Tim Keller and Richard Foster

Dr Tim Keller, Senior Pastor of Redeemer Presbyterian Church, New York, in a series of lecturers on prayer, teaches his congregation about Richard Foster’s approach to meditation and contemplative prayer. The embedded video demonstrates how Tim Keller promotes of the teachings of Richard Foster.

Richard Foster is a Quaker theologian who has for decades been promoting the ideas of spiritual formation in the Church. His famous book, Celebration of Discipline, the Path to Spiritual Growth, first published in 1978, sold more than two and a half million copies and opened the evangelical mind to the field of mystical spiritual exercises, meditation and contemplative prayer. Christianity Today lauded Celebration of Discipline as one of the ten best books of the twentieth century, and it soon became a bestseller among evangelical Christians who should have known better. There is no doubt that Richard Foster’s book has helped to saturate the church with mystical contemplative prayer and New Age ideas. In a later book, Prayer: Finding the Heart’s True Home, Foster commends the Spiritual Exercises of Ignatius of Loyola, the man who founded the Jesuit Order, as “a school of prayer for all of us” (p. 59).

Celebration of Discipline

At the beginning of Celebration of Discipline Foster describes the spiritual disciplines that he wishes to teach his readers. He writes: “The classical Disciplines of the spiritual life call us to move beyond surface living into the depths. They invite us to explore the inner caverns of the spiritual realm.” (page 1) This sentence alone should alert a genuine believer to the unbiblical nature of Foster’s spiritual journey. The effect of Foster’s book has been to introduce evangelical Christians to the spiritual exercises of the so-called “masters of the interior life”, who were the old Roman Catholic mystics, such as St Teresa of Avila, St John of the Cross, St Francis de Sale, Ignatius Loyola, Thomas Merton, and other Medieval mystics. Foster believes these mystics discovered the key to true spiritual life, and slowly, over the last few decades, this belief is gaining credence among many Christians.

In Celebration of Discipline Foster explains his view of the inner world:  “We must be willing to go down into the recreating silences, into the inner world of contemplation. In their writings, all of the masters of meditation strive to awaken us to the fact that the universe is much larger than we know, that there are vast unexplored inner regions that are just as real as the physical world we know so well… They call us to the adventure, to be pioneers in this frontier of the Spirit.” (p 13)

Foster encourages an out-of-body experience to move into the presence of God: “In your imagination allow your spiritual body, shining with light, to rise out of your physical body. Look back so that you can see yourself lying in the grass and reassure your body that you will return momentarily. Imagine your spiritual self, alive and vibrant, rising up through the clouds and into the stratosphere. . . Go deeper and deeper into outer space until there is nothing except the warm presence of the eternal Creator. Rest in His presence. Listen quietly, anticipating the unanticipated. Note carefully any instruction given. With time and experience you will be able to distinguish readily between mere human thought that may bubble up to the conscious mind and the True Spirit which inwardly moves upon the heart.” (pp 27, 28)

But his advice is highly dangerous, for those who follow Foster and seek after an out-of-body experience to make contact with the eternal Creator, may be opening themselves to occult spiritual forces.

Foster’s essential point is that to really make contact with God we need to learn from the old mystics—we need their techniques of visualization and imagination. In Celebration of Disciple, Richard Foster writes: “As with meditation, the imagination is a powerful tool in the work of prayer. We may be reticent to pray with the imagination, feeling that it is slightly beneath us. Children have no such reticence… Imagination often opens the door to faith.” (p172-173) He continues: “Let’s play a little game. Since we know that Jesus is always with us, let’s imagine that he is sitting over in the chair across from us. He is waiting patiently for us to centre our attention on him. When we see him, we start thinking more about His love than how sick Julie is. He smiles, gets up, and comes over to us. Then, let’s put both our hands on Julie and when we do, Jesus will put His hands on top of ours. We’ll watch the light from Jesus flow into your little sister and make her well.” (p173) 

Renovare

To promote his philosophy of spiritual formation and contemplative prayer worldwide, Richard Foster founded of an organization called Renovare (meaning spiritual renewal). It is an ecumenical organization that promotes spiritual renewal through contemplative exercises, charismatic practices, and other things.

You can learn more about Dr Tim Keller, Pastor Mark Driscoll and Pastor John Piper in the book, The New Calvinists (2014), published by The Wakeman Trust and Belmont House Publishing. The book is available from The Metropolitan Tabernacle bookshop or from Amazon  More on John Piper and his Christian Hedonism at The Real John Piper website