Friday, April 9, 2010

Review: Charles Foster's "The Sacred Journey"

Charles Foster’s The Sacred Journey is a well-researched look into the notion of pilgrimage in the various religions throughout history while drawing on his (and others’) more modern experiences on the road.

Delving into Scripture, he seeks to prove that God is biased for those who live life on the fringes as a nomad, arguing that although one is not theologically obligated to do so, one needs to go on literal pilgrimage to the margins in order to escape the worldly, comforting trappings of mainstream society that tie her down. Only as a wanderer on the pilgrim journey can a person truly find the kingdom of God, can she truly (and literally) walk with Jesus Himself.

Foster spends much of the book exploring the how, where, and why of pilgrimage, emphasizing that the journey, rather than the destination, is the important part of pilgrimage for the Christian. At times, Foster’s playful, flippant prose borders on the irreverent, and I am sure many could be offended by his off-hand comments about God the Father as a “hippie.” But to do so would mean you miss his point, which is taking an actual pilgrimage, an actual journey as a nomad, can teach you what has true value for the kingdom.

And this is where Foster and I disagree. Although the back cover states the reader will learn how to “approach each day as a pilgrimage,” that’s not really the case. The reason for this is that Foster does not believe in metaphorical pilgrimage.

He hedges a few times, especially in the last chapter, but it seems evident based on the sheer bulk of his argument to the contrary that he believes a literal pilgrimage to a literal place is the only way to really understand the kingdom of God. As such, he misses the concept that in an A.D. world, the literal pilgrimage over actual geographical locations has been replaced by an interior landscape with an equally powerful pilgrimage of the soul.

Overall, this book is polarizing--you'll like it or hate it. I wanted to throw the book a few times, especially in the chapter where Foster haphazardly deals with Scripture.

But while I’m not likely to ditch my family for a week and backpack to a foreign, dangerous destination, my heart does feel the desire to move, to travel. And I do find his insights a worthwhile read in terms of helping Christians free themselves from the trappings of life that seek to keep their focus on what’s truly going on in the kingdom of God.

I receive nothing for my review except for a complementary copy of the book from Thomas Nelson Publishing.

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