Fasting by Scot McKnight

Takeaway: “Fasting is the natural, inevitable response of a person to a grievous sacred moment in life.”

Purchase Links: Paperback, Kindle Edition

Our pastor, Jeff Henderson, called the church to a 21 day fast starting January 1st.  I think the reason is a good one and my wife and I agreed to fast together.  (We started a day late because of prior family commitments but are on board for the fast.)  Being a reader, I picked up several books on fasting.  I decided to rearrange my posting schedule because the fast is time sensitive and others might want to do some reading as they participate in the fast as well.

This book is a part of the Ancient Practices Series.  I have reviewed two previous books in the series (on the Eucharist and the Church Calendar).  They are all very different in tone and style.

Scot has taught at Buckhead/NorthPoint church previously (preached two weeks in the main service in July 2009 and taught small group leaders conference at least once.)  So he should be somewhat familiar for many.  For those that don’t know him, Scot McKnight is a professor at North Park College and Seminary in Chicago, IL.  Although I used to live in Chicago I had not read anything of his before this past year.  He is most well known for his book Jesus Creed and his prolific blogging.

I am in the middle of another book on Fasting by John Pipper (my review) and have read some shorter things as well.  So I am going to highlight what I think that Scot uniquely brings to the table with this book.  First Scot has a unique starting point.  He believes that, “Fasting is the natural, inevitable response of a person to a grievous sacred moment in life.”  He comes back to this phrase over and over again in the book.  This is important to him, because he wants to insure that the reader understands that Fasting, in McKnight’s perspective, is not about what we get out of it, or the answers to prayer that we might receive, but the original reason for the fast.

In the case of Buckhead, Jeff posted this to the church blog after our main Christmas services on Sunday Dec 20th.  He was excited about the success of the day and then as he was heading home from a long day:

I saw Buckhead. And I was reminded of a sobering truth. As excited as I was over what happened at church that day, MOST of Buckhead had no clue. MOST of Buckhead and the surrounding community were still no closer to a growing relationship with Jesus than when the day began.

This bothered me…But as the days progressed and a New Year drew near, I thought, I shouldn’t keep this quiet. I want this to bother you too.

It bothers me that there are still more unchurched people than ever before just ten miles from the front door of the church that you and I call home. This has bothered me so much that I have spent a lot of time thinking about what to do. And I think I have an idea that might be worth exploring. Granted, it’s not the most original or creative idea, but it actually might be the best one to pursue . . . at least at first. Okay, here it is:

I want us as a church to begin 2010 with a 21-day journey of prayer and fasting.

So according to Scot McKnight, Jeff and Buckhead have the required “grievous sacred moment.”

Scot then spends almost all of the book talking about how to fast and not fast.  Not in the practical ways of how much water or what type of foods (he never gets to those types of instructions), but the spiritual requirements for fasting.  He is most concerned that fasts are not instrumental. In other words, we should not be fasting to achieve something, or make God happy with us, or get God to answer our prayers. In his words, “When people tell us they are fasting, we should ask, ‘In response to what?’ instead of, ‘What do you hope you will get out of it?’” Fasting is about the “grievous moment” and we fast because we are so concerned that it is the only thing left for us to do. I think this point is probably the most central to the book.  There are health and wealth gospel teachers that would say we should fast to get something from God, but for Scot, the most important issue is that most American Christians never feel a “grievous sacred moment” so much that they feel called to do anything.

The second main reason that American Christians so rarely fast is that we have bought into a dualistic view of ourselves. There is the spirit which connects with God and the body that either we think has nothing to do with our spiritual selves, or we view as a hindrance to our spiritual selves. Scot rejects the dualism and says that fasting is a way to draw the body and the spirit more inline together. To use our body as a form of worship and grief-bearing.

Scot McKnight also takes a line that will offend some and put others off. He says that fasting, when talked about in scripture is only about a full or partial abstinence from food (and occasionally liquids).  All other times we abstain from something (Facebook, chocolate, coffee, etc.) it should be called abstinence.  He says that abstinence is good to train the body and can be used to draw us closer to God, but he does not want to call if fasting.  I understand his point, but don’t really think it means much.  If the rest of the activity is right (your heart is right, you have the “grievous sacred moment, etc.) then what you give up is less important than who you are turning to.

The majority of this book is really about how not to fast, or why not to fast. He has one full chapter about the medical reasons not to fast.  And the central biblical passage for McKnight is Isaiah 58.  Here are his words:

Isaiah made his point by asking his audience a series of questions: Is not this the fast that I choose: to loose the bonds of injustice, to undo the thongs of the yoke, to let the oppressed go free, and to break every yoke? Is it not to share your bread with the hungry, and bring the homeless poor into your house; when you see the naked, to cover them, and not to hide yourself from your own kin? (Isa. 58:6–7) These words must remain at the center of all teaching about fasting. Every generation needs an Isaiah to stand up in the middle of the action and say, “Hey, folks, this isn’t about us! What we give up when we fast should be given to others.”

If I could excerpt long sections of this book I would. I think that everyone participating in the fast should read parts of this book. I know not everyone has the time to read all of it and most people are not as reading oriented in their spiritual processing as I am. But even reading the first chapter is a great introduction to fasting.

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[…] this was far and away the best of the series.  I have appriciated several of the books, especially Fasting and In Constant Prayer.  But the series as a whole is a very mixed […]

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