Tuesday, March 22, 2011

Book Review: The Importance of Being Foolish

Few people get to the heart of things like Brennan Manning. Like a personal trainer, he challenges all the self-justification, the excuses, the laziness in our spiritual lives. With hawk-like eyes he discerns the murky depths of the soul and pulls it screaming into the light where we see it for the ugly thing it is.

And yet, nobody seems to understand grace like Brennan Manning. No sooner does he excoriate our propensity to sin but that he jumps in with the marvelous good news of the gospel: God loves us more than we can ever hope, dream, or imagine.

In The Importance of Being Foolish, Manning challenges three temptations common to our lives: the temptations to security, pleasure, and power. He debunks the thought that any of these have any place in the life of a disciple of Christ. Security is impossible to achieve, pleasure never satisfies, and power always comes at the expense of others. Pursuit of any of these proves that the soul has yet to fully trust God to protect, to please, to provide.

The only worthwhile pursuit, according to Manning, is the pursuit of the mind of God. For in God's mind we find that we are the beloved of God; that God promises safety in his arms, joy in his heart, and victory over the things that weigh us down. As we pursue our heavenly Father, we also find ourselves drawn into his Kingdom work, proclaiming and seeking God's holiness in this world. As we seek the power and love of Jesus, a love revealed in all its fullness on the cross, we are filled with the marvelous gifts of God: freedom from fear of death, forgiving love, poverty of spirit, selfless service, a joyful heart, fidelity to commitments, and reckless love.

One thing I so appreciate about Manning is his amazing attention to the craft of writing. He gets to the point, and does so quickly. There are no superfluous words here. It seems Manning doesn't have much space for extraneous pondering. Some of the more memorable lines from this book:

"In the Scriptures intelligence does not consist in the more or less brilliant performance of the mind. It consists in recognizing the omnipresent reality of God. . .From the biblical perspective, a great theologian may be stupid; an illiterate washerwoman praising God for the sunset immeasurably more intelligent."

"Paul's cheeks are still streaked [with tears] because of the tepidity, rank insincerity, spiritual adultery, indifference to prayer, ignorance of God's Word, comfortable piety, and apostolic sloth that dapple the Christian life in America today."

"It is symptomatic that, despite the church having been around for two thousand years, the mass of people still pass Christianity by. Why? Because the visible presence of Jesus Christ is rarely present in Christians as a whole. We will never move people to Jesus Christ and the gospel merely by making speeches about them. . .contact with Christians should be an experience that proves to people that the gospel is a power that transforms the whole of life."

"There is no Christ the humanitarian, Christ the master of interpersonal relationships, or Christ the buddy. It is Christ the Lord and Savior who calls us to repent, change our lives, and strike out in a new direction."

"The Christ of Paul was not merely a great teacher, an example of a great man, or a symbol of man's noblest aspirations; he was Lord and Savior. To reinterpret Jesus any other way is to bleed Christianity of its point."

"Life in the Spirit is the thrill and the excitement of being loved by and falling in love with Jesus Christ. If the Spirit is not fire, it does not exist."

It's been a good ten years since I last read Manning, and, although it was challenging, I have to say I was glad to let him in my life again. He's had a strong influence in my life over the years, and this book, like all his others, challenged me regarding the sincerity of this thing called the Christian walk, and reminded me again just how real and all-consuming is the love of God.

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