Best known for “Awesome God” and “Sing Your Praise to the Lord,” Rich Mullins burst onto the Christian music scene in the late 1980s and early 1990s and delivered a number of memorable songs that were both theologically rich and experientially compelling. His success paved the way for singer/songwriters like Chris Rice, Andrew Peterson, and the band Caedmon’s Call.
Ragamuffin, recently released on DVD and Blu-ray, is an independent film that chronicles Mullins’ rise in the Christian music industry and the personal and spiritual struggles he faced until a car accident claimed his life in 1997. Director and actor David Leo Schultz makes Mullins’ complicated relationship with a disapproving father the centerpiece of the film. The need for fatherly affection, both human and heavenly, carries the story of Rich’s life along, with his most popular songs providing the soundtrack of his journey.
Like all believers in Jesus, Mullins was a sinner and a saint, and Ragamuffin (rated PG-13) shows both aspects of his life. Here we see a chain-smoking man with salty language and a propensity toward alcohol abuse, who nevertheless gives away almost all of the money he earns, ministers to the broken residents of a Native American reservation, and consistently points people away from himself and toward the church for spiritual nourishment. Throughout the film, it’s the rawness of Mullins’ admission of sin and his provocative words about grace that disarm the viewer, just as his lyrics startle the listeners of his music.
Ragamuffin meanders at times (it clocks in at 2 hours and 17 minutes), but its flaws are overcome by spirited performances and the inclusion of several close friends and family members playing different roles. Mullins’ life isn’t a paragon of virtue or a sterling example of “the victorious Christian life.” But this movie gets at the heart of his story and music: grace—unmerited favor from an unobligated Giver—good news for the sinner, the “beggar at the door of God’s mercy.”