Thursday, October 23, 2014

Book Review: Nathan Foster's Making of an Ordinary Saint

Here's another brief book review for Baker Books Bloggers: Nathan Foster's The Making of an Ordinary Saint: My Journey from Frustration to Joy with the Spiritual Disciplines (Baker Books, 2014).

When reviewing a book, there’s a temptation to read quickly, to skim for a quick grasp of the essentials. A good book on spiritual formation won’t let you get away with that: you’d see the words but miss the wisdom. Nathan Foster’s new book is no exception. In learning to embrace spiritual disciplines that had previously frustrated him, Foster makes no attempt to ignore his father’s legacy. Quite the opposite: not only does Richard Foster contribute forewords to the book and to each chapter, he’s also present through discussions that the author includes in addressing his own struggle with each discipline. And of course, these are the “classical” disciplines as determined by his father’s classic, Celebration of Discipline — fasting, prayer, submission, worship, service, etc. — so in emerging from Richard’s shadow, Foster the Younger journeys through each, but in refreshingly narrative form. He shows deep honesty in assessing his own earlier failures (and gradual, painstaking successes) in his chapter on the discipline of study, and again in admitting his struggle to “unplug” from technological media while seeking simplicity, and yet again in naming and confessing the addictive patterns that have darkened his life.

Foster does well in inviting readers along on his journey, but there are brief missteps along the way. Some of the “portrait” sections that conclude each chapter feel tacked-on, not fleshed out fully enough to do justice to the lives of those highlighted there; the inclusion of Jane Addams as an exemplar of service surprised me, perhaps because another very recent book from a Baker imprint (Scot McKnight’s Kingdom Conspiracy, which I reviewed a little while ago) severely criticized Addams for diluting and over-socializing the gospel. Foster’s references to Scripture sometimes seem offhand, and in the one case where he highlights a specific Greek word from 1 Timothy, he’s simply wrong: Paul uses another word entirely. That said, many readers will find welcome ways of encountering the disciplines here, as I have. Foster’s adaptation of the monastic experience of the early church fathers and mothers — coming to recognize difficult moments through which God guides us as “my desert to embrace” (pp. 155-61) — struck deep in my heart and spirit, and I know that what he’s shared throughout this book will encourage me as I encounter the “deserts” and the joys ahead.

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