MV5BOTYzNjg2MTAzM15BMl5BanBnXkFtZTgwNDEyODc3MTE@._V1_SY569_SX400_AL_Over the weekend, Corina and I watched the new movie based on the life of Rich Mullins - Ragamuffin, a biopic that chronicles Rich’s rise in the Christian music industry and describes his ongoing struggle with sin and redemption until a car accident claimed his life in 1997.

If you’re not familiar with Rich Mullins’ music, you have missed one of the few bright spots in contemporary Christian music over the last few decades. “Awesome God” is an evangelical staple, but I suspect few Mullins fans consider the song to be his best or their personal favorite. I find myself going back to “If I Stand,” “Creed,” and “Elijah.” Then there’s “Hold Me Jesus” - an authentic cry to the Savior that neither wallows in despair nor covers up the pain. Mullins paved the way for Caedmon’s Call, Chris Rice, and Andrew Peterson (see my conversation with Andrew about Rich’s impact on his music).

Rich Mullins was a sinner and a saint, like all believers in Jesus, and this movie does a good job showing us both aspects of Rich’s life.

The storyline of the film makes Mullins’ complicated relationship with a disapproving father the centerpiece, a relationship that hinders Rich from fully embracing the love of God for him. From beginning to end, the need for fatherly affection, both human and heavenly, carries the story of Rich’s life along, with his biggest hits interspersed throughout.

In the way they tell Rich’s story, the filmmakers satisfy the curiosity of fans who want to know “the stories behind the songs” while not allowing Rich’s career to overshadow the deeper, often problematic elements of his relational and personal struggles.

If you are looking for an idealized or sanitized portrait of Rich Mullins, don’t watch this movie. Here’s a chain-smoking man with salty language and a propensity toward alcohol abuse who sees himself and everyone else in desperate need of God’s mercy and grace. At the same time, here’s a man who gave away almost all of the money he earned, spent time ministering to the broken who lived on a Native American reservation, and pointed people away from himself and toward the church for spiritual nourishment.

It’s the rawness of Rich’s admission of sin and his provocative words about grace that disarm the viewer, just like he startles the listeners of his music. In one scene, a radio host asks Rich about a song he wrote for Amy Grant, “Doubly Good to You,” which communicates gratitude for God’s good gifts:

And if you find a love that’s tender
If you find someone who’s true
Thank the Lord
He’s been doubly good to you

The radio host, acknowledging a painful break-up in Rich’s past and his subsequent life as a single man, argues that the song is cruel for the way it implies God hasn’t been doubly true to Rich. To this, Rich responds: “God is not obligated to be singly good to any of us.”

Grace. Unmerited favor from an unobligated Giver.

It’s the truth that opened Rich up to the wonders of creation (“Calling Out Your Name”), the fragility of fallen humanity (“We Are Not as Strong as We Think We Are”) and the necessity of God’s “foolish” mercy (“Let Mercy Lead”).

Rich Mullins is still something of an enigma. His life isn’t a paragon of virtue or a sterling example of “the victorious Christian life.”

But at the heart of his story and music is good news for the sinner, the “beggar on the door of God’s mercy.” And that’s why his music appeals to a ragamuffin like me.

~~~~~

Watch the Trailer for Ragamuffin here.

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12 thoughts on “Learning from Rich Mullins – a Ragamuffin at the Door of God’s Mercy”

  1. Andy says:

    Good word Trevin. I also really identified with Mullins’ music and story. On a side note and not to go off on a
    tangent it seems quite sad that there are so many people who like the message of someone like Mullins but end up in the hands of the some of the re:more liberal and false teachers of today who’s blogs shant be mentioned. The way I heard Mullins was someone who was brought to his knees through tears. I can attest to knowing that struggle. It seems, to me at least, that’s what a lot of folks are seeking these days. They want to hear someone who may have been in the same places they were and aren’t ashamed to talk about, for lack of a better word, the realness of the experience. We’re all ragamuffins and beggars.

  2. Suzanne says:

    Incredible movie! We just watched it, too – a beautiful story of struggle and dependence. Definitely “hold me Jesus” is what comes to mind when I think of him.

  3. Rachael Starke says:

    I’ll take unfiltered, broken desperation for Jesus over saccharine caricatured Christianity a la Mom’ Night Out any day. Thanks for the great review.

  4. Thanks for this, Trevin. Rich is a hero of mine too. Enjoyed reading this.

  5. Phoenix says:

    Trevin, have you read The Ragamuffin Gospel? I was thinking about picking it up but the reviews seem a bit mixed on the teaching.

    1. Trevin Wax says:

      I think I perused it when I was a teenager, but I don’t remember much about it. I suspect there will be nuggets of gold in there, along with some stuff I disagree with theologically.

      Like most books I read… :-)

  6. Kathy Sprinkle says:

    THANK YOU for your insights into the movie. As one of Rich’s close family of friends portrayed in the movie, I have been thrilled with the response to the message of Ragamuffin! Many, many Ragamuffins are finding their way home.

  7. Esther says:

    Rich is one of my favorite artists too. I have not seen the movie, but was moved by some images in the first 10 minutes or so. At the same time, some reviews I’ve read comment that there was a lack of the joy that was so infectious about Rich. Yes, he had a hard life and was rough around the edges, but as he says in “We Are Not as Strong, “When I laugh I can be a lot of fun.” This is the guy who wrote songs like “Screen Door” and “The Maker of Noses.” There was a delightful whimsy about him, and from what people are saying, the Rich in this movie is just all brooding, all the time. I’m also concerned about the hero worship of Brennan Manning, though I know he was very influential to Rich. Some aspects of Manning’s legacy are harder to celebrate than others. But anyway, I will have to see it for myself to form my own opinion.

  8. What I most like about his music is the same thing I like most about as different artists from him (and each other) as Petra and Michael Card. The lyrics are saturated with scripture. I would have no interest if it were bad music, but it’s the scriptural content that makes it stand out above most CCM.

  9. Jessy says:

    I’ve always been drawn to “Calling Out Your Name” because I believe nature points us to God’s goodness & creativity & magnificence. I think Rich’s music draws us in BECAUSE of his messy life. I’d hazard a guess that because most of us identify more with him than the cleaned-up, “everything’s great” picture of a church member.

  10. Thanks for this review Trevin. When I came to faith back in ’91 the CCM scene was hollow and bleak – with one exception. The honesty and artistic quality of Rich’s music drew me in and forced me to see all of life in light of the gospel. I had the opportunity to meet him on a few occasions following concerts and he seemed to always take the time to hang out and interact with other fellow ragamuffins. My last interaction with Rich was about a year before he died when I asked him to sign all of the CD inserts that I owned. In typical Rich form, he did so in a self-depricating way. My oldest son was born the year that Rich caught his “chariot of fire”. I named him Aidan Elijah. Those familiar with Rich’s music will understand why.

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Trevin Wax


​Trevin Wax is managing editor of The Gospel Project at LifeWay Christian Resources, husband to Corina, father to Timothy, Julia, and David. You can follow him on Twitter. Click here for Trevin’s full bio.

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