Sunday, March 11, 2012

Richard J. Foster on the Failure of Law and Ritual

This Lent I'm participating in a book study group with my friends Tim and Kathleen. We're reading Richard J. Foster's Celebration of Discipline: The Path to Spiritual Growth.

Following is an excerpt from Foster's study guide to Celebration of Discipline that I find particularly insightful.

. . . Human sin is written across the face of humanity. It is very real to us all and only serves to show our inability to enter the Good Life of the Kingdom of God.

From the beginning, men and women have sought to free themselves from this human predicament. The normal means for solving our dilemma has been law and ritual. Either we set up a series of laws, which we hope will cover every situation, or we devise religious rituals. (It matters little which we use – high church types usually tend toward ritual, low church types toward law – they are in reality two sides to the same coin.) Neither law nor ritual succeeds in transforming the human personality, although, as Jesus mentioned, both often make quite nice-looking whitened sepulchres. A heavy exertion of the will may be employed to accomplish our goal, but the effort is doomed to failure. Paul Tournier writes, "To depend on one's own will-power, one's good resolutions, especially against the impulses of instinct and the determinism of powerful, psychological complexes, is to ask for failure and for a perpetual conflict which destroys rather than strengthens the forces of the person."

There is a proper place for the will, but it is not in transforming the inner person. The will functions in the decision to place our lives before God so that He[/She] may work within us, as the old spiritual puts it, "I have decided to follow Jesus." And that decision is a continual one, for the following of Jesus is continual. . . . We are never made righteous by exertion of the will. Righteousness is a gift from God, which comes as we place ourselves before Him[/Her].

– Richard J. Foster
Study Guide for Celebration of Discipline
pp. 5-6

See also the previous Wild Reed post:
The Potential of Art and the Limits of Orthodoxy to Connect Us to the Sacred

Recommended Off-site Link:
The "Dumbing Down" of the Roman Catholic Church – Rev. Robert W. Caruso (The Progressive Catholic Voice, November 7, 2010).

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