritual transformation of the subtitle–is surely among the most urgent and deadly serious tasks of our time.  For churches, classes, small groups, youth ministry, and individual Christians, the importance of this cannot be overstated.  Are disciplines required for discipleship?  Of course.  Do we need a more disciplined discipleship?  Need we even answer?  Do we need an orientation to Bible reading that helps us in this?  And how might that differ from more typical approaches to Bible reading? 

Hear Mr. Foster himself:

Regarding the Bible, then, perhaps the most basic questi
on is: shall we try to control the Bible, that is, make it “come out right” or shall we simply seek to release its life into our lives and into our world? Shall we try to tilt it this way or that, or shall we give it complete freedom to tilt us as it will?

Can we surrender freely to the life we see in the Bible, or must we remain in control of that life, only selectively endorsing it so far as we find it proper and safe from our perspective?  Can we trust the living water that flows from Christ through the Bible, open ourselves to it, and open it up into the world the best we can, and then get out of its way?  This is the goal of reading the Bible for spiritual transformation.

About half of this important new book is specifically about how to read the Bible; there may be other better guides to this, but the brilliance of Life With God is the way in which Foster relentlessly and helpfully keeps the text before as a way to God, as a form of prayerful interaction.  Our own encounter with the Sacred Story leads to our own transformation–as is often said, we don’t read for information, but for formation.  After teaching us helpful methods and (more importantly) attitudes about lectio divino–sacred reading—Richard ends the book with vast and practical implications for the spiritual life.  Some of this seems like ground he’s covered before, but yet it has a new ring.  His teaching on freedom, his emphasis on relationships, his insistence on grace, all is solid, mature, clear, Biblical.  How can I write about a new Richard Foster without hype?  If you have read his other work, you know how important he is.  If not, this is a fine introduction to one of the great Christian leaders of our time.  Thank goodness for his mature and helpful work.  May it, as he writes, help us experience a bit of the glorious reality of God’s everlasting loving community.  “We can taste it now” he writes, “by entering the Bible in order to plunge our dry lives into the great river of life with God.  And just as surely as rivers run toward the sea, this vision will sweep us into the practice of life with God, for we will no longer be satisfied to stand on the banks and watch others swim past.”