Book Review: Brennan Manning’s All Is Grace: A Ragamuffin Memoir

This is an older book.  But, having read it, I feel compelled to review it nonetheless.

You may be more or less familiar with Brennan Manning through his other work.  Before his death, he’d appeared at countless speaking engagements and written a slew of books, most famous among them The Ragamuffin Gospel.  A much-admired man with a knack for translating the depth of God’s grace and deep love to others, he touched the lives of many Christian writers and figures, among them Rich Mullins and Philip Yancey.

But it was his memoir that blew me away.

The broad details of Manning’s life grow no less spectacular every time you hear them, but they are rendered in this book in simple, plain language that is no less evocative for its conversational tone.  And please understand: Manning’s life has been extraordinary in every sense of the term.  Manning himself was a struggling and recovering alcoholic and, of all things, an ex-priest and an ex-husband.  In his childhood and adolescence he struggled with an alcoholic father and a mother who seemed alternatively emotionally abusive and absent.

A Ragamuffin Memoir is Manning’s unsparing account of this history.  What strikes me most about the narrative is how generous he is with others, and how little so with himself – a fact Yancey laments in his introduction to the Kindle edition that I read.  Manning’s forgiveness of his mother permeates his discussion of her, even as honesty compels him to acknowledge the way she treated him; one has the sense that he views her not as an enemy or as an abuser, but as a troubled fellow traveler on life’s road.  He does not flinch away from describing his low moments – the breakdown of his marriage, the alcoholism that keeps him from his mother’s funeral – but he does not romanticize them, either.

Manning is obviously an imperfect man. But he is consumed with love for God, and that love comes through even as he talks about the darkest periods of his life.  One has the sense always that, though Manning has quite possibly lost his grip on himself, God has not lost his grip on this renegade ex-priest.  And the story that Manning offers is simply this: it is possible for a believer to fall and stumble in horrible ways, to need help, to muck up everything, to try and fail and try again, and – this is key – to have been loved by God all along and for always.

This is the book I wish I could give to Christians who feel that they’re not good enough because they keep failing.  Who feel too imperfect to be a part of God’s family.  Who hide from a church that they feel draws the line at too much grace.  This memoir is an encouragement and a reminder of God’s constant love and how it saves and changes us long after “too late.”  And it is an evocative illustration of Paul’s reminder that, “though sin increased, grace increased all the more” (Romans 5:20).

If you know that sort of believer, or if you are that sort of believer, pick up a copy of this book.  Manning’s writing is charming and plainspoken, but the love he writes about is epic and enduring and unforgettable, and renders his story a modern-day parable of Christ’s forgiveness and His grace.

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