For most of my Christian life, I have tried to avoid fasting as if it were sin itself. (And, if the truth needs to be told, I’m not always very successful at avoiding sin, but I do have a very consistent record of avoiding this ancient discipline which so many good people- like Jesus- have said to be helpful.) In this brief book, Scot McKnight has thoroughly reframed my understanding of fasting and led me to form a solid intention of incorporating it into my life.
My aversion to fasting has come from two sources: First, it’s uncomfortable, and unfortunately I’ve come to be quite fond of comfort whenever I can get it. There’s nothing admirable about that. The second reason, though, is that much of what I have seen and heard about fasting in recent Christian teaching and writing focuses on the practice as a way of twisting God’s arm into giving us something that, by our fasting, we are showing him that we want very badly. It seems to be not much more advanced than a spiritualized adult version of a toddler’s attempts at manipulating their parents by throwing a temper tantrum. I’ve always sensed that something about the teaching was a bit off, and Scot McKnight has provided the much needed corrective.
From the book’s introduction to conclusion, he directly addresses this misconception of fasting and continually reiterates that in the Scriptures, “Fasting is the natural, inevitable response of a person to a grievous sacred moment in life,” not “a manipulative tool that guarantees results.”
McKnight’s understanding of fasting hinges on his readers regaining the ancient Hebrew understanding of a human being as being whole (what he calls "Biblical body image"), meaning that we reject the dualistic distinction between body and spirit and recognize that our complete response before God will include all aspects of who we are, obviously including our bodies.
If we have this understanding of ourselves in place, then fasting becomes a natural response when life’s “grievous sacred moments” come our way. These moments, as McKnight describes them, come often in our lives, and he organizes the majority of the book around these different kind of grievous sacred moments, respectively: the need for repentance (“Body Turning”), intercession (“Body Plea”), responding to loss (“Body Grief”), gaining awareness of our need to overcome sinful habits (“Body Discipline”), regularly observing days when a particular response to God is appropriate- such as Good Friday (“Body Calendar”), sympathizing with those suffering from poverty or injustice (“Body Poverty”), our longing for greater intimacy with God (“Body Contact”) or for the coming of God’s kingdom on earth (“Body Hope”). The book concludes with practical warnings and admonitions about fasting with chapters on problems and benefits of fasting and its effects on the body.
Anyone desiring to respond to God with more of their whole selves will gain tremendously valuable insight from McKnight on how we can do so in a way that millennia of our predecessors in the faith have done, including Christ himself, by joining them in the practice of fasting.
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