About This Blog

Tuesday, November 4, 2014

"The Making of an Ordinary Saint" (Nathan Foster)

TITLE: The Making of an Ordinary Saint: My Journey from Frustration to Joy with the Spiritual Disciplines
AUTHOR: Nathan Foster
PUBLISHER: Grand Rapids, MI: Baker Books, 2014, (208 pages).

One of the most influential books on spiritual disciplines is Richard Foster's "Celebration of Discipline." That was more than 30 years ago, where four inward, four outward, and four corporate disciplines took the Christian world by storm. The book also propelled Richard Foster, the author's father to fame. At that time, Nathan was a little boy below ten years of age. Fast forward to 2014, we have a grown up Nathan Foster, an associate professor of social work and theology at Spring Arbor University in Michigan. If Richard Foster's book is a didactic description of the 12 major Christian disciplines, this new book is a personal journey of how the son puts the disciplines into practice, one that is uniquely Nathan Foster.

I read this book with my old dog-eared copy of "Celebration of Discipline" next to me. While both books still described the 12 spiritual disciplines, there is no longer the three-fold distinction of "inner," "outer," and "corporate" disciplines. Instead, Nathan mixes the 12 disciplines, beginning with "submission" instead of "meditation," and ending with the toughest one he personally encountered, "celebration." He realized from his dad that the fruit of spiritual disciplines is joy, not chore.  Neither is it a toilsome labour that is boring or plain impersonal. For me, at the risk of being oversimplistic, if Richard Foster's book is about the theory, Nathan's book expands it not only with theory but also with practice, personally that is.

Each chapter begins with a short didactic description of what the discipline is, through an "Understanding ________" heading to refresh readers' mind about the original disciplines. This is quickly followed by the author's journey into putting the discipline into practice. Each chapter ends with an past practitioner of spirituality. There is a nice mixture of many things. In submission, Nathan tried submitting himself to the elements and also some hilarious moments with submitting to his family wishes.  He then shifts to St Patrick's submission to a dangerous call to the mission field. In simplicity, which Nathan calls the "gift of boredom," we read about the modern challenges of trying to live a simple life in an age of technology.  In guidance, Nathan reflects on the experiences of the desert monks and even attempted to live in a "desert-like" environment himself! He does this for the other disciplines like fasting, study, solitude, meditation, confession, service, prayer, worship, and ends with the most difficult of them all: celebration.

Reading this book gives me a sense of having the best of both worlds. On the one hand, there is an updated summary of the discipline by the man himself, Richard Foster. On the other, there is that honest and bold practice of the discipline that contemporary readers, especially the younger generations would appreciate. On top of that, every chapter ends with that familiar Renovare style to learn from the spirituality masters of old. My heart is warmed to see how a father and son's style do not contradict, but complement each other. In the end, it is the father's three-point summary of Nathan's style that really hits the mark of the style of Nathan. First, Nathan's style is more narrative instead of didactic. Second, it is very ordinary and not too extensive of the seeming perfect saints of old. Third, it is an honest struggle and practice of one who does not simply talk about the spiritual disciplines but in true Nike style, to just do it. Let me add one more to the list. I think it is very respectful and complementary. Respectful because Nathan generously allows room for his father to start off every chapter. Complementary because the book is a direct working out of the original 12 spiritual disciplines. The best way to read this book is to revisit "Celebration of Discipline" and to walk with Nathan as he practices that. Perhaps, readers may use Nathan's work as an inspiration to do our own "celebration of disciplines."

My biggest takeaway is the emphasis on "celebration." Indeed, spiritual disciplines when practised well will lead to joy in the Lord. It is not something that is tiresome or troublesome. It is a desire that grows from the inside out. Here, I find the two interludes Nathan provides as helpful guides. We need to beware of the tendency toward self-disdain when we fail to perform any discipline well. At the same time, we need to be careful not to be too self-indulgent if we "succeed" in any discipline, lest we become an inner pharisee. This book shows promise. In showing our humanness in doing the disciplines, we are reminded once again that without God, we can do nothing. Let JOY be the defining trait of spiritual disciplines.

Rating: 4.5 stars of 5.


This book is provided to me courtesy of Baker Books and Graf-Martin Communications in exchange for an honest review. All opinions offered above are mine unless otherwise stated or implied.

No comments:

Post a Comment