The Ragamuffin Gospel: Good News for the Bedraggled, Beat-up, and Burnt Out. By Brennan Manning. Portland, OR: Multnomah Press, 1990. 227 pp. Paper, $7.95.
As the subtitle suggests, this book is about the good news of the Gospel for those who feel unworthy. It is neither a theological nor an exegetical book. Scripture is not mentioned very often, and when it is, it is not explained. Instead, this book looks at what the author perceives to be the Gospel through the lens of reason, common sense, and human experience (see, esp. p. 42).
This book promotes salvation as an absolutely free gift—and yet it is not clear on the Gospel! Here is someone who clearly believes that grace is absolutely free and yet who gives very little evidence of believing the Gospel!
How can this be? It’s because a person can understand and believe that salvation is free and yet fail to understand and believe that the condition of obtaining that free salvation is simple faith in Jesus Christ.
For example, Manning suggests that Rock Hudson (a homosexual film star who died of AIDS and who never to my knowledge professed to believe in Christ) was a believer and is now with the Lord. Why? Because “he called a priest to his deathbed, confessed his sins, and cried out for forgiveness” (p. 20).
He also speaks of active male and female prostitutes whom he believes are saved (p. 29). While I certainly admit this is possible, it could only be because they had come to faith in Jesus Christ and Him alone for eternal life. However, Manning does not report that as the reason he feels they are saved. Rather he says it is because they are those who “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 faith” (p. 29). What does the fact that they wanted to be faithful” and that they “clung to faith” have to do with eternal salvation? And what does “clung to faith” mean? Faith in what? Manning does not say.
One gets the impression from Manning that most Catholics and most Protestants are born again (cf. pp. 17, 20, 29, 40-42, 46, 208, 211-13). One wonders if he would even say that Buddhists, Hindus, Muslims, and people from all religions could be saved without believing in Jesus if they, like Rock Hudson, confessed their sins and cried out to God for forgiveness. Manning does not make it clear that belief in Jesus Christ is required for eternal life!
Let the reader beware. Manning strongly proclaims the freeness of the Gospel, and yet he does not proclaim the Gospel itself clearly. In fact, he muddles the Gospel and gives the impression that the condition of salvation is brokenness, and not faith alone in Christ alone. While some broken people have come to faith in Christ, many, many have not. Assurance is only legitimately based on the promises of God in the Gospel. To base assurance on one’s brokenness and pain is misguided and misdirected.
Robert N. Wilkin
Journal of the Grace Evangelical Society