The Importance of Being Foolish (by Brennan Manning)

It’s many years now since I first read Brennan Manning’s classic book on grace, ‘The Ragamuffin Gospel’. I liked it so much I put some of the author’s other books on my wishlist, and found them all inspiring, encouraging and thought-provoking in different ways. In recent years I’ve started re-reading some of my favourite authors’ books, and decided - some time ago - to pick up ‘The Importance of Being Foolish’, a book which I first read in 2007.

The subtitle of this book is, ‘How to think like Jesus’, which is a tall order for any writer. However, Manning attempts to do that by first deconstructing some the ways we tend to live our lives. In the second part of the book, he then by focuses on different aspects of Jesus’ life, based on some important gospel passages.

The first section looks at the three topics of truth, transparency and diversions. The chapter about truth is not just about speaking the truth, but about being honest with ourselves. This includes our motivations, our expectations, and our acknowledgement of what we have done wrong. There is no place, the author contends, for trying to look good in other people’s eyes, or of hiding parts of who we are when seeking help.

He gives examples from secular life (such as in rehabilitation groups) of the vital need for total honesty. Sadly it’s all too lacking in parts of the church today. We say glibly that we’re fine, and everything is okay, and somehow it’s not acceptable to acknowledge that we feel awful, lacking in faith. Yet until we are open, truthful in every way with ourselves, with God and with other people, there can be no real relationship.

Similarly in the next chapter he gives examples, as well as Scriptural basis, for the need for transparency. By this he means an open window reflecting God’s love. In the third chapter he looks at what tends to consume most of us most of the time: the need for security, pleasure and power. We don’t all chase after all these things in equal measures, but to some degree the majority of us spend much of our time following these diversions, which often lead us away from God.

These three chapters are lengthy and challenging, and constitute the first half of the book. The second half has rather shorter chapters, each one looking at - for example - the work of the Kingdom, or what it means to have a true heart of forgiveness. In each, he demonstrates how Jesus was free of the 'diversions' described earlier.

It took me almost two months to finish reading this book. This is partly because I was away for a couple of weeks and didn't take it with me, but mainly because there was much to think about. I found it quite difficult to concentrate on more than a few pages at once. The writing isn’t heavy, or even difficult to read, but is so full of ideas and challenges that I found it quite tiring. Some days I re-read a page I had read the day before, and found new insights; sometimes I could not remember having read some of it previously at all.

This is a book for those who take faith in God seriously, who would like to follow Jesus more nearly. Not everyone will agree with everything in the book, but there’s a great deal to ponder, and I would recommend it highly.

Review copyright 2018 Sue's Book Reviews

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