Brennan Manning died Friday morning on April 12, 2013. He revolutionized my view of grace. He unabashedly revealed his sins without glorifying them in the least. He talked openly about his weakness and failures.
He wrote about sinful actions. He was an alcoholic. But, he also wrote about his sinfulness as a person. His lying and deception, his character flaws. he didn't portray himself as a good guy who messed up a little or even a lot.
He portrayed himself as a sinner through and through. It rocked my world and helped me to face my own sinfulness.
But, he didn't wallow in it or let us, his readers, wallow. He persistently pointed us to Christ to receive grace and forgiveness. He led us there with child-like honesty and vulnerability.
He showed us the power of grace to transform our lives and invited us to join him in a new way of living. (Here is my story of receiving that grace in a previous blog.)
Church can sometimes be a place where grace is mentioned but not lived.
I did my dissertation on the spiritual development of children raised in church culture. One of the young ladies I interviewed talked about her initial rejection of and eventual acceptance and appreciation of Brennan Manning's Ragamuffin Gospel. Here is some of my interview with her:
"I read [Ragamuffin Gospel] and this is literally what I said at the end, “This book is a joke, this isn’t true. You shouldn’t be allowed to mess up like this and then be able to write about it and make other people think it’s okay.”
That was my impression of that book and I couldn’t understand what anybody saw in it. I thought it was absolutely wrong and that nobody…you shouldn’t promote things like that.
And then, I got pregnant and when I got pregnant before I was married, all of a sudden I got that Ragamuffin Gospel and now I get it because it’s not about, it’s not about perfect people and what he said in that book, the Gospel is not for perfect people. It is for alcoholics, it is for drug addicts and it is for people who have premarital sex and all these other things.
That is what Jesus came for, and yet I grew up in a home where it was – it’s not that you earned your salvation, but it was just that constant, you have to be perfect and you don’t accept people…
“Well she did (this and that) so we’re not friends with them anymore.”
“We don’t talk to them, they do this.”
I wish I had grown up with the acceptance of people who had flaws, as opposed to this rejection of people who had any sort of flaws."
Interviewer - Do you feel like you actually adopted that belief [of judging people and expecting perfection] based on your response to the Ragamuffin Gospel.
"Absolutely, ...[my husband] and I went to marital counseling a year and a half ago, ... and I was so set for this man to sit and tell [my husband] everything that was wrong with his family, cause there were glaring issues, and he actually got me to realize that I had adopted exactly what my parents did to me, which was reject everybody if there’s something. If somebody has an issue, you reject that person, and just that perfection and that lack of love.
And it actually started a year long journey, which is very difficult when you have children. I’m just sort of finding for me what love actually is. Whoa, forget it, children and marriage. It’s just sort of, it’s huge and it was an absolute break in the way that I have viewed the world for, up to that point, 30 years.
It was a massive change of a world view and absolutely I had adopted that, probably unknowingly, because what’s the [hardest mask to realize you are wearing] “You’re doing what’s right.” So why would I ever doubt what I was doing was wrong because I was doing what was right.
So you’re trying to do what’s right…. “Of course I have my flaws but it was always within reason. You know, it wasn’t a really bad flaw, it was just a minor flaw and not as bad as that person over there.” That type of situation. So yeah, yeah, I definitely did. I adopted [their judgmentalism and rejection of anyone who wasn’t perfect]."
Brennan Manning was a great guy, don't get me wrong. But, he didn't transform this young woman's life.
The grace of God transformed her life.
And, Brenning Manning's willingness to share his story of receiving that grace was a window that she could look through. And when she looked through that window, she rejected Brennan, but when she saw her own reflection in that window, her life was changed.
Rather than choosing to reject herself and run from God for fear of more rejection, she opened herself to receive His love and forgiveness, to embrace the Gospel of grace.