The Life of Brennan Manning

April 14, 2013 | By | Add a Comment

brennan_manningHis consistent banging on the drums of God’s unconditional love sounded at a time when many of us had about ‘had it up to here’ with religion and church and, probably most importantly, ourselves. We were the tired, poor, self-hating huddled masses yearning to be free, and along came a patchwork preacher who grinned and said, ‘You already are. Abba loves you. Let’s go get some chocolate ice cream.’ – John Blase

I was introduced to Brennan Manning in college. I had just completed what was easily the worst year of my life. It was a year when a number of events cut me so deeply, I wasn’t sure I would ever recover. I did try though. As part of those efforts, I read just about every Christian book I could get my hands on and went on to receive a Master’s in Counseling. Out of all of those books, there are only a few that I can still remember.

One of them was “The Ragamuffin Gospel” by Brennan Manning. The subtitle of the book was, “Good News for the Bedraggled, Beat-Up, and Burnt Out”. Now, there was a tagline I could relate to. The book was like medicine. Never before had God’s grace been communicated in a way that I actually started to believe it. Manning wrote:

For those who feel their lives are a grave disappointment to God, it requires enormous trust and reckless, raging confidence to accept that the love of Jesus Christ knows no shadow of alteration or change. When Jesus said, ‘Come to me, all you who labor and are heavy burdened,’ He assumed we would grow weary, discouraged, and disheartened along the way.

He continued:

Suffering, failure, loneliness, sorrow, discouragement, and death will be part of your journey, but the Kingdom of God will conquer all these horrors. No evil can resist grace forever.

Manning’s message was the same for over 50 years: “God loves you unconditionally, as you are and not as you should be, because nobody is as they should be.” It was a message Manning also had to preach to himself on a regular basis. John Blase, the co-author of Manning’s memoir “All is Grace”, had this to say:

…while Brennan preached and taught of God’s furious longing for us and the joy that comes from the Abba experience, that message often seemed elusive to his own grasp. I have no doubt there were bright mornings and luminous afternoons for Brennan, but there have also been many, many dark nights. I suppose the preacher always preaches the message he needs most. I believe that is true of my friend Brennan. That his message has been the one we needed most too is something extra. Or to use one of Brennan’s favorite Cajun words, lagniappe—compliments of the house. Grace.

Despite being a powerful preacher, Manning struggled with alcoholism much of his life. In the foreword to the memoir, Phillip Yancey wrote:

“As you read this memoir, you may be tempted, as I was, to think, Oh, what might have  been… if Brennan hadn’t been given in to drink. I urge you to reframe the thought to, Oh, what might have been… if Brennan hadn’t discovered grace.”

Yancey continued about how Manning communicated that grace so well and kept getting up after he kept falling. He progressed, “not by always making the right decisions, but by responding appropriately to the wrong ones.” Yancey ended his section with a poem by Leonard Cohen:

Ring the bells that still can ring.
Forget your perfect offering.
There is a crack in everything.
That’s how the light gets in.

Manning passed away on Friday, April 12 at 12:10AM. His alcoholism no doubt contributed to years of declining health. “He is now resting safely in the arms of Abba”, says the obituary on his website.

I’ll end this post with one of my favorite Brennan Manning quotes: “The Christian with depth is the person who has failed and who has learned to live with it.” Manning was a great failure. But this is exactly what made him a success. He was a sinful and broken man who came to rest in Christ’s sufficient and vulgar grace. In learning that it is okay not to be okay, I was one of the many he helped along the way.

Blessed are the poor in the spirit, for theirs is the kingdom of heaven. – Matthew 5:3

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