Mockingbird used to run a weekly book table on Sunday evenings at at a church in New York, and outside of Judgment And Love and Grace in Practice, our best-selling book was The Ragamuffin Gospel by Brennan Manning. It sells so well because it’s so accessible. Jam-packed with illustrations, Ragamuffin manages to articulate the heart of the Gospel without getting bogged down in the kind of technical jargon that non-theologians find alienating. I used to give it to high-school students all the time.

Of course, the danger with a book this popular is that it would be dumbed-down in some way or too “lowest-common-denominator” (or worse, that it would appeal to default can-do/high anthropology modes of thinking). Sure, the language does get a bit folksy at points, and yes, it is geared pretty exclusively to people who’ve grown up in or had significant contact with some form of legalistic Christianity – but that can hardly be held against it. All in all, the book holds up remarkably well. Here are some excerpts:

“The Good News means we can stop lying to ourselves. The sweet sound of amazing grace saves us from the necessity of self-deception. It keeps us from denying that though Christ was victorious, the battle with lust, greed, and pride still rages within us. As a sinner who has been redeemed, I can acknowledge that I am often unloving, irritable, angry, and resentful with those closest to me. When I go to church I can leave my white hat at home and admit that I have failed. God not only loves me as I am, but also knows me as I am. Because of this I don’t need to apply spiritual cosmetics to make myself presentable to Him. I can accept ownership of my poverty and powerlessness and neediness.” (pg. 23)

“Often I have been asked, ‘Brennan, how is it possible that you became an alcoholic after you got saved?’ It is possible because I got battered and bruised by loneliness and failure; because I got discouraged, uncertain, guilt-ridden, and took my eyes off Jesus. Because the Christ-encounter did not transfigure me into an angel. Because justification by grace through faith means I have been set in right relationship with God, not made the equivalent of a patient etherized on a table.” (pg. 30)

“When our inner child is not nurtured and nourished, our minds gradually close to new ideas, unprofitable commitments, and the surprises of the Spirit. Evangelical faith is bartered for cozy, comfortable piety. A failure of nerve and an unwillingness to risk distorts God into a Bookkeeper, and the gospel of grace is swapped for the security of religious bondage.” (pg. 65)

“The trouble with our ideals is that if we live up to all of them, we become impossible to live with.” (pg. 74)

“The New Testament depicts [a different] picture of the victorious life: Jesus on Calvary. The biblical image of the victorious life reads more like the victorious limp.” (pg. 182)

“The gospel of grace announces, Forgiveness precedes repentance. The sinner is accepted before he pleads for mercy.” (pg. 188)

“The longing for freedom from fear leads the ragamuffin to raw honesty about his predicament: the utter inability to self-generate trust. So he hurls himself on God’s mercy…” (pg. 216)

If you want a fun exercise, try googling the book and see what comes up. Turns out Manning isn’t exaggerating when he talks about the negative reaction he’s gotten.