Review: Breaking the Rules

Breaking the Rules

Breaking the Rules, Fil Anderson (foreward by Brennan Manning). Downers Grove: InterVarsity Press, 2010.

Summary: Anderson traces his own spiritual journey of moving from rules- and performance-based religion to an intimate relationship with God where he was unafraid of revealing his true self.

It’s an occupational hazard of those who take their faith seriously, especially among those of us engaged in Christian ministry. We turn what is meant to be the deepest, most profound relationship in life, into a list of rules and performance metrics. That was the trap Fil Anderson, a former youth worker, found himself in until he discovered that real Christian faith was coming with his true, broken but beloved self to Christ, learning to be vulnerable with others, and to give up measuring his worth by how well he kept the rules and how successful he was as a performer.

Anderson takes us through a series of reflections on his own journey and the different facets of moving from rule-based religion to intimate relationship with Christ. So much of it has to do with what he discusses in an early chapter of laying aside our preconceptions about Jesus and the ways we make him captive to our religious practice to discover him in his unexpected actions in unpredictable places. When we come to Christ in our brokenness, he shines his light through the broken places. We often live fearfully trying to maintain an image that gains approval rather than fully, bravely, and beautifully, allowing Christ to express himself through our personalities. And our relentless quest for religious purity blinds us to a Christ who offers us and others grace for our brokenness and exchanges our drivenness for joy. Giving up on keeping all the rules for this gracious relationship leads us to a life of “doing what we can” rather than the hubris of trying to change the world.

Toward the end of the book, he discusses the wedding of Cana and explores the question of why Jesus uses the vessels for ceremonial cleansing to transform their water to wine. His insight, I think, captures the essence of the book:

“. . . I’m convinced that it was another crucial and illuminative sign. By means of Jesus first miracle, he intentionally desecrates a highly valued religious symbol. He strategically and purposefully chooses these sacred symbols to confront the religious system by converting them from symbols of personal purification into symbols of relational and gracious celebration. Jesus turns the tables and shifts the values from holy water to wedding wine. From legalism to living. From empty religion to deep and full relationship.”

One detects in the book the influences of Brennan Manning, the author of The Ragamuffin Gospel, and Mike Yaconelli, of whom he writes movingly, and who seemed particularly instrumental in penetrating the religious persona he was so determined to project.

I think people at several places might find Anderson’s account helpful. The person who is just fed up with religion and yet longs for God seems to be particularly the person for whom this book is written. The person who has been diligently faithful, and perhaps detects in oneself that the Christian faith has become more about performance than love, and is uneasy with who they are becoming could find great help here. One of Anderson’s best chapters is his one on “throwing in the towel on religion” and many will resonate with what he says here.

I’ve watched people live performance-driven and rule-based religious lives and the outcome isn’t pretty. It is either to become critical and judging, or to end one’s life in bitter disillusionment when all the attempts to erect “glittering images” (to use Susan Howatch’s term that Anderson invokes) come crashing down. Those of us who are most “serious” about our faith perhaps have a greater need for such a narrative, that we might take ourselves more lightly as we bask in the knowledge that we are loved by the God who sees us in all our brokenness and calls us “beloved.”


One thought on “Review: Breaking the Rules

  1. Pingback: The Month in Reviews: July 2016 | Bob on Books

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