Exploring the Six Streams of the Faith

I’ve always had questions about the various traditions and denominations of  Christianity. Why were there so many? Was all of this division necessary? And to which one should I subscribe? The answers came in one of the more important books I have ever read: Streams of Living Water by Richard Foster. In the book, he describes six streams of the faith, all unified perfectly in the life of Jesus, but separated as believers imperfectly sought to follow Him. Each stream as its own strengths and weaknesses, and each stream can listen and learn from the others. These streams also cut across denominational and theological lines. Let’s explore the six streams of the faith:

The Evangelical Tradition

This is the stream I drank from growing up and the one with which I am most familiar. There is a strong commitment to the Scriptures as God’s Word and to sound doctrinal truth.  There is also an emphasis on personal conversion to Christ and a call to to take the gospel to the ends of the earth. As I have aged, I have grown to appreciate the strong foundation I was given in this stream.

The Contemplative Tradition

This is the stream I have entered in the last ten years as a spiritual director. This stream forces us to move beyond a merely cognitive faith, encouraging us to experience and live out of God’s passionate love for us. It also stresses the centrality of prayer as the one thing on which everything else turns. Finally, it summons us ever deeper into communion with the Father, Son, and Holy Spirit.

The Charismatic Tradition

This is the stream I have just begun to explore in the last couple of years. It offers a needed correction to our tendency to domesticate God, for the Spirit blows where He wills. It corrects anemic religious life with demonstrations of God’s power. As it challenges us to grow in our relationship with the Holy Spirit, the result is a life filled with both the fruit of the Spirit and the gifts of the Spirit, especially signs and wonders.

The Holiness Tradition

This stream emphasizes our inner transformation to become more and more like Jesus Himself. But it all starts with the heart being changed, eventually moving outward into changed behavior. As such, there is hope that we can really grow in grace through the various spiritual disciplines. And in the end, our lives take on more of the mind and heart of Christ Himself.

The Social Justice Tradition

This stream gives hands and legs to our call to love others. It is a tough love that faces injustice, racism, and poverty in our social fabric. It further bridges the disastrous gap that can exist between one’s personal and social ethics. Finally, it calls us out beyond an individualistic faith and into one that longs for a right ordering of communities, societies, and even the earth itself.

The Incarnational Tradition

This stream focuses on God’s presence in normal, mundane details of life. As such, it points us to the reality that God is truly with us in all we do, thus destroying the divide between what the sacred and the secular. But deeper still, it emphasizes the remarkable truth that God chooses to incarnate His presence inside our very bodies, making all that we are a window into God’s presence.

These streams invite us to explore where we are now and what we can learn from the other streams. This stance is such a better one than criticizing or dismissing streams different than ours. After all, Jesus exemplified them all, and we are His body on earth. So which stream are you most familiar with? And which ones would you like to explore? Start by reading Foster’s book and then begin asking God to open doors for you. It will start you on an adventure of wonder, change, and profound hope.


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