The Future Is Waiting Within You
Publisher: Thomas Nelson
Reviewer: Discerning Reader Team
I am probably one of the few young, evangelical ministers in the United States to have never read a book by Erwin McManus. Having heard good things about McManus from a wide spectrum of people, I happily agreed to read the advanced preview copy of his forthcoming book, Wide Awake: The Future is Waiting Within You. On the back cover of the preview copy, McManus is described as a “husband, father, writer, futurist, activist, artist, and spiritual and cultural leader.” After reading such a flattering litany of titles, I dove into the content of his new book with high hopes. Unfortunately, I was sorely disappointed.
If you could sum up Wide Awake in two words, it would be something like this: “Wake up!” People are going through life with unfulfilled dreams, experiencing a “little bit of sadness” every morning (xii). McManus wants to “awaken humanity.” He believes that in every person there is a hero “waiting to be awakened.” He looks at every human as “pre-great” (xiii). The little bit of sadness we face in the morning is our “soul searching for its hero (xv).”
How can people be awakened? McManus turns to eight essential attributes that characterize people who live their dreams (Dream, Discover, Adapt, Expect, Focus, Create, Enjoy, Invest) and every one of the attributes is something that people must discover from within. Each chapter unpacks one of the eight attributes, usually with illustrations that help readers picture the kind of life that McManus is describing.
Wide Awake contains some helpful advice. McManus doesn’t sacrifice character in order to emphasize the principle of adaptability. He emphasizes the importance of integrity and the necessity of living according to firm principles. Occasionally, he offers good insight into certain stories from Scripture. For example, in the story of Peter walking on water, McManus points out the fact that Peter was distracted by something he couldn’t see (the wind) instead of firm in his belief in Someone he could see (Jesus) (128). Preachers will benefit from some of his memorable illustrations, like this one that compares coconuts and peaches:
“Some of us are more like coconuts – hard on the outside and hollow on the center. But we need to be more like peaches – soft and fuzzy on the outside but solid as a rock in the middle.” (77)
But even McManus’ good insights are often mixed with theological affirmations that leave the reader perplexed. In the space of just two paragraphs, McManus can say something terrific (like “The way God changes your life is by changing you”) and then something out in left field (“The only future you will give yourself to is the one you believe can happen”) (95).
The main problem with Wide Awake is that it bounces back and forth between pastoral counseling and motivational lingo that borders on Gnosticism (your power is within, etc.). The problem McManus’ readers are dealing with is not sin and depravity. In fact, McManus thinks the church talks too much about sin and guilt (143). The main problem is unfulfillment and sadness (22, 28). Salvation and satisfaction are found in your living out your story (160).
McManus’ writes much about the importance of dreams, but he leaves them undefined. Wide Awake needs more eschatology. The “dreams” that McManus wants to awaken within us are not grounded in anything other than our own minds. The dreams we have are of “a life, a world, a future so beautiful that it takes your breath away” (116). Yes. Our vision of the coming Kingdom should inform our dreams for today, but McManus never links our dreams to the Kingdom of God. Readers will pour whatever meaning they want into his vague category of “dreams” and “a beautiful future.”
My advice to pastors and church leaders? Skip Wide Awake. If you’re looking for motivational thoughts to push you ahead in the direction you already want to go, then Wide Awake will do the trick. If you’re looking for challenging biblical teaching that will ground your dreams in Kingdom reality, you’ll have to look elsewhere.