Book Review: Streams of Living Water

Streams of Living Water

I once knew a man who ate the same food every day for years – a liverwurst sandwich and Italian butter cookies. He swore by this diet and lived well into his nineties. But to be honest, if that is all I had to eat, I’m not sure I would want to live that long.

Most of us crave variety in our meal plan. We enjoy tasting different kinds of food. Strangely, however, when it comes to our doctrinal diet, many Christians shun variety of any kind. We stay safely within our camp. Reformed Christians listen exclusively to Reformed teachers and read only Reformed books. Charismatic Christians do the same. We seldom visit a church where the worship style is unfamiliar to us. And, if we are Protestant, don’t even think of asking us to learn from a Catholic.

But when you consider the breadth of Christ’s work in his Church through the centuries, it seems strange to think that God would want us to limit ourselves this way. Perhaps there are ways we can grow through contact with brothers and sisters from theological traditions that differ from our own.

If you desire a broader diet of doctrinal nourishment, I have a book suggestion for you – Streams of Living Water: Celebrating the Great Traditions of the Christian Faith by Richard Foster. Written over 20 years ago, Streams is sort of a sampler platter for those who want a taste from various parts of the Christian menu.

In the book, Foster explores the spiritual riches to be found in six different traditions (or “streams”) in the Christian faith. Rather than dividing his content along denominational lines or fixating on controversies that have divided the church, the author delights in the variety of ways the Holy Spirit has worked among God’s people. The streams he examines are the Contemplative Tradition, the Holiness Tradition, the Charismatic Tradition, the Social Justice Tradition, the Evangelical Tradition, and the Incarnational Tradition.

For each of these streams, Foster visits the life of one person from church history who exemplified it, one parallel to be found in Scripture, and one contemporary example of a believer who follows Christ this way. Then he teases out some helpful truths from each tradition that can benefit our lives. For example, in his chapter on the Holiness Tradition, Foster writes about Phoebe Palmer, James the brother of Jesus, and Dietrich Bonhoeffer. To explore the Social Justice Tradition, he looks at the Quaker John Woolman, the prophet Amos, and the Roman Catholic activist Dorothy Day. The chapter on the Evangelical Tradition examines the lives of Augustine of Hippo, the Apostle Peter, and evangelist Billy Graham.

Foster is not uncritical of any of these theological traditions. In his analysis of each one, he points out spiritual perils that can accompany them, especially if one’s involvement in any tradition is untampered by truth from other biblical sources. Yet the book is not negative or disparaging. The author treats his Christian brothers and sisters with respect and asks his reader to do the same. He invites us to taste from the sampler, the rich platter of gospel truth that God, over the years, has prepared for his Church.