Longing for God by Richard J. Foster and Gayle D. Beebe
There are two stated purposes for this book: First to explain the seven paths to God that have developed throughout Christian history and secondly to awaken readers so that they may grow in knowledge, understanding and commitment to God and to wrestle with the depth and riches the writers show-cased in this volume. These purposes are fulfilled by presenting the seven primary paths to God, which according to the authors are:
• The right ordering of our love for God
• The spiritual life as journey
• The recovery of knowledge of God lost in the Fall
• Intimacy with Jesus Christ
• The right ordering of our experience of God
• Action and contemplation
• Divine ascent
For each pathway represented, short biographies and overviews of the writings of three or four individuals are given to explain what each entails. The majority of the twenty-six persons highlighted would be from the contemplative/mystical stream of Christian history; however a few such as John Bunyan, John Calvin and Martin Luther would be mainline evangelical.
The most beneficial feature of Longing for God are the twenty-six short biographies, which makes for handy reference. Add in the three appendices which mention the addition of pre-Christian influences, women who have played a major role in Christian mysticism and the contribution of the Eastern Orthodox Church and you have a most helpful tool which provides a snapshot of contemplative teaching throughout the years. One major drawback however is that these portraits are so brief that a good understanding and critique of the individuals is largely missing. And I found it surprising, coming from such a resource, to contribute Dante’s words, “When I had journeyed half of my life’s way, I found myself in a dark wood for I had lost the path” to Thomas á Kempis (p. 141).
Of course, of a far more important concern is that a large percentage of what these leaders taught lacks any biblical base whatsoever. Foster and Beebe can tell us that there are seven paths to Christian devotion but in reality most of these are dead ends at best. Lack of biblical authority and majoring on esoteric experience, these highlighted mystics have led countless thousands astray with their extra-biblical and unbiblical teachings. Foster and Beebe do not understand this danger and instead paint these false teachings as spiritual guides and masters. The book is, for the most part, a collage of apostates and their heretical teachings. Included are: Origen, Thomas Merton, Francis of Assisi, Ignatius of Loyola, Julian of Norwich, George Fox, Friedrich Schleiermacher, Teresa of Avila, St. John of the Cross, among others. It has value as a reference tool but not as a guide to spiritual devotion and life. It has value as a reference tool but not as a guide to spiritual devotion and life. Unfortunately this book will probably be read by many since it was Christianity Today’s book of the year for 2009 in the “spirituality” category.