Wednesday, October 28, 2009

Fasting by Scot McKnight

An entry in Thomas Nelson's series "The Ancient Practices," this book examines one of the least spoken about practices in Christianity - the denial of food for spiritual growth. "Fasting" is an effective short primer on the subject, which not only gives the Biblical background and its theological underpinning but the practical side of this discipline.

One might be tempted to ask - as I did, picking up this book - what the advantages are to be gained by fasting. McKnight makes a simple, elegant and eloquent case that fasting not only works as a way to focus the mind and body on spiritual matters but also functions as an act of faith itself - relying on God for spiritual sustenance. He also states what fasting is not - a magic formula for getting God's attention when seeking the answers to prayers. McKnight also understandably covers the medical drawbacks to fasting.

To make his case, McKnight puts forward a definition for fasting - "Fasting is the natural, inevitable response of a person to a grievous sacred moment in life." By doing so, he immediately demonstrates not only that fasting is not some aberration left over from some dark, shared human past, but a normal biological response, and even a wholesome one. He did this to also repeat how fasting can be misused or substituted for the act which is paramount - understanding and responding to God's leadership and Lordship.

He also connects the reader to the rich history of fasting within the church, and its antecedents in Judaism. In today's world, full of distraction and competition for every moment of consciousness, when consumer society is geared toward satisfying not just hunger but cravings, nothing focuses quite like the denial of food. In the absence, the believer replaces prayer needs, items of spiritual turmoil and thanksgiving, trusting that what is needed will be provided.

For my own part, the book persuaded me enough to try it for myself. Going without one meal - just one - was enough to convince me that the subject bears further study and practice, which is probably all one could ask of this brief and ultimately very satisfying book.

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