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God and Trust: In Homage to Brennan Manning

This post is from several years ago. It contains elements that apply to our relationship with God as we ponder grace and forgiveness. 

I talked about Henri Nouwen in my last post. I am focusing on Brennan Manning in this one. Jollyblogger had this to say,

There is alot to like about Brennan Manning - he's definitely charming and winsome. I copied out his little poem about Ragamuffins at the beginning of The Ragamuffing Gospel and loved it for years.

However, in reading and listening to him recently I've grown very uncomfortable with him. I heard him speak in San Diego about the importance of knowing that you are loved by God and he spoke of the cross probably over a dozen times as evidence of God's love for you. He never spoke of the cross in reference to sin or atonement. Also, in the new book on Stories of Emergence, one of the writers speaks of a retreat he went on with Manning to help reconnect with God. Manning told him that he needed to leave everything that would distract him behind, in order to re-connect with God. Oh by the way, one of the things he needed to leave behind was his bible. Manning seems to be leaning toward universalism and he has a real disdain for those whom he thinks rely too heavily on the Bible as means of discerning God's will. One of Manning's mentors is Thomas Merton who is the worldwide leader in the attempted syncretism of Christianity with eastern religion.

I'll tackle the story on the retreat without the bible. In Understanding People, Larry Crabb gave us a construct that said as humans we are, rational, volitional, emotional and personal people. We reason, we choose, we feel and we desire to be significant with ultimate significance coming with God. In modernity, in western Christian culture we have leaned too heavily on the rational and volitional aspects of who we are. Just know your bible and choose right could be the mantra. Sounds good. It just isn't all there is. But to the person who overemphasizes this he could lose the element of relationship with God through the bible. The bible ceases as a living word and becomes a tool to debate and prove one's 'rightness'. There is a desire to eliminate messiness and mystery. Entering more fully into my emotions and reflecting on who I am uniquely made in the image of God gets messy and isn't always a predictable undertaking.

My guess is that Manning saw this man as overly strong in the rational and volitional at the expense of experiencing God on an emotional and personal level. So Manning tells him to leave his bible behind and to go seek God by yourself for a bit. Sit and listen for his spirit. Experience Him instead of learning about Him. And then upon your return 'hear' your bible as words from God. Let them sink into your soul and allow them to form who you are. Don't try to figure them out all of the time just let them do their work on you. That is my guess and my apologies to Mr. Manning if I am off base. To take this and to say that Manning is against scripture is irrational and displays faulty logic. Yet this is what the article that jolly linked to basically said.

I reread some notes from Ruthless Trust by Manning tonight and saw tons and tons of scripture quoted and the central theme was to trust God through Christ with all of your wretchedness and woundedness.Manning said this in Ruthless Trust, '…Childlike surrender and trust is the defining spirit of authentic discipleship...Craving clarity, we attempt to eliminate the risk of trusting God.' There were verses about coming to Jesus as a little child right? My only sarcasm for the post. 'We would never judge any of God’s other children with the savage condemnation with which we crush ourselves.' These words are so powerful to me. He also talks about how our self condemnation reflects a lack of trust in God. That is, it is a sin.

Addicts get these words. Underneath an addict's denial, blame, minimization and rationalization is a man or a woman who thinks he/she is a piece of crap. Really. Addicts crush themselves and then run from it by using again or denying their impact. Jolly said that Manning mentioned the cross a dozen times as a signal of God's love for us and didn't mention our sin. That's because an addict 'knows' he is wretched and 'knows' he isn't worthy of God's forgiveness. He is very aware he is a sinner and in fact such a sinner that there is no way God would ever take him back into the fold. Forgiveness is for all but him or her. The fact that God loves him or her is virtually incomprehensible. So it must be stated over and over again. God accepts you right now. Come on in. Drunk? Drugs? Compulsively masturbate? You are still my child. I have not disowned you and I do have something so much better for you.

In Abba's Child, Manning draws out the meaning of the prodigal son story. The son comes home after squandering his inheritance willing to settle (he's not worthy, piece of dung remember) for being Dad's slave. Dad sees him and throws out all civility, runs to him and kisses and kisses and can't stop kissing him. Let's have a party my son is home he says. Dad is God and we are the prodigal sons. We can't imagine such grace in our lives. We can't imagine love coming our way when we have blown it so many times. Yet He does. We aren't worth it, can't be, but God says we are treasured beyond what we will ever know.

Manning says, 'We do not trust that he can handle all that goes on in our minds and hearts. Can he accept our hateful thoughts, our cruel fantasies, and our bizarre dreams? We wonder. Can he cope with our primitive images, our inflated illusions, and our exotic mental castles? We conclude that he cannot and thus withhold from Jesus what is most in need of his healing touch.' We believe we aren't worthy and don't seek relationship with God.

By the way, read Nouwen's The Return of the Prodigal Son. It is fantastic. He leads us into looking at where we reflect the prodigal, the older son, and the father. Nouwen says, 'Mystery is an embarrassment to the modern mind. But to avoid mystery is to avoid the only God worthy of worship, honor, and praise. And it is a failure to slake the thirst of seekers and believers alike—those who reject the dignified, businesslike Rotary Club deity we chatter about on Sunday morning and search for a God worthy of awe, silent reverence, total commitment, and whole-hearted trust.'

I want a wild God...and I don't. But I really do because a god I can tame is not God. I feel the emptiness when I worship the Rotary Club deity.

Manning does indeed quote scripture, 'The inspired intuition that the glory of God is absolute love—even when rejected—permits only the whispered prayer of the tax-collector:”God be merciful to me, a sinner” (Luke 18:13) Manning does love the bible, but he hasn't made it God. Manning does talk about sin and quotes scripture to emphasize that being aware of our own sin allows us to experience the fullness of God's love. He says that God loves us with our sin, not in spite of our sin-that wouldn't be complete love. His view of God's grace is scandalous and outrageous. I believe it is true. If not I refute Ephesians 2:8-9 which paraphrased says we are saved by grace, through faith and this is a gift of God, not of works lest any man can boast. It is an outlandish gift of God's love, so hard to receive but so humbling when we are finally able to.


Betrayed and Betrayer by Ben and Ann Wilson