Brennan Manning is, to be sure, one of the more contentious theologians to be represented on this blog. Not only did he conduct his ministry on, perhaps, the polar opposite end of the spectrum of Christendom than myself — serving as a Franciscan priest — he also regularly, openly struggled with alcohol addiction throughout his life. Stints in rehab checkered Brennan’s life which, for some, makes his writing untenable. That, I find, to be a deeply unhappy reality, mainly because Brennan’s writing is saturated with such love and grace and mercy. He would likely say, and I would agree, that his checkered past is precisely what gave him such tenderness for those who seem to can’t get out of their own way. Indeed, The Ragamuffin Gospel: Good News for the Bedraggled, Beat-Up, and Burnt Out, which is probably his most enduring published work, is a book that pulsates with the Lord Jesus’s passion on every page, which is precisely why “ragamuffins” can rejoice. His love, like water, descends to the lowest point, filling the deepest cavity with the flood of his infinite compassion. If you’ve never interacted with Brennan Manning, I pray this brief introduction whets your appetite to read more of his work.
1: I could more easily contain Niagara Falls in a tea cup than I can comprehend the wild, uncontainable love of God.1
This quote reminds me of this verse from David: “My lips will glorify you
because your faithful love is better than life.” (Ps 63:3) Amen!
2: The Good News means we can stop lying to ourselves. The sweet sound of amazing grace saves us from the necessity of self-deception.2
I lie to myself every day. Chances are you do, too. As speaker Paul Tripp is famous for saying, there’s no one who lies to yourself more than you do. Nevertheless, God’s Word assures me that for whatever charade I’ve concocted which makes me appear better than I am, I’ve already been found out. I’ve already been outed as a desperate and destitute sinner. I don’t have to lie to myself anymore. I don’t have to pretend to be better and more put-together than I am — precisely because grace has come in form of a Galilean carpenter’s Son. “It is not those who are well who need a doctor,” declares the Lord Jesus, “but those who are sick. I didn’t come to call the righteous, but sinners.” (Mk 2:17)
3: The deeper we grow in the Spirit of Jesus Christ, the poorer we become—the more we realize that everything in life is a gift, the tenor of our lives becomes one of humble and joyful thanksgiving. Awareness of our poverty and ineptitude causes us to rejoice in the gift of being called out of darkness into wondrous light and translated into the Kingdom of God’s beloved Son.3
4: One of the mysteries of the gospel tradition is this strange attraction of Jesus for the unattractive, this strange desire for the undesirable, this strange love for the unlovely.4
How many times was Jesus willing and eager to fraternize with the outcasts, touch the untouchables, and forgive the unforgivable? Too many times to count. The Gospels are brimming with account after account of this very thing. I’m reminded of the leper who approaches Jesus very early on in his ministry, begging for healing. Upon seeing this leper’s condition, we are told: “Moved with compassion, Jesus reached out his hand and touched him.” (Mk 1:41) Imagine that! The Son of God embracing not only an unclean man, but a man with leprosy. And, praise be, Jesus’s compassion for this man’s physical condition is indicative of the same compassion he has for entire world’s spiritual condition.
5: The gospel of grace announces: forgiveness precedes repentance. The sinner is accepted before he pleads for mercy. It is already granted. He need only receive it. Total amnesty. Gratuitous pardon.5
I’m very fond of this particular quote. It is both patently and gratuitously true. I wrote an entire blog about it, which I would recommend to you.
6: The spiritual future of ragamuffins consists not in disavowing that we are sinners but in accepting that truth with growing clarity, rejoicing in God’s incredible longing to rescue us in spite of everything.6
7: Repentance is not what we do in order to earn forgiveness; it is what we do because we have been forgiven.7
The thought here is similar to the quote above (#5), which reminds us that forgiveness is the gift of grace that is offered to each and every sinner in the Person and Work of Christ. There is a tendency to think of repentance as the key which unlocks the basement door of God’s love from which he retrieves your pardon and remission from sin. But that is, in fact, not true. Repentance doesn’t create in God a forgiving spirit. Forgiveness is the precise ministry of God’s Spirit already offered to you in the gift of God’s Son. “Thanks be to God for his indescribable gift!” (2 Cor 9:15)
8: The cross is a confrontation with the overwhelming goodness of God revealed in the broken body of His only begotten Son.8
9: The blood of the Lamb points to the truth of grace: what we cannot do for ourselves, God has done for us.9
I will leave you with the below excerpt which comes from Brennan’s introduction. These lines get at the heart of the gospel, which is good news precisely for those who are the least deserving of it. If you can’t see yourself described somewhere in these lines, you likely need to revisit your view of the gospel itself. Because God’s good news of salvation through his Son’s death is news that is specifically announced for (and to) “scalawags” and scoundrels, rebels and “ragamuffins.” I’m so glad that I was part of Jesus’s mission to “seek and to save the lost.” (Lk 19:10)
10: [The gospel] is not for the super-spiritual. It is not for the muscular Christians who have made John Wayne and not Jesus their hero. It is not for academicians who would imprison Jesus in the ivory tower of exegesis. It is not for noisy, feel-good folks who manipulate Christianity into a naked appeal to emotion. It is not for the hooded mystics who want magic in their religion. It is not for Alleluia Christians who live only on the mountaintop and have never visited the valley of desolation. It is not for the fearless and tearless. It is not for red-hot zealots who boast with the rich young ruler of the gospels: “All these commandments I have kept from my youth.” It is not for the complacent, hoisting over their shoulder a tote-bag of honors, diplomas, and good works actually believing they have it made. It is not for legalists who would rather surrender control of their souls to rules than run the risk of living in union with Jesus . . . [The gospel is for] the bedraggled, beat-up, and burnt-out. It is for the sorely burdened who are still shifting the heaven suitcase from one hand to the other. It is for the wobbly and weak-kneed who know they don’t have it altogether and are too proud to accept the handout of amazing grace. It is for inconsistent, unsteady disciples whose cheese is falling off their cracker. It is for poor, weak, sinful men and women . . . It is for the bent and the bruised who feel that their lives are a grave disappointment to God. It is for smart people who know they are stupid and honest disciples who admit they are scalawags.10
Soli Deo Gloria. Amen.
Brennan Manning, The Ragamuffin Gospel: Good News for the Bedraggled, Beat-Up, and Burnt Out (Sisters, OR: Multnomah Publishers, 2000), 162.