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July 2009


"The Ragamuffin Gospel"


My son gave me an audio book last Christmas - 6 CDs with 6 hours and 42 minutes playing time. I despaired of ever finding the time to sit down for long enough to listen to it, but an opportunity presented itself recently when we drove from Stranraer to visit aforementioned son at his home in Cumbria. I did of course give my full attention to the road (!) but I heard enough of the CD to realise that I was listening to something important. I have subsequently borrowed the printed book  from the same son to read more closely.


It is "The Ragamuffin Gospel" by Brennan Manning, most expressively read by the American actor Scott Brick.


"Ragamuffin" is not a word we use often these days. My OED defines it thus: "a person in ragged dirty cloths, especially a child", and conjures up in my mind images of boys like the Artful Dodger in Dickens' "Oliver Twist".


Manning tells us in the Foreword who the book is for, and more particularly, who it is not for. "It is not for the super-spiritual; or muscular Christians who have made John Wayne and not Jesus their hero; or academics who would imprison Jesus in the ivory tower of exegesis; or for the fearless and tearless; or for red-hot zealots; or for the complacent; or for the legalists who would rather surrender control of their souls to rules than run the risk of living in union with Jesus; or for....".


You get the idea. So then who is it for? It is for "the bedraggled, beat-up and burnt-out; for the sorely burdened; for the inconsistent and unsteady disciples; for the bruised who feel that their lives are a grave disappointment to God." And it is "for smart people who know they are stupid and honest disciples who admit they are scallywags."


I stopped to think! Remember it was MY son who gave this to me! Did he see something in me that I was missing? After all I didn't feel particularly beat-up or burnt-out, and neither did I identify closely with any of the "not fors". But as I listened on, I realised that Manning's message was not only for me but also for all who would aspire to follow Jesus. We are all ragamuffin Christians!


The central theme of this book is the Gospel of Grace - that redemption from whatever sad state we may be in is freely available through the Grace of our God who loves us so passionately and so fiercely that he doesn't want us to miss out on life, a better life now and eternal life hereafter. When we become Christians we embark on all sorts of "Christian activity". We pray fervently, we read the Bible purposefully, we worship ardently, we give generously. But then we may become comfortable and contented; we enjoy too much the "activity" with our bunch of like minded friends. We may get caught up in "party" politics in the councils of the church - "series one" or "series two" services, "traditional" versus "contemporary" worship, and so on. We resist any change that may take us out of our comfort zone; we begin to lose our intimacy with God; we fail to recognise the occasional ragamuffin Christian who comes to our door for help, and so he or she just walks away. We begin to lose the plot.


The "Ragamuffin Gospel" IS for the super-spiritual, the muscular, the academics, the zealots, the complacent and the legalists every bit as much as it is for the burnt-out and beat-up. The book brings us back time and time again to the central fact that we continually need the Grace of God to go on meeting the demands that God makes of us, and He DOES make demands! Don't you dare think otherwise! But He gives us the Grace that we need. He picks us up when we fall, and he pulls us down a peg when we get above ourselves. Because He loves us.




10 July 2009


"The Ragamuffin Gospel" was first published in 1990 by Multnomah Book, USA. The copy I have was reprinted in 2005 and published by Authentic Media, UK. The CD is published by Hovel Audio.


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