Book Review: The Ragamuffin Gospel

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I first read this Christian book by the former Franciscan priest Brennan Manning in college. It was written in 1990 and I caught wind of it like ten years later. His life trajectory went something like: Depression-era-New Yorker; soldier; priest; uncloistered missionary to the poor; alcoholic; writer. The book came highly recommended to me (by young adult academic-Christians in the late 90s) and I just gobbled it up. It still reeks to me of the mildewy carpet and saggy mattress (not to mention the broken windowpane and box monitor PC) of my off-campus house. As I am reading my way through the un-reviewed books on my shelf, I thought I would revisit this one in a devotional (like half a chapter a day with contemplation and prayer) capacity.

I still love The Ragamuffin Gospel. I am entranced a little by Manning, by his relatability and authenticity. I am also comforted (and, I suppose, a little convicted) by his insistence that God’s grace for salvation is not earned but bequeathed, generously, without prerequisite. I think the whole idea of this book is best illustrated by the Biblical parable of the Prodigal Son (which is referenced later in the book). Sure, the son made terrible life decisions, walked away from his family, and destroyed his inheritance and legacy, but he was still shuffling back up the road composing his groveling speech when the homecoming party plans were already under way and Dad comes running up the road. The other main message here is that one of the pillars of Jesus’ life (and therefore ministry) was hanging out with–actually befriending–the “ragamuffins.” He got a lot of flack for it, and sometimes so do we, but He wasn’t wrong. Manning lends both his education as a priest and his experiences with very real people and his own sinful self to give a human dimension to his message of divine love.

That might be all I really have to say, but that doesn’t mean there isn’t plenty here to process. That just means, I guess, that I have little to nothing to critique. For me, it’s a cornerstone of free-will and grace, twentieth-century Christian reading. (I listed it HERE in “Books That Changed My Life.”) I appreciated reading it around 2000—kinda blew my mind, given where I was coming from emotionally and spiritually—and I appreciated reading it in 2022. I would not be opposed to reading it again. I find Manning a pleasant and trustworthy voice, a friendly narrator on a journey through his life lessons and doctrine.

(Note: He does use the words “retarded” and “mongoloid” near the end of the book. He uses these words with compassion and respect because they were the PC words at the time. This is no longer the case.)


QUOTES (some of the many I underlined):

“It is for smart people who know they are stupid and honest disciples who admit they are scalawags” (p12).

“’If we but turn to God,’ said St. Augustine, ‘that itself is a gift from God’” (p23).

“There we are—the multitude who so wanted to be faithful, who at times got defeated, soiled by life, and bested by trials, wearing the bloodied garments of life’s tribulations, but through it all clung to the faith” (p29).

“Yet the gracious God enfleshed in Jesus Christ loves us” (p36).

“Genuine self-acceptance is not derived from the power of positive thinking, mind games, or pop-psychology. It is an act of faith in the God  of grace” (p46).

“The Kingdom belongs to people who aren’t trying to look good or impress anybody, even themselves” (p51).

“Our puny works do not entitle us to barter with God. Everything depends on His good pleasure” (p55).

“Salvation is joy in God which expresses itself in joy in and with one’s neighbor” (p61).

“We don’t find demons in those with whom we disagree. We don’t cozy up to people who mouth our jargon” (p63).

“Hypocrisy is not the prerogative of people in high places. The most impoverished among us is capable of it …. [Jesus] is comfortable with sinners who remember how to show compassion, but … He cannot and will not have a relationship with pretenders in the Spirit” (p69).

“At the cross, Jesus unmasks the sinner not only as a beggar but as a criminal before God” (p72).

“Turn away from the sins of skepticism and despair, mistrust and cynicism, complaining and worry” (p76).

“I will hear what a woman says and not what she means and wind up giving sage advice to a non-problem” (p81).

“I am lovable only because He loves me” (p83).

“When a man or woman is truly honest (not just working on it), it is virtually impossible to insult them personally. There is nothing there to insult” (p85).

“Faith will become vision, hope will become possession, but the love of Jesus Christ that is stronger than death endures forever” (p86).

“We get so preoccupied with ourselves, the words we speak, the plans and projects we conceive that we become immune to the glory of creation” (p88).

“We fail to be stretched by the magnificence of the world saturated with grace” (p90).

“I do not ask to see the reason for it all; I ask only to share the wonder of it all” (p103).

“For those who feel their lives are a grave disappointment to God, it requires enormous trust and reckless, raging confidence to accept that the love of Christ knows no shadow of alteration or change” (p113).

“…all her sins appear to her as but an atom in the presence of His mercy” (p118).

“Quite simply, our deep gratitude to Jesus Christ is manifested neither in being chaste, honest, sober and respectabl3, nor in church-going, Bible-toting and Psalm singing, but in our deep and delicate respect for one another” (p121).

“Many Christians are unthinkably horrified when a real sinner is suddenly discovered among the righteous. So we remain alone in our sin…” (p135).

“We are not pro-life simply because we are warding off death. We are pro-life to the extent that we are men and women for others, all others; to the extent that no human flesh is a stranger to us; to the extent that we can touch the hand of another in love; to the extent that for us there are no ‘others’” (p140).

“The pro-life position is a seamless garment of reverence for the unborn and the age-worn, for the enemy, the Jew, and the quality of life of all people” (p142).

“Living by grace rather than law leads us out of the house of fear into the house of love” (p147).

“I am what I am in the sight of Jesus and nothing more” (p154).

“Faith means you want God and want to want nothing else” (p167).

“To be really a disciple of Jesus one must be as committed to the message of the Kingdom as He was, and to preach it heather or not the audience finds it relevant” (p171).

“But we have turned the tables; we try to live so that He will love us, rather than living because He has already loved us” (p184).

“’There is always an enormous temptation to diddle around making itsy-bitsy friends and meals and journeys for itsy-bitsy years on end’” (Annie Dillard, p187). You will remain young as long as you are open to what is beautiful, good and great; receptive to the messages of other men and women, of nature and of God” (p193).


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