In honor of author Brennan Manning, who died on Friday, CT is reposting this 2004 profile of the former alcoholic priest whose reflections on grace captivated evangelicals.
The first time the late singer-songwriter Rich Mullins heard former Franciscan priest Brennan Manning on tape as he drove through the edge of the Flint Hills in Kansas, his eyes filled with tears. He steered the truck to the side of the road. There, as he later wrote, the message "broke the power of mere 'moralistic religiosity' in my life, and revived a deeper acceptance that had long ago withered in me."
Dallas Willard, who penned The Divine Conspiracy and Renovation of the Heart, once wrote that Manning's writing "throws firebrands into your soul."
Singer and writer Michael Card calls Manning when he's "in a bad place" and has named his oldest son after him. The priest's book Lion and Lamb: The Relentless Tenderness of Jesus "healed my image of God," Card told Christianity Today.
Psychotherapist and spiritual director Larry Crabb turns to Manning for advice.
Eugene Peterson, who wrote The Message, describes Manning's Reflections for Ragamuffins as a "zestful and accurate portrayal that tells us unmistakably that the gospel is good, dazzlingly good."
Members of U2 read Manning's books.
Singer Michael W. Smith "can't even remember" how many copies of The Ragamuffin Gospel he has given away. Author Philip Yancey considers Manning a good friend.
What is it that the shapers of evangelical consciousness find so enchanting about the 70-year-old Catholic who confesses in his writings to "boasting, the inflating of the truth, the pretense of being an intellectual, the impatience with people, and all the times I drank to excess"?
The Imposter's Pursuit
When I first meet Manning, my eyes are drawn to his thick black brows, which only recently have begun to turn white like the snowy hair on his head; his thin, almost absent, lips; and the deep creases around them. He is life-weary, but his intensely blue eyes are young with eternity.
Looking down, I notice a whimsicality coming from the soul of a child. His light denim jeans are cheekily patched up with colorful squares. It's as if to remind himself and me, "Don't think I'm a saint. I'm a ragamuffin, you're a ragamuffin, and God loves us anyway." In his bestseller The Ragamuffin Gospel (Multnomah, 1990), he writes that "justification by grace through faith means that I know myself accepted by God as I am." He explains, "Genuine self-acceptance is not derived from the power of positive thinking, mind games, or pop psychology. It is an act of faith in the grace of God alone." The jeans are a symbol, then, of faith.
We sit down, and Manning tells me that there's nothing he'd rather do than what he has done for 41 years: help sinners journey from self-hatred to self-acceptance.
He's been there—or, to put it more accurately—he is there, traveling this road daily, never too far from a character he calls the Imposter. Everyone's got one. It's "the slick, sick, and subtle impersonator of my true self." The persona craves to be liked, loved, approved, accepted, to fit in. "It's the self that refuses to accept that my true self, centered in Christ, is really more likeable, more attractive, and more real than the fallen self."