From the Renovaré Newsletter Archive

The selection below is from a November 1994 Renovaré newsletter. Download a PDF of the original newsletter.

Dear Friends,

We hear shrill voic­es from all quar­ters warn­ing of crises of all sorts. The cri­sis in world hunger! Cri­sis in the polit­i­cal are­na! Envi­ron­men­tal cri­sis! Finan­cial cri­sis! Urban cri­sis! Cri­sis in the fam­i­ly! And I am sure there is much to be said in all these areas, and more. But we so often fail to see the dire predica­ment — cri­sis if you will — we are fac­ing in the area of Chris­t­ian spirituality.

To begin with, we have a whole pro­lif­er­a­tion of spir­i­tu­al­i­ties not root­ed in Jesus Christ which have sprung up out of the des­per­ate hunger for some­thing — any­thing — that offers even the slimmest hope of lead­ing peo­ple into spir­i­tu­al real­i­ty. Some are so sil­ly that you have to shake your head in aston­ish­ment. Many draw from old ani­mistic reli­gions which right­ly call us to a respect for cre­ation, but then move into an unqual­i­fied rev­er­ence of cre­ation, and final­ly into an unholy deifi­ca­tion of creation.

These spir­i­tu­al­i­ties are a smörgås­bord of beliefs — some fool­ish, some more sophis­ti­cat­ed — how­ev­er they hold a com­mon pan­the­is­tic base which begins by say­ing God is in cre­ation” and moves to affirm­ing Cre­ation is God” and final­ly ends up with the idol­a­try of I am God.” In vir­tu­al­ly all cas­es these spir­i­tu­al­i­ties lack the great bib­li­cal con­fes­sion of the tran­scen­dence of God, that is, God is above and beyond us in every way. The Bible always holds in cre­ative ten­sion God’s utter tran­scen­dence (God is whol­ly oth­er than us) with his won­der­ful imma­nence (God has freely cho­sen to draw near to us, to com­mune with us, to teach us, and to shep­herd us).

The rea­sons for this explo­sion of spir­i­tu­al­i­ties is var­ied and com­plex, but clear­ly a con­tribut­ing fac­tor has be Chris­tian­i­ty’s fail­ure in the twen­ti­eth cen­tu­ry to show forth a pro­found spir­i­tu­al­i­ty that is deeply root­ed in the res­ur­rect­ed Christ and which offers a liv­ing and vital union with him in the midst of every­day life. There are obvi­ous excep­tions to this — I think of the Amer­i­can writer A. W. Toz­er, the Chi­nese preach­er Watch­man Née, and Moth­er Tere­sa of Cal­cut­ta — but these ster­ling exam­ples only under­score our over­all pover­ty of spir­it. The tragedy — and the real cri­sis — is that our church­es today have been tak­en over by what Dr. Dal­las Willard calls a The­ol­o­gy of Sin Man­age­ment.” Let me give you just two exam­ples of how this has worked its way out in our day.

Reject­ing Christ as Teacher

At the turn of the cen­tu­ry there was a huge debate among Chris­tians called the Modernist/​Fundamentalist con­tro­ver­sy. There were many dimen­sions to this strug­gle, but the thing I want to focus upon here is how both groups end­ed up reject­ing Christ as our pat­tern for liv­ing. The mod­ernists said, We reject Jesus as the Son of God but affirm him as a great moral teacher.” Now, the truth of the mat­ter is that they meant teacher” only in the sense of some­one who taught eth­i­cal things about lov­ing ene­mies, etc., but not in the sense of some­one you should pat­tern your life after with appro­pri­ate dis­ci­plines of prayer, soli­tude, fast­ing, and more that con­form to the over­all way Christ him­self lived when here in the flesh.

Fun­da­men­tal­ists react­ed strong­ly to the lib­er­al notion of Jesus as mere­ly a great moral teacher” and dis­tanced them­selves from any idea of Jesus as Teacher. There­fore, when they stressed ortho­dox the­o­log­i­cal for­mu­la­tion (i.e. the vir­gin birth, the deity of Christ, etc.) they failed to con­nect this with a way of life that imi­tates Jesus as our Teacher for liv­ing. The result was an almost total loss of the ancient prac­tice of the imi­ta­tio Chris­tus, the imi­ta­tion of Christ. (There is a rea­son, you see, why Thomas à Kem­p­is’ book The Imi­ta­tion of Christ has been the unchal­lenged devo­tion­al mas­ter­piece for Chris­tians in every cen­tu­ry since its pub­li­ca­tion except our own.)

We still suf­fer from this rejec­tion of Jesus as Teacher by both the left and the right. It is a cri­sis in our spir­i­tu­al­i­ty. With­out a way of liv­ing pat­terned in its gen­er­al out­lines upon the way Jesus him­self lived when among us in human form with dis­ci­plines appro­pri­ate for that life, we sim­ply will not be able to intro­duce peo­ple into the abun­dant life Jesus wel­comes us to experience.

Rethink­ing Evangelism

A sec­ond major area con­tribut­ing to our cri­sis in spir­i­tu­al­i­ty has to do with the way evan­ge­lism devel­oped in our cen­tu­ry. With­out want­i­ng in any way to depre­ci­ate the sac­ri­fi­cial efforts of myr­i­ads of evan­ge­lists and all the good that has come from those efforts, we must say that evan­ge­lism in our day has focused almost entire­ly upon how to get peo­ple into heav­en when they die. As a result evan­ge­lism in our day has reached the point of dimin­ish­ing returns, for thought­ful peo­ple have to ask, What am I to be con­vert­ed to?” 

And even in the more recent con­tro­ver­sy over Lord­ship Sal­va­tion” (whether you accept Jesus as your Sav­ior” or whether you must accept Jesus as your Sav­ior and Lord”), the issue has remained one of dis­cov­er­ing what things are essen­tial for get­ting into heav­en when we die.

To be sure, get­ting into heav­en is an issue of great sig­nif­i­cance. But it is nev­er the cen­ter of Jesus’ call to dis­ci­ple­ship, and is, in fact, cared for when we accept his call to be his dis­ci­ple. The good news of the gospel is, Repent for the king­dom of heav­en is at hand;” that is, accept Jesus as your life,” be yoked togeth­er with him, walk­ing in his steps,” and imi­tat­ing him who is the way, the truth, and the life.”

This eter­nal life” which is to know you, the only true God, and Jesus Christ whom you have sent” con­cerns itself less with get­ting us into heav­en than it does with get­ting heav­en into us. And so we enter into this ongo­ing life, this life born from above,” this life giv­en by the grace of God which is unearned and unearn­able, this life in which we are saved by his death and live by his res­ur­rec­tion, this life that pro­gress­es from faith to faith — from the faith we have to the faith we are about to receive, this life of growth in grace in which we are increas­ing­ly formed and con­formed into the image of Christ. When this eter­nal life takes hold; when right­eous­ness, peace, and joy in the Holy Spir­it per­vades every­thing; when out of our inner­most being flows love and joy and peace and all the fruit of the Spir­it; we find that death becomes mere­ly a minor tran­si­tion from this life to greater Life.

There are two great the­o­log­i­cal words that cap­ture what I have been describ­ing: jus­ti­fi­ca­tion (deal­ing with our accep­tance and right stand­ing with God) and sanc­ti­fi­ca­tion (deal­ing with our growth in grace into the like­ness of Christ). The point I want to make here is that jus­ti­fi­ca­tion and sanc­ti­fi­ca­tion are like two sides to the same door: you enter into the expe­ri­ence of both as you go through the door. It isn’t like we can get one with­out the oth­er. To say this does not mean that we are per­fect the moment we are yoked to Christ in dis­ci­ple­ship. Far from it. But it does mean that we sign up for the whole deal when we com­mit our­selves to Christ.

When Jesus gave us his Great Com­mis­sion” man­i­festo he was not refer­ring to evan­ge­lism as we nar­row­ly define it. He called us to make dis­ci­ples of all peo­ples” and to teach them to observe all things what­so­ev­er I com­mand you.” The best way I have of describ­ing the idea of dis­ci­ple” is by our Eng­lish word appren­tice.” For a time I was an appren­tice elec­tri­cian and my job was to go with the jour­ney­man and lis­ten to what the jour­ney­man said and observe what the jour­ney­man did and try to do it the way the jour­ney­man did it. So it is in our life with Christ. We are yoked to him, lis­ten­ing, watch­ing, and doing.

In this way we will devel­op what Thomas à Kem­p­is calls a famil­iar friend­ship with Jesus.” And in so doing we will have a vital spir­i­tu­al­i­ty that will wel­come peo­ple into the depths of Jesus Christ.” This is what peo­ple hunger for today. This is what will revi­tal­ize Chris­tians and bring in the revival for which we all long. This is what will over­come the super­fi­cial spir­i­tu­al­i­ties of our day that are grop­ing for real­i­ty. May God allow us to enter so deeply into this way of walk­ing and liv­ing that we will be like a city set on a hill radi­at­ing his life and light.

Peace and joy,

Richard J. Foster

Pho­to by Amri­tan­shu Sik­dar on Unsplash

Text First Published November 1994 · Last Featured on February 2022

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