Book Review: The Ragamuffin Gospel by Brennan Manning

I first read The Ragamuffin Gospel by Brennan Manning in 1995. I was a junior in Bible college, and this book was like a long cold drink on a hot summer day. In a culture that was full of legalism and religious competition, the message of The Ragamuffin Gospel sounded like something so simple that it had to be amazingly revolutionary:  

ragamuffin gospelGod just loves us. I mean, really loves us. We don’t have to earn our way into God’s graces. Grace, in fact, is what life is all about. Our failures and pains are all swept up into and consumed by the furious love of God.

This message was reinforced by Brennan Manning’s own story. He was an improbable Evangelical hero – a Catholic priest who had been defrocked when he married. A raging alcoholic who wrote openly about it and his attempts at recovery. (Here is my review of Manning’s memoir, All Is Grace.)

When you read The Ragamuffin Gospel, you get the sense that Manning is writing about the furious love of God because he believes it. You also get the sense that he believes it because if he didn’t, his life would spiral hopelessly out of control.

 

The Ragamuffin Gospel was truly revolutionary for me. Formative, really. Coupled with What’s So Amazing About Grace? by Philip Yancey, this book created the lenses through which I see and understand God and God’s love. As I reread it 18 years later, I was blown away by how much my thinking and theology have been shaped by this book. Themes that I preach on, write about, talk about, and try to instill my kids are on every page:

  • Honesty and humility are essential components of faith
  • Authenticity is required in our relationships with God and each other
  • Grace is what life is about

It was also interesting to reread my own 18-year-old copy of the book. Its cover is tattered and its pages are filled with the comments, markings, and underlinings of my first time through the book. It was amusing to see what was important to me the first time. And to see how that has changed a bit.

 

Compared to the early chapters, there aren’t as many of my 18-year-old markings in the last couple of chapters of The Ragamuffin Gospel. Those chapters didn’t resonate with me as much when I was 20. But now that I am 38, they have become my favorite chapters in the book.

Near the end of the book, Manning talks about how it is not uncommon for Christians between the ages of 30 and 60 to receive what he names a “second call” from Jesus. This “second call” is akin to a spiritual midlife crisis. After many years of following Jesus and seeking to live by the grace of God, this second call is an invitation to go deeper, to do more, to be more.

I have experienced this second call. Vintage Fellowship is the fruit of it. I hit 30 years old and had the sense that the love and grace of God was compelling me to do something new and different and risky and real.

Which was why it was so interesting that the follow-up chapter in The Ragamuffin Gospel  to the one about the second call was about faithfulness. It was almost as if Manning was saying that living according to this second call is going to be more difficult than anything you did in the first half of your life. You’re going to be tempted to give up and cash in. But don’t. The grace of God that started you on this crazy path will sustain you during the crazy days.

As I reread these chapters, it was the deeply inspiring and comforting words of Eugene Peterson that came to mind. “A long obedience in the same direction.” That is what the grace of God allows for me, and that is what I want my life to be about.

 

I don’t know how much more succinctly I could put this. I don’t normally make statements like I am about to.

If you haven’t read The Ragamuffin Gospel by Brennan Manning, you need to. And if you have read The Ragamuffin Gospel by Brennan Manning, you need to read it again.

 

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  • ChristiMadrid

    It’s next on my reading list. I’ve had it for at least a year, but I couldn’t remember who told me it was good (still can’t…) but now it’s moved to the top. Thanks!

  • David Bird

    That books been on my shelf for 2 years and I haven’t read it yet. Maybe it’s time

  • Tom Christian

    “The essential thing ‘in heaven and earth’ is that there should be a long obedience
    in the same direction; there thereby results, and has always resulted in the
    long run, something which has made life worth living.”

    Friedrich
    Nietzsche (1844 – 1900)