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Review - Freedom of Simplicity

Title: Freedom of Simplicity
Author: Richard Foster
Publisher: HarperSanFrancisco, 1989

This is one of Richard Foster's best book on spirituality. Riding on the heels of the very successful "Celebration of Discipline," he introduces us to the importance of living a life of simplicity. This is different from a life of simplistic living, Essentially, simplistic living represents a nonchalant attitude toward life, where nothing truly matters and one takes life without much questions nor desire for answers. Simplicity is in terms of knowing exactly what one desires in life, and to focus on it, free from the entanglement of other matters that distracts and fully engage in anything that helps one establish that focal concern.


The key problem in modern culture is the insane 'passion to possess' (3). The paradigm 'more is better' plagues society in ways that suffocates people's use of precious time and resources.  The title of the book is to precisely tackle this disease. True freedom comes when one is liberated from such things that enslave, to give us sanity toward the holy Center of God.


You should read this book because it is a welcome counter to a culture of 'more-is-better.'  The author explains the concepts very clearly and provides the reader a wide range of examples about the practice of simplicity through the ages. It provides good biblical material as a foundation, solid examples from our Christian forefathers as models of simplicity. Yet, Foster did not remain in the past forever. He is apt to bring the reader back to the modern day, talking about how simplicity looks like for the Church and the world. He goes through in detail inward simplicity, outward as well as corporate simplicity.

His explanation of Paradox. Simplicity is shrouded in complexity, thus begins the paradox of what simplicity means. He points out 5 paradoxes of the Christian simplicity:
1) It is both a grace and a discipline;
2) It is both easy and difficult;
3) It is both inner and outer dimensional
4) It affirms both the good and the limitations of material goods
5) It is both single-hearted and multi-aware.- Foster's masterful explanation of the paradox of simplicity being both complex and simple. He went on to talk about the way many things in life appear as paradoxes.

Chapter 4 is my favorite chapter. It talks about saints that lived simplicity to its core. Foster's rich grasp of Christian history is manifested in his classic sweep of the lives of saints of old. Citing six models, he talks about how the old saints practice simplicity.
#1 - Via Exuberant Caring and Sharing of the Early Church
#2 - Via Power of Renunciation by the desert fathers
#3 - Joy of Simplicity practiced by St Francis and the Franciscan Order
#4 - Theological Breakthrough during the Reformation (Martin Luther, John Calvin)
#5 - Via Hearing and Obeying by Quakers (George Fox and William Penn)
#6 - Via Active Service (Methodists John Wesley and Francis Asbury, William Booth, Robert Raikes, Asian scene led by  Sadhu Sundar Singh, James Hudson Taylor)

1) Develop a habit of plain honest speech. Strike off "I'm starved" from your vocab. Give thanks for what we have. Words play a huge role.
2) Write out a money autobiography. What role money has played in your life since childhood.
3) Find creative ways to get in touch with creation
4) Learn to enjoy things without owning them
5) Develop habit of home grown celebrations
6) Teach our children about stewarding money
7) Learn of John Woolman
"Silence every motion proceeding from the love of money."

The final two chapters deal with the church and the world.
- seek to live in compassion and patience with one another
- Seek 'ecclesiastical mercy-killing' to weed out dying ministries that no longer serve any purpose
- seek simple ways to help one another
- resurrect community building, 'barn-raising'
- seek to pay pastors well;

- Be open to possibilities of how God can use us
- Get the facts about being a global citizen
- be advocates for the powerless and poor; no good to be strong on love but weak in justice
- support relief agencies in their good work
- Be involved politically where necesary
- Use our literary skills to aid the poor
- embark upon the ministry of prayer

Foster closes this book with the 'simplicity of simplicity,' a stark contrast with the beginning chapter. The reason for the initial chapter is to remind us about the complexity that prevents one from entering into a deep journey toward God in simplicity. Only then can one be able to move beyond the suffocating atmosphere of superficiality. He ends with Kierkegaard's purity theme in willing one thing: Simplicity.


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