Born in New Mexico in 1942, Richard J. Foster spent most of his growing-up years in Southern California, where he became friends with a group of Quaker youth. He came to faith in Christ in that small Friends gathering, and their ministry was pivotal in Richard’s life. When as a teenager his parents died, his church family provided the funds for Richard to pursue his education. Because of their generosity, he was able to graduate from George Fox College and Fuller Theological Seminary.
Now married to Carolynn and holding a seminary degree, Richard became the pastor of Woodlake Avenue Friends Church in Canoga Park, California. Although he would later describe that church as “a marginal failure on the ecclesiastical scoreboards,” Richard’s time at Woodlake would prove to be deeply formational. Faced with the challenges of pastoring, Richard turned to the devotional classics for soul sustenance. From these writers Richard learned to practice the spiritual disciplines. He also attended the Sunday school class of one of his parishioners, Dallas Willard, with whom be became fast friends. Richard also befriended the pastor of a nearby Lutheran church, Bill Vaswig. Although they were neighbors for just a few years, the friendship of these three men endured throughout their lives.
Richard and Carolynn moved to Oregon in 1974, where Richard joined the pastoral staff of the Newburg Friends Church and the teaching staff of George Fox College. He continued to practice the spiritual disciplines and to teach them to congregants and students. In 1977 Richard wrote Celebration of Discipline, which was published by Harper & Row in 1978.
The success of Celebration of Discipline presented multiple opportunities, including an invitation to join the faculty of Friends University in Wichita, Kansas. Richard, Carolynn, and their two sons, Joel and Nathan, moved to Wichita in 1979. His position at Friends gave Richard freedom to travel and speak about the spiritual life. In many conversations, people asked Richard for a next step beyond what they had learned in reading Celebration of Discipline. Richard discerned a pattern: that people were trying rather than training to become like Jesus, that they held a myopic rather than a synoptic view of the path to Christlikeness, and that they were scattered rather than gathered. How to address those needs became a focus of Richard’s work.
After years of writing, teaching, and traveling, Richard sensed a call to silence. In 1986 he said no to all public ministry and focused on listening to God. During this time Richard felt led to establish a ministry devoted to the renewal of the church. With help from James Bryan Smith, Roger Fredrikson, Marti Ensign, Lynda Graybeal, and his old friends Dallas Willard and Bill Vaswig, Richard founded Renovaré in 1988.
Richard went on to write many other books besides Celebration of Discipline, including PRAYER: Finding the Heart’s True Home, Streams of Living Water, and Sanctuary of the Soul. He also led an editorial team to publish a study Bible focused on spiritual formation. He served as President of Renovaré until 2008 and continues to serve in an advisory role. He and Carolynn now live in Colorado, where they look forward to visits from from their nine grandchildren.
“The heart of God is an open wound of love,” declare the opening words of PRAYER: Finding the Heart’s True Home. For more than 40 years, Richard Foster’s ministry has aimed to help people connect with that tender heart of God. While best known for bringing spiritual disciplines to the modern era, Richard would remind us they are a means and not the end:
…Christian spiritual formation has nothing essentially to do with such practices. Many of these practices are useful, to be sure, and some are more useful than others. But none is essential. What is essential is life with Jesus, interactive relationship with the great God of the universe, inner transformation into Christlikeness.