It was for freedom that Christ set us free; therefore keep standing firm and do not be subject again to a yoke of slavery. (Galatians 5:1, NASB)

Foster And Willard: Dynamic Duo With Their Disciplines Of Deception

Apprising Ministries warns you that under the guise of “Spiritual Formation” neo-pagan so-called “spiritual disciplines” have now slithered into the heart of evangelicalism. One can look long and hard throughout the history of the on-going Protestant Reformation and you will not see “spiritual formation” until the Quaker mystic Richard Foster arrives with his book Celebration of Discipline (CoD) in 1978.

And if you won’t believe me then listen to Foster himself over at the Emergent OOZE. The following comes from SPIRITUAL FORMATION: A Pastoral Letter by Richard J. Foster:

Dear Friends,

By now enough water has gone under the Christian Spiritual Formation bridge that we can give some assessment of where we have come and what yet needs to be done. When I first began writing in the field in the late 70s and early 80s the term “Spiritual Formation” was hardly known, except for highly specialized references in relation to the Catholic orders. Today it is a rare person who has not heard the term. Seminary courses in Spiritual Formation proliferate like baby rabbits. Huge numbers are seeking to become certified as Spiritual Directors to answer the cry of multiplied thousands for spiritual direction. And more… (Online source, emphasis mine)

Coming back to Foster’s textbook on the disciplines associated with so-called “Christian” mysticism, in his excellent series on Mysticism Dr. Gary Gilley says of CoD:

Celebration of Discipline alone, not even referencing Foster’s other writings and teachings and ministries, is a virtual encyclopedia of theological error. We would be hard pressed to find in one so-called evangelical volume such a composite of false teaching. These include faulty views on the subjective leading of God (pp. 10, 16-17, 18, 50, 95, 98, 108-109, 128, 139-140, 149-150, 162, 167, 182); approval of New Age teachers (see Thomas Merton below); occultic use of imagination (pp. 25-26, 40-43, 163, 198); open theism (p. 35); misunderstanding of the will of God in prayer (p. 37); promotion of visions, revelations and charismatic gifts (pp. 108, 165, 168-169, 171, 193); endorsement of rosary and prayer wheel use (p. 64); misunderstanding of the Old Testament Law for today (pp. 82, 87); mystical journaling (p. 108); embracing pop-psychology (pp. 113-120); promoting Roman Catholic practices such as use of “spiritual directors,” confession and penance (pp. 146-150, 156, 185); and affirming of aberrant charismatic practices (pp. 158-174, 198).
(Online source)

And even though Gilley’s detailed assessment is dead on target it hasn’t stopped The Cult Of Richard Foster from spreading. A major reason why is the work of Dallas Willard on the behalf of his former pastor Foster. Willard is supposed to lend scholastic credibility but Bob DeWaay seriously deflated Willard’s beautiful balloon in his own review of Willard’s book The Spirit of the Disciplines.

The following excerpt comes from DeWaay’s review and absolutely brings out the following question: Why are Protestant evangelical seminaries teaching to their students this kind of Eastern a-logic inherent within the Contemplative Spirituality/Mysticism of Foster and Willard’s disciplines of deception i.e. doctrines of demons. Because in the end their work is really a repudiation of sola Scriptura:

Willard offers a discussion of each of these [disciplines], citing people like Thomas Merton, Thomas a Kempis, Henri Nouwen, and other mystics. We are told that practices like solitude and silence are going to change us, even though the Bible does not prescribe them. Willard writes, “This factual priority of solitude is, I believe, a sound element in monastic asceticism. Locked into interaction with the human beings that make up our fallen world, it is all but impossible to grow in grace as one should.” So if we cannot grow in grace without solitude, how come the Bible never commands us to practice solitude? The same goes for many other items on Willard’s list.

Willard tells us that the list of disciplines he provides is not exhaustive. Others can be pragmatically determined. He says, “As we have indicated, there are many other activities that could, for the right person and upon the right occasion, be counted as spiritual disciplines in the strict sense stated of our previous chapter. The walk with Christ certainly is one that leaves room for and even calls for individual creativity and an experimental attitude in such matters.”

However, there is a serious problem with Willard’s logic here. Earlier he rejected such practices as self-flagellation, exposing the body to severities including being eaten by beetles, being suspended by iron shackles, and other means of severely treating the body in order to become more holy.41 Willard rejects these on the following grounds: “Here it is matter of taking pains about taking pains. It is in fact a variety of self-obsession—narcissism—a thing farthest removed from the worship and service of God.”

Willard had admitted that there is no clear list of the disciplines and that each person might choose different practices through pragmatic means. This does not give sufficient ground for rejecting such practices as self-flagellation. So Willard resorts to arguing that those who do such things have bad motives. But he cannot really know their motives, perhaps they determined that these practices “worked” using the same means Willard offered.

If pragmatic tests are the means of determining which practices are valid, and if these people feel closer to God and more like Christ through their practices, then Willard has no valid way of rejecting their practices. Having no valid argument, he resorts to an invalid ad hominem argument.

He cannot have it both ways. Either God’s Word determines both how we come to God and how we grow in grace, or humans determine these things by pragmatic means. Willard has chosen the later. But then he steps in and tells us that some practices are wrong, even though they fit his own criteria for validity. If a person feels that sleeping in a tiny stone crevice with all the heat being sucked out of his body makes him more spiritually disciplined, then who is to say that is wrong? Had he been willing to submit to the authority of Scripture, Willard could have refuted these practices based on Colossians 2:21-23.

You can read pastor Bob DeWaay’s entire review here.

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