Paul Ander­son: Wow, Richard, it’s been 40 years since your first book, Cel­e­bra­tion of Dis­ci­pline, was pub­lished, and it’s still a best sell­er (sell­ing over 2 mil­lion copies), hav­ing been trans­lat­ed into 25 lan­guages! Reflect­ing on that now, could you say some­thing about your orig­i­nal vision for the book, and how God has blessed its impact over the years?

Richard J. Fos­ter: I have nev­er shared this detail pub­licly before. In the very begin­ning I felt I was giv­en a glimpse (dare I say by God) into the future for Cel­e­bra­tion. Of course, one does not speak of such things. So I remained qui­et and watched to see how the future would unfold.

And, of course, from a human per­spec­tive, no one could have imag­ined what did unfold. The good folk at Harp­er Pub­lish­ing said, Richard, the house of Harp­er pub­lish­es many books and we can’t adver­tise them all. But we do believe Cel­e­bra­tion will have a long and steady life, how­ev­er mod­est the sales.” And then, most­ly by word of mouth, Cel­e­bra­tion began to find its way into vir­tu­al­ly every denom­i­na­tion­al con­text imag­in­able and into a host of coun­tries world­wide. Every­one was aston­ished that a seri­ous book about the spir­i­tu­al dis­ci­plines would have such a broad and enthu­si­as­tic appeal. I only smile and thank God.

PA Right; Cel­e­bra­tion has cer­tain­ly com­mand­ed a broad ecu­meni­cal and inter­na­tion­al reach; any idea why? When it first came out, I saw it fea­tured for sale at the evan­gel­i­cal Bere­an Book­store in Can­ton, Ohio and also at the Har­vard Coop book­store when I vis­it­ed a friend there; an amaz­ing spec­trum of interest!

RJF Yes, isn’t it aston­ish­ing! Protes­tant and Catholic, high church and low church, well-estab­lished believ­ers and seek­er groups — a won­der­ful array of peo­ple. You ask me why? Well, one rea­son might be that when I was writ­ing about the cen­tral Quak­er insights I pur­pose­ly sought to do so in a lan­guage that could be received across the denom­i­na­tion­al spec­trum. And this was also true of the great insights I had received from the devo­tion­al clas­sics all through Chris­t­ian his­to­ry. You see, the great spir­i­tu­al trea­sures are almost always loan­able, if we share them in a broad and non-sec­tar­i­an way. 

PA Say a bit more, Richard, about how Cel­e­bra­tion led into some of your next book-length projects. How did you dis­cern what to write on next, and how has God also used some of those writings?

RJF The next book was Free­dom of Sim­plic­i­ty. It need­ed to come next because there was the dan­ger that peo­ple would think of the Spir­i­tu­al Dis­ci­plines only as pious exer­cis­es for the devout and miss the rig­or­ous social dimen­sions to this life with God. Oth­er books fol­lowed. Per­haps the most impor­tant are Prayer: Find­ing the Heart’s True Home and Streams of Liv­ing Water.

PA In addi­tion to your call­ing to write, tell us about Ren­o­varé as an orga­ni­za­tion and a move­ment. What was the impe­tus for found­ing that orga­ni­za­tion, and how has it fur­thered the renew­al of Christ-cen­tered spir­i­tu­al­i­ty worldwide?

RJF Well, after watch­ing peo­ple work­ing with the ideas from Cel­e­bra­tion for a decade or so I noticed three crit­i­cal problems:

  • Peo­ple were try­ing rather than training,
  • Peo­ple were scat­tered rather than gath­ered, and
  • Peo­ple had a myopic vision rather than a syn­op­tic vision.

So, Ren­o­varé came into being to pro­vide help in grap­pling with those issues.

The heart of Ren­o­varé is our Min­istry Team, a group of twen­ty-five lead­ers from all around the coun­try. Our key task is the form­ing of a com­mu­ni­ty life among our­selves and out of that com­mu­ni­ty life we work in teams hold­ing con­fer­ences, retreats, an ongo­ing two-year inten­sive Insti­tute in Spir­i­tu­al For­ma­tion and more. Obvi­ous­ly we are a wide­ly dis­persed com­mu­ni­ty so once a year we gath­er togeth­er in retreat for our own spir­i­tu­al growth and to strength­en our com­mu­ni­ty life. We have been doing this for thir­ty years now. 

PA Grow­ing up as an evan­gel­i­cal Friend, how has your expe­ri­ence as a Quak­er helped or hin­dered your inter­de­nom­i­na­tion­al outreach?

RJF Oh, it has been a gen­uine asset. Quak­ers may not always deserve it, but they have a won­der­ful rep­u­ta­tion in the broad­er cul­ture for lov­ing and car­ing min­istry that is free from any need to pros­e­ly­tize. Also, they are known for valu­ing each human being as pre­cious in the sight of God. This opens many doors.

PA As you reflect upon the pow­er of the writ­ten word to tran­scend the bounds of time and space, what coun­sel might you offer to oth­ers who feel a call­ing to be pub­lish­ers of truth,” and how can those who feel such a call­ing inspire one anoth­er in its pursuit?

RJF I am always amazed how God can take scrib­bles on a piece of paper to bring Jesus’ life into peo­ple. But God does. So, we encour­age each oth­er when­ev­er we can in this min­istry of writ­ing. Writ­ing is hard, lone­ly work. If we tru­ly want to help peo­ple, we will learn to write in blood. So, in this work, we give encour­age­ment as often as possible. 

PA Now, in this final year of your pub­lic min­istry, Richard, can you share a bit more about what you and Nathan and oth­ers have planned regard­ing con­fer­ences and spe­cial ses­sions? How can peo­ple be sure to hear you if they’d like to?

RJF We thought it would be good to lever­age this 40th anniver­sary occa­sion to urge peo­ple to think more deeply about Spir­i­tu­al For­ma­tion. In our day, we real­ly do need to flesh out a clear under­stand­ing of how the human per­son­al­i­ty can be increas­ing­ly formed from the inside out by love and joy and peace and patience and kind­ness and good­ness and faith­ful­ness and gen­tle­ness and self-con­trol (Gal. 5:22 – 23). 

We will have ten events in ten dif­fer­ent states around the coun­try. Also, we’ll do two con­fer­ences at two dif­fer­ent col­leges; one an aca­d­e­m­ic con­fer­ence at West­mont Col­lege in San­ta Bar­bara, CA, and the oth­er with you at George Fox Uni­ver­si­ty in New­berg, OR, which will focus on pas­toral and church leadership. 

All of the infor­ma­tion is on our web site at www​.ren​o​vare​.org. We would love it if read­ers could join us for one or more of these cel­e­bra­tive events. And as you men­tioned, this will bring my pub­lic min­istry to a close … ; it is time for younger voic­es to step in and take leadership.

PA As a final ques­tion, as we cel­e­brate 40 years of Cel­e­bra­tion of Dis­ci­pline, how might these events, and espe­cial­ly the con­fer­ence we’re host­ing at George Fox Uni­ver­si­ty (June 10 – 13), empow­er spir­i­tu­al trans­for­ma­tion in the local church?

RJF Good ques­tion. Today we des­per­ate­ly need a clear the­ol­o­gy of spir­i­tu­al growth. We need a stur­dy vision of a with-God life in the King­dom of God. Then, we need the clear inten­tion to pur­sue such a vision. And third, we need a full under­stand­ing of the means to ful­fill such a vision. These are the issues we hope to work on togeth­er at these events, and most espe­cial­ly at the Pas­toral Con­fer­ence at George Fox University. 

We’re glad you’re here!

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Orig­i­nal­ly pub­lished in Quak­er Life. Used by permission.