Spirituality for the disillusioned

Longing for God: Seven Paths of Christian Devotion
Gayle D. Beebe and Richard J. Foster

InterVarsity, 2009
347 pages


Longing for God is the latest book from the network of spiritual writers in association with Richard J. Foster and renovaré, Foster’s spiritual renewal movement. Despite being mainly written by Beebe, the book fits well on the longer shelf of books coming from Foster such as Streams of Living Water, Celebration of Discipline, and Prayer: Finding the Heart’s True Home. In each of these books, Foster provides practical insight into spiritual formation, offering multiple portals through which readers can take further steps in their journey with God.

Longing for God stands in this genre, presenting seven paths of Christian devotion: rightly ordering one’s love for God, pursuing the spiritual life as a journey, recovering knowledge of God lost in the fall, deepening  intimacy with Jesus Christ, interpreting one’s personal experience of God, balancing action and contemplation, and navigating the historic ascent of Christian spiritual formation (purifying the heart, enlightening the mind, perfecting the soul).

The book grew from a time when Beebe was Foster’s student and later, when they team-taught a course in spiritual formation. Beebe, former president of Spring Arbor University, discusses each pathway in terms of a selection of writers, women and men, from across the historic Christian tradition. These range from Augustine to Friedrich Schleirmacher, Pascal to Teresa of Avila.

Beebe’s commentary is relatively short and very accessible, frequently augmented with charts summarizing a particular spiritual theology. Foster supplies a practical application and a prayer uniquely crafted for each writer. Together, each chapter serves as an excellent devotional reading over a leisurely Saturday breakfast or spread through a week of bedtime meditations.

Not to be ignored

Appendices are often ignored when reading a book. This book’s three appendices should not be ignored. The first is an essay on pre-Christian and extra-Christian influences touching the pathways of Christian spiritual formation – a topic that is much in contemporary discussion.

The second is a lively collection of 27 vignettes profiling women significant in the historic unfolding of Christian spirituality, both the well-known, such as Hildegard of Bingen and Mother Teresa, and the virtually unknown, such as Christina the Astonishing.

Finally, and much-needed, is a collection of mini-essays highlighting the contributions of the Eastern Orthodox Church to Christian spiritual formation, a topic of growing interest to contemporary Western Protestants.

In an online interview, Foster said that Longing for God is aimed at an audience “disillusioned with the superficialities of modern culture, including modern religious culture.” Foster and Beebe certainly captured my interest and spiritual imagination as I used this book for my morning quiet time. I recommend it highly.

The book is also available as an abridged audio book – a great resource for the morning commute or a road trip.

—Gerry Ediger is a member of McIvor MB Church and a semi-retired professor at Canadian Mennonite University, Winnipeg, currently teaching courses in Christian spirituality.

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