Renovaré is a Latin word which means ‘to renew’. Richard Foster founded the Renovaré movement in 1988 and according to www.quakerinfo.com, Richard Foster is perhaps the best known Quaker today, though he deliberately speaks to a much wider audience. Renovaré is becoming an increasingly worldwide phenomenon and there are Renovaré websites in Brazil, Britain and Ireland, Korea and the United States.
Foster earned his undergraduate degree in George Fox University in Oregon and his Doctorate of Pastoral Theology at Fuller Theological Seminary. He has written numerous books of which Celebration of Discipline is probably his most famous. More recently, the Life with God Bible, which is an updated version of the Renovaré Spiritual Formation Bible, has proved popular with various denominations.
There are six traditions incorporated within the Renovaré movement which are practised through spiritual disciplines and exercises to enable individuals to mature in their life and faith. These traditions are known as ‘streams’ and include Contemplative (The Prayer-Filled Life), Holiness (The virtuous life), Charismatic (The Spirit Empowered Life), Social Justice (The Compassionate Life), Evangelical (The Word Centred Life) and Incarnational (The Sacramental Life).
‘Renovaré exists to inspire and support you in developing an integrated and fulfilled life as a disciple of Jesus Christ. Christian in commitment, international in scope, and ecumenical in breadth, we offer a balanced vision and a practical strategy for the formation of Christ-like character.’ (www.Renovare.info/home)
In the Renovaré Britain and Ireland website, there are twenty books recommended in the resources section since they are considered the most significant books related to Renovaré. Other than Foster, the most noticeable contributor is Dallas Willard. To gain an insight of the Renovaré Movement I therefore read and reviewed ‘Celebration of Discipline’, ‘Money, Sex and Power’, ‘Prayers from the Heart’, ‘Freedom of Simplicity’ and ‘Prayer Finding the Heart’s True Home’ all authored by Richard Foster.
Celebration of Discipline
Concerning his motivation to write Celebration of Discipline, Foster writes,
‘It was through the friendship and teaching of Dallas Willard that I first saw the meaning and necessity of the Spiritual Disciplines. For many years he has been my mentor in the Disciplines. His life is the embodiment of the principles in this book.’ (p119 COD)
At first glance, the disciplines listed on the contents page appear to be balanced and Biblical as they include meditation, prayer, fasting, study, simplicity, solitude, submission, service, confession, worship, guidance and celebration. The contents of the book though are crammed with mystic practises and concepts. Although Foster uses Scripture to support some of his arguments in context, he has a tendency to overemphasize spiritual experiences based on the experiences of those he refers to as the Devotional Fathers that advance far beyond the parameters that Scripture designates.
Celebration of Discipline could meaningfully be entitled, ‘Celebration of Mystics’ or ‘Celebration of Ecumenism’ as the cast of characters quoted or endorsed include the likes of St Francis of Assisi, Teresa of Avila, Thomas à Kempis, Ignatius of Loyola, Theopan the Recluse, Bernard of Clairvaux, Blaise Pascal, Mother Teresa, Carl Jung and Thomas Merton.
‘As with meditation, the imagination is a powerful tool in the work of prayer. We may be reticent to pray with the imagination, feeling that it is slightly beneath us. Children have no such reticence. Neither did St. Teresa of Avila: ‘This was my method of prayer; as I could not make reflections with my understanding, I contrived to picture Christ within me…I did many simple things of this kind…I believe my soul gained very much in this way, because I began to practise prayer without knowing what it was.’ In the play Saint Joan by Bernard Shaw, Joan of Arc insists that she hears voices that come from God. She is informed by sceptics that the voices come from her imagination. Unmoved, Joan replies, ‘I know, that is how God speaks to me.’ (P172 COD)
The Bible never commends using the imagination as a tool for prayer. Once the imagination is used in connection with prayer, our subjective experiences and desires are incorporated into our prayer life. In fact God promised He would never flood the earth again ‘although the imagination of man’s heart is evil from his youth;’ (Gen 8:21) Neither are believers supposed to visualize their prayer requests, let alone God within us! St Teresa decided to use her imagination as she could not make reflections from her own understanding. Proverbs 3:5-6 instructs ‘Trust in the Lord with all your heart, and lean not on your own understanding; In all your ways acknowledge Him and He shall direct your paths.’ When we meditate our focus should be on God and His word, (Mal 3:16, Psa 119:97) it should not be an effort to conjure up an image to enable us to focus our attention.
Richard Foster believes that ‘imagination often opens the door to faith’. (p173 COD) though Paul wrote to the Romans confirming that faith comes by hearing and hearing by the word of God.’ (Rom 10:17)Although the Bible teaches that no one has seen God at any time and that Jesus is at the right hand of the Father (John 1:18, Heb 1:3), Foster seems to think that if you try hard enough you can picture Jesus in your mind and He can heal someone as you visualize Him! He tells the story of how he helped a four year old boy, pray for his seriously ill baby sister.
‘Let’s play a little game,’ I said. ‘Since we know that Jesus is always with us, let’s imagine that he is sitting over in the chair across from us. He is waiting patiently for us to centre our attention on him. When we see him, we start thinking more about His love than how sick Julie is. He smiles, gets up, and comes over to us. Then, let’s put both our hands on Julie and when we do, Jesus will put His hands on top of ours. We’ll watch the light from Jesus flow into your little sister and make her well…Now I do not know exactly what happened, nor how it was accomplished, but I do know the next morning Julie was perfectly well.’ (p173 COD)
Out of good intentions Richard Foster advocates the use of visualization while praying for positive practical outcomes. Those ideas and practises though, are more closely aligned with mysticism and mind control techniques than with what the Bible teaches about prayer. Using the example of a marriage that is facing difficulties, Foster recommends the following.
Perhaps the husband is having an affair with some other woman. Ask God if this is a prayer task for you. If so, consider praying once a day for thirty days for this marriage. Picture the husband meeting the other woman and feeling dismayed and shocked that he had ever thought of getting involved with her. Watch the very thought of an illicit affair become distasteful to him. Imagine them walking into their home and seeing his wife and being overwhelmed with a sense of love for her. Envision them taking walks together and falling in love with each other as they did years ago. See them increasingly able to open up and talk with care. Ask God to build a large brick wall between the husband and the other woman. Construct a home for the husband and wife, not of brick and mortar, but of love and consideration. Fill it with
the peace of Christ.’ (p174-175 COD)
In Chapter 5, the Discipline of Study, Foster actually endorses the use of prayer wheels and rosary beads. Renovaré is truly ecumenical in scope! Rosary beads are used in Catholicism, Hinduism, Buddhism and Sikhism. Prayer wheels are used especially in Tibetan Buddhist traditions.
The Old Testament instructs the Israelites to write the Laws on gates and doorposts and bind them to their wrists so that ‘they shall become as frontlets between your eyes’ (Deut 11:18) The purpose of this instruction is to direct the mind repeatedly and regularly toward certain modes about thoughts of God and human relationships. A rosary or a prayer wheel has the same objective. Of course, the New Testament replaces laws written on the heart and leads us to Jesus, our ever present and inward Teacher.’ (p201-202 COD)
In the same chapter Foster suggests talking to the animals and making friends with the flowers and the trees. While the suggestion may sound harmless enough, this line of enquiry would not be helpful for someone from a pagan or a New Age background who is being introduced to Christianity as the emphasis is on connecting with the creation rather than knowing God the Creator.
‘The next step is to make friends with the flowers and the trees and the little creatures that creep upon the earth. Like the fabled Dr Doolittle, talk with the animals…Of course you can’t really talk to each other…or can you? I know this because I have experimented with it and so have some first rate scientists and we have found it to be true. Perhaps the stories of St Francis taming the wolf of Gubbio and preaching to the birds are not so far fetched. Of this we can be sure: if we love the creation, we will learn from it. In The Brothers Kamazarov Dostoevsky counsels. ‘Love all creation, the whole and every grain of and in it…If you love everything you will perceive the divine mystery in things.’ (P212 COD)
Foster also adopts an ambivalent attitude towards penance. Although Hebrews 10:14 states that ‘For by one offering He has perfected forever those who are being sanctified.’ Foster feels uncomfortable with the practise of penance, though he still believes it has benefits!
‘The stylised view of this avenue of help has been called the Confessional or the sacrament of penance. Though many of us, myself included, would feel highly uncomfortable with that form of confession, it does have certain advantages’ (p308 COD)
In the last chapter, the Discipline of Celebration, Richard Foster commends the gifts of fantasy and imagination that the visionaries and mystics were noted for. Visionaries and mystics rely on their own subjective interpretation of their spiritual experiences irrespective of whether it contradicts the word of God. The creative gift of fantasy is not one of the gifts of the Spirit and neither is it a Biblical concept concerning how we know God.
‘A third way to encourage celebration is to accent the creative gifts of fantasy and imagination. Harvey Cox observes that ‘man’s celebrative and imaginative faculties have atrophied’. In another place he writes, ‘There was a time when visionaries were canonised, and mystics were admired. Now they are studied, smiled at, perhaps even committed. All in all, fantasy is viewed with distrust in our time.’ (p371 COD)
Prayers from the Heart
In the foreword of ‘Prayers from the Heart’, Foster writes,
‘My whole life in one sense, has been an experiment in how to be a portable sanctuary-learning to practise the presence of God in the midst of stresses and strains of contemporary life. Some people who have read my books are surprised to learn that I have never been drawn to a monastic life, as important and valuable as that way of life is. For me, the great challenge has always been to experience the reality of God in the midst of going to work and raising kids and cleaning house and paying the bills. (px PFTH)
Neither monks nor monastic lives are advocated in Scripture. Jesus prayed for His disciples to His Father saying ‘I do not pray that you should take them out of the world, but that You should keep them from the evil one. They are not of the world, just as I am not of the world.’(John 17:14:15) It is not commendable for a believer to be in their small corner and another in theirs! Foster then quotes a Jesuit Priest to explain what the grand experiment is.
‘The grand experiment is to experience in everyday life what Jean-Pierre de Caussade calls ‘the sacrament of the present moment’; seeking, ever seeking to live, ‘light as a feather, fluid as water, innocent as a child, responding to every movement of grace like a floating balloon.’ (px PFTH)
The collection of prayers in this book is extremely diverse. It is encouraging in the respect that there are prayers included by A.W. Tozer and Charles Wesley. However, those two are sadly rare exceptions to the rule and a substantial number of the prayers contain the writings of popular mystics and philosophers including ‘Give us a pure heart’ by Dag Hammarskjöld who thought that the writings of the mystic Meister Eckhart could explain how a person could live in the community of the spirit for whom self surrender was the way to self actualization. Is it any surprise that he believed that he belonged to God yet did not know Him?
Whom I do not know
But whose I am.
Whom I do not comprehend
But who has dedicated me to my fate.
Foster quotes Lady Julian of Norwich in several of his books. Lady Julian was another mystic who lived a hermit life and was famous for contemplative prayers and is supposed to have been given sixteen revelations from God. According to Foster ‘Lady Julian says that God, in tender love, comforts all those trapped in pain and sin by speaking these words over them…
All shall be well
‘But all shall be well
And all shall be well
And all manner of things shall be well’
Lastly Foster includes a prayer by Gloria Hutchinson, ‘A Prayer of Stability’ that supports the doctrine of transubstantiation by Gloria Hutchinson. Are we supposed to trust in the Bible which declares in Hebrews 10:12-13 ‘But this Man, after He had offered one sacrifice for sins forever, sat down at the right hand of God, from that time waiting till His enemies are His footstool.’ Or should we pray Gloria Hutchinson’s prayer?
‘When I consider how you consented to disclosure in Mary’s womb,
in a narrow manger,
in a carpenter’s home,
on the wooden cross,
in the bread of the Eucharist,
my heart is moved to seek enclosure with you.’
Money, Sex and Power
In the opening chapter, Richard Foster explains his reasons for writing about the above topics.
‘I have a third reason for writing about these themes. Historically it seems spiritual revivals have been accompanied by a clear, bold response to the issues of money, sex and power. This is true whether we think of the Benedictine movement, the Franciscan movement, the Reformation movement, the Methodist movement, the modern missionary movement, or any number of these groups. When these revivals occur in a culture, there is a renewal of both devotional experience and ethical life. We need a modern-day renewal of spiritual experience that is ethically potent.’ (p403MS&P)
Whilst it would be terrific to see and ex
perience a genuine revival, can the Benedictine movement or Franciscan movement be described as biblically based revivals? This reasoning demonstrates the ambivalence of the ecumenical movement. The Reformation wasn’t simply a reformation from within Catholicism but was distancing itself from and repudiating most of what Catholicism stood for!
In Chapter 4, Foster recommends using creative imagery to achieve a breakthrough in finances. While the suggestion is obviously charitable the techniques used to achieve that outcome are contrary to Scripture.
‘In prayer, through the imagination, let us see the power of money broken. Let us picture the spiritual powers behind money brought under the Lordship of Christ. Let us visualize money being channelled into needy lives, providing necessary food and medical supplies. Let us imagine Christians in business controlling, investing and directing money in new creative, life enhancing ways. Let us see the governments of the world diverting their vast resources away from their bombs and into bread.’ (p459 MS&P)
In Chapter 8, entitled ‘Sexuality and Marriage’, Foster discusses what the Bible teaches in Matthew 5:32 and 1 Corinthians 7:15 but then provides his own interpretation of when Christians are permitted to divorce.
‘The basis for divorce that conforms to the way of Christ is, therefore, precisely the same as the basis for marriage. When it is clear that the continuation of the marriage is substantially more destructive than a divorce, then the marriage should end.’ (p545 MS&P)
Later on Foster discusses creative power quoting Robert Schuller who appears to preach his own ecumenical gospel and is more concerned with self esteem than sin and salvation.
‘In the individual, power is to be used to promote self-control, not self-indulgence. Self control is at home with both self esteem and self denial. Robert Schuller calls self esteem ‘the human hunger for the divine dignity that God intended to be our emotional birthright as children created in His image.’ Self denial is the way this human hunger for self- esteem is satisfied, and self-control embraces them both.’ (p607 MS&P)
When discussing how to use discernment relating to systems of human organisation such as state agencies, courts and city councils Foster advises using contemplative prayer. Although the Bible does not provide a detailed analysis on every minute scenario we may encounter it does provide sufficient guidelines for discernment since ‘His divine power has given to us all things that pertain to life and godliness, through the knowledge of Him who created us by glory and virtue.’ (2 Pet 1:3) Neither is the idea of a believer speaking’ truth to power’ otherwise known as positive confession or speaking things into existence a biblical concept.
‘We discern the ‘angel’ of the state through meditative prayer. Contemplation and interior prayer are closely linked with any genuine awakening of a social conscience. Upon receiving insight we ‘speak truth to power’, as the old Quakers used to say.’ (p625 MS&P)
In his epilogue Foster quotes Henri Nouwen concerning what a Christian does.
‘You are a Christian only so long as you constantly pose critical questions to the society you live in…so long as you stay unsatisfied with the status quo and keep saying that a new world is yet to come.’ (p647 MS&P)
The problem with the above quote is that anyone from any religion could do the above and that wouldn’t make them a Christian. John wrote ‘By this we know that we know Him, if we keep His commandments.’(1 John 2:3)
Freedom of Simplicity
Isaiah 43:7 explains that everyone called by God’s name has been created for His glory. In the first chapter ‘The Complexity of Simplicity’, Foster offers his ideas and cites Pope John XXIII to provide some further insight.
‘In simplicity, we enter the deep silences of the heart for which we were created. Pope John XX111 declared, “The older I grow the more clearly I perceive the dignity and winning beauty of simplicity in thought, conduct and speech; a desire to simplify all that is complicated and to treat everything with the greatest naturalness and clarity.” ‘(p5 FOS)
In Chapter 3, Foster explains what a life of simplicity involves and how to remain at the ‘divine Centre’. The question is, though, what exactly is the ‘Divine Centre’? If someone were to try to obtain more information about the ‘divine Centre they would uncover references to Catholicism, alternative medicine and Eastern religions.
‘The life of Christian simplicity is necessarily tied to a concern for the poor and defenceless. We cannot live at the divine Center for long without being compelled to care for our neighbour. For Christ, love of God and love of neighbour were two sides to the same door- we must do both to get through the door.’ (P37 FOS)
In Romans 10:14-15 Paul explains the importance of preaching the gospel. ‘How then shall they call on Him on whom they have not believed? And how shall they believe in Him of whom they have not heard? And how shall they hear without a preacher? And how shall they preach unless they are sent? As it is written: “How beautiful are the feet of those who preach the gospel of peace, who bring glad tidings of good things!”
Foster comments on the Desert Fathers who thought it was necessary to renounce speech in order to learn compassion. Even if that were true, a more compassionate act would be to preach the gospel out of concern for another’s salvation. People living in isolation that have renounced speech are seriously limiting their evangelistic commission!
‘The Desert Fathers renounced speech in order to learn compassion. A charming story is told about Abbot Macarius, who said to the brethren in the church in Scete, “Brethren, flee.” Perplexed, one of the brothers asked, “How can we fly further than this, seeing we are here in the desert?” Macarius placed his finger to his mouth and said, “Flee from this.” When Arsenius, the Roman educator who gave up his status and wealth for the solitude of the desert, prayed, “Lord, lead me into the way of salvation,” he heard a voice saying, “Be silent.” (p57 FOS)
Prayer Finding The Hearts True Home
Foster closes the introductory section of this book with a prayer. The prayer though is ambivalent. If it is supposed to be related to salvation or making a commitment to God, it mentions nothing of repentance for sin, belief or obedience to Him. In effect, it is meaningless.
‘Dear God, I am so grateful for your invitation to enter your heart of love. As best I can I come in. Thank you for receiving me-Amen’ (p4 PFTHTH)
It is no surprise therefore that Foster thinks that a child of God cannot offer a bad prayer though James writes to the twelve tribes of Israel saying ‘You ask and do not receive, because you ask amiss, that you may spend it on your pleasures.’(James 4:3) Of great concern is Foster’s reluctance to exercise discernment in separating the good from the bad.
‘What I am trying to say is that God receives us just as we are and accepts our prayers just as they are. In the same way that a small child cannot draw a bad picture so a child of God cannot offer a bad prayer…Like children befo
re a loving father, we open our hearts and make our requests. We do not try to sort things out, the good from the bad. We simply and unpretentiously share our concerns and make our petitions.’ (p8-9 PFTHTH)
In Chapter 2, Foster writes about the prayer of complaint.
‘The Lament Psalms teach us to pray our inner conflicts and contradictions…They give us permission to shake our fist at God one moment and break into doxology the next.’ (p23 PFTHTH)
The Bible teaches otherwise. Whilst we are encouraged to cast our cares on to Him because He cares for us, (1 Peter 5:7) complaining prayers are not helpful. In Job 40:2 God speaks to Job and corrects him ‘Shall the one who contends with the Almighty correct Him? He who rebukes God, let Him answer it.’ Also Paul writes to the Philippians ‘Do everything without complaining or arguing.’ (Phil 2:14 NIV) He doesn’t say, when you pray, add your complaints and shake your fist at God!
The spiritual exercises of Ignatius of Loyola are central to the teachings of Richard Foster and Renovaré. Foster acknowledges many will feel uncomfortable with some of the areas of the Ignatian retreat but commends it anyway!
‘The regimen of The Exercises has four basic sections, or weeks. The first focuses upon our sins in the light of God’s love. The second centers on the life of Christ, the third on the passion of Christ and the fourth on the resurrection of Christ. Each of the four weeks is accompanied by a generous supply of meditation exercises, often taken from the Gospels. Here Ignatius is at his best by insisting upon the use of all the senses in each meditation…The point of all this emphasis is to move us from reading about to entering in. We are seeing, hearing, smelling, touching and tasting the story…Many who read these words would be uncomfortable with various details of the Ignatian retreat, but I want to commend this four part rhythm to you.’ (p59-60 PFTHTH)
In Chapter 8, the prayer of Adoration, Foster adds his own theory about learning about the goodness of God. Instead of praying, reading the bible or meditating on God and His word, readers are encouraged not to study or analyze but to watch butterflies and little creatures.
‘We learn about the goodness of God not by contemplating the goodness of God but by watching a butterfly. So here is my counsel: begin by paying attention to the little creatures that creep on the earth. Do not try to study or analyze them. Just watch the birds and the squirrels and the ducks. Watch, do not evaluate, watch,’ (p87 PFTHTH)
In Chapter 10, concerning liturgical prayer, Foster understands that there are differences of opinion but does not appear to be directly opposed to praying to the saints. In this instance Foster is stressing unity above doctrine.
‘Second, liturgical prayer helps us unite with the “communion of the saints.” The enterprise we are undertaking is far larger than we are. While many of us differ over prayer to the saints, we all agree about prayer with the saints.’ (p108 PFTHTH)
In the same Chapter, Foster is equally accommodating towards the doctrine of transubstantiation.
‘Christian people of honest heart have long differed over how the life of Christ is meditated to us through the Communion feast. Complicated words are used to make important distinctions: transubstantiation, consubstantiation, memorial and the like. I believe these issues are significant, and I have convictions on them, but I would be a fool to think I could shed much light on these complex issues here…Personally I rather like the understanding of Saint Maximus the Confessor, the sacramental theologian par excellence of the patristic age. He calls the body and blood of Christ in the Eucharist “symbols,” “images,” and “mysteries.” It is his way of saying, “Christ is truly present among us, and his life is truly imparted to us, but how it all works is a holy mystery.” (p112 PFTHTH)
In Chapter 11 Foster explains how to discover a personal breath prayer. Although it is not described in such terms, it is basically a mantra.
Here is one way you can discover a breath prayer for yourself. Find some uninterrupted time and a quiet place and sit in silence, being held in God’s loving presence. After a few moments allow God to call you by name…Next allow this question to surface: “What do you want?” Answer this question simply and directly. Maybe a single word will come to your conscious mind: “peace,” “faith,” “strength.” Perhaps it will be a phrase: “to understand your truth,” “to feel your love.” Next connect this phrase with the most comfortable way you have of speaking about God: “blessed Saviour,” “Abba,” “Immanuel,” “Holy Father,” “gracious Lord.” Finally, you will want to write out your breath prayer, staying within what is comfortable to say in one breath.’ (p123 PFTHTH)
Renovaré is a subtle attempt to re introduce Roman Catholic teachings into and across the spectrum of Christendom. It is ecumenical in breath to the extent whereby practises such as penance, transubstantiation, visualisation, astral projection, the use of rosary beads and prayer wheels, praying to saints, meditative prayer, popular psychology and mantras are either endorsed or considered open to debate. It merges Biblical teaching with occultic techniques.
In Richard Foster’s books, great emphasis is given to the teachings of the mystics and subjective experiences. Celebration of Discipline contains quotes or the thoughts and experiences of St Francis of Assisi, Teresa of Avila, Thomas à Kempis, Ignatius of Loyola, Theopan the Recluse, Bernard of Clairvaux, Blaise Pascal, Mother Teresa, Carl Jung and Thomas Merton. All of these people held unorthodox Biblical views that are based either on Catholicism, mysticism, humanism, universalism or the occult.
It would be wise to stay well clear of both Richard Foster’s teachings and Renovaré and to warn others of the dangers mentioned. All believers can be encouraged that God has given us His word which is the plumb line of truth and is the standard for discerning truth from error. ‘All Scripture is given by inspiration of God and is profitable for doctrine, for reproof, for correction, for instruction in righteousness that the man of God may be complete, thoroughly equipped for every good work.’ (2 Tim 3:16-17)
Foster, R. A Hodder Christian Paperback Omnibus Prayers from the heart Celebration of Discipline Money, Sex and Power (Hodder & Stoughton: London, 1996)
Foster, R. Prayer Finding The Hearts True Home (Harper: San Francisco, 1992)
Foster, R. Freedom of Simplicity (Harper & Row: London, 1994)