All is Grace: A Tribute to Brennan Manning
Long before the recent resurgence of interest in “gospel-centrality,” Brennan Manning (1934-2013) was a voice calling out in the wilderness. Through his many books and messages, he reminded us that we are great sinners—but God is a greater Savior. Severely flawed and broken, Brennan was a man on a passionate mission to remind us of the truth that we can never out-sin the coverage of God’s forgiveness. He desperately wanted bedraggled, beat-up, and burned-out Christians (like himself) to recover a sense of God’s “furious love” for them.
A lifelong alcoholic who spent his entire life ferociously battling the demon of addiction, he was uncomfortably transparent about his weaknesses and failures which made him a prime candidate to teach us something of God’s scandalous grace (2 Corinthians 12:9). Every addict I’ve ever known—every person who has crashed and burned and, as a result, come to terms with their own powerlessness—has taught me something about God’s grace that I would’ve never known otherwise.
Brennan’s ragamuffin life was a living testimony that horizontal consequences for sin cannot forfeit the “no condemnation” that is ours in Jesus. His sins caused untold miseries in his life and in the lives of others. But the depths of his many failures were survivable only because of his wonder at God’s unfailing forgiveness. He understood that trusting God’s forgiveness in the face of our sin is not an abuse of grace, but rather a God-honoring acknowledgment of it. The certain pardon of God was his hope. His lifeline. Unable to bank anything on himself, he banked everything on Jesus. In this sense, his well-documented faults were a gift to him. And to us.
He once wrote, “In a futile attempt to erase our past, we deprive the community of our healing gift. If we conceal our wounds out of fear and shame, our inner darkness can neither be illuminated nor become a light for others.” I thank God for Brennan’s courageous refusal to conceal his inner darkness.
As I have wrestled with my own guilt, shame, and regret over the last couple of years due to my sin and destructive decisions, Brennan has given me great hope. His tragic, rattle-trap life has assured me that God loves and uses bad people because bad people are all that there are. He has served as a constant reminder to me that Christianity is not about good people getting better—if anything, it is good news for bad people coping with their failure to be good.
I never had the chance to meet Brennan. But I do know people who knew him well. And their lives were never the same as a result. He knew Jesus, loved Jesus, and is now with Jesus—finally enjoying the full measure of the freedom he longed to experience.
The night after he died, I sat in bed and read (once again) these amazing words from the introduction to his bestselling book The Ragamuffin Gospel—revealing a heart that longed to see sufferers and sinners set free by the beauty and brilliance of God’s grace:
The Ragamuffin Gospel was written for the bedraggled, beat-up, and burnt-out.
It is for the sorely burdened who are still shifting the heavy suitcase from one hand to the other.
It is for the wobbly and weak-kneed who know they don’t have it all together and are too proud to accept the handout of amazing grace.
It is for inconsistent, unsteady disciples whose cheese is falling off their cracker.
It is for poor, weak, sinful men and women with hereditary faults and limited talents.
It is for earthen vessels who shuffle along on feet of clay.
It is for the bent and the bruised who feel that their lives are a grave disappointment to God.
It is for smart people who know they are stupid and honest disciples who admit they are scalawags.
The Ragamuffin Gospel is a book I wrote for myself and anyone who has grown weary and discouraged along the Way.
With Brennan, I yearn for sufferers and sinners to be set free from their guilt and shame and to find rest in the unchanging, unfathomable, unconditional love of God.
With Brennan, I long for broken people, burdened by their many regrets, to understand that Christianity is not for good people who try hard. It’s for bad people who have finally given up and throw themselves on the forgiving mercy of Jesus.
With Brennan, I believe that the good news of God’s grace carries the power to give hope to the hopeless and to point all of us petered-out “performancists” back to the relief and freedom of the Cross.
With Brennan, I cheer you on to take off your masks and to embrace your “shadow side”—knowing that God’s love and acceptance of you are forever fixed and have nothing to do with who you are pretending to be.
With Brennan, I invite you to leave your “ifs” “ands” or “buts” behind and to find respite in the only message that matters—and the only message we have—the Word about God’s one-way love for sinners.
Robert Capon once said that it is high time for us to “abandon once and for all our play-it-safe religion and to get drunk on grace”—two hundred-proof, undiluted grace. That’s the kind of drunkenness Brennan would endorse—especially from where he is now.
The radicality of grace is shocking and scary, unnatural and undomesticated. But as I’ve been discovering in new ways, it is also the only thing that can set us free, give us hope, and heal our broken hearts.
Brennan “got” that. He “gets it” even better now.
See you on the other side, brother!