While I don’t listen to top-40 Christian radio, I do enjoy Christian music that isn’t really mainstream.  I went through a period of listening to Rich Mullins in the late 90’s; recently I was listening to some of his older albums again and I came across a movie based on his life: “Ragamuffin.” Although the movie was different, my wife and I enjoyed it quite a bit – and it did get us thinking and talking!  After watching the movie I ordered this book: The Ragamuffin Gospel by Brennan Manning.  In case you don’t know the story, Rich Mullins was deeply moved by a sermon in which Manning was preaching on grace.

I’m not completely impressed with Manning’s book; it is a little unorthodox, a little harsh, and not something I’d recommend to just anyone.  The book kind of reminds me of Karl Barth’s work: some of it is not helpful, some of it is not so clear, and some of it is quite good.  Even though I don’t heartily recommend this book, I do want to quote a few of the better phrases – phrases which are thought provoking:

“Though lip service is paid to the gospel of grace, many Christians live as if only personal discipline and self-denial will mold the perfect me.  The emphasis is on what I do rather than on what God is doing.  In this curious process God is a benign old spectator in the bleachers who cheers when I show up for morning quiet time. …At heart we are practicing Pelagians.  We believe that we can pull ourselves up by the bootstraps – indeed, we can do it ourselves.”

“The Good News means we can stop lying to ourselves.  The sweet sound of amazing grace saves us from the necessity of self-deception.  It keeps us from denying that though Christ was victorious, the battle with lust, greed, and pride still rages within us.  As a sinner who has been redeemed, I can acknowledge that I am often unloving, irritable, angry, and resentful with those closest to me.  When I go to church I can leave my white hat home and admit that I have failed.  God not only loves me as I am, but knows me as I am.  Because of this I don’t need to apply spiritual cosmetics to make myself presentable to him.  I accept ownership of my poverty and powerlessness and neediness.”

“When I get honest, I admit I am a bundle of paradoxes.  I believe and I doubt, I hope and get discouraged, I love and I hate, I feel bad about feeling good, I feel guilty about not feeling guilty.  I am trusting and suspicious. …To live by grace means to acknowledge my whole life story, the light side and the dark.  In admitting my shadow side, I learn who I am and what God’s grace means.  …Grace proclaims the awesome truth that all is a gift.  All that is good is ours, not by right, but by the sheer bounty of a gracious God.  …We have the power to believe where others deny, to hope where others despair, to love where others hurt.  This and so much more is sheer gift; it is not reward for our faithfulness, our generous disposition, or our heroic life of prayer.”

“Even our fidelity is a gift.  ‘If we but turn to God,’ said St. Augustine, ‘that itself is a gift of God.’  My deepest awareness of myself is that I am deeply loved by Jesus Christ and I have done nothing to deserve or earn it.”

Brennan Manning, The Ragamuffin Gospel, p. 23, 25.

Shane Lems
Hammond, WI


4 comments on “Ragamuffin

  1. Laura says:

    I agree with much of what I read on The Reformed Reader, yet I really liked Ragamuffin Gospel…a lot…and do highly recommend it to others. It deeply moved and convicted me on so many things – like sin, honesty about our sin, and grace. Maybe I just took the book for what is was? It is not a theology book or a bible exposition book, but the honest reflections of a man who struggled with alcoholism and his encounter with the God of grace. Here and there I did not completely agree with him, but I felt overall it was a highly worthwhile book. I’ve read it twice. I’ll likely read it again at some point. I was surprised to hear the book described as a little harsh? Perhaps could you elaborate – harsh in what sense? Thanks for the excerpts you shared from it.


    • Thanks for the comment, Laura. I do know what you mean about the book, and I do agree with your comments. I thought the book was a worthwhile read, and I appreciated it.

      However, I’ve learned that when I comment on books, I should note if there are red flags. I didn’t like Manning’s monastic bent, or his “second call” section (that was ambiguous), or the way he sometimes is against fine-tuned theology and the creeds (that’s why I said “harsh”). So I just have to note for our readers that there are some parts of the book I thought weren’t helpful (in case they haven’t read it).

      Make sense? Thanks again for the comment!

      Liked by 1 person

      • Laura says:

        Thanks. Thinking about it more, I recently reviewed a book on Christian marriage, of which I had concerns/cautions as you do with this one. Not all people can separate the wheat from the chaff, and we may need to be careful about what we recommend especially for an open audience.


        • Right, that’s how I review as well; agreed.

          Speaking of this Ragamuffin book, have you read “All is Grace: A Ragamuffin Memoir” by Manning? It’s his autobiography. I think you’d enjoy it (despite the red flags!).


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