For the record, Brennan Manning is my favorite Christian author and one of my favorite authors of any genre. I am only marginally kidding when I say that I wish his classic; "The Ragamuffin Gospel" were canonized and included in the Bible. The book...and the concept, and Brennan's teaching on grace literally saved my life during a marathon 18 hour reading when I wept my way through it the night before, and into the morning hours of Thanksgiving 1993. I have never been the same.
Last year Brennan released what he himself proclaims is his final writing. His memoir "All is Grace". It is at once the most beautiful and yet the most tragic and poignant book I have ever read. I love this man. I have been influenced by him in my own writing, and while I try not to write "Craig-as-Brennan" it is true that he invariably influences me and his voice is heard sometimes as a whisper in my own.
Brennan writes in this book of his painful, harrowing struggle with alcoholism throughout his entire adult life...including the most victorious days of his writing and speaking ministry. He preached for 40 years about grace and mercy and the insult of trying to earn what God desires to pour out for free.
His signature phrase "God loves me as I am and not as I ought to be...because I will never be as I ought to be" becomes so much more powerful when you come to realize that Brennan himself was certainly not as he ought to be.
I was discussing "All is Grace" with a friend last night. It seemed like such a struggle for us both to reconcile Brennan's astounding ability to preach Grace better than probably anyone of his era, and his inability to beat the bottle and his wrestling with accepting the very grace he so wonderfully and eloquently preached. Then my friend and I suddenly realized, the very reason Brennan could proclaim the grace he struggled with accepting completely, the reason he was so vocal about it and so wildly passionate about proclaiming it, (Watch a Youtube video of him preaching sometime and you'll understand how passionate he was) was that he so desperately needed it to be true and he leaned on that grace so deeply. I told my friend, "Imagine the horrible guilt and pain during each of his conferences when, he dragged a huge burden of shame into another church, in another town, to preach another conference, while hiding the raging, blind-drunk battle he'd literally had the night before. Then imagine the moment during the conference when he spoke of grace to these new faces and the sound echoed in his own ears, the truth of his message was becoming truth in his heart yet again, and he found the grace for his own hidden wretchedness that he was so wonderfully proclaiming for these folks. Brennan never stopped preaching to himself!" Alan and I rejoiced at this thought. The very thing that drove Brennan to wildly passionate proclamation of God's love and grace was his desperate need for it to be true in his soul yet again...just one more time. I learned, reading this heartbreaking yet victorious book, that the most effective, most passionate, and in reality most truthful ministers of Jesus Christ, are the ones who realize and accept that they are first-and always-preaching to themselves. We are frail. We are fearfully made. We really are irretrievably broken this side of heaven. Brennan knew this. His thorn in the flesh was actually a spike. It kept him desperate for his own message and that made him believable to everyone.
I pray for Brennan here at the final curtain of his life. I love this man and I have prayed that somehow, some way, if a mantle falls as he rides the fiery chariot on his journey home, I pray it lands on my shoulders just a little. Because if anyone needed Brennan's message of grace it was me. And if anyone can proclaim it with zeal and passion it is one who embraces his own brokenness and imperfection. Which I am now doing more freely and openly since Brennan revealed his in this book.
All really is Grace