Featured Reviews, VOLUME 5

Brennan Manning – All is Grace [Feature Review]

A Witness to Vulgar Grace

A Review of

All is Grace:
A Ragamuffin Memoir

Brennan Manning

Hardback: David C. Cook, 2011.
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Reviewed by Jordan Kellicut

Brennan Manning, speaker, author and proponent of grace summarizes his life, “My life is a witness to vulgar grace – a grace that amazes and offends.” I first heard his gospel of “vulgar grace” in an early work The Ragamuffin Gospel, and some twenty years later his message is the same.  Manning’s memoir is reminiscent of the old confessions of St. Augustine and St. Patrick in which history exists only to show how God makes men out of dust.  The book is divided into three sections: Part one focuses on his childhood through him taking the name “Father Brennan,” the second part up to the death of his parents, and lastly his twilight years.  It concludes with a series of photographs and touching letters from friends, revealing the profound effect that Manning had on so many.

The man known as Brennan Manning was born Richard Manning in 1934.  His mother wanted a girl, but “you don’t always get what you ask for.”  That quote, from his mother, characterizes Manning’s formative years.  Shame, rejection, loneliness and alcoholism tainted his early life, explaining but never excusing a life that would in many ways echo the lives that shaped him.  There is, however, a serious evenhandedness to his account of childhood, practicing the same grace he preaches.

I kept expecting to meet a budding preacher, but young Manning was not particularly interested in God, who he saw as a distant simulacrum of his parents.  “Richard’s just a dreamer… that’s why he’ll never amount to much,” his mother once said.  Seeking to outrun that prophesy he went to college, then into the Marines, became an ammunition specialist, then a war correspondent, then a student of journalism, and finally a seminarian.

I imagine that “spiritual giants” must enter ministry and seminary because Jesus is transfigured before them, or they were struck blind on a journey to Damascus.  Brennan’s entry into seminary was not that colorful, though it did happen because of a dream – but not one about God.  He dreamed of more: money, mansion, marriage, everything.  A sudden realization that there was more to life brought him to the campus chaplain who agreed and enrolled him in seminary.  God was a source of guilt and rejection, but it was here that all this would change.  One day he was going through the routine of praying through the stations of the cross when at station 12 “Jesus dies on the cross” he knelt and read the words in his prayer book:

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