It's been a decade since Brennan Manning wrote ABBA'S CHILD, and the book as a whole is every bit as fresh and powerful in the 21st century as it was in the 20th. In the intervening years, many Christian authors have added an "amen!" to Manning's message about the need for authenticity and vulnerability before God and other people. His, however, is one of those rare books that stands up to repeated readings. The addition of a thoughtful study guide, written by the author, should make this particular edition attractive not only to new readers but also to longtime fans.
Manning begins by beckoning Christians to come out of hiding, the place to which we retreat out of shame or guilt in the misguided belief that God is berating us as harshly as we are berating ourselves. In that place of hiding, we further nurture our false self, which the author calls "the impostor" --- also the title of the chapter that has generated more responses than all the other chapters combined, Manning writes in the preface to the revised edition. Apparently, it's an image that resonates with a lot of readers.
Our masks, our pretenses, our hypocrisy, our outward displays of saintliness, Manning contends, rob us of the thing we crave the most: intimacy with God the Father. That intimacy is far more attainable than we can possibly imagine as we refuse to come out from hiding and expose our true selves to God, to other people, and most of all, to ourselves. It is only when we shed our false identity and accept the unconditional love of our Abba --- our heavenly "Daddy" --- that we can experience the passionate love relationship with Him that we have long craved.
Manning's gift as an author lies in his often brutal honesty about his own failures. That's what sets his works apart from those of so many other Christian leaders, the ones who preach authenticity but admit only to their prettier and pettier and less frequent "mistakes." Manning is unafraid to expose in print his own sins, including those that are ugly, major and chronic. As a result, he has earned the right to speak into the lives of people who need to be equally transparent with God about the ugly, major and chronic sins they try so hard to keep hidden.
Now for the "I wish he hadn't written that and I suspect he does too" part: Manning uses the term "inner child," which was a whole lot more acceptable in the early '90s, although there were plenty of us who cringed whenever we heard the phrase even back then. And while it may rankle our present-day sensibilities, it's easy enough to get past. But newcomers to ABBA'S CHILD --- particularly those who are unaware that the original text is 10 years old --- need to understand the context of the time in which it was written. "Inner Pharisee" is another term that might sound a bit dated. However, since the inner Pharisee is still very much alive and kicking and doing its dirty work in us --- don't ask me how I know this --- that phrase probably warrants continued usage.
Those who have come face to face with their own brokenness --- and those who need to --- will find both comfort and hope in ABBA'S CHILD, particularly through its many memorable anecdotes and illustrations, such as the story of the "rabbi's heartbeat" --- which became the title of another Manning book that was released earlier this year. Saturated with the themes of God's grace and love, ABBA'S CHILD is one of those treasured books that manages to be profound, challenging, convicting and delightful, all at once.
Reviewed by Marcia Ford on September 5, 2002