It seems that I owe a lot to Brennan Manning. He was an oasis for me while I was stranded in the 'wilderness' of evangelicalism. It was truly a weary place. It seems I only knew and lived by the law. At times I took pride in my 'achieving' this Law, but many more times I came to a realization that I was a complete failure and would often find myself in despair. Somewhere around the mid 1990's, a friend gave me a book - 'The Ragamuffin Gospel.' And I soaked it up.
This is the God of the gospel of grace. A God, who out of love for us, sent the only Son he ever had wrapped in our skin. He learned how to walk, stumbled and fell, cried for his milk, sweated blood in the night, was lashed with a whip and showered with spit, was fixed to a cross and died whispering forgiveness on us all... The God of the legalistic Christian, on the other hand, is often unpredictable, erratic, and capable of all manner of prejudices. When we view God this way, we feel compelled to engage in some sort of magic to appease him. Sunday worship becomes a superstitious insurance policy against His whims. This God expects people to be perfect and to be in perpetual control of their feelings and thoughts. When broken people with this concept of God fail - as inevitably they must - they usually expect punishment. So, they persevere in religious practices as they struggle to maintain a hollow image of a perfect self. The struggle itself is exhausting. The legalists can never live up to the expectations they project on God.
I was a legalist - through and through [and not to say I am completely done with my old ways, either]. I would project those expectations of pleasing this God on myself and others. And I could not live up to those expectations he refers to. Wilderness. I continued to wander there for a long time, but Manning was someone who I would constantly return to for refreshment and a bit of healing. An oasis.
His theology was not perfect. But neither is mine, nor yours I'd wager. At a time when I really needed it, Manning revealed to me that God was not a bookkeeper, but Someone who forgives sinners of whom I was, and am, chief. Manning was a fellow who, I believe, erred into mysticism, which is indeed troublesome. God has not promised to speak to our hearts. He has promised Himself in real, substantive ways- Baptism, the Eucharist, and in His proclaimed Word. These things I don't believe he ignored, but it appears he would also try to find God via mystical experiences above and beyond Word and Sacrament. I can hardly blame him. We, Christians, are simul at our cores. Saints and sinners. Our default is to go after God with our power and will. This is impossible as we are completely bent in on ourselves. No amount of good feeling, vibes, or meditation draws us closer to God. But we sure as hell try. Among other things. Ultimately it is God the Father, the Son, the Holy Spirit that does the drawing, the conversion, and the sanctifying. Him alone. Brennan Manning succumbed, like many of us, to the idea that if he cloistered himself enough, meditated enough, etc., he would be closer to God. We think we know better than God. Original sin, right? I, too, continue to struggle with the idea of 'Do I do enough?'
May Christ have mercy on us all.
Rod Rosebladt speaks well to this concept of simul iustus et peccator, which describes our condition as Christians, in his presentation of "The Gospel For Those Broken By the Church":
It isn't just that we failures will get in. It’s that we will probably get in like that!
We failures-in-living-the-Christian-life-as-described-in-the-Bible will probably say
something like, “You mean it was that simple?!” “Just Christ’s cross & blood?! Just His righteousness imputed to my account as if mine? You gotta be kidding!” “And all of heaven is ours just because of what was done by Jesus outside of me, on the cross — not because of what Christ did in me” – in my heart, in my Christian living, in my behavior?!” “Well, I’ll be damned!” But, of course, that’s the point isn't it? As a believer in Jesus as your Substitute, you won’t be damned! No believer in Jesus will be. Not a single one! - Rod Rosenbladt (For Those Broken By The Church)
As I said at the beginning, I owe an awful lot to Brennan Manning. He is my son's namesake. He had that much of an impact on my journey as a Christian pilgrim. I will miss him. I pray that he is resting in peace.
The tilted halo of the saved sinner is worn loosely and with easy grace. We have discovered that the cross accomplished far more than revealing the love of God. The blood of the Lamb points to the truth of grace: what we cannot do for ourselves, God has done for us. On the cross, somehow, some way, Christ bore our sins, took our place, died for us. At the cross, Jesus unmasks the sinner not only as a beggar but as a criminal before God. Jesus Christ bore our sins and bore them away. We cannot wash away the stain of our sins, but he is the Lamb who has taken away the sins of the world. (Ragamuffin Gospel)
Requiescat in pace, Brennan.
A Ragamuffin (Saint and Sinner)