From the Renovaré Newsletter Archive

The selection below is from a March 2004 Renovaré newsletter. Download a PDF of the original newsletter.
Introductory Note:

In a world where information comes at us in an unending flurry—through our phones, TVs, laptops—Richard Foster asks us to slow down and consider the value of Wisdom literature in Scripture. To quote King Solomon, there really is nothing new under the sun—and the Wisdom Tradition helps us sort the wheat from the chaff in endless fields of information. In the pages of psalms and proverbs, we find timeless truths for discerning what is good and right and helpful in our lives. We would be far poorer spiritually were we not to give these books their due.

Renovaré Team

The Stored Trea­sure of Human Insight

I am so glad for the Wis­dom Tra­di­tion found in Scrip­ture. It does so many things for us:

— it roots us solid­ly in every­day life and every­day tasks;

— its pithy apho­risms and proverbs give us time­less, portable teach­ers for the mul­ti­ple dai­ly deci­sions that come our way;

— it reminds us that our choic­es real­ly do have con­se­quences and pro­found­ly shape our lives;

— it allows us to learn from the mis­takes of oth­ers with­out hav­ing to repeat those same mistakes;

— it gives us a basic moral ori­en­ta­tion to guide us in all aspects of our day-in-day-out liv­ing; and more.

The Wis­dom Tra­di­tion has giv­en rise to a whole genre of lit­er­a­ture found in our Bible; from Job to Proverbs to the Song of Solomon to the Wis­dom Psalms to the Deute­ro­canon­i­cal books of Eccle­si­as­ti­cus and the Wis­dom of Solomon to many of the say­ings in the New Tes­ta­ment Pas­toral Epis­tles. Unfor­tu­nate­ly, these writ­ings have some­times been deval­ued by Chris­tians because they do not focus on the more dom­i­nant bib­li­cal theme of sal­va­tion his­to­ry and because they sound an awful lot like the works of ancient pagan writ­ers. But we reject this stored trea­sure of human insight to our per­il. Indeed, our whole­sale neglect of the Wis­dom Tra­di­tion may well explain why we have so many fool­ish Chris­tians today run­ning after every con­spir­a­cy the­o­ry and suc­cumb­ing to every pro­pa­gan­da technique.

Val­ues of the Wis­dom Tradition

Let me give you four rea­sons why I find the Wis­dom Tra­di­tion so valu­able for us today. First, we real­ly do need a strong dose of ordi­nary com­mon sense in the mod­ern scene today. I’m refer­ring here to what an ear­li­er gen­er­a­tion called horse sense” and what the ancients called pru­dence.” This is real­ly noth­ing more than prac­ti­cal wis­dom applied to life sit­u­a­tions. One rea­son Dr. Phil on TV and Dr. Lau­ra on the radio have touched such a nerve in the mod­ern psy­che is because they dish out exact­ly this kind of ordi­nary com­mon sense, allow­ing for no excus­es. And what aston­ish­es me in all this is that peo­ple are so total­ly out of touch with the Wis­dom Tra­di­tion that they are amazed as if hear­ing some orig­i­nal insight and are gen­uine­ly helped by such com­mon sense coun­sel. Well, may their tribe increase a hun­dred-fold. Peo­ple are so lost today in the most sim­ple mat­ters of man­ag­ing their per­son­al and fam­i­ly lives that we should rejoice when­ev­er proverbs of good sense tri­umph, irre­spec­tive of their source.

Sec­ond, focus­ing on the accu­mu­lat­ed wis­dom that comes from the ordi­nary expe­ri­ences of ordi­nary peo­ple gives sacra­men­tal sig­nif­i­cance to the com­mon­place and the every­day. That faith will have the most mean­ing which touch­es com­mon life redemp­tive­ly at the most points. Gen­uine faith deals more with the home than with the church, more with the office than with the altar. If Chris­t­ian wit­ness is to gain a hold on the life of post-mod­ern men and women, it must find ways of meet­ing peo­ple in the midst of their every­day expe­ri­ences. And this will require a dis­ci­plined and sanc­ti­fied imag­i­na­tion. The Wis­dom Tra­di­tion can point the way.

Third, the Wis­dom Tra­di­tion can help us deal with the infor­ma­tion over­load that plagues our dai­ly lives. The Inter­net, hotlinks, e‑mails, blogs, and more give us infor­ma­tion by the ton. And there is noth­ing wrong with these things, but they can­not give us wis­dom for liv­ing. No, we need times now and again when we will exit the infor­ma­tion super-high­way and turn onto wisdom’s coun­try lanes. Know­ing more and more facts may well be what we want, but it’s not what we need. And it’s time we brought our want-er” into line with our need-er.” Reflec­tion … still­ness … prayer­ful obser­va­tion — these are the things that can teach us bet­ter how to live.

Fourth, the Wis­dom Tra­di­tion stress­es char­ac­ter devel­op­ment through moral edu­ca­tion, and this is an impor­tant ingre­di­ent in the spir­i­tu­al trans­for­ma­tion of the human per­son­al­i­ty. To be sure, it is only one piece in a large and com­pli­cat­ed puz­zle. But it is a piece. Teach­ing peo­ple how to make wise choic­es is a good thing. A pithy say­ing that pro­vides guid­ance in prac­ti­cal deci­sion mak­ing is a good thing. Teach­ings that aid us in doing the right thing, for the right rea­son, at the right time, and in the right way is a good thing.

Like I said, this is not every­thing, nor is it even the most impor­tant thing. We most cer­tain­ly must go on to under­stand how ingrained habits of evil can be erad­i­cat­ed by the pow­er of God. We must go on to the sanc­ti­fy­ing work of the Spir­it in the human heart. We must go on to the devel­op­ment of holy habits of right­eous­ness and peace and joy in the Holy Spir­it. And more. But nat­ur­al human wis­dom is a foun­da­tion upon which these fur­ther devel­op­ments of for­ma­tion can build. Just because wis­dom is nat­ur­al” and human” does not place it in oppo­si­tion to the divine work of God; it mere­ly places it in a low­er order. God does not con­tra­dict such wis­dom, but pre­sup­pos­es it and builds the super­nat­ur­al virtues of faith, hope, and love upon it.

Peace and Joy,

Richard J. Foster

Orig­i­nal­ly pub­lished in Per­spec­tives in March 2001.

Text First Published March 2004

📚 The 2022 – 23 Ren­o­varé Book Club

This year’s nine-month, soul-shap­ing jour­ney fea­tures four books, old and new, prayer­ful­ly curat­ed by Ren­o­varé. Now under­way and there’s still time to join.

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