Inter­wo­ven

Many years ago Richard Fos­ter dropped by my tiny office at Hod­der & Stoughton in the UK where I was a young and inex­pe­ri­enced book edi­tor. The mem­o­ry is vivid. 

Richard’s hands were held wide apart in front of him as he spoke. As a teenag­er I was taught that spir­i­tu­al’ peo­ple keep their inner life with God as far away as pos­si­ble from world­ly’ mat­ters such as con­tem­po­rary social issues and culture.”

He con­tin­ued, Now I real­ize that the tru­ly spir­i­tu­al per­son, if they are to do what Jesus did, would see how close­ly they could over­lay these two appar­ent­ly dis­tinct worlds.” 

He brought his hands togeth­er and inter­wove his fin­gers tight­ly as a sim­ple but pow­er­ful image of the Word becom­ing flesh and liv­ing amongst us.”

Lit­tle did he know at the time, but in that moment Richard put before me a vision that would con­sume the rest of my life. Sud­den­ly, as a young man, I had an ambi­tion to pur­sue some­thing big enough to increas­ing­ly cap­ture my whole heart. This was in stark con­trast to the shal­low Chris­tian­i­ty that, at the time, was threat­en­ing to drown me in the pools of its mediocrity.

Lat­er I would pub­lish Richard’s book Streams of Liv­ing Water in the UK. I believe it is one of the most sub­ver­sive books writ­ten in the last fifty years.

Streams

Dal­las Willard, a men­tor to me and close friend to Richard Fos­ter, believed that Streams of Liv­ing Water was prob­a­bly Richard’s most sig­nif­i­cant con­tri­bu­tion to the church, even though his ear­li­er Cel­e­bra­tion of Dis­ci­pline sold many more copies. 

Streams of Liv­ing Water, along with the par­al­lel Spir­i­tu­al For­ma­tion Work­book (called Life Streams in the UK), became a foun­da­tion­al resource for me as I began to plumb the depth of a deep­er life with God. How very dif­fer­ent my own jour­ney, and that of so many oth­ers, would have been with­out it.

What’s so sub­ver­sive about Streams of Liv­ing Water is the way it iden­ti­fies six shin­ing aspects of the char­ac­ter of Christ. By the time you fin­ish read­ing it, you will have seen this jew­el from sev­er­al new aspects and you will also have fall­en in love with Jesus all over again.

Equal­ly sub­ver­sive, Streams of Liv­ing Water explains why, if we want to be more like Jesus, then we will want to pur­sue and reflect all six aspects rather than just one or two of them. Richard explains the sig­nif­i­cance of this, while also giv­ing us vivid exam­ples of peo­ple who show how to live and prac­tice a bal­anced vision of a deep­er life with God.

Sub­ver­sive once more, Richard draws a cir­cle around Jesus and extends it to embrace Chris­t­ian tra­di­tions that col­lec­tive­ly demon­strate the very same Jesus we have met in the six streams. This work is mas­ter­ful and huge­ly sig­nif­i­cant for the ecu­meni­cal project that is begin­ning to take root across the peo­ple of God — often in ways that are far less obvi­ous when Richard first wrote Streams of Liv­ing Water in 1997.

As you read it, don’t miss the way that Richard steps into the six streams in a very delib­er­ate sequence. With­out a con­tem­pla­tive life, he argues, it will be impos­si­ble to live a tru­ly vir­tu­ous life. Once this life starts to take hold, God will trust us with a more pow­er-filled life, and from here we will be bet­ter equipped to prac­tice a com­pas­sion­ate life with­out being burnt out, as so many are today.

In turn, the evan­gel­i­cal tra­di­tion has much greater cred­i­bil­i­ty in the world when sup­port­ed by our prac­ti­cal deeds of jus­tice and mer­cy. Last­ly, when we are flow­ing with the pre­vi­ous five streams, then it’s like­ly that we will turn around and dis­cov­er that we are also swim­ming in the sixth stream, the sacra­men­tal life. This is where we take our faith to work, live out an authen­tic life in front of our fam­i­ly and friends and tack­le the wider issues of our world.

Final­ly, don’t miss the cli­max of the book: the evoca­tive vision of the pur­pose of God in his­to­ry to form an all-inclu­sive com­mu­ni­ty of lov­ing per­sons with God him­self at its cen­ter, as its prime sus­tain­er and most glo­ri­ous inhab­i­tant. That’s a life cap­ti­vat­ing ambition!

Per­haps you can now see why the vision of Streams of Liv­ing Water could so eas­i­ly con­sume the rest of our lives? After read­ing it, I’m con­vinced you will.

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Originally published March 2017