The Ragamuffin Gospel: Good News for the Bedraggled, Beat-Up, and Burnt Out. Brennan Manning. (Sisters, OR: Multnomah, 1990), 227 pages.
“I actually did vote for The Ragamuffin Gospel before I voted against it.”
In Manning’s foreward to the book he identifies the audience for whom he wrote the book.
… The Ragamuffin Gospel was written for the bedraggled, beat-up, and burnt-out.
It is for the sorely burdened who are still shifting the heavy suitcase from one hand to another.
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 fall off their cracker.
It is for poor, weak, sinful men and women with hereditary faults and limited talents.
It is for earthen vessels who shuffle along on feet of clay.
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.
The Ragamuffin Gospel is a book I wrote for myself and anyone who has grown weary and discouraged along the Way.
I appreciate Manning’s concern for those whom he has identified. In the pages of The Ragamuffin Gospel Manning shares with his readers the message of God’s unconditional love. The first four chapters are really quite excellent. The material is lopsided but that is by design in order to emphasize a particular message. There is a sense in which this is quite appropriate, and another sense in which it is quite dangerous.
A few years ago when I was pastoring one of the men in the church came to me to share that he would not be participating in the study in which we were engaged. He explained that he had explored the first few chapters of the book we were using and that the author never used the word “repentance.”
I shared with him that I was in complete agreement that there could not be revival without repentance. I reached and picked up a copy of the book and read to him the first line of the first chapter, “It’s not about you.” Then I turned to Luke 9:23, “If anyone would come after me, he must deny himself and take up his cross daily and follow me.”
I am convinced that both of the above passages are about repentance — repentance from putting self where Christ should be.
Similarly, Manning does not make the word “repentance” dominate, yet I think the idea is present in his call for Christians to stop making ourselves God through a self-centered religion where works dominate.
He writes, “Our approach to the Christian life is as absurd as the enthusiastic young man who had just received his plumber’s license and was taken to see Niagara Falls. He studied it for a minute and then said, ‘I think I can fix this.'”
Manning is to be commended for placing the emphasis upon God, His love, and His grace rather than focusing upon man. I believe that the first 80 pages or so of the book are a needed message for the wounded and the worried.
However, in the subsequent pages of the book, in which Manning tries to build a case for discipleship, his presentation is deeply flawed. In these pages Manning unintentionally places the emphasis back upon man; man the complete failure.
Manning’s idea of discipleship is not that of the Bible in which a believer becomes identified with Christ and is transformed. For Manning, authentic discipleship rests not in our faithfulness to the person of Christ and the Word of God but in being “buffeted by the fickle winds of failure,” by lapses and relapses, yet continuing to come back to Jesus. (page 183)
It is true, as said Howard Hendricks, that “Regardless of His demanding statements regarding the cost of discipleship, He never demanded a fully developed faith at the beginning of one’s spiritual pilgrimage. He never rejected anyone because of his incomplete, faltering faith or failure to live up to God’s laws.” However, Jesus never portrayed faltering faith and failure as the norm for Christian living.
In John 15 Jesus exhorted his disciples to abide in Him. Manning seems to assume that abiding in Christ is impossible and instead exhorts his readers to keep coming back to Jesus. There is huge difference in these two messages.
Manning needs to become better acquainted with Romans 6:
6:1 What shall we say then? Are we to continue in sin that grace may abound? 2 By no means! How can we who died to sin still live in it? 3 Do you not know that all of us who have been baptized into Christ Jesus were baptized into his death? 4 We were buried therefore with him by baptism into death, in order that, just as Christ was raised from the dead by the glory of the Father, we too might walk in newness of life.
5 For if we have been united with him in a death like his, we shall certainly be united with him in a resurrection like his. 6 We know that our old self was crucified with him in order that the body of sin might be brought to nothing, so that we would no longer be enslaved to sin. 7 For one who has died has been set free from sin. 8 Now if we have died with Christ, we believe that we will also live with him. 9 We know that Christ, being raised from the dead, will never die again; death no longer has dominion over him. 10 For the death he died he died to sin, once for all, but the life he lives he lives to God. 11 So you also must consider yourselves dead to sin and alive to God in Christ Jesus.
12 Let not sin therefore reign in your mortal body, to make you obey its passions. 13 Do not present your members to sin as instruments for unrighteousness, but present yourselves to God as those who have been brought from death to life, and your members to God as instruments for righteousness. 14 For sin will have no dominion over you, since you are not under law but under grace.
15 What then? Are we to sin because we are not under law but under grace? By no means! 16 Do you not know that if you present yourselves to anyone as obedient slaves, you are slaves of the one whom you obey, either of sin, which leads to death, or of obedience, which leads to righteousness? 17 But thanks be to God, that you who were once slaves of sin have become obedient from the heart to the standard of teaching to which you were committed, 18 and, having been set free from sin, have become slaves of righteousness. 19 I am speaking in human terms, because of your natural limitations. For just as you once presented your members as slaves to impurity and to lawlessness leading to more lawlessness, so now present your members as slaves to righteousness leading to sanctification.
20 For when you were slaves of sin, you were free in regard to righteousness. 21 But what fruit were you getting at that time from the things of which you are now ashamed? For the end of those things is death. 22 But now that you have been set free from sin and have become slaves of God, the fruit you get leads to sanctification and its end, eternal life. 23 For the wages of sin is death, but the free gift of God is eternal life in Christ Jesus our Lord. (ESV)
The Ragamuffin Gospel begins well, but a flawed presentation of biblical repentance, neglect to recognize our identification with Christ, and redefinition of Christian discipleship end in a warped presentation of the nature of victorious Christian living.
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Read an excerpt from Charles Haddon Spurgeon’s sermon “A Call to Holy Living”
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