Book Review: Fasting (The Ancient Practices)

This is the second book that I have read from Thomas Nelson’s Ancient Practices series (the first was The Liturgical Year), and I have enjoyed both of them. The purpose of the series is to encourage Christians to incorporate ancient spiritual disciplines like sabbath, tithing or fixed-hour prayer into their lives. All of these have a rich tradition from Judaism and the early church, and modern-day Christians could benefit from having a greater exposure to them.

McKnight stresses this definition of fasting: it is the “natural, inevitable response of a person to a grievous sacred moment in life” (166). These sacred moments are sin, death, impending disaster or disaster itself, the lack of holiness and love and compassion, the impoverishment of others, the sacred presence of God, and the absence of justice, peace, and love (167). He also devotes chapters to the benefits of fasting, the problems that can be encountered in fasting, and the physical effects of fasting.

What I liked the most about this book was the stress on fasting as a response. In McKnight’s opinion (and mine), too much fasting has had an instrumental focus; that is, it is undertaken as an instrument to get what we want. He claims that the biblical focus in fasting is an “A prompts B which sometimes leads to C,” where A is the sacred moment, B is fasting, and C is a result. Fasting should be undertaken as a response rather than an instrument. If it is done this way, it can be more beneficial and less disappointing.

Another thing I liked about this book was that McKnight took pains to show that fasting is a biblical practice. He does quote extensively from various figures in church history, from the Church Fathers to Luther to Calvin to Wesley, but he also made sure his readers knew that fasting is not merely the accretion of tradition.

Thanks to Thomas Nelson for a review copy of this book. I was not asked to give a positive review.

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