“Abba’s Child” by Brennan Manning

Abba's ChildBrennan Mannings 1994 book, Abba’s Child: The Cry of the Heart for Intimate Belonging, is a collection of essays on the theme of identity. There are chapters on who we are and who we are not.

Since I have long known that I am my Father’s beloved son, I was particularly intrigued by a chapter called “The Imposter.” Evidently, I’m not the only one.

In his preface to the new edition of Abba’s Child, Manning notes that since the original publication of his book, he has received more feedback on “The Imposter” than any other chapter.

So who is the imposter?

The imposter is the false self that grows out of rejection and abandonment. It is the image we make of ourselves to shield us from future hurt.

As Manning notes, imposters are preoccupied with acceptance and approval. They have a suffocating need to please others and cannot say no with the same confidence with which they say yes. As a result, they overextend themselves in people, projects and causes.

Does this sound familiar? If so Manning’s book will be a revelation. If I were to summarize the book in three words, they would be: Beware the imposter!

The imposter is a liar. The imposter dreads being alone yet is incapable of experiencing intimacy in any relationship. The imposter cannot hear God’s voice, since God doesn’t speak to imaginary people.

So what should we do with the imposter? Pretend that the Pretender is not real? No, says Manning. We have to accept the imposter, accept that we are broken and needed and receive God’s grace.

The alternative to the imposter is the inner child, that part of us that knows we are our Father’s dearly loved son or daughter. It is essential that we define ourselves as radically loved by God because this is our only true identity. Every other identity is illusion.

Unless we reclaim our child we will have no inner sense of self and gradually the impostor becomes who we really think we are… Our inner child is not an end in itself but a doorway into the depths of our union with our indwelling God, a sinking down into the fullness of the Abba experience, into the vivid awareness that my inner child is Abba’s child, held fast by him, both in light and in shadow. (pp.94-5)

People sometimes ask me, Where do legalists come from? Why are there so many who are obsessed with dead religious works? I can think of no better answer than the one Manning provides:

Suppose a child has never experienced any love from her parents. One day she meets another little girl whose parents shower her with affection. The first says to herself: “I want to be loved like that, too. I have never experienced it, but I’m going to earn the love of my father and mother by my good behavior.” So to gain the affection of her parents, she brushes her teeth, makes her bed, smiles, minds her p’s and q’s, never pouts or cries, never expresses a need, and conceals negative feelings. This is the way of pharisees. They follow the law impeccably in order to induce God’s love. Their image of God necessarily locks them into a theology of works. (p.83)

When you see it this way you realize that Pharisees aren’t evil people. They are just those who have not received the love of God and hence are trying to earn it. The child of grace is free to love and enjoy life but the pharisee edits his feelings and represses his emotions. The child is uninhibited but the pharisee is guarded, always watching his words and monitoring himself for “right” behavior. What a miserable existence.

To deny the pharisee within is lethal. It is imperative that we befriend him, dialogue with him, inquire why he must look to sources outside the kingdom for peace and happiness. (p.86)

Brennan Manning passed away recently but his legacy of promoting honesty to ourselves and affirming God’s love for the broken and hurting is one that will endure. It is a legacy that is brilliantly portrayed in The Ragamuffin Gospel and this, his other classic, Abba’s Child.

see all E2R’s book reviews here


  1. why do you think Brennan Manning was never able to overcome his alcohol addiction?. I loved his writing, but it really bothers me.

    • It doesn’t bother me as much as it scares me. Here’s a man who had a powerful revelation of grace, but couldn’t get free. I’ve always wondered why. My theory is that his struggles were connected to his identity. He always referred to himself as a sinner who was so thankful for grace. Even his group of friends were known as the Notorious Sinners. So, I wonder if his identity played a role.

      I also think there was an incredible stronghold of shame in his life. After reading his last book, All is Grace, he talked about his childhood. Wow, what shame he experienced. In my own struggles, shame can feed the fire of addictions.

    • its probably because he said “my name’s brennan, and i’m an alcoholic” every time he spoke at an AA meeting… AA is a great program, but it basically teaches that when you are an alcoholic, you are an alcoholic for life…

      • Adam kensell says:

        Jennie you hit it on the nose! I just graduated with my Bachelor’s in Addictions Counseling back in April from IWU and sadly these “programs” talk about complete bull- some anyways. What happened to becoming a new creation in Christ! Or greater is He that is in you than in the world. How about the One Step program when you accept Christ as your Lord and Savior- the end and now a new beginning. Man believes that there has to be a long drawn out process for anything to change. Oh, and don’t get me started on how an addiction problem is a “disease”. Sadly, even Christians come to believe in this stuff instead of the Truth. I heard a Christian say the other day, once an addict always an addict. Hello? And once I quote scripture about the Truth, they don’t know what to say. They just rationalize it away. I better stop now!

      • well adam… my reply was based on personal experience… i stopped going to aa because Jesus healed me and i couldnt say “my name is jennie, and i’m an alcoholic” without feeling like i was a liar…😉 i personally dont have a problem with calling alcoholism a disease, because any kind of fleshly thinking brings “dis-ease”… a sober alcoholic still thinks like an alcoholic – there is no peace because the desires and the fears are still there… there is no freedom from this thinking until a person has a revelation of who he is in Christ and that healing, deliverance and wholeness are a part of his salvation.

    • I also think that it probably had to do with his identity as a sinner rather than being identified as a saint who struggled with sinful behavior. In Romans 7, Paul first separates himself (his identity) from his sin and after that, goes into Romans 8 (living in victory). But hey, that is my opinion. Brennan was a righteous man through the blood of Jesus whether his experience in this life always reflected that.

      Something I will also add is that grace promotes a transparency, that Brennan definitely showed, that admits your struggle and accepts yourself in the midst of them. I think that those who try to scare themselves into “holiness” may be living in inward sin but hiding it through the religious mask. Grace does produce right actions, but it also accepts the ugliness of our lives and loves us back to health through a process.

  2. Really good! I was just reading some psychology about the difference between what the psychologist called our “false” self and our “true” self. I compared on my blog the “false” self to being an idol we set up for ourselves. But your so write! The idea is to dialog with this self, possible “the pharisee”, and to come to know ourselves as beloved children of our Abba, Father

  3. boy, this one hits to close to home,i will keep it short because i am repeating my self ,I know that impostor all to well,the scripture that comes to mind is [he who trys to save his life will lose it,and he who loses his life will save it] its hard to deal with because when you under the influence of the impostor, you think it is your identity. i may be using luke 17:31 out of context but for me it works. Im am busy try to convey to someone right now that what they are dealing with and trying to hang on to is not really them,let go,because what ever you lose,you are still you, [does that make sense]..and your id is in Christ,plus everything else……….[without me you are nothing],he didnt say that in arrogants,he said because,he is the way truth and life and beyond him there is nothing,so with out him your dead anyway.

    • I just remembered something that really helped me on my way to my id in Christ .Jesse Duplantis was talking about being dead.he said ,did you ever notice you can do what ever you want to a dead man, and nothing bothers him,you can shout at him,kick him,hit him.cuss at him what ever,HE IS DEAD. now for me this was good,because it said to me,you are a new creation, so offences,began to not bother me,i was still me,but I was made righteous,and all things were new.it gave me a new perception on things, I hope this is easier to understand then it is to explain.

  4. Brennan Manning’s books are awesome. He was the first, and one of the few at the time, grace writers I found when I was first getting clean and sober. I read Ragamuffin Gospel first, and then proceeded to read every other of his books that I could find. Rich Mullins intro to Brennan’s RG book turned me on to Mullin’s band the ‘Ragamuffins’. I think the Manning/Mullins reunion in heaven was second only to their seeing Jesus. BTW, Abba’s Child is a favorite of the college age Christians in our college town these days.

  5. This reminds me so much of the impostor I discovered within myself some 25 years ago. The Lord had used a girl who is now my wife to poke through layers upon layers of defenses. During this time I read the likes of Leanne Payne’s The Broken Image, Bob George’s Growing in Grace and Identity in Christ, John White’s Changing on the Inside, etc.

    The process had been excruciatingly painful, both emotionally and physically, but God had initiated a healing upon my reading up to Job chapter 38 when I realized with incredible relief that he was God and I was man, and it was great; the boulder had fallen off my back. Right at this instant, saliva began to flow in my mouth and I was able to eat after almost a month of the whole digestive tract out of whack with my tongue dry as desert sand.

    And still it took more than 20 years for God to teach me grace, to bring me to a website of Doug Olsen at myredeemer.org, where my “synthesized” understanding of grace became fully rooted in nowhere else but the Scriptures itself. Doug was my mentor, and I thank God for using his website to show me this beautiful way to relate to Abba.

    And now I’m thankful to find Paul Ellis’ escape to reality website. I’m sure there are more sites like these, but they are still rare, and every time I find one, it’s like a breath of fresh air.

  6. This is excellent stuff….made me really see with greater understanding!

  7. being a media type person/movies/music, etc,Its like you get to a place, im thinking of [the last crusade] Indiana Jones, when he has to take a step in faith,and he doesnt see anything but a deep ravine , but steps out anyway, and turns out there is a bridge in camouflage there, you are empty and you say, lord i got nothin left,and he begins the deposit……………ps: i know its corny but its all I could come up with at the moment.

  8. It was such a revelation to me when God showed me that Pharisees weren’t just from Bible times — that they’re alive and well today! And that I was one. Thanks for sharing these thoughts on how we walk that legalism path with our own lives without even meaning to.

    I love Manning’s Ragamuffin Gospel and will have to read Abba’s Child soon too. Great truth!

  9. Warren (South Carolina) says:

    WOWSSA. . . .great review Paul. Your review actually explains and helps a lot. Can’t wait to check out some more of your reviews.
    Warren (South Carolina)

  10. Paul, I listened to Brennan Manning’s preachings in Youtube. While I’ve heard him preach about God’s relentless love and acceptance for us, it seems that I never heard him preaching about righteousness and justification by faith… I also tried to search some of his books about it, but failed to find it.. or am I just wrong?

  11. David Rest says:

    Brennan’s recurring struggle with alcohol bothered me too at first. Now I realize that when or how grace swallows up the infirmities of our flesh is entirely up to Him. Mine is to know and believe His love for me. Thanks Paul, I’m an avid follower of your writing.

  12. Just musing says:

    I think that many Christians preach the truth, discourse and write accurately about it but don`t necessarily believe it on a deep level. A gospel that focuses only on God`s love and acceptance is not the whole counsel of God, In one way, Brennan`s gospel sounds like Aw, even though you remained stuck in indolatry and sin, God loves you anyway`. That does concern me. One of the things that made the Pharisees what they were was that they had accurate scriptural knowledge to a fine degree and were known as teachers of the law, but they did not believe it. That`s what produced a lifestyle that was outwardly holy but in which they tolerated and even excused sin in themselves. There is more than one way to be a Pharisee it would seem.

    I would agree that having struggled mightily with the problem of alcohol addiction, he has arrived at some really good insights into our inner lives as far as the struggle with shame and the false self goes. But the false self could still be properly called a thing that exalts itself against the knowledge of Christ, an idol. Someone once said that shame is pride turned inside out, a form of inverse pride, in that we attach more importance to our feelings about our self than we do about Jesus and His claim on us and offer of grace, mercy and cleansing. Its like, `well, yes, I know all that God but I`d rather stay over here in my dark corner and punish myself because I am so bad and at least this way, I have control. And the statement that Pharisees are not evil people;that doesn`t sound scripturally accurate..

    • Some Pharisees followed Jesus – Joseph of Arimutheus might have been one, he buried Christ after taking his body down from the cross. Nicodemous was given the born again talk by Jesus mid-early through his earthly ministry. Another pharisee or more tried to stop jesus’s indictment during his passion trial. Many pharisees became believers as was evidenced in the book of Acts. We are a victor nation here in america. We’re the super-power so Jesus is speaking our language as well. We aren’t evil, just searching for better truth but in the meantime needing to feed our kids and keep our nation safe and prosperious. how can we do all these things if we have to stare at our navels wondering why we’re not christ-righteous enough? I agree pharisees did some terrible things. I’m not saying I want to be that way, but everyone needs jesus in varying capacities. some turn away altogether and follow programs and institutions diluting the gospel and simple devotion to christ. This message is for us.

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