The Freedom of Simplicity (Foster)

Freedom of simplicity

Richard Foster, The Freedom of Simplicity

San Francisco, CA: Harper & Row, [1981] 2010

Christians in my world are not known for their poverty. Which is strange because Jesus said crazy things like “Foxes have dens and birds have nests, but the Son of Man has no place to lay his head” (Luke 9:58), and a host of other things about renouncing possessions, giving to the poor, etc. and his life was consistent with these teachings. But we live in a different day and age, myself and most everyone I know were born into relative affluence. What do we do about this? Do we find ourselves in the position of the rich young ruler who is told by Jesus to “sell all your possessions and give to the poor?” Perhaps.

The complexity of the feelings we face when we consider a challenge like the one Jesus issued (and continues to give to us), along with the equally as complex set of intellectual and social problems raised by this challenge point to the problem and necessity of simplicity. Richard Foster’s The Freedom of Simplicity remains a timely resource for becoming like Jesus in a modern, affluent society; becoming simple.

The Gist

Richard Foster is an author that every Christian should read as much of as they can. His most famous book, The Celebration of Discipline, is a classic that will be around a very long time. But that is not all he wrote, and there is a lot to gain through this more focused study of simplicity.

The book is divided in two parts. The first part lays the intellectual groundwork and is what I consider to be the most important part. In these chapters Foster presents an overview of a Biblical perspective on money, goods, material possessions, and social concerns—matters that pertain to simplicity—along with a brief chapter that tracks through the way several “saints” lived and wrote about simplicity. These chapters orient the reader to a proper perspective on simplicity.

The second part aims at describing the practice of simplicity in terms of inner, outer, and corporate simplicity. In these chapters the reader gets an idea of how Foster considers simplicity to look like in reality both through reflection on his own and others’ practice of simplicity and speculative suggestions for general application.

What Stuck

The title of the introductory chapter—‘The Complexity of Simplicity’—reflects the genius of the book. Foster does not say that being poor will solve all your problems. He does not say that giving up your stuff will resolve all your anxieties. He does not offer one-size-fits-all solutions. What he does say is that simplicity itself is a grace, an inner disposition, and one that comes by the grace of God. By making an effort at resisting the hold that our possessions have on us we open ourselves up to this grace, and the spirit of simplicity allows us to live joyfully in a simple life that is deeply spiritual and socially equitable.

Representative Quote

Christian simplicity frees us from this modern mania. It brings sanity to our compulsive extravagance, and peace to our frantic spirit. . . . It allows us to see material things for what they are—goods to enhance life, not to oppress life. People once again become more important than possessions. Simplicity enables us to live lives of integrity in the face of the terrible realities of our global village. . . . Christian simplicity lives in harmony with the ordered complexity of life. It repudiates easy, dogmatic answers to tough intricate problems. (3, 5)


An important aspect of this book is Foster’s sustained attention to the social necessities of simplicity. Simplicity is not just a matter of freeing oneself from the prison of materialism, but also of understanding the social ills caused by materialism. Becoming clear and conscientious about our relation to our possessions addresses the root of many of our personal and social problems. Though simplicity addresses these problems not as an easy solution, but as a way of unraveling the webs of entanglement that have create and sustain these problems. At the end of the day, simplicity, like every other Christian discipline, is a matter of long-term, discerning, sustained practice in which Christ is made manifest in our lives in powerful and lasting ways.




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