Brennan Manning’s Ragamuffin Gospel: A Distortion of Grace

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Brennan Manning, popular writer and speaker, is considered by many to be a kind of expert on the topic of God’s grace. Philip Yancey, editor for Christianity Today magazine, says “Brennan Manning [is] my spiritual director in the school of grace.” On the back cover of Manning’s book, Ragamuffin Gospel, Max Lucado states: “Brennan does a masterful job of blowing the dust off of shop-worn theology and allowing God’s grace to do what only God’s grace can do – amaze.” Few Christians would argue that we need God’s grace, and in fact it is only through that grace that we can even approach God. Scripture is clear about this:

Seeing then that we have a great High Priest who has passed through the heavens, Jesus the Son of God, let us hold fast our confession. For we do not have a High Priest who cannot sympathize with our weaknesses, but was in all points tempted as we are, yet without sin. Let us therefore come boldly to the throne of grace, that we may obtain mercy and find grace to help in time of need. (Hebrews 4:14-16)

Researcher and Lighthouse Trails author Ray Yungen writes this of Manning:

His appeal is easy to understand when one hears Manning in person. His manner is very genuine and down-home. Many admire him for his passionate and dynamic character. When he relates how his mother mistreated him as a young child you cannot help but feel his pain deeply. (A Time of Departing, 2nd ed., p. 82)

Yungen adds, “However, despite all his admirable qualities and devotional intensity, he teaches contemplative prayer as a way to God” (p. 82). And here lies the problem. When we understand the premise of contemplative, we realize that it is impossible to promote both grace and contemplative at the same time. Grace and contemplative are on opposite sides of the pole. They completely contradict each other. John Caddock, in his article, “What  is Contemplative Spirituality and Why is it So Dangerous?” discusses this ragamuffin view of grace:

Manning makes statements which imply universalism. In The Signature of Jesus, for example, he says that contemplative spirituality (which he calls paschal spirituality) “looks upon human nature as fallen but redeemed, flawed but in essence good” (p. 125). For Manning the life, death, and resurrection of Christ mean that all are redeemed. There is nothing to be done to gain the life of God. Everyone already has it:

He has a single, relentless stance toward us: he loves us. He is the only God man has ever heard of who loves sinners. False gods-the gods of human understanding-despise sinners, but the Father of Jesus loves all, no matter what they do. But of course this is almost too incredible for us to accept. Nevertheless, the central affirmation of the Reformation stands: through no merit of ours, but by his mercy, we have been restored to a right relationship with God through the life, death, and resurrection of his beloved Son. This is the Good News, the gospel of Grace (The Ragamuffin Gospel, p. 18).

Manning says that God loves “all.” He is not speaking here merely of the compassion God has for the world which moved Him to send His Son to die for us (John 3:16). He is saying that God has already restored all people to a right relationship with Him. Notice that he first says “he loves us” and then “he loves all.” Clearly us, the first person plural pronoun, in this context includes everyone. Then, in the same context Manning goes on to say that “we have been restored to a right relationship with God.” We, there is the same group as the all mentioned earlier. All have been restored to a right relationship with God. Manning wants us to overcome our psychological fog so that we can realize it. The Good News is that everyone is already saved. The biblical view that all are lost and that only when a person trusts Jesus Christ as Savior he passes from death to life (John 5:24) is foreign to Manning and contemplatives.

So while on the surface, Manning appears to be teaching God’s grace, it is a “grace” that has been distorted and twisted. And woven dangerously throughout Manning’s writings is a spirituality (contemplative) that will lead his followers more into the arms of mysticism and altered states of consciousness than into the arms of Jesus Christ.

Caddock goes on:

[T]he key to spirituality, according to Manning, is a special type of prayer which he calls “contemplative prayer” or “centering prayer.” For the uninitiated, this may not seem ominous. It may sound like what God calls us to do in His Word. It is not. It is ominous. It is a practice derived from Eastern mysticism. In The Signature of Jesus, Manning writes, “The task of contemplative prayer is to help me achieve the conscious awareness of the unconditionally loving God dwelling within me” (p. 211). He also says, “What masters of the interior life recommend is the discipline of ‘centering down’ throughout the day” (p. 94)…. He instructs the reader in the practice of centering prayer:

“[T]he first step in faith is to stop thinking about God at the time of prayer”(p. 212)! …

The second step, according to Manning, is to “without moving your lips, repeat the sacred word [or phrase] inwardly, slowly, and often” (p. 218)….

The third step concerns what to do when inevitable distractions come. The answer is to “simply return to listening to your sacred word. Gently return your mind to your sacred word” (p. 218). Finally, “after a twenty-minute period of prayer [which Manning recommends twice daily] conclude with the Lord’s Prayer, a favorite psalm, or some spontaneous words of praise and thanks” (p. 219).

While such instruction leaves little to doubt as to Manning’s affinity towards contemplative, his consistent promotion and obvious admiration for numerous mystics is even more remarkable. In Ragamuffin Gospel, Manning favorably quotes Basil Pennington, Sue Monk Kidd, Anthony de Mello, Henri Nouwen, Francis de Sales, Gerald May as well as Marcus Borg, and Alan Jones. Every one of these names is connected with New Age type mysticism and an unbiblical view of the Gospel. Someone who denies the atonement, Alan Jones, in his book, Reimagining Christianity says:

The Church’s fixation on the death of Jesus as the universal saving act must end, and the place of the cross must be reimagined in Christian faith. Why? Because of the cult of suffering and the vindictive God behind it” (p. 132).

In spite of Jones’ obvious disdain for the message of Jesus Christ dying on the Cross to save sinners, Manning favorably quotes him, not just in Ragamuffin Gospel but four times in his book The Signature of Jesus. Actually, Manning quotes a who’s who of Eastern style meditation teachers in that book. Some of them are: Thomas Merton, Anthony de Mello, Basil Pennington, David Steindl-Rast, William Shannon (Silence on Fire) and Henri Nouwen. These names are some of the most serious contemplatives there are. And by that, I mean they believe (or did believe when they were alive) that God is in every human being thus all are saved. If this were true, then God the Father made a terrible mistake in sending his Son to die, for it would have been an unnecessary act.

Unfortunately, the type of grace that Manning and these other authors promote is so intermingled with New Age thought that it is not the grace that Hebrews 4 speaks of but is rather a belief system that leads followers down a pantheistic, mystical path and further and further away from the Cross. In Manning’s more recent book, Above All, he says: “[T]he god who exacts the last drop of blood from his Son so that his just anger, evoked by sin, may be appeased, is not the God revealed by and in Jesus Christ. And if he is not the God of Jesus, he does not exist (p. 58).” Manning actually took this idea, nearly word for word, from William Shannon, author of Silence of Fire. But Manning has made a habit of quoting Shannon. Ray Yungen elaborates:

[W]hen Manning quotes from (and even recommends in one interview) William Shannon’s book, Silence on Fire, one would expect to find a common ground somewhere between the two of them. Yet Silence on Fire contains nothing that would inspire a true evangelical. In fact, it is filled with universalist statements that would offend anyone with doctrinally-sound evangelical sensibilities. One portion states, “[T]here is a oneness in God that unites all women and men … The goal of all true spirituality is to achieve an awareness of our oneness with God and with all of God’s creation.”

Alan Jones, whom Manning also repeatedly quotes, calls the doctrine of the Cross a vile doctrine. This rejection of the biblical view of the Cross by Jones and Shannon is similar to that of Brian McLaren who says the doctrine of the Cross and Hell are “false advertising for God.” Such a view insists that a loving God would not send his Son to a violent death on a Cross, and yet we know that He did do that to His Son, who took the place for others who because of their sin, deserved such wrath. Now that is what we call true grace.

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