Guest post by Roy Mathias
(In case you were wondering, the late Rich Mullins’ group “ A Ragamuffin Band” is named after the book, and Mullins wrote the introduction. )
“The Ragamuffin Gospel” is unusual in that it spends 174 pages giving example upon example, from the gospels and life, of
- how great God’s love for us is,
- the all sufficiency of Grace, and how little, if anything we need to do to receive His grace, and
- how little we appreciate and appropriate the above and how little we are changed by it
(No, don’t worry, I don’t have a 3 point sermon for you.)
Another reviewer dismissed the book with “Manning is a storyteller. This book is full of hundreds of stories, but I cannot remember a single one.” There is indeed no “new information” in this book . Its contribution is that it challenges us to accept God’s immense and love and be changed by it:
“Since the day Jesus first appeared, we have developed vast theological systems, organised world-wide churches, filled libraries with brilliant Christological scholarship, engaged in earth shaking controversies, and embarked on crusades, reforms and renewals. Yet there are few of us who make the mad exchange for everything for Christ … only a minority of us who stagger about with the delirious joy of the man who found the buried treasure.” Or in the words of Paul to the Galatians, “Where is all your joy?”
Here are a few notes and quotes.
Commensality. In the Middle East in Jesus time, shared fellowship at a meal may well have involved physical contact as the diners reclined at a table, and was an act of friendship. This meaning was not lost on the Pharisees who were outraged and enraged that Jesus entertained sinners—he accepted them as friends. God accepted as friends, those who were sinners in their own eyes and in the eyes of their peers.
The sinners who Jesus accepted were real sinners; their sin was not just the failure to say grace before dinner. They were the outcasts of society – prostitutes and tax collectors.
Grace: Manning says
“Grace means that in the middle of our struggles the referee blows the whistle. We are declared the winners. It is all over for huffing and puffing piety to earn God’s favour. It’s the end of competitive pushing and shoving to get ahead of others in the game. We may as well head to the showers and champagne.”
How little we need to do to receive grace: 1. The prodigal son had, at best, mixed motives in returning to a reception that far exceeded his expectations. 2. Jesus did not ask the woman caught in adultery whether she intended to reform her ways before sending her off without condemnation, but with an order to sin no more. 3. Zaccheus had only to climb a tree in order to see Jesus to be called by Him.
Jesus acceptance of sinners allows them to freely accept their sinful state and change (e.g. Zaccheus)
God is our Father. Manning observes that just as three year old’s picture is never unacceptable to her father, the prayer, no matter how poor, of a Christian, whom comes to God as Father, is always acceptable. He has many other useful analogies. There are several ministries (including the highly theological PCA organisation Sonship, and several charismatic ministries Catch the Fire, Father’s House Trust, Father’s Love) that promote this life changing truth.
In this book, written well before “The Passion of the Christ”, Manning meditates on the physical suffering of Jesus, and imagines the corresponding inner suffering. This is a demonstration of how great God’s love is. Manning tells of someone at a retreat whose personality was completely changed by meditating on “while we still sinners Christ died for us.”
Manning challenges us “We are in awe at the immensity of His power, and His absolute holiness, but we refuse to think how great His love is, despite demonstrations in the gospels and descriptions in the epistles.” Think about it – how many sermons have you heard on the immensity of God’s love? God’s extravagant love is rarely mentioned in a gospel presentation, where as God’s untouchable holiness and demand for moral perfection is generally a basic point.
Freedom from fear. Fear of God, fear of the future, fear of others-what they may do or think. Our anxiety can completely cloud our world view. Manning gives the example of a high powered business woman, suffering from stress and anxiety, who was prescribed tranquilizers. Two weeks later the doctor asked her if she was feeling any better. Her answer, “No, but everyone else seems a lot calmer.”
This is a rather sketchy review. There are other books on the all sufficiency of grace. However, they tend to explain the facts, perhaps with careful attention to detail, but leave it at that. “The Ragamuffin Gospel” is an extended meditation on the immensity of God’s love and the truly radical nature of grace, and an encouragement to respond.
Brennan Manning concludes with
“Francis Schaeffer said ‘True spirituality consists in living moment to moment by the grace of Jesus Christ.’ This book lays no claim to originality ; it is simply a commentary on Schaeffer’s statement. As C. S. Lewis is fond of saying: People need more to be reminded than to be instructed.”
This book is such a reminder. Definitely worth reading.
Here is a link to Brennan Manning’s page. He has written many other books, but he is best know for this one from 1990.