Tag Archives: Brennan Manning

The Ragamuffin Gospel, by Brennan Manning

Ragamuffin GospelFormer Catholic priest, husband, father, alcoholic, divorcé, and writer, Brennan Manning led a full life. Despite the suffering he endured, most of his books focus on the overwhelming love of God and his grace toward us sinners. Those of us who, like Manning, were raised Catholic need regular reminders of God’s love, since this is not the message we were fed as children. Guilt for our sins and a strong sense of unworthiness are much more likely to keep the kids in line. I cannot count the number of times that something happened to me and my mother said, “God is punishing you.” And she truly believed it.

The Ragamuffin Gospel is considered to be Manning’s magnum opus, although I loved Abba’s Child more. I reviewed it here. However, many famous people identified strongly as ragamuffins. Rich Mullins, in particular, named his musical group The Ragamuffin Band. The front cover of the latest edition of the book is one of Mullins’ album covers. Michael W. Smith wrote the foreword. So, in the almost thirty years since its publication, this small volume has worked itself into the music and conversation of the Christian community, even in ways we do not see.

A few years ago, David and I were talking about current issues and whether or not we considered them sinful. We were in the car on a long trip, so we had hours of uninterrupted time, and at the end of it, we came to the uncomfortable conclusion that we were quite willing to consider our own sins as no big deal, maybe not even sins, whereas those activities toward which we were not even tempted were obviously heinous sins. Since then, I have come to believe that most of us—believers and unbelievers alike— think that way. Or, to go even further, once we’ve forgiven ourselves for all of our own sins, we hasten to erase guilt for everything everywhere, just in case someone turns the spotlight on us.

Manning does not take that approach. Rather, he identifies with other sinners because he is aware of his own sin. For example, “You steal cupcakes? Yes, that is a sin. Me, I stole cookies. But take heart! Jesus forgives both cupcake and cookie thieves.” We are ragamuffins, with nothing to offer God, and yet he loves us as we are. His favorite verse in the Bible is Luke 15:20, in which the prodigal son’s father runs down the road to meet him, arms outstretched, before the son has bathed or even had time to apologize. Beautiful.

My favorite chapter in this book was “The Second Call.” He says that every spiritual person, somewhere between the ages of thirty and sixty, will go through a crisis of faith that will crash them back almost to nothing, only to begin “the second journey,” learning about Jesus all over again. For me, I was right smack in the middle of that age range, and I found this chapter to be a startling revelation that this was a common experience. Manning writes that we move through years of suffering and searching this second time and emerge wiser, though more wrinkled. We finally accept that no one will ever truly understand us, and we are far less likely to care about what other people think.

That’s a useful result for Brennan, since he was constantly barraged with accusations of universalism and cheap grace. Not that his critics are completely wrong, since his theology can be a bit loose at times, but dry tracts of systematic theology never made the wounded whole. For those of us who need reminding that God loved us before we ever did anything good or bad, The Ragamuffin Gospel can help to heal the sin-sick soul.

You may find some comfort here.

Disclaimer: I own a copy of this book. Opinions expressed are solely my own and may not reflect those of my employer or anyone else.

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Abba’s Child, by Brennan Manning

Abba's ChildA few weeks ago, Switchfoot posted a picture of Jon Foreman’s piano on Facebook. There was some saying or other, but what caught my eye was the pile of books on top, all obviously well-read, with worn covers and creased spines. As a librarian and devoted Switchfoot fan, I had to enlarge the photo and read the titles. I put almost all of those I had not already read into an Amazon cart immediately. Abba’s Child is the first one I opened.

The subtitle of this slender book is The Cry of the Heart for Intimate Belonging, and I think we all feel that longing at times. Manning writes here about the search for the True Self, the person created in God’s image, the one we are supposed to be. When I was a teenager, the slogan was, “Who am I?” As the years go by, we add titles to ourselves that describe our circumstances—father, mother, wife, teacher, doctor, Democrat, Republican—but none of these get to the heart of the matter. Who are we supposed to be, and are we even close?

The most famous chapter of this classic work is called, “The Imposter.” At some point in everyone’s life, often when we enter school or even earlier, we find out that other people react negatively to some of our attitudes or actions. Almost without thinking, we change. We hide the parts of ourselves that no one likes, and we pretend to be someone more presentable, more likeable, more popular. If you’re a parent, you may have seen this in your own children. To an extent, it’s peer pressure, but it goes deeper than just changing our behavior. After a while, we forget who we were before The Imposter started taking shape, and depression can set in when we feel an unexplainable self-hatred. In my experience, a new or altered Imposter can come into being at any point in life where we go through major changes: marriage, new job, relocation to another region, and so on. One reason I read this book first is that I’ve recently become aware of a new Imposter in my life, and I’ve been praying about it and trying to kill her off for the past few months. Manning tells us that we have an Imposter because we don’t believe that God loves us for who we really are, but he does. The True Self is who God created; the Imposter is who we think is more acceptable. Manning helps us to believe that God loves our True Selves, but to have sympathy for the pitiful, frightened Imposter as we work to peel her off.

The rest of the book works from this foundation as we desire to move closer to God. In the Gospels, we can see that Jesus responded to everyone with love and compassion, so when we respond to people harshly, it’s because we are not secure in God’s love for us. Manning also teaches us to live in the present risenness of Christ. If we believe in the past earthly life and resurrection of Christ and look forward to the end of our lives (or end of the world) for our reward, but live our daily lives in between these two events as a dry, duty-filled bleakness, we are not experiencing the power of the present risenness of Jesus Christ. I have known so many good Christians who are missing out on this intimate relationship with God, concentrating on following rules and doing good works. The world is a better place because of them, but they are missing out on so much joy.

There is so much more to this rich volume, and I think I could read it once a year with great profit. Some of the theology is probably too liberal to pass an orthodoxy test, but the vast majority is thought-provoking, comforting, and inspiring. There is a discussion guide at the end, but I can’t imagine discussing these topics with any but my closest believing friends. It is very personal. If you want help rekindling a passion for the One Who knows you best and loves you unconditionally, immerse yourself in this contemplative work.

Highly recommended.

Note: Jon Foreman, besides writing the foreword to the latest edition of this book, recorded a song about fighting against The Imposter. You can listen to it here.

Disclaimer: I own a copy of this book. Opinions expressed are solely my own and do not reflect those of my employer or anyone else.

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