A Mature Spiritual Life

Richard J. Foster has offered the church an exquisite gift in his new book Streams of Living Water. In this ambitious project, he examines six major traditions of spirituality in Christianity: contemplative (prayer-filled life), holiness (virtuous life), charismatic (Spirit-empowered life), social justice (the compassionate life), evangelical (Word-centered life), and incarnational (sacramental life).

The book begins by viewing these streams of spiritual life through the prism of Jesus’ life. Foster expresses how Jesus is the "divine paradigm" for our quest to know God more fully. This chapter alone is worth the price of the book. Foster paints a masterful portrait of Jesus, based on the gospels, that allows us to see how each of these six spiritual traditions is rooted in the teaching and life experience of Jesus Christ.

Once Foster persuades us that Jesus is the source of each tradition, he devotes a chapter to each of the six traditions. Each chapter follows a similar format. First we are provided with an outline of the history of the particular tradition in a list of 30 or so notable figures and six significant movements. Then the chapter narrates the story of someone from church history that exemplifies this tradition. This is followed by two more stories of people-a biblical personage and a contemporary individual-who model the tradition.

The people chosen to illustrate a particular tradition are sometimes surprising and always delightful. As someone raised in the holiness tradition, I was surprised (and delighted) to read Dietrich Bonhoeffer’s story through this lens. As a person committed to the social justice tradition, I found it illuminating to read the story of St. Francis from the perspective of the charismatic tradition.

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Sojourners Magazine November-December 1998
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