Sunday, October 21, 2012

Review - The Ragamuffin Gospel

I thought I might try my hand at a few book reviews - I hope to be objective and honest.  I won't be reading just to read - my time is just as precious as yours.  Hopefully God will help me to choose wisely and review according to His good standards.

The first in what I hope to be a weekly series (on Mondays): The Ragamuffin Gospel by Brennan Manning.

So, this book sat on our bookshelf for at least five years, along with several others we won as a prize package from a Church Planting seminar.  Oh how I wish I would have read it sooner...

The author shares candidly about his disreputable past, including his battle with alcoholism and his journey to find Christ despite several Catholic hurdles in his path.  The basic premise is that all of humanity - each and every person - is a ragamuffin in need of a redeemer, and Christ alone can be that for every one who would respond to His radical grace.  When recommending this book to my husband, I described it as "on the opposite side of the spectrum as Frances Chan" (whom I love, but whose stomp-all-over-your-toes style my dear sweet husband tends not to care for so much).   This book is not about what we do as followers of Christ, though I do believe every bookshelf ought to shove over some room for a few of those, too.  However, The Ragamuffin Gospel is not one of those books.  

Rather, it is a love story of the response in a person's heart when faced with the painful realization of humanity's deplorable state.  When one reaches the conclusion, often after many useless attempts to find fulfillment in life, that life's only true fulfillment for the screw-up lies in the open Hands of the God who offers mercy.  And, in case you didn't know, we're all screw-ups.  He didn't come for the healthy, but for the sick - and we're every one of us so hopelessly sick.  Hopeless, that is, until Jesus arrives on our scene.

The writing of this book ( (c) 1990) is [pleasantly] surprisingly formal, by comparison to some of the newer non-fiction on today's Christian literary scene.  I found Manning's imagery and metaphors to be haltingly thought-provoking.  (And by that I mean I literally had to close the book mid-page and think about it - I LOVE when a book can make me do that!)  Here are two of my favorites:

"... when we accept ownership of our powerlessness and helplessness, when we acknowledge that we are paupers at the door of God's mercy, then God can make something beautiful out of us." (italics added)

"Honesty... is always unpleasant, and usually painful, and that is why I am not very good at it.  But to stand in the truth before God and one another has a unique reward.  It is the reward which a sense of reality always brings.  I know something extremely precious.  I am in touch with myself as I am.  My tendency to play the pseudo-messiah is torpedoed." (again, added)

Be it proper, however, the writing is nonetheless personal.  Manning is honest and vulnerable with his own story, and shares vulnerable stories of others as well, including a scandalous testimony about a man who was broken to humility in the middle of an AA meeting the author attended.  I can assure you I'll never forget Max's story in chapter seven for as long as I live.   He shares many quotes from famous writers and preachers such as C.S. Lewis, Mother Teresa, Henri Nouwen, and Nikos Kazanzakis, which add diversity and validity quite convincingly to his persuasive prose. 

My favorite chapter -though it's difficult to choose - was most likely the one entitled Grazie, Signore.  Maybe I like it best because of it's practicality - because once I've been reminded that I'm just another ragamuffin in need of rescue, I want to know my part (typical control-freak, I know).  And Manning spells it out beautifully: Response, Trust, and Gratitude.  Once this scandalous grace has been offered by this bloodied God, one must respond in free-willed choice to receive the mercy extended.  Take it in hand and hold tightly, regardless of the stumbling we may do along the way.  Second, we trust Him and not ourselves for every second, every breath.  We believe what He says, because the love on the Cross compels nothing less.  Third, the ragamuffin's action is to give thanks to God for doing what he never could have even attempted.  And that is all Manning says of the "doing."  Most of the rest of the book is a glorious rendition of ... well, of The Gospel.  The real, living, truth of God's extravagant, even embarrassing love for people, messy and bedraggled through the grime of sin though we are.  

The bottom line of this book (because, if you didn't know, I'm really just a "gimme the bottom line" kind of a girl) is gorgeously summarized in this quote, though I really hope you'll read the whole thing:  "Christianity is not primarily a moral code but a grace-laden mystery; it is not essentially a philosophy of love but a love affair; it is not keeping rules with clenched fists but receiving a gift with open hands."

So, I hope you'll go get your own copy of The Ragamuffin Gospel and ... happy reading!!

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