The Ragamuffin Gospel

by Brennan Manning, 1990, Multnomah Press, Portland, Oregon.
Reviewed by Jackie Alnor
The Christian Sentinel

Posted with permission


The good news of the gospel according to the Bible is that God sent His Son, Jesus Christ, to pay the price for our sins on the cross, taking upon Himself the penalty our sins deserve, so that we could have eternal life with our Creator. "For by grace you have been saved through faith; and that not of yourselves, it is the gift of God; not as a result of works, that no one should boast" (Eph. 2:8-9).

From the time of the apostles there have been two extremes that nullify the true gospel. One extreme, which the apostles dealt with in Acts 15, is legalism. Legalists promote the belief that we are saved by our good works ­ the result: spiritual pride. The other extreme that often is an overreaction to legalism is license ­ the result: unrestrained sin. The Bible condemns both!

The Ragamuffin Gospel promotes the heresy of license. In his epistle to the Romans, Paul asks, "Are we to continue in sin that grace might increase? May it never be" (Rom. 6:1-2), is his answer. But, Brennan Manning's view of the gospel is devoid of the teaching of sanctification, whereby a believer is conformed into the image of Christ, turning from sin to serve the Savior. Manning excuses sin as human weakness that his gospel of love will cover regardless of whether the sinner is repentant or not.

He attempts to demonstrate from the Bible that Jesus was not concerned about sin. Referring to the woman caught in adultery on page 173, he writes, "He [Jesus] didn't seem too concerned that she might dash back into the arms of her lover." Yet we know from scripture that Jesus told her to go and sin no more.

Manning's hall of fame on page 29 includes, "the prostitute from the Kit-Kat Ranch in Carson City, Nevada, who tearfully told me she could find no other employment to support her two-year-old son;" "the woman who had an abortion but did the best she could faced with grueling alternatives;" and "the sexually abused teen molested by his father and now selling his body on the street, who, as he falls asleep each night after his last 'trick,' whispers the name of the unknown God." In each case Manning justifies the sin and does not require the turning away from it.

Compare his hall of fame with that of the Bible in Hebrews 11. They don't jibe.

Worst, Manning, quoting another author approvingly, holds heaven open even for those who take the mark of the beast. "And he [Christ] will say to us: 'Vile beings, you who are in the image of the beast and bear his mark, but come all the same, you as well'" (pg. 17). This is certainly contradicted by the Bible in Rev. 14:9-11 where it says that those who take the mark of the beast will receive the wrath of God and cast into everlasting torment.

Manning needs to balance his teaching on the love of God with God's justice and holiness. He lambastes the church for speaking out against sin in our world, ignoring the biblical injunction to "reprove, rebuke and exhort" (2 Tim. 4:2). He takes special issue with the church's stand on homosexuality and alcohol consumption.

Manning's inspiration for Ragamuffin is clearly seen by the experts he cites. These include humanist philosophers, heretics and mystics. Without apology or disclaimers, he quotes such noted new age leaders as Joseph Campbell, inner healers like Francis MacNutt, heretical mystics like Pierre Teilhard de Chardin, humanist occultists like Carl Jung and false teachers like Morton Kelsey. He also appeals to Zen philosophy and other humanistic writings. These he attempts to harmonize with the Bible, but they just don't mesh.

His teaching on meditation cannot be distinguished from the Eastern/New Age style of mind emptying. He instructs the readers to repeat an eight-word mantra for 10 minutes while visualizing one's idea of what Jesus might have looked like ­ something that cannot be done accurately. He also says, "Don't try to feel anything, think anything, or do anything." He adds, "Simply relax in the presence of the God you half believe in and ask for a touch of folly" (pp. 205-206).

There are other offensive things in the book. On page 46 he gives a detailed account of how he learned to masturbate. Elsewhere he uses a lot of vulgarity to get his point across. The bottom line is that The Ragamuffin Gospel is another gospel (2 Cor. 11:4). The new believer and the undiscerning could be easily stumbled by the book. It is an aid in quenching the conviction of the Holy Spirit right out of a believer's life if it is taken at face value.

The most shameful thing about the book is that it was published by an evangelical Christian publishing house ­ one that claims to uphold purity of doctrine and one that is connected to a very respectable Bible college ­ Multnomah College of the Bible. Manning, a new age-influenced Catholic, did what comes naturally, but Multnomah should be held accountable for allowing such an infiltration to take place in the evangelical church.

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