Bookmarks: The Sacred Journey

Derek Ouellette —  April 7, 2010 — 5 Comments

The Sacred Journey by Charles Foster
April 13, 2010
2 Stars (out of 5)

Charles Foster invites us to consider or rather, to reconsider that ancient practice of pilgrimage, what he calls The Sacred Journey[1]. To take to the road, to visit Rome, Santiago or some other holy mountain (or mountain made holy). Jesus said, “follow me” and (Foster’s premise) he meant us to take him literally! Jesus never stayed in one place long, never became a city-dweller, he was a pilgrim. And you and I are called to follow him, to become pilgrims also. To journey to some sacred site or some sacred place or some sacred relic because the very action of doing this has a physiological reaction which will bring depth to your life and bring into focus those things that matter most.

Humans are made to walk. This, says Foster, is evident from our earliest ancestors who first stood upright some 22,000 years ago; its evolutions way of telling us that God favors the nomad. He chose Abel, the nomadic shepherd, over Cain, the settler. He chose Abraham the nomad, he chose Israel the Hebrew people also known as “wanderers”. It may be radical, says Foster, but “nothing that is not radical is Christian”. And so he calls you and me to take up the ancient practice – a practice common in all the world’s major religions – of pilgrimage.

The Sacred Journey can be summarized in three parts. The first is the history of pilgrimages from the first Homo Sapiens through the medieval ages (where Luther and the Reformers attempted to put a stop to it) and on to recent times. The second talks mostly about the practical: how do we become a pilgrim? What are the steps, the implications, what can be expected? Why go? Even to the details: what should I bring along for the journey? The third is a defense of his position.  It’s extreme and many people will attack it.

Reflections:

The Evangelical Conservative in me had a strong inclination to toss Foster’s book out the window after nearly every page (not literally, I don’t do that kind of thing), but my post-conservative tendencies challenged me to press on long enough for Foster to say something orthodox in the midst of pages of unorthodox things. He gives as much if not more quote space to Hindu’s, Buddhists, Muslims and Sikhs then to Christians. Furthermore he speaks of all these different religions favorably while it seems his disdain for Christianity (particularly Protestantism) comes to the surface, never tiring of calling us “Gnostics”. He seems to favor the Buddhist, quoting one who says, “thank you Jesus”. When he asks why a Buddhist would thank Jesus the answer he gets is “Why, he’s a Buddha, my friend.”  A thought which Foster allows to linger. And comments elsewhere, “A rather intense girl had identified a sixth-century Hindu text as “oozing the spirit of Jesus.” (And who am I to say she was wrong?)” Finally (as I’ve come to expect from theology like Fosters), there is a preference for orthopraxy over orthodoxy: good works over right doctrine. But more than this, Foster would dismiss right teaching altogether (ironically, shall we accept his teaching as being ‘right teaching’?) he says: “it is shocking to note, yet again, how little doctrine [the disciples] are taught to teach”. This is reckless negligence. Two thirds of the N.T. are doctrinal epistles.

As I concluded the book, the phrase “all things in moderation” came to mind – a concept that would no doubt horrify Charles Foster who presents his views with as much bigotry as he decries (and generalizes) Protestantism’ “often theological bigotry” [p.196]. (On an off note, my wife tells me that if you stick an “e” on the end of “bigot”, in Spanish it means “mustache”.)

An Irish monk states taking a pilgrimage to Rome you will not find God there unless you bring him with you. In response to this “Gnostic” idea Foster quotes Jeremiah, “When you search for me, you will find me; if you seek me with all your heart, I will let you find me, says the Lord”, then he adds, “Going to Rome, Geneva, or your own sacred mountain might well be part of that full-hearted searching” [p.198]. This is the kind of biblical negligence you will come to expect in this book, a complete disregard for the God’s own agenda in favor of his own agenda, by way of biblical “proof-texting”. Didn’t Jesus say that people will not search for God on this mountain or that mountain because God is Spirit? Foster’s Gnostic Jesus is to be despised in favor of his Buddhist Jesus.

Me, I don’t want Fosters Jesus, either the Gnostic one he imagines we serve or the Buddhist one which he prefers.


[1] Disclaimer: The Sacred Journey by Charles Foster was provided by Thomas Nelson through the Book Sneeze program for the purpose of this review.

Derek Ouellette

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a husband, new dad, speaker, writer, christian. see my profile here.
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  • http://www.charlesfoster.co.uk Charles Foster

    Sorry you didn’t like the book, Derek. Just a few points. I have no disdain for Christianity. It is my only hope and my only way. I don’t tar all Christians with the gnostic brush. Many, many aare not at all gnostic. You say: ‘Finally (as I’ve come to expect from theology like Fosters), there is a preference for orthopraxy over orthodoxy: good works over right doctrine.” I was simply quoting the words of Jesus: ‘Lord, when did we see you?’ etc. You then comment: ‘But more than this, Foster would dismiss right teaching altogether (ironically, shall we accept his teaching as being ‘right teaching’?) he says: “it is shocking to note, yet again, how little doctrine [the disciples] are taught to teach”. This is reckless negligence. Two thirds of the N.T. are doctrinal epistles.’ Indeed, but those aren’t the teaching of Jesus to the disciples, which is what I was talking about.
    All best wishes.
    Charles

  • http://covenantoflove.net Derek Ouellette

    Thanks Charles for reading this review, I am sorry if my review of Sacred Journey came across as harsh. I wouldn’t say that I “disliked” your book, far from it, some of the most challenging books on my shelf are ones I have a love/hate relationship with – without being challenged how can we grow?

    With that thought in mind I am sorry that I had not written the follow-up post which I intended called “Gleanings from a Sacred Journey” (maybe I’ll still write it) in keeping with Paul’s exhortation to “keep that which is good”. If you had gone back only three posts to the one titled “Not so good a Friday” you would see that I quote A Sacred Journey favorably where you write “Christianity is an Eastern religion that has had the misfortune to be particularly popular in the West (where its chances of being understood were lowest)” Right on.

    The words of Jesus are invaluable and I would hate to belittle them in any way. But the Christian life includes ALL that God had to say, to pit Jesus’ words against Paul I think results in a distortion of the “radical” Christian faith.The Christian faith is radical, but we must take every radical aspect of it, not just pieces of it we like while criticizing other aspects such as doctrine.

    At the end of the day I see the Sacred Journey as reacting against a “casual” Christianity that focuses too much on doctrine and not enough on actions. That is fair, but I wish it were not necessary to over react.

    Thank you for your comment, I seriously look forward to your next book and appreciate your writing style very much.
    .-= Derek Ouellette´s last blog ..Wright’s Explanation of 2 Corinthians 5:21 =-.

  • http://www.charlesfoster.co.uk Charles Foster

    Derek,
    Many thanks for your gracious response.
    Just one comment. I hope I don’t pit Jesus against Paul. I’m just convinced that we’ve got to read Paul through the lens of Jesus, rather than (as for millenia we have done) the other way round. Our failure to get this right has been catastrophic. Paul would have been the first to bemoan it.
    All best wishes on the Way.
    Charles

  • http://covenantoflove.net Derek Ouellette

    Right on! Couldn’t agree more.
    .-= Derek Ouellette´s last blog ..Pentecost: When The Spirit Came =-.