Release the Untamed Faith Within
Publisher: Thomas Nelson
Reviewer: Discerning Reader Team
In his re-released The Barbarian Way, now going under the title of Unleashed, Erwin McManus puts forward his critique that Christianity has become too civilized. He rejects the belief that “Jesus died and rose from the dead so that you can live a life of endless comfort, security, and indulgence,” and declares his “mission to destroy the influence of the Christian clich’, ‘The safest place to be is in the center of the will of God.’ “
Following Jesus is not about safety or security. McManus points out that John the Baptist lost his head while in the center of God’s will. “We look to Jesus not to fulfill our shallow longings or to provide for us creature comforts. We look to Him to lead us where He needs us most and where we can accomplish the most good.” McManus calls Christians to reject conformity and security, and to embrace what he calls the barbarian way, which is “about love expressed through sacrifice and servant hood.” Like early followers of Christ – John the Baptist, Peter, and Paul – we “are called to a path filled with uncertainty, mystery, and risk.”
McManus presents a strong argument, and he backs it up with plenty of Scripture. His overall message is compelling and sound; it’s one that I love hearing, whether it comes from John Piper, David Platt, or McManus himself. But his book falls short of the others when it comes to application. How do you live out this unleashed, barbarian faith? McManus’ examples include jumping off a house, jet skiing off the coast of Wellington, and an ATV ride through the wilderness that ends in a trip to the emergency room, ‘a vital locale for the barbarian.”
The barbarian way also involves pursuing our dreams, going for the promotion, and striving to reach our full potential, which sounds suspiciously like the prosperity gospel that McManus does such a good job of refuting. At this point the faith he describes sounds tame and unimpressive – more like run-of-the-mill self-esteem. And while McManus is usually clear about what Jesus’ death did not secure, he’s not clear about what it did do. The gospel is muddied with statements like, “His purpose was to save us not from pain and suffering, but from meaninglessness.”
I’m probably missing the point. There must be a radical, barbarian faith that expresses itself by street preaching in New Orleans, serving as a missionary in Haiti, or rebuking King Herod. I’m sure that McManus has these in mind rather than irresponsible recklessness, but never makes that crystal clear, leaving us to wonder whether we should sell all that we own and give to the poor, or sell all that we own and take a dangerous vacation.