Critical review for;
Foster, Richard. Streams of Living Water. San Francisco: HarperCollins, 1998.
What are the church traditions prevalent in today’s church? Do these streams have anything in common or are they examples of diversity that one must choose between when deciding how to express his faith? Indeed, are there streams that while unique and different from the other streams, flow together with the others to form a powerful force of Christianity today? Noticing the different areas of modern Christian expression causes us to wonder how they could all flow together in unity and harmony. Nevertheless, Richard Foster proposes six streams of “living water” that are used today in various forms. These streams are each distinct and unique, but they are all complimentary of each other if we take the time to observe their influence and impact on the church. Further, the traditions are all rooted in Christian practice and Foster draws each stream’s trajectory back to Christ, the beginning of the Church.
The author, Foster, is a distinguished author on spiritual growth and discipline. He currently hosts many spiritual formation workshops around the country and has edited the Renovaré Spiritual Formation Bible. Additionally, “Richard J. Foster, a Quaker, is the author of five books. He is the founder of Renovaré, an infrachurch movement committed to the renewal of the Church in all her multifaceted expressions. He lives with his wife, Carolynn, in Denver, Colorado.” (authortracker.com) Foster has also written The Celebration of Discipline, Prayer, Finding the Heart’s True Home, and The Freedom of Simplicity.
In this book, Foster shows the six “streams” of Christian practice: the Contemplative Tradition, the Holiness Tradition, the Charismatic Tradition, the Social Justice Tradition, the Evangelical Tradition, and the Incarnational Tradition. In these Streams Foster shows their major points, major figures, strengths and weaknesses, and instructions for living in the stream. Foster does a great job of thoroughly going through every point mentioned with great detail and thought.
To begin we see that Foster speaks of the Contemplative tradition or the prayer-filled life. He uses three figures from history, the New Testament, and modern Christianity to give us examples of the tradition lived out. This is the normal pattern for all of the other chapters that deal with a “stream.” This chapter focuses on prayer, which is described as “a life of loving attention to God” (58). From there he goes on to describe the Holiness stream, which finds James the Apostle as a great example of living a response-able life, which means doing what needs to be done when it needs to be done. (82) The Charismatic tradition involves a life that is saturated in the work of the Spirit. Here we see people who are wiling to set aside prejudice and other worldly things for the life of the Spirit (e.g. William Seymour). Next, we have the Social Justice tradition that is strong in their support for the needy and oppressed in society. It is one of the more active traditions and is related to the Holiness stream because they both have similarities. Moving along we come to the Evangelical stream and the classic figure of Billy Graham. Here Foster shows Graham’s ministry as the tradition that seeks to interpret and bring the Bible to the world. Here we see a life that is founded on the scriptures and gives reason for the faith. And finally, we see the Incarnational tradition that shows us that the presence of God can be made manifest in our everyday lives. Here we see that we can take God into the family, workplace, school, or wherever we go because God is active in everyday life and not limited to a couple of hours on Sunday.
All these streams compliment one another and Foster usually draws parallels between them at the beginning of the chapters. The point however, is not to explore each stream individually, but to see them as streams that flow into a “mighty movement of the Spirit” (273). It then becomes clear that all the chapters compliment each other because all of the streams compliment each other. Moreover, at the beginning of each stream chapter Foster provides a timeline of significant people and movements of the respected stream all the way back to Jesus. This is an important concept, as it appears that Foster is subtly showing that in Christ each of the streams has its origin, making them all a significant part of Christianity.
We would do well here to notice the overpowering connection (realized by Foster or not) to Dunn’s Unity and Diversity in the New Testament. Indeed, both Foster and Dunn would do well to incorporate the other’s work into their book as they both masterfully capture the essence of diversity in Christian expressions of faith and the line that holds them all together, namely—Christ. In both works, we see the powerful diversity that each of the streams (foster) or expressions (Dunn) has, and that through each of the traditions we see a different and unique picture of Christ. But even through all the streams Christ is all that we see for He is the unity that is present in diversity, and He makes it possible for both Evangelicals and Apocalyptic Christians to rally under the same banner of Christianity. Nevertheless, I wonder if Dunn and Foster are really that similar. On the one hand, it is extremely obvious that they explore the different traditions, but on the other hand, Foster seeks to draw these streams into a harmony of powerful spiritual renewal while Dunn just leaves the traditions where they lie. Nevertheless, Dunn is only concerned with the traditions of the New Testament era while Foster builds the streams up to the present day. This distinction may prove the difference in approach, but they both have extremely good points.
This book is a great read for anyone wanting to survey the different traditions of the church. Whether it is used as a personal devotional, Bible study lesson, sermon series outline, or Sunday school curriculum everyone can benefit from the encouraging personal examples and biographies that bring to life each tradition. Additionally, the strengths and weaknesses are a good benefit especially for younger Christians or those not Biblically knowledgeable, and Foster’s writing style is easy to read and approachable to anyone who wants to explore spiritual formation.
Foster’s only position is that all of the streams compliment each other and if accepted give us a powerful movement in the Spirit as we seek to become more like Christ. It is with this in mind that Foster offers us suggestions at the end of the chapter for living and practicing each of the streams. These suggestions are a great way of thinking creatively about one’s own spiritual transformation while relying on Foster’s advice to begin the process.
The history that Foster provides is also a great benefit. Sometimes we forget the righteousness of those who have gone before us and lived truly great lives. It is important for us to recognize their beliefs, see their lives, and possibly apply their thinking to our lives. Thus Foster does a great job of giving us their biography in a nutshell and helps us see the streams as real and alive, more than just words on a page or abstract ideas.
In conclusion, this book has been a fantastic read for me personally. Through it I have learned about truly great people of the faith, been stretched to discover areas of spiritual transformation, and seen the marvelous wonder of the diversity of the Church that is unified in Christ. Nobody who is serious about their faith should pass this book by, and everyone should appreciate the impact of the streams upon their lives.
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