Book Review: “Above All” by Brennan Manning (2001)

Upon entering a “Christian Book Store,” true believers in Christ need to realize that the cloak of “Christian” covers a whole swath of varying faiths that don’t necessarily teach the biblical doctrines of justification by grace alone through faith alone. I have been struck by this realization on a number of occasions when “mystics in sheep’s clothing” stroll into the fold as if each is just another unique member of the flock. Richard Foster, Dallas Willard, and Brennan Manning are three examples.

The mysticism to which these authors espouse is thinly veiled beneath the guises of “Christlikeness” or “sanctification,” but really is quite distinct from the Vine-branch relationship that Christ demanded (John 15) and which alone can produce the true fruit of the Spirit (Galatians 5). The actions for which these authors call are merely human, external motivations toward a goal of internal change, which—according to the Bible I read—is backwards. Certainly, the Apostle Paul disciplined his own body (1Cor 9:24-27), but only after he had already determined that his strength to behave and live came from Christ alone (Phil 4:13), that this strength from Christ came because of his new relationship with Him (Phil 2:1-8), and that any external action produced this way was Christ working through him (Gal 2:20), the perfect description of how the Vine-branch relationship actually functions.

I write all of this to say that I was not a huge fan of Brennan Manning’s Above All from the very beginning, despite the powerful words of the song by Michael W. Smith. In fact, the failures of the book have inadvertently caused me to second-guess even that song! Manning’s emphasis on self-esteem in a book which is ostensibly about God raised the red flags early for me, and it reminded me of the inch-deep, touchy-feely nonsense that filled his book Posers, Fakers, and Wannabes. As far from Scripture as a “Christian book” could get, Posers offers guidance for readers toward living a believably Christian life from the writings of Henry Nouen, Theresa of Avila, and Woody Allen. Above All is just as aggravating.

I do not recommend this book or author to any true believer in Christ or follower of His Word. Manning’s life of works ended in 2013, and while I certainly cannot judge his eternal destination, I can make an educated guess that he’s right now a bit surprised at how wrong he was on many aspects of living the Christian life, and at how many of “Abba’s children” he’s steered off the path of true sanctification into a career of handling wood, hay, and stubble (1Cor 5:10-15).

©2016 E.T.

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