Book Review by Dr. David Moffett-Moore
The Making of an Ordinary Saint: My Journey from Frustration to Joy with the Spiritual Disciplines. Nathan Foster. Baker Books. Grand Rapids. 2014.
Nathan Foster is the adult son of Richard Foster, author of the classic Celebration of Discipline: The Path to Spiritual Growth. This book is his reflection and response to his father, as well as to his father’s well known tome. Celebration was written in 1978, has sold over two million copies in English and been translated into twenty-five other languages. Along with others, it motivated Richard Foster to form “Renovare,” an international and ecumenical community promoting personal spiritual renewal. I expect everyone reading this review has also read Celebration or at least heard of it.
I grew up as a preacher’s kid, with all the subliminal strings attached to that relationship. Imagine growing up as the child of one of the most influential spiritual writers of the late twentieth century. Poor Nathan barely stood a chance. I remember seeing a matched set of tee shirts, one saying “Saint: Someone married to a Martyr” and the other “Martyr: Someone married to a Saint.” Somewhere in this dynamic tension, Nathan had to find his own way.
The book is very much a contemporary exploration of the classic spiritual disciplines, each taken in Nathan’s own way. There is ample personal sharing; it is always “on the way,” not “in the way.” Nathan’s personal sharing of his reaction to each discipline, whether as a rebellious youth, wandering young adult, or a more settled disciple, makes the discipline more personal and more relevant. Without being obvious, he has updated his father’s efforts.
Nathan includes the same twelve disciplines his father identified, but sets them in his own order, making his own path among them. In Nathan’s order, they are: submission, fasting, study, solitude, meditation, confession, simplicity, service, prayer, guidance, worship and celebration. Though the two books take different paths through the disciplines, they both end with celebration! In this telling, Nathan offers an explanation of the discipline, his experience of that discipline, and then identifies a saint who is an example of each discipline. I enjoyed the honesty and humility exhibited by his willingness to share from his own journey, his own frustrations and struggles, his own path to his own peace. Nathan’s sharing is not as a spiritual exhibitionist, but rather invitational, inviting the reader to share in the journey.
The church I serve has several “Christ Care” groups, members who meet twice a month for devotion, sharing, mutual support and study. Two of those groups are currently using this book as their study book. Every two weeks they read a chapter and share their responses, questions and reflections on the text. The concept of “spiritual disciplines” and “spiritual formation” as formally structured is new for them and both groups are thoroughly enjoying this introduction.
Nathan has an earlier book, Wisdom Chaser: finding my Father at 14,000 Feet,” in which he shares his experience of getting re-acquainted with his father as an adult himself, by climbing the “Fourteens” in the Colorado Rockies, mountaintops at least 14,000 feet high (Intervarsity Press, 2010). This book is equally well written in Nathan’s very personal, reflective, conversational style. I thoroughly enjoyed reading it and, as a father of two adult sons myself, was touched by its shared intimacy.
I encourage anyone who has read Richard Foster’s Celebration of Discipline to read Nathan Foster’s contemporary update of his father’s work. Anyone who has not read Celebration and is interested in or curious about spiritual formation or spiritual disciplines would enjoy reading Nathan’s offering and benefit by it. I found it informing and enjoyable.