The Ragamuffin Gospel; Book Review

If anyone was to ask, what Christian book do you recommend over any other, what would it be? It wouldn’t be a great theological tome like Thomas Aquinas’ Summa Theologica. Or the current number one bestseller.

No, it would be a book that helped a beat-up me in 2014, right after I was saved. It was written by a priest who struggled with alcoholism all his life and returned to God’s extravagant grace. 

That book is…

The Ragamuffin Gospel: Good News for the Bedraggled, Beat-Up, and Burnt Out

“Many believers feel stunted in their Christian growth. We beat ourselves up over our failures and, in the process, pull away from God because we subconsciously believe He tallies our defects and hangs His head in disappointment. In this newly repackaged edition–now with full appendix, study questions, and the author’s own epilogue, “”Ragamuffin” Ten Years Later,” Brennan Manning reminds us that nothing could be further from the truth. The Father beckons us to Himself with a “furious love” that burns brightly and constantly. Only when we truly embrace God’s grace can we bask in the joy of a gospel that enfolds the most needy of His flock–the “ragamuffins.”

Are you bedraggled, beat-up, burnt-out?

Most of us believe in God’s grace–in theory. But somehow we can’t seem to apply it in our daily lives. We continue to see Him as a small-minded bookkeeper, tallying our failures and successes on a score sheet.

Yet God gives us His grace, willingly, no matter what we’ve done. We come to Him as ragamuffins–dirty, bedraggled, and beat-up. And when we sit at His feet, He smiles upon us, the chosen objects of His “furious love.”

Brennan Manning’s now-classic meditation on grace and what it takes to access it–simple honesty–has changed thousands of lives. Now with a Ragamuffin’s thirty-day spiritual journey guide, it will change yours, too.”

I have 37 notes and 147 highlights in it. Picking the best will be hard. I’ll start with living by grace. 

108419980_136590159295“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. As Thomas Merton put it, “A saint is not someone who is good but who experiences the goodness of God.”

“The Good News of the gospel of grace cries out: We are all, equally, privileged but unentitled beggars at the door of God’s mercy!”

“The difference between faith as “belief in something that may or may not exist” and faith as “trusting in God” is enormous. The first is a matter of the head, the second a matter of the heart. The first can leave us unchanged; the second intrinsically brings change.”

But can we expect to grow progressively better without any sliding back? If my life is any indicator, no. Even if my behavior improves, I know the thoughts in my head. 

I lost my temper and had to apologize to one of my direct reports yesterday. 

“There is a myth flourishing in the church today that has caused incalculable harm: once converted, fully converted. In other words, once I accept Jesus Christ as my Lord and Savior, an irreversible, sinless future beckons. Discipleship will be an untarnished success story; life will be an unbroken upward spiral toward holiness. Tell that to poor Peter who, after three times professing his love for Jesus on the beach and after receiving the fullness of the Spirit at Pentecost, was still jealous of Paul’s apostolic success.”

I have to be careful of this next quote. Don’t neglect the heart.

“The Word we study has to be the Word we pray. My personal experience of the relentless tenderness of God came not from exegetes, theologians, and spiritual writers, but from sitting still in the presence of the living Word and beseeching Him to help me understand with my head and heart His written Word. Sheer scholarship alone cannot reveal to us the gospel of grace. We must never allow the authority of books, institutions, or leaders to replace the authority of knowing Jesus Christ personally and directly. When the religious views of others interpose between us and the primary experience of Jesus as the Christ, we become unconvicted and unpersuasive travel agents handing out brochures to places we have never visited.”

Where would we see Jesus today? Hanging out with stars and politicians? Or the ghetto and trailer park? Where did Jesus go when He walked the Earth?

“Jesus spent a disproportionate amount of time with people described in 108419980_136590159295the Gospels as the poor, the blind, the lame, the lepers, the hungry, sinners, prostitutes, tax collectors, the persecuted, the downtrodden, the captives, those possessed by unclean spirits, all who labor and are heavy burdened, the rabble who know nothing of the law, the crowds, the little ones, the least, the last, and the lost sheep of the house of Israel. In short, Jesus hung out with ragamuffins. Obviously His love for failures and nobodies was not an exclusive love—that would merely substitute one class prejudice for another. He related with warmth and compassion to the middle and upper classes not because of their family connections, financial clout, intelligence, or Social Register status, but because they, too, were God’s children. While the term poor in the gospel includes the economically deprived and embraces all the oppressed who are dependent upon the mercy of others, it extends to all who rely entirely upon the mercy of God.”

“Perhaps the real dichotomy in the Christian community today is not between conservatives and liberals or creationists and evolutionists but between the awake and the asleep. The Christian ragamuffin acknowledges with Macbeth, “Life’s but a walking shadow, a poor player that struts and frets his hour upon the stage and then is heard no more.” Just as a smart man knows he is stupid, so the awake Christian knows that he/she is a ragamuffin. Although truth is not always humility, humility is always truth—the blunt acknowledgment that I owe my life, being, and salvation to Another. This fundamental act lies at the core of our response to grace. The beauty of the ragamuffin gospel lies in the insight it offers into Jesus: the essential tenderness of His heart, His way of looking at the world, His mode of relating to you and me. “If you really want to understand a man, don’t just listen to what he says, but watch what he does.””

We have to be honest with ourselves, realizing our halos aren’t so straight and shiny after all.

“A third characteristic of the tilted-halo gang is honesty. We must know who we are. How difficult it is to be honest, to accept that I am unacceptable, to renounce self-justification, to give up the pretense that my prayers, spiritual insight, tithing, and successes in ministry have made me pleasing to God! No antecedent beauty enamors me in His eyes. I am lovable only because He loves me. Honesty is such a precious commodity that it is seldom found in the world or the church. Honesty requires the truthfulness to admit the attachment and addictions that control our attention, dominate our consciousness, and function as false gods. I can be addicted to vodka or to being nice, to marijuana or being loved, to cocaine or being right, to gambling or relationships, to golf or gossiping. Perhaps my addiction is food, performance, money, popularity, power, revenge, reading, television, tobacco, weight, or winning. When we give anything more priority than we give to God, we commit idolatry. Thus we all commit idolatry countless times every day. Once we accept the gospel of grace and seek to shed defense mechanisms and subterfuges, honesty becomes both more difficult and more important. Honesty involves the willingness to face the truth of who we are, regardless of how threatening or unpleasant our perceptions may be. It means hanging in there with ourselves and with God, learning our mind tricks by experiencing how they defeat us, recognizing our avoidances, acknowledging our lapses, learning completely that we cannot handle it ourselves. This steady self-confrontation requires strength and courage. We cannot use failure as an excuse to quit trying. Without personal honesty I can easily construct an image of myself that is rather impressive. Complacency will then replace delight in God. Many of us do not want the truth about ourselves; we prefer to be reassured of our virtue, as illustrated by this vignette.”

There is hope.

“Christianity happens when men and women accept with unwavering trust that their sins have not only been forgiven but forgotten, washed away in the blood of the Lamb. Thus, my friend archbishop Joe Reia says, “A sad Christian is a phony Christian, and a guilty Christian is no Christian at all.” The conversion from mistrust to trust is wrought at the foot of the cross. “Upon the Calvary of Christ’s death the saints meditate, contemplate, and experience their Lord.” There is an essential connection between experiencing God, loving God, and trusting God. You will trust God only as much as you love Him. And you will love Him to the extent you have touched Him, rather that He has touched you.”

Brennan later talks about a second call that comes when you’re between 30 and 60. A call that comes with a question.

“The call asks, Do you really accept the message that God is head over heels in love with you? I believe that this question is at the core of our ability to mature and grow spiritually. If in our hearts we really don’t believe that God loves us as we are, if we are still tainted by the lie that we can do something to make God love us more, we are rejecting the message of the cross. What stands in the way of our embracing the second call?”

He closes by talking about ragamuffins. 

“The way of the ragamuffin is a considerably different view of the Christian life than that of traditional church culture. It is rooted in Jesus’ statement, “The Son of man came not to be served but to serve” (Matthew 20:28). Ragamuffins don’t sit down to be served; they kneel down to serve. When there is food on their plate, they don’t whine about the mystery meat or the soggy veggies; nor do they whimper about the monotonous menu or the cracked plate. Glad for a full stomach, they give thanks for the smallest gift.”

The note I wrote about this quote was, “Ragamuffins serve and are thankful for the smallest thing that they have.”

108419980_136590159295“Ragamuffins never despise their material and/or spiritual poverty, because they deem themselves wealthy beyond compare. They have found the treasure in the field (see Matthew 13:44). Nothing compares to the kingdom of God. In their eyes its worth is beyond all worth. Measurement fails. Scales tip over. All calculation collapses in this infinity. This is the ragamuffin’s secret, which nominal Christians do not understand, but for which martyrs have given their lives.”

“It is not based on therapy or the power of positive thinking; it is anchored in their personal experience of the acceptance of Jesus Christ. They are not saints, but they seek spiritual growth. They accept counsel and constructive criticism with ease. They stumble often, but they do not spend endless hours in self-recrimination. They quickly repent, offering the broken moment to the Lord.”

“The greatest gift any ragamuffin can receive from Jesus is the Abba experience. Jesus says we are to go to God with the unaffected simplicity of a child with his daddy. In a poignant psalm expressing childlike trust in God, David says, “I hold myself in quiet and silence, like a little child in its mother’s arms, like a little child, so I keep myself” (Psalm 131:2). The little one is not an infant, but a weaned youngster of two or three who has been toddling around exploring the mysteries of his father’s flashlight, key chain, and assorted coins left on an end table.”

I gave it 5 stars. I skipped over a lot of it, but we’re already over 2,000 words. 

Summed up, you’re never so bad you can’t be loved by God nor too good to not need saving. Brennan gives the best description of brokenness I’ve seen in the book.

Get it.

Summed up, you’re never so bad you can’t be loved by God nor too good to not need saving.

One thought on “The Ragamuffin Gospel; Book Review

  1. Pingback: Who Is Jesus To You | A Ronin's Journey

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