Many of the books I review are new (or new to me). I don’t often have an opportunity to return to a book that has been personal influential. Abba’s Child by Brennan Manning is a book that has been used by God to help me move past pretense to my true self. Manning was at one time a Franciscan priest and a monk who broke his vows to the church. He was also an alcoholic, a compulsive liar and a divorcee. In a lot of ways his resumé disqualified him as a writer on the Spiritual life. Yet I’ve read few authors who were as gripped by the reality of God’s grace.
Abba’s Child was originally published in 1994, and expanded with a group study guide in 2002. This new edition, published two years after Manning’s death, is essentially the same as the 2002 edition with a new foreword from Jon Foreman (of Switchfoot fame) and an introduction from John Blase. The real value of the new edition is that it is a pretty book (cover art by Charlie Mackesy, printed on nice paper), making it a good gift edition.
In the book Manning helps us move toward authentic spirituality by getting us to come out of hiding. We all have a false self we project at the world–an impostor who is not our deepest, truest self. Our pretense keeps us from experiencing all that God has for us. Manning helps us confront our Impostor with grace. Our strategies of self protection may have been necessary at different stages of the journey, and hating our impostor is also self hatred. Manning shares a letter he wrote to his personal impostor while on retreat, inviting him to the presence of Jesus (28-30). True to form, Manning called us to grace, even graciousness with the parts of ourselves we don’t much like. It is only in the presence of Christ that we are set free to drop the mask and discover our belovedness to God. Manning knew this better than most.
Manning also confronted our personal legalism, judgmentalism, racism and bigotry. Each of these are strategies meant to prove that we are okay, that we belong, that we are in the right (or atleast righter than the next guy). Each is an aspect of our false self, where we fail to live out of God’s grace and our belonging to Him. In prophetic words, Manning confronts the increasing political and ideological polarization of our age and calls back to gospel (good news) faithfulness:
The “anything goes” morality of the religious and political Left is matched by the sanctimonious moralism of the religious and political Right. Uncritical acceptance of any party line is an idolatrous abdication of one’s core identity as Abba’s child. Neither liberal fairy dust nor conservative hardball address human dignity, which is often dressed in rags.
Abba’s children find a third option. They are guided by God’s Word and by it alone. All religious and political systems, Right and Left alike, are the work of human beings. Abba’s children will not sell their birthright for any mess of pottage, conservative or liberal. They hold fast to their freedom in Christ to live the gospel–uncontaminated by any dreck, political flotsam, and filigreed hypocrisies of bullying religion (55-6)
I love this book for the ways that Manning called us away from moralism, false religion and politicized solutions back to grace and Christ’s resurrection life. Personally I feel pressure to perform, to prove my worth. This makes may hunger for more grace. I give this book 4 stars.
Notice of material connection: I received this book from the Tyndale Blog Network (and NavPress) in exchange for my honest review.