Wednesday, August 1, 2012

Prayer: Finding the Heart's True Home, by Richard Foster


Richard Foster, best known for his largely excellent Celebration of Discipline, walks the reader through 21 different types of prayer, including biblical examples and practical guidance.  Each section closes with a written prayer that allows the reader to apply the lessons of the preceding chapter.

I have to say, I was pretty disappointed in this book.  With 21 chapters, covering 21 different types of prayer, Foster was unable to address any one 'category' of prayer at length.  And it's tough to read 21 short chapters on different kinds of prayer and emerge with an in-depth understanding of any of them.  Plus I have to admit, I'm not sure I buy that there are 21 different kinds of prayer.  That's . . . a lot.

Foster himself is a bit of a funny animal, theologically speaking.  Not that he doesn't believe the gospel--it appears from this book (and others) that he does.  He does not dwell on it as extensible or as repeatedly as I would like, but he does mention it at least.  My theological questions about Foster stem more from his sources.

As always, he makes liberal use of quotes by various well-known (and more obscure) thinkers and writers--this book boasts quotes by C.H. Spurgeon, Thomas a Kempis, Martin Luther, Saint Teresa of Avila, John Calvin, Bonaventure, Saint Augustine, Gregory of Nyssa, A.W. Tozer, Saint Benedict, Madame Guyon, Saint Jerome, John Chrysostom, Soren Kierkegaard, Juliana of Norwich, Richard Baxter, C.S. Lewis, Sue Monk Kidd, Henri Nouwen, Dietrich Bonhoffer, and John Woolman, as well as a number of Roman Catholic saints and monks.  With a source list like that, I'm not really sure what Foster's specific beliefs are, other than a notable affection for Christian mysticism.  Honestly, by the time I got to quotes by Spurgeon and Calvin, I felt like Foster was just pandering--quoting someone for everyone in an attempt to make his points more persuasive.  Which I admit may be a bit unfair.  I just didn't get the impression that Foster necessarily agrees with the bulk of Calvin or Spurgeon or Luther's theology, so his use of their quotes felt a bit . . . off.  Then again, it may be that he was simply trying to establish that across time and space, Christians have largely agreed about prayer.

Aside from the varied sources, I was simply not impressed by the content.  YMMV, of course, but I don't think there's much here.

(Full disclosure:  Normally, this is the part of the review where I suggest an alternative--another, better book on prayer.  Sadly, I've yet to find such a book.  I've read a bevy of them lately and have yet to be impressed or really aided by any of them.  If and when I do find one (there has to be one, right?), I will let you know.)


Peter said...

I agree with several of your frustrations, especially about the many categories of prayer. It would be difficult to start with scripture and answer "how many ways of praying are there?" by coming up with Foster's list. Then again, as with fasting especially, the practice was so assumed and ingrained that it needed neither basic instruction nor theological justification then. A bit different in our own day. Still, some of the categories are kind of a stretch.

On another note, you seem suspicious of Christian mysticism, but then again calling it Christian may mean that you deem some mysticism to be theologically acceptable. If you wouldn't be too vexed by it, I would highly recommend Thomas Merton's book called Contemplative Prayer.

Alexis Neal said...

I actually don't know much about Christian mysticism (and I always welcome book recommendations, BTW). My point was merely that Christian mystics and Reformers don't tend to travel together, at least in my experience.

Thanks for the comment and the recommendation!