“The greatest single cause of atheism in the world today is Christians who acknowledge Jesus with their lips and walk out the door and deny Him by their lifestyle. That is what an unbelieving world simply finds unbelievable.”
DC Talk first introduced me to Brennan Manning. These words spoken as ‘What if I stumble’ kicks in were less a clarion call for action and more of a lament. Today is also a day for lament.
Brennan Manning passed away yesterday. He was a voice for scandalous grace throughout his life and a witness to the work grace can do for each of us. He was a ragamuffin and he taught me to be one too.
He was captured by grace that transforms and by grace that does not let us off the hook. Last year I sat on a sun lounger in Cyprus and read All is Grace. It only took me a few hours and tears strained for release. Brennan Manning knew he was beat-up, burdened, weak-kneed. He knew he was bent and bruised. He knew he was in need of grace.
Manning wrote words in prose of a quality rarely equalled. He wrote words that challenged and comforted. He wrote words that made me cry.
He wrote All is Grace as his health began to fade. It reads as a confession as something he felt needed to be said. And he said that grace isn’t just a one time remedy. Brennan was known as a one time priest, one time alcoholic who had left both behind to get married and preach God’s grace.
But the grace that comes to the ragamuffin prepared to limp and stumble to the cross is not a simple one time only fix all. Before God we can stand as victors but the battle goes on. Brennan Manning continued to be an alcoholic.
Sometimes the questions why came with sincerity, sometimes as a Pharisaical grenade, he wrote in All is Grace. And he said his response shifted between the words of 1990 with verbose theological explanation to the words of the past few years: “These things happen.”
They do. They happen to you and they happen to me. Things happen to us and we do things. It is why the scandal of God’s grace is that it is there for us each and every time. Why it helps us to our feet when we hit the ground. Why it lifts its arms around us. Why it holds us tight and why it lets us go.
Why grace is enough.
Why in the end, all is grace.
Today Brennan Manning stands in the freedom of God’s everlasting grace. Let us be thankful for the life that he led and the message he lived.
‘A Word Before’ from The Ragamuffin Gospel
The Ragamuffin Gospel was written with a specific reading audience in mind.
This book is not for the super-spiritual.
It is not for 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 hooded mystics who want magic in their religion.
It is not for Alleluia Christians who live only on the maountaintop and have never visited the valley of desolation.
It is not for the fearless and tearless.
It is not for re-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 honours,, diplomas, and good works actually believing they have it made.
It is not for legalists who would rather surrender control of their soulds to rules than run the risk of living in union with Jesus.
If anyone is still reading along, 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 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 the inconsistent, unsteady disciples whose cheese is falling 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.
Brennan Manning, 1934-2013