Book Review | An Unstoppable Force | Erwin McManus

Bibliographical Information: McManus, Erwin Raphael. An Unstoppable Force: Daring to Become the Church God Had in Mind.  (Loveland, Colorado: Group Publishing),  2001.

Author Information: Erwin McManus, originally a citizen of El Salvador, has a passion unlike most for people of all nationalities. After planting a Hispanic church in inner-city Dallas, Texas, McManus then took on the heavy responsibility of leading Los Angeles based Mosaic Church (formerly known as The Church on Brady), an 800 plus member church made of many diverse nationalities, including Hispanics, Asians, and Caucasian and African and Americans. In addition to his role as a Pastor, he serves in many other roles, including husband, father, futurist, artist, cultural leader, church plant adviser, and youth event speaker. A graduate of both the University of North Carolina and Southwestern Theological Seminary, McManus has written many dynamic books, including The Barbarian Way, Chasing Daylight, and Soul Cravings, Wide Awake, and Uprising.

Content Summary:

McManus wastes no time giving his position on the church – it’s an organism, not an organization (McManus, 14). This being the case, the church should be concerned about issues of life and spirituality within the church, not about technicalities and traditions, such as that of running the church’s business meeting according to the Robert’s Rules of Order instead of by “the pattern of the apostolic church” (McManus, 14). In order to be a healthy organism, churches must care for her young, reproduce and prepare the next generation of the body of Christ, and “awaken an apostolic ethos” in the church (McManus, 20).

In the next section, “First Movement”, McManus gives an alarming wakeup call by painting a portrait of what happens as the church fades away into nothing. In His chapter called “Atrophy”, McManus reminds the reader of the far-too-often sad reality that churches waste away from defective nutrition. This is because churches are so concerned with thriving or even surviving that they forget their purpose as the body of Christ – to serve. “The Church must raise her sails and move with the Spirit if we are not to be left behind. It isn’t enough to simply hold on; we must boldly move forward” (McManus, 23).

In the next section, “First Movement”, McManus gives motivation for the church to take those first steps to become the church God had in mind. The church that God had in mind will not run from the culture that is at their back door, they will face it head on. “We’re running scared, and because we are, we’re hitting the cultural obstacles rather than overcoming them”. The church must overcome the cultural obstacles within their community so that they can effectively reach those people who are buried deep below the culture. The church God had in mind will not compromise, but rather will engage in battle to overcome cultural barriers that keep people away from church and keep the church away from people. Once the barriers are removed, great opportunity exists. “The nations are at our front door, we have an opportunity to love our neighbors as ourselves, and the practical application of reconciliation is right across the street” (McManus, 45).

Once the first movements towards becoming the church God had in mind occur, momentum begins to form. From this momentum, the church can find the strength and wherewithal to transform a culture and to not only produce followers of Jesus Christ, but also to be a part of a movement of Jesus Christ. Within this movement, an ethos is found – an ethos that is a “corporate-intense mental state that arises…..[within] the entire community” (McManus, 97). In this state, the entire community feels the same way and everyone has everything in common, much like the first century church.

In the next section, entitled “Third Movement”, McManus discusses many aspects of the healthy, growing church, including one who is engaging a broken world by “passing on the deep teachings of being a disciple of Jesus Christ” (McManus, 131). The church, in order to be the church God had in mind, must use the spiritual gifts God has given to “engage the power of faith, hope, and love” (McManus, 147).

In his last official chapter, the Epilogue withstanding, the church should remember that as they seek to continually reform themselves to reach the ever changing culture, they should prepare for obstacles, discouragement, and resistance. However, with God’s help, the church can indeed move forward to align and realign themselves with God’s purpose. God people should be led, through solid leadership, through “a journey that leads them from a transition to a transformation” (McManus, 198).

Evaluation:

It is evident from the first few pages of An Unstoppable Force: Daring to Become the Church God Had in Mind that McManus is creative, energetic, passionate, and a list of other positive adjectives. He exhibits the enthusiasm necessary to kindle a fire in anyone who genuinely desires to be a part of the church God has in mind. He is a bold visioneer who isn’t afraid to take large, bold steps. He’s proven this with his Texas church plant as well as his move to Mosaic. His book gives his unique, fresh perspective on how to build a church that will impact both the local community and the world. Furthermore, McManus has the goods to back up his vision – his church is impacting both the community and the world as I write this paper.

McManus seemed to have a relevant story and illustration for almost every primary point he made, possibly too many. For every point he made, he had a picture to paint through creative, flashy, culturally relevant words and through illustrations that made sense logically. For example, as he described the church that is afraid to move, thus failing to gain momentum, he paints a picture of himself as a small child, afraid of roller coasters (McManus, 63-63). He discusses his fear of the roller coaster and the five years he spent being afraid of them. Once he overcame that fear, he began to gain momentum incredibly fast, always looking for that next roller coaster ride and he never looked back. The church must get over the fears they have – fears about the changing culture that’s right outside their door. If they can conquer those fears, they too can begin to gain momentum in their church – momentum that will sky rocket their spiritual growth as a congregation and put them on the path to becoming the kind of church God had in mind.

This book was a challenge for this reviewer. The energetic, modernistic vocabulary style was hard for me to follow. Although I cannot quite place the writing style, it seemed a bit New Age or Postmodern – and maybe that was the intention of the author. I had to read and reread many of the sections, yet still did not grasp the entirety of his message. Many of his metaphors, illustrations, and flashy vocabulary simply did not resonate with this reviewer. I often found myself asking, “What is McManus trying to say here?” For instance, on pages 40-41, McManus discusses being “afraid to cross the street”. Yet I was never able to grasp what this figurative language represented in the church growth world. Just what is it that the church is afraid of here? I do not know.

McManus has a tendency, at least in this book, to be a little wordy and vague. Some of his points, though likely present, seem to get lost in the flashy, verbose writing style that McManus has. For instance, on page 54, McManus says that the church “has an opportunity to…. become an expression of the nations coming together and hearing the gospel in their own language”.  Yet he fails to disclose exactly how this will happen. How will the nations come together through the church? What steps are involved in this process? He goes on to give an example of a church coming together in this fashion – Cornerstone Church – yet still fails to describe how he led his church to accomplish this task. This seemed to be a common occurrence throughout his book. He gave instances of success or visions for success, yet did not readily offer the solutions or processes to accomplish these goals. He didn’t offer any ideas for changes that could be made within the local church to achieve the goals that he achieved.

McManus’ uses of modern, New Age terminology seemed to be a hindrance in conveying his message of growth to the church. As a Pastor of a small church in a rural area, I know personally that the churches that need growth the most cannot relate to the modernistic terminology that is prevalent in his book. The book seemed to be more geared towards those who McManus desires to reach, rather than those that he is trying to encourage (IE: the church). This would be like speaking only Spanish to an English speaking community that you wish to teach Spanish. During my first year of Spanish in college, my professor spoke English, so that I could learn the language without complication. McManus should speak English too, so that those of us who need to grow our churches can learn his language without complication. His complicated vocabulary style made his theological conveyances light. I wish he would be heavier in his ecclesiology and light in his terminology. I was expecting a book much deeper in the theology of the church – a book that used that theology to lay a foundation that could be used to grow a church. If a church could be grown on modern vocabulary and terminology, McManus’ book is right on it. However, this isn’t the case.

In fairness to McManus, his book isn’t a step by step manual about how to fill up empty pews in the local rural congregation. McManus’ book is about how a church in a large, multicultural environment can reach people of many different cultures, pull them together in a cohesive unit, and transform themselves into the church God had in mind. McManus’ book exudes with passion, excitement, and vibrant ideas about how a church should be. Although there are many criticisms that can be made of this “New Age” book, the fact remains that this book is filled with many good insights and much wisdom on how to become the church God had in mind. Yes, this book is radical, yet it is also relevant. Both of these traits are needed in the church today if the church is going to engage and penetrate the culture that is awaiting them outside their church doors and around the corner. If you are looking for specific “how-to” concepts, this isn’t the right book. However, if you are looking for a fresh, radical, dynamic look at what the church should look like, then this might be the right book for you.

Liberty University, EVAN 550, Evangelism and Church Planting, Book Review, Critical Book Review: Unstoppable Force.

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