They say you should never judge a book by its cover. I totally ignored this advice because I love the cover of this book but this is far from the best part of the book. I quickly found this out as I became engrossed in the pages that followed. The Making of an Ordinary Saint by Nathan Foster is the story of his journey with God.
Spiritual disciplines are at the heart of this book. If it was the cover that first drew me to the book, the name ‘Foster’ came a close second. Nathan’s father, Richard, is a leading voice on the subject of spiritual formation, and his book Celebration of Discipline is considered a classic on the subject. Surely if there is someone who can give voice to a new generation on spiritual disciplines it would be Nathan Foster. I confess that this was my attitude coming into the book.
Most books on spiritual disciplines are ‘how to’s. They offer succinct definitions of spiritual practices and provide tips on how to best carry them out. These types of books are valuable. They give good advice but sometimes I walk away without the motivation to apply what has been written. The Making of an Ordinary Saint is not a guide to spiritual formation but the story of spiritual formation. It is written in the first person and told by incorporating narrative which I found immediately engaging. What ultimately sets this book apart is its reality. The story is not told or set in idyllic circumstances but in the face of difficulties and doubts. It is refreshing to know that I am not alone as I journey through the quagmire of Christianity where on one hand I face challenges and on the other, celebrate knowing that I am a child of God. The raw vulnerability that Nathan brings into the book is the highlight. He brings his experience as he intentionally practises spiritual disciplines in such a way that it is evident how these have deepened his relationship with God.
The book deals with the same 12 spiritual disciplines as his father’s book and includes a brief explanation from Foster senior which helps to direct the narratives. This is useful and by placing these just prior to the chapters is a great initiative as the interchanging of the voices of Nathan and Richard keep the book fresh for the reader. There is a danger when a book is written in the first person that it may become overly self-indulgent but this has been avoided by walking the fine line between story, information and advice. In particular, I found the chapter on confession to be a highlight. With personal vulnerability Foster recalls parts of his own life using stories about confessing to others and in a way directly to the reader. Many writers wouldn’t make themselves so vulnerable but the way it is used here invites the reader to be a participant.
In her review for Christianity Today Jen Pollock Michel writes that the role of the church is neglected in the book. This is a bit too harsh, after all his personal story is what lies at the heart of the book. Nathan Foster is a genuine person and he reveals his own struggles with the institutional church but there are echoes of community throughout. The metaphor of ‘drafting’, the communal nature of practices such as celebration, confession, service, worship, prayer and, even as he writes, silence and solitude create the sense of church – maybe not so much the institutional church, but still church. This is a book that gives voice to the importance of spiritual formation for a new generation.
Help support my ministry and purchase The Making of an Ordinary Saint: My Journey from Frustration to Joy with the Spiritual Disciplines here or as an audiobook.