Archives For Casting Crowns

Brennan Manning’s passing prompted this tribute-contemplation. I invite you to sit, and wonder with me, at the significance of what happens when, despite human opinion, the Glory that God deserves is given back to Him.

 ‘The ragamuffin Gospel’ is an impassioned critique of churches that worship doctrine, conceal God and betray grace. He states that ‘Jesus invites sinners and not the self-righteous to his table’[1]. This re-enforces his concern that the church can at times project a ‘watered down Grace’[2]. Consequently, what is demanded is an allegiance to doctrine rather than an alignment to Christ. This makes for a ‘twisted gospel of grace, and results in a religious bondage which distorts the image of God’[3]. For instance, ‘any Church that will not accept that it consists of sinful men and women, and exists for them, implicitly rejects the gospel of Grace’[4].

Reputation is not character. Some of the current expressions of church value appearances over against substance. They are communities defined by ‘fatal narcissism of spiritual perfectionism’[5]. This is form of sophistry that begins with the individual Christian. Brennan Manning argues that anybody who focuses on a pious reputation over against character is wrong. This exists where ’fellowships permit no one to be a sinner. So everyone must conceal their sin from themselves and from their fellowship’[6]. It’s easy to see the pragmatic and contextual out working of Manning’s paradox, ‘our doing becomes the very undoing of the gospel’[7].

Consequently some churches become consumed with public appearance[8]. Putting on a show becomes God. This idol turns our conformity into a way to earn salvation, rather than a doorway for discovering salvation. For example: the impossible ideal of a perfect Pastor. Someone who looks great in a suit, has the newest model car, the castle sized mortgage, the beautiful smiling wife, the 2.5 well behaved scripture quoting children and an unblemished Church attendance record. Such standards are closer to the ‘strange paradoxes of the American Dream’ (King), which is only really mounted on the metaphor that, ‘castles made of sand fall…melt…and slip into the sea eventually’ (Hendrix, 1967). While modesty and self presentation is beneficial for every Christian, it does not make you a Christian nor does it necessarily reflect your salvation[9].

A dichotomy exists between being righteous and appearing righteous. Evidence of this is found in the ‘seeming good is better than doing good age’ (Bolt), which feeds self-righteous and Lordless ‘isms’ (Wright) . Those who propagate such ideology, reject the theological Trinitarian reality which acknowledges that grace is a gift  from the Father, transferred to us through Son and worked out in our lives by the Spirit. God’s ‘furious love’[10] for humanity funds dignity, grace and mercy.

This begins with the acceptance of grace, ‘for acceptance means simply to turn to God’[11]. This is an encounter where I am no longer removed from my problems, my sin and my inability to repent because I ‘accept the reality of my human limitations’[12]. In other words, Manning does not endorse a ‘fast-food-cheap grace’ Churchianity.

The Ragamuffin Gospel presents a relational God who reaches into the ragamuffin’s brokenness and provides rescue, ‘inviting us to be faithful to the present moment, neither retreating to the past, nor anticipating the future’[13].

I come to accept that through grace I am dignified and worthwhile. Deemed to be so by the actions, words and approach, of a loving Father towards His children. God isn’t obsessed with, or anxious about our ‘’epic fails’’. God desires the correction of the sinner, not the death of the sinner (Luke 5:32; Ambrose of Milan, ‘On Repentance’). God is not a manipulative father, nor is He like the pagan gods, who demand sacrifice to appease their anger. We do not serve an angry, distant un-relational God who is unconcerned with who we are, or what we do. 

Manning illustrates for us that God seeks out the ragamuffin. Manning’s own ministry and his journey through alcoholism exemplify the message which ‘The Ragamuffin Gospel’ communicates.  The message of the Ragamuffin Gospel is about a freedom that is completely reliant on a view grace which does not abandon human culpability, in the name of ‘tolerance instead of love’ (Bill ‘birdsong’ Miller).

This freedom is found acquired through a response to grace that empowers a living relationship with the gift of Jesus Christ. This freedom stands as a warning to those who ‘accept grace in theory but deny it in practice’ [14].Manning writes that the ‘deadening spirit of hypocrisy lives on in people who prefer to surrender control of their souls to rules than run the risk of living in union with Jesus’[15]. Being honest and expressing the need for grace and not works begins with us, the Church.

Writing about Paul’s letter to the Galatians, Manning states:

‘written in the heat of the moment, the letter is a manifesto of Christian freedom. Christ’s call on your lives is a call to liberty. Freedom is the cornerstone of Christianity (see 2 Cor.3:17[16])…Freedom in Christ produces a healthy independence from peer pressure, people-pleasing, and the bondage of human respect. The tyranny of public opinion can manipulate our lives. What will the neighbours think? What will my friends think? What will people think? The expectations of others can exert a subtle but controlling pressure on our behaviour’[17].

Brennan Manning encourages Christians to let go of  demands which control us, by entering into step with the Spirit, and consequently stepping into a life of freedom that is accountable to God. This freedom ‘lies not in ourselves, who are by nature slaves to sin, but in the freedom of his grace setting us free in Christ by the Holy Spirit’[18]. Christians are living in ‘the presence of God in wonder, amazed by the traces of God all around us’[19], not just in a building or a doctrine.

In concluding, the merit of this book is that Brennan Manning provides a reflection of the human struggle with addiction and idolatry. At times, Manning may seem a little unforgiving in his harsh critique of the institutional Church. Nevertheless, it’s clear that Manning seeks to address practical atheism, by reassessing doctrines and expressions of church, that have by default, replaced God. 

In order to achieve this Manning asserts that the Christian walk is one of risk, founded on a dignity which is grounded solely in God’s intervention on our behalf. The Ragamuffin Gospel addresses the failure to live out independently the character of Christ without Christ. As a result Manning successfully reminds us that God is in fact consistent, fierce, loving and interested in redeeming us, even in the midst of the messiness of our lives.


References:

Manning, B. 1990 The Ragamuffin Gospel, Multnomah Books, Sister, Oregon 97599, USA

Casting Crowns, 2003 American Dream: from the album Casting Crowns
[1] Manning, B. 1990, The Ragamuffin Gospel p.7, Authentic Classics, Multnomah books, Sis. OR.

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[2] Ibid, p.6
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[3] Ibid, p.1
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[4] Ibid, p.13
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[5] Ibid, p.34
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[6] Ibid, p.107 & p.115
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[7] Ibid, p.39
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[8] Ibid, ‘publicity’ p.1
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[9] For example: Facebook memes that encourage us to ‘share if you’re saved’ or like ‘ if you want to be’. As if our spiritual status is determined by how many times we shared or liked such drivel.
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[10] Ibid, p.19
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[11] Ibid, p.24
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[12] Ibid, p.31
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[13] Ibid, p.35
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[14] Ibid, p.117
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[15] Ibid, p.110
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[16] 17 Now the Lord is the Spirit, and where the Spirit of the Lord is, there is freedom. 18 And we all, with unveiled face, beholding the glory of the Lord, are being transformed into the same image from one degree of glory to another. For this comes from the Lord who is the Spirit (ESV)
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[17] ibid, pp.120-121
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[18] ibid, p.129
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[19] Ibid, p.72

Some years ago I picked up a book entitled ‘The Naked Christian’ by IMG_20130505_223258British author, Craig Borlase. That was 2002. Since then I have completed close to 12 years of middle management in Christian retailing, and I have nearly, more than qualified for a double degree in ministry and theology. Why is this important? It is important because it help’s to lay out the context from which I speak. I cannot in any small way, minimise the significant point of impact that this book had on me at that period of time in my life, and despite the intense learning curves since, still has. Over the next few days, I plan to explore this in more detail, for now here is an introduction.

Within ‘The Naked Christian’, Borlase critiques the social contracts that bind us to a transactional-consumerist nature of relationship.  This is based on his own experiences with the results-over-relationship priorities that such social contracts inform. Borlase considers ‘balance to be the imperative of focus’ (p.111) and overall his work achieves that. It is a balanced and helpful discourse concerning worship, ecclesiology, evangelism and mission. His purpose is to bring into ‘focus’ (p.109) ‘two extremes’ within the Christian church which he considers as ‘short-sighted’ (pp.109) and ‘long-sighted’ (p.119). The former are those Christians who have retreated from the world through fear of having their faith  contaminated by the world (p.113). The latter are those who have seemingly surrendered themselves to a highly commercialist culture (p.116), and by default have watered down the Gospel to fit in with the whimsical ‘trends’ (p.125) of the world.

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Sadly, this applies to some expressions of the church in Australia. Such a modus operandi permeates the socio-economic expectations and ecclesiastic tribalism found in some fashionable expressions of church (p.123). For instance, Borlase is right to assert that the ‘church suffers under the pressure to entertain, and before long the service becomes more about keeping bums on seats than about keeping eyes on God’ (p.15). Sounds too harsh? perhaps. Yet, however we view this, it is difficult to ignore the nasty facets of church practice which Borlase has painstakingly highlighted, for instance:

When we reduce Christianity to looking fluffy we do God wrong (p.122)…When we buy into the line that looking our best is important it can only be a short step to believing that it is only when we look our best that we are truly loved. Carrying a little extra weight? Sorry, you’ll never be happy. Unable to afford the right label? Tough luck, your cool rating just took a dip. Whichever way you look at it, this line of thinking is totally in opposition to God’s way of doing things’.

‘Yes, it’s nice to feel nice, but how sad a state is it when we infect God’s word with the dark heart of conditional self-worth and mindless materialism? Those are two flavours that most certainly have no place in the faith…when Church becomes a fashion show, when looking in the mirror comes in front of the Sunday morning ritual of looking for the Bible, church itself gets affected…we need to watch out for the desire to bend too much in an effort to be relevant…Of course Christianity can be cool, vibrant, artistically challenging and inspiring. But doing things just for those reasons is  as ridiculous a motive as they come’ (pp.124-125, reproduced with permission from the author).

In no uncertain terms, if this book had not been written, my walk withinIMG_20130505_224615 the church would have dramatically taken a turn for the worse. I’d had enough of the pretence of church. Such as: the empty rituals, hollow prayers, and the smiles, lies and hi-fives triumphalism that went with them. I was exhausted with the labels, disorientated by witnessing the repeated Spiritual show called ”manifestations”, that suggested God picked the same people every Sunday as a reward for their piety. I was fed up with having my tithing and church attendance record being used as the yardstick, that measured my commitment to Christ, and  Christ’s commitment to me. Little did I know it then, but I was being led out of the Churchian ‘cycle of exclusivity and isolation’ (p.44), that is upheld by the false divide between secular and sacred. In short, Borlase introduced me to what authentic church can look like, and helped me to see the Triune God who gives his church permission to both sigh and breathe.

‘What this world needs, is not another one hit wonder with an axe to grind, another two bit politician peddling lies. Another three ring circus society. What this world needs is not another sign waving super saint that’s better than you. Another ear pleasing candy man afraid of the truth. Another prophet in an Armani suit’ ‘

(Casting Crowns, ‘what this world needs’ 2007, Altar and the door)

To be continued….

Source:

Borlase. C, 2001 ‘The Naked Christian: getting real with God’ Hodder and Stoughton Ltd.