The Ragamuffin Gospel a Book Review


I read The Ragamuffin Gospel by Brendan Manning after a Needy Helper reader, Linnea Larsen, commented on my blog post Pick of the Week: A Little Bit of Everything and I must be honest it has left me a little bewildered. I read it with enthusiasm and rarely wanted to put it down as each page held something interesting for me. But now I have finished and start to translate my experience into words I am struggling. You see I have no actual clue what the book was about.

Brendan Manning is a Franciscan Priest, former alcoholic and – I think – controversial figure in religious circles.

“I have been denounced publicly and privately as a heretic, schismatic, Universalist, and cockeyed optimist. A Roman Catholic scholar informed me that I had out-Luthered Luther. I have been charged with not believing in the existence of hell, judgment, and damnation. One report out of Indiana scolded me for selective use of biblical texts. I have been labeled “unbalanced,” “spiritually immature,” and “intellectually unhinged.” – Brendan Manning.

I have applied that quote from the small chapter entitled ‘The Scandal of Grace,’ because although I can gather that Manning is steeped in controversy I really have no idea why? I think the book is trying to tell people that they are all sinners and instead of trying to hide your sins, to just accept them and love yourself as you are, just as God loves you as you are. I lack an understanding of his controversy because I lack an understanding of religion.

I really have no idea how the words of religion have spread so widely around the world, when they are written in such a confused state. Do believers in God see the same words as I and yet they are clear to them? Are they unclear to me because of my lack of faith in Jesus Christ and Abba? I recently tried to read another book that was recommended to me by another Needy Helper reader, Diane Stephenson. It was called Transforming the Inner Man by John Loren and Paula Sandford and I had to put it down after only reading 4% of it on my Kindle. For my unreligious eyes the words made no sense. It was as if the book was written in a foreign language. This is one of the reasons I have so far refused to pick up The Bible. It angers me to think that I am worried about reading the most popular book in the world because I won’t be able to understand any of the sentences or wisdom it may hold. If these teachings are so important to so many, then why weren’t they written for simpler folk to understand?

Manning did manage to pique my attention. It seems that the biblical texts he used in The Ragamuffin Gospel were ripe for people like me. At no point did I close the book and stop reading, but there was still so much that I failed to understand. For this reason I am not sure I can recommend the book to anyone who does not have religious faith because it is heavily littered with references to biblical texts that may just fall on blind eyes. But I imagine for people who do love Jesus Christ and Abba this would be an intriguing journey and well worth the few quid to purchase it.


  1. Lee, I commend you for reading this book and I admit, I also do not understand why there is so much controversy regarding Manning. In my opinion, the people who attack him may be like the Pharisees of Jesus’ day, who emphasized works over grace, those who seem to believe you can earn your way to heaven. Manning brings hope to those who think they are beyond God’s grace. I have to agree with you that’s it’s an easier read for people who have some familiarity with the Bible, but I mostly admire Manning’s eloquence and the compassion that comes through. Thanks for giving it a shot. 🙂

    • Lee Davy says:


      He is an amazing writer and that really helped me. Reading your comments I probably understand the book more than I think. I agree with you about his compassion. Thanks for suggesting it.



    • brenda jarrell says:

      Growing up in a Catholic home, I seldom had direct contact with the Bible. Catechism was taught in the private school, and Gospels were read during the structured service of Mass, and the Epistles. As i moved away from the Catholic Church in my early 50’s, I was amazed at how much I really learned about faith, trust and love of God. The Ragamuffin Gospel, which I still read over again, brings me moments to think… Times to understand how much I have missed… how many similarities I have in my own thinking after being raised in a Catholic home. His stories and scenarios enlighten, teach and most of all, keep me focused on the fact that God loves me no matter what!!!! In the Catholic faith, I always felt like a sinner… always looking over my back, afraid to do the wrong thing… would I go to hell? or end up on the steps of purgatory?? What the heck?? I get where he is coming from on so much…. Enjoyed the book….. Oh..have you watched the movie Ragamuffin? and the new film called Brennan will be out in September.. Was blessed to see that through preview at our Church…

  2. Lee, I am well versed in the world of faith and I often find that I do not understand the writings of some authors. I suspect that their faith journey is different than mine. As I see it, just as each person unique so are our faith journeys unique.

    For those who are interested there are many versions of the Bible that are written in modern English, The Contemporary English version may be more challenging than The Living Bible.

    • Lee Davy says:

      Hi Delinda,

      I never realised that so thanks for sharing that with me. I am sometimes like a little kid. If I cannot understand something I lose patience very quickly. I think this is how I feel when I am reading biblical texts, it just all seems to be written in gobbledygook.


      • Lee, I recently purchased The Voice, a contemporary version of the Bible that brings out the story of the Bible. Where many versions have dialogue with a lot of explanatory words along with it, this version is laid out like a play with the speaker’s name followed by a colon followed by what he/she said. There are also a lot of explanatory notes in between that help the reader understand the context according to the lifestyle of Bible times. You might want to look into that version. I got a paperback version for under $5.00 CDN through Christian Book Distributors online. Of course, the shipping for you would be much higher. But I’m sure you could find one for not too high a price near where you live.

        • Lee Davy says:

          That’s very thoughtful of you to think of me Diane, I will look into it. Hope things are well. Lee x

  3. Did you get my long comment?

  4. (I don’t think my first comment went through because I used links in it – so I’ll try again.)
    Interesting review – makes me want to read the book.

    Lee, don’t let us Christian writers dissuade you from reading the Bible. God inspired men to write the Bible so that you could know him and what he is all about. Delinda’s suggestion of “The Living Bible” is excellent. (You can find free downloads online.) That’s what I read when I first came to faith in Christ.

    Also, a good place to start is the Gospel of John. (Matthew, Mark, Luke and John are the first 4 books of the New Testament and are all accounts of Jesus’ life from different perspectives.) John was one of Jesus’ best friends. His purpose in writing is to explain who Jesus was so that we could believe. John’s Gospel is still one of my favorite books of the Bible.

    The Bible is the most important, life-changing, powerful book I’ve ever read. I’m certain if you persevere, it will be well worth your trouble! 🙂

  5. I’ll swerve this one then cheers 🙂

    I’ve always found it hard to explain my own thoughts on Religion, especially as I had very religious parents and still do (mum and step dad), though they not preachy towards me in the slightest thankfully. My siplistic way of looking at things is if religion is so good and powerful, why are all wars based on religion ?

    Anyway, I also read this in a blog a while back and it struck a cord with me :

    ‘I am not a religious man, never have been really. As a Scientist I am a big believer that we are just very little people on a very little rock flying though an infinitely big universe. I do not believe that whichever God you choose to believe in created life. I am a firm believer that life evolved and by the process of natural selection inched its way forward, changing slowly and gradually until it became an overweight, balding bloke sat in his dressing gown writing a blog on a laptop. Natural selection, for those of you who don’t know, is based on the principles of ‘survival of the fittest’ – certain members of a species gain an advantage over the population and pass these advantages onto their offspring who in turn do the same and so on and so on. The rest of the population either adapt or they die…..simples. ‘


  6. Hi,
    I have never read the book by Brendan Manning, so I cannot and will not try to make sense of what you said about the book. I think reading is very subjective. Our eyes open at different stages of maturity or growth.
    As to God, I am not going to try to defend him. God is big enough to defend himself and when he knocks at your door or open your eyes, then you will see and understand.
    The main thing is God is love. You may not love everything your son does, you may not love some of the choices he makes, but it does not mean that you don’t love him from your heart. You love your son no matter what and the same applies to God. No matter what your thinking or reaction to the book is, God still loves you and that is something you cannot change, because it stems from him and not you.
    Take care, Lee.

  7. Hey Lee,

    Just a little help with God and the Bible, I was brought up a devout Catholic by my Mum, Dad wasn’t remotely religious and just let Mum bring me and my siblings up in the Catholic faith, we went to Mass every Sunday, went to confession regularly and observed the holidays of obligation.

    One thing we didn’t do and most other Catholics didn’t do either was read the Bible, we were fed Catholic dogma left right and centre.

    When I was about 15 I decided Catholicism was nonsense and started exploring other beliefs mainly Buddhist and Eastern philosophy, however Jesus kept being mentioned in different books I read, but it wasn’t the Jesus I had been brought up with, so I started reading the Bible mostly the Gospels and the conclusion I came to was the real Jesus would be totally shocked by Christianity how it has developed over the last two thousand years, my beliefs surrounding Jesus was that he was a spiritual revolutionary who came to free the Jews from the mosaic law they had to abide by and to empower them personally to improve their lives, almost like an ancient Tony Robbins! I later came across the writings of Emmet Fox who confirmed things for me.

    If you do read the Bible do your best not to take it literally and read it as a book of symbolism. I truly believe its one giant parable that was written in a way the simple folk of 2,000 years ago would understand.

    All the Best.


  8. I have heard of Manning’s book, but never read it. I’m sorry you couldn’t understand the Sandfords’ book. I must say that I don’t agree with Neil – you need to read the Bible as history first because it did really happen. Yes, there is a great deal of symbolism in parts of the Bible, especially in the Book of Revelation, but for the most part it is simply a historical record with spiritual principles woven in. The CEV (Common English Version) seems to be very popular and is a newer version than the Living Bible. I may have also mentioned to you at some point the books and videos by Lee Strobel. He has some videos on his web site, too. I haven’t watched them as I only just discovered them, but if you’re interested, here is the link:

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