The Ragamuffin Bible is an NIV Bible which is interwoven with quotes and devotional thoughts from Brennan Manning.
I need to break this review into two parts. First, I want to examine the philosophy of the project. Second, I will review its execution.
I am somewhat concerned with the idea of interweaving the quotes from a single author, any author, with the text of Scripture. I am concerned for a couple reasons. First, I wonder whether an immature reader will take Scripture and the thoughts of the author at equal weight/authority. Second, the fact that is a single author makes me worried that Scripture will be read through a single lens – a single set of eyes, those of the author, in this case Brennan Manning. Manning may have been solidly orthodox but he certainly read Scripture through a particular lens. We all do, of course, but having a single authors words so closely related to the Text of Scripture grants a lot of weight to his words.
I confess that I am not familiar with Brennan Manning’s works so I asked myself – what if I had a C.S. Lewis Bible? I think I would respond with the same concern. I love C.S. Lewis, but part of me wants to have my C.S. Lewis books on one part of the shelf and my Bible on the other.
I should also note that many of the same critiques could be leveled against Study Bibles, but I think the overall philosophy is different. Study Bibles are usually written by committees. Also, they have been around long enough, I think, for most Bible students to understand that the interpretations of the Study Bible are just that – interpretations.
My concern over the philosophy of this work doesn’t disqualify it for me. First, I liked pretty much everything Brennan Manning said. Second, mature readers will able to make the distinction necessary so that they can submit to Scripture, but question Manning’s application.
Given the philosophy, how did Zondervan do in putting together the Bible?
The “Bible” part is really nice. It’s a solidly put together hard cover Bible. Its font and layout make it extremely readable. It’s an NIV translation, which is one of my favorites. In other words, as a Bible, it is very nice.
Where the rubber meets the road, however, is in how well it interweaves Manning’s quotes with the Text of Scripture. The way the Ragamuffin Bible is set up, sections from Brennan Manning’s works are combined with suggested Scripture reading. So, in preparation for this review I asked the question – did the addition of Manning’s works, applied to the suggested Scripture reading, help or hinder my own reading of Scripture?
In this regard, I made the following observations.
#1: A lot of the combinations (Scripture reading + Excerpts from Manning’s works) were head scratchers. That is, the excerpt only had a nominal connection to the Scripture reference in question. This was especially true for Old Testament texts. I specifically noted the “reflection” on the story of Elisha and the widow from 2 Kings 4:1-7. The excerpt from Manning’s works was a story about his final interactions with a widow. His story was good but it seemed the only point of connection between the two stories was the single word “widow.”
#2: The Ragamuffin Bible shined in the Gospels. This is likely because Manning wrote a lot about Jesus.
#3: Some sections betrayed a theological bias. For instance, there are two reflections on Psalm 37. The first appears to be a plea to peacemaking (and against servitude to the State), and the second is about how God loves all people. The first is simply unrelated to the Text (in my opinion) and the second is good, but it also seems misplaced given that Psalm 37 is an imprecatory psalm. I would have preferred reflections that actually dealt with the strong language of the psalm instead of saying, essentially, “ignore this.”
#4: Some of Manning’s quotes made me squirm, but probably because I was only given excerpts. For instance, in commenting on Malachi 4:2 he says “There is no need for law; a child doesn’t have to be told to love his Father … Christianity is not an ethical code. It is a love affair, a Spirit filled way of living aimed at making us professional lovers of God and people.” I like where he is going, but I think he is creating a false dichotomy here between love and commands, something Jesus doesn’t do (John 15). Then again, perhaps Manning makes no such dichotomy but only appears to in this small excerpt.
As you can see, I have some reservations. That said much of it is very good. I learned a lot from reading Manning’s reflections and this will probably lead me to read The Ragamuffin Gospel at some point in the future. I think I would just prefer not combining the two. If you’re a fan of Brennan Manning, you’ll probably like this. If he’s new to you (like he is for me) I recommend buying one of his books separately.
Disclosure of Material Connection: I received this book free from the publisher through the BookSneeze®.com <http://BookSneeze®.com> book review bloggers program. I was not required to write a positive review. The opinions I have expressed are my own. I am disclosing this in accordance with the Federal Trade Commission’s 16 CFR, Part 255