It has been a long time since I have seen you. Ten years, in fact. Before I get into this letter, let me just say that I care for you and wish only the best for you and your family. In my time at Mosaic, you and Kim were always kind to me. You both took a personal interest in me and gave me many opportunities. While I did have a falling out with leadership regarding my decision to not take on my own worship band at the time, things remained amicable for the most part, until I left Mosaic. The concerns and criticism I am putting forth in this letter are not meant to be a personal attack but to focus on things you have said that I sincerely believe have caused damage for many. Although I am going to speak plainly, my prayer is that you will hear my heart, which is to speak truth in love. My desire and purpose is not to tear you down. But I take God’s Word to heart, and there is precedent for confronting those who claim the pastoral office and yet do not faithfully preach God’s Word. What you have spoken, you have spoken publicly. And so I am responding to you with this open letter.
[I would also like to say a quick word to anyone attending Mosaic: this letter is not meant as a criticism of you. I still have friends whom I dearly love who attend Mosaic. It is my sincere hope that you will be able to discern the intent and tone of my heart in this letter.]
When I heard about the release of your new book “The Artisan Soul,” I went and watched your promo on YouTube to get a sense of what it was about. The message is a typical one for you: the idea that at our core, we are all artists. I heard that same message over and over again in my time at Mosaic LA from 2000–2004. Again and again I heard the message that artists are more fully-realized people and that realized people are more artistically and creatively in tune. The focus was on creativity, and the talented individual was held in high esteem. And I loved it. It stroked my ego at a time when my identity was completely wrapped up in my artistic ability. I was in my early twenties, and was insecure and looking for purpose in life. But I didn’t hear much about Jesus. What I heard about mostly was myself.
Then several months ago I listened to the message you gave at Gateway Church in Austin, Texas, entitled Created to Create (20:58). In that sermon you talked a lot about our “intention” as humans—i.e., that our intention, or purpose in life, is to be creative beings. But you also talked about something else that I want to discuss, and by way of that discussion, bring up my other concerns. You shared a story about an artist friend of yours who had committed suicide. Most of us who attended Mosaic LA for any length of time in the last 15 years will know who you were talking about – a man who was an amazing fine artist and all-around remarkable guy. I remember the first time I attended Mosaic, he was on stage painting a 6-foot tall cross during the service. I reconnected with him about 3 years ago, just a few months before he ended his life. I wanted to collaborate with him on a music video for my song “Man of Sorrows.” He had been excited to work together. When I heard the news of his suicide, I was in shock. I kept asking myself, “Didn’t he hear the gospel? Didn’t he know that Jesus came to set him free?” Sadly, as you demonstrated in this sermon, I can only wonder whether you ever shared the gospel with him. In your account, I heard no words of hope at all. This caused me to further reflect upon your teaching in my time at Mosaic, and I realized that I had, in fact, never heard the good news of the gospel from you either. In fact, I cannot think of a single time that the topics of justification, atonement, or repentance of sins were clearly stated. This is the reason I am writing this letter.
In the sermon you gave at Gateway Church, you shared about your artist friend, giving your assessment of what went wrong:
I remember years ago I was talking to an artist. He was always depressed, which is sort of redundant. And I remember sitting down with him, and he said, “I’m having a hard time getting a job,” which is also redundant. And I said “Why?” and he goes, “Well, everybody who wants to hire me wants me to prostitute my talent.” I said, “What do you mean?” And he goes, “Well, they don’t want me to use my art to speak things that are real.” I said “Why?” He goes, “You know, like pain, despair, brokenness, sorrow, violence.” I said, “Well, what do they want you to use your art to communicate?” He said, “You know, things like hope, happiness, joy, love.” I said, “Can I ask you a question?” He said, “Sure.” And I said, “Is it possible that emotions like happiness even, could be real? That hope or love could be real? That joy could be an authentic human emotion, inspiring art?” He paused, and thought for a long time, and I’ll never forget what he said. He said, “That thought has never occurred to me.”
See, the reason it seems as if all honest art comes from the dark places of the human spirit is because most of us have not allowed our lives to be transformed, so that joy is an authentic human experience. So that hope is an authentic human experience. Twenty years later, before he turned forty, that friend of mine took his life because he could find no reason to live. One of the most talented artists in the world. Because you can only create out of your essence, and that essence must then come in alignment with God’s intention. I love how everything God creates has intention….Only humans have the highest intention, and can live without our intention. We can live against our intention. You wonder why you’re miserable? Why you feel unfulfilled? Why you feel this internal angst? It’s because as a human being, your intention is so divine in its nature that you can forsake it. Because that intention must be chosen. That’s why we keep asking these questions, “What is God’s will for my life?” If there’s beauty in my soul, if there’s hope in my soul, if there’s light in my soul, if there’s love in my soul, that’s the world I will create. If there’s bitterness, anger, envy, despair, that’s the world I will create.
This friend always seemed like the textbook “tortured artist” type to me, and it seems he did to you too. As someone who has also struggled with the weight of portraying truth, I identify profoundly with what he expressed to you in that conversation. It was clear from his response that happiness, joy, and hope were not real to him. And it was not in his nature to fake it but to express only that which he knew. It is also clear when you observe his art itself, that he placed the utmost importance on honesty. His response to you was essentially him saying, “I don’t know happiness, I don’t know joy, I don’t know hope.” As you pointed out, people can’t preach what they don’t know. So he wasn’t able to make “happy” or “uplifting” art because he didn’t have hope. But he needed it. Desperately. And he was reaching out for it.
But in that moment, when his disappointment and despair was laid bare before you, what hope did you offer him? Did you share with him the good news that although we are all born dead in sin and at enmity with God, (1) Jesus came to make peace with God on our behalf? (2) That because of our sinful condition, punishment was justly deserved (3); yet Jesus, who had done no wrong, stood as a substitute in our place and said “take me instead”? (4) That because he’s cleared our debt, we no longer have to go on living under the crushing burdens of our successes or failures and the unsurmountable injustice and pain of this world? That through his death, burial, and resurrection, Jesus made it possible for us to bury our old self (5) and be born again as a new creation, the way God always intended us to be? (6) That because of that, we don’t have to strive anymore to earn God’s favor or to be “good enough” because he has already done everything that needs to be done? (7) That no amount of effort to improve ourselves or to be happy or positive can save us because our trying always shifts the burden of salvation back to us? That either we can save ourselves or we can’t—and if we cannot, then we need a Savior to literally come and rescue us from ourselves? That we are therefore finally free from the lie that we have to change ourselves in order to be good or acceptable; that it is only God’s love and goodness that matters, not our own? That nothing can give us hope or transform the human soul, except to place one’s faith in Jesus and all that he’s done for us?
No. Instead you suggested that he “allow” his life to “be transformed so that joy is an authentic human experience.” But what gives us the power to transform our nature, Erwin? In your sermon in Austin, as well as in every sermon I have heard you preach, you never explained how that transformation is to take place. As it has always been in your preaching, the focus was not on God but on human potential. When listening to your teachings, we are left to assume that we are each responsible for changing our own attitude from bad to good. But how do we do that? This view of things puts us at the center and all the burden of transformation squarely on our own shoulders. But the gospel says that none of us can ever measure up or change ourselves—and we don’t need to; because Jesus lived a perfect life for us, and he has promised to change us.
Additionally, in your conversation with him, you completely disregarded his assertion of the reality of suffering and pain in this world. Instead of acknowledging his cry for help, you pontificated with “what if” questions. “What if joy is just as real as pain?” you asked. I’ve heard you speak enough to recognize that your worldview is based on “the truth within,” rather than objective truth, found outside of oneself. On one hand there is you, talking about the truth you see inside of yourself as one single person; on the other hand there is God, and the truth he has divinely spoken through his holy Word. I would argue that unless you are openly submitting your teaching to the Word of God, then your own heart is your barometer for truth. But scripture says “The heart is deceitful above all things, and desperately wicked: who can know it?” (8) He saw injustice in the world, as we all do, and he wanted answers. Answers that would satisfy the deepest longing of his soul. But instead of pointing him to what Jesus had done for him, you essentially told him that his negative worldview was his own fault. Instead of acknowledging that injustice is not only real, but that ultimate justice has been met in the person of Christ, you implied that the ills of the world could be reduced to a personal choice to stifle one’s own beauty or light.
Which leads me to this question: what is your definition of sin, in a worldview like this, where we can rid ourselves of all evil by simply willing to do so? And does sin only exist within the individual, or also in the world, outside of human beings? And if it does exist outside of the individual and the choices they make, then can we ever truly get rid of sin, evil, darkness, or negativity? I would sincerely like to know where you get this teaching from because I can’t find it anywhere in the Bible. Your philosophy does not seem any different from the gospel of the world, which has always said, “If we just put our minds to it, we can do anything.” We see this concept, which is alive and well today, presented centuries ago in the passage of the Tower of Babel, where God said, “Behold, they are one people, and they have all one language, and this is only the beginning of what they will do. And nothing that they propose to do will now be impossible for them. Come, let us go down and there confuse their language, so that they may not understand one another’s speech.” It was never God’s intention for us to accomplish wonderful things on our own, apart from him. The idea of “human potential” is meaningless in the light of the utter human failure that is sin. Our potential was fatally compromised in the Garden of Eden. But when we trust in God, who is not merely “potential,” but who is Himself the very accomplishment and fulfillment of all things (10), then and only then do we we live in the light. As the Psalmist says, “For with you is the fountain of life; in your light do we see light.” (11)
Let me pause for a moment to be clear: I am not implying that you are responsible for this man’s death. Taking his life was his own decision. But that you would use it as a means of casting yourself in a wise, knowing light is reprehensible. He was in a sinking ship. But instead of throwing him the lifeline of the gospel, you threw him the bricks of your own philosophies. As saddened as I am by his suicide, it saddens me even more that he was not given the truth.
I am aware that you do not consider the Bible to be the ultimate authority on matters of faith or life. You have gone on record before stating that “I build my life not on the Word of God, but the voice of God” (Relevant Magazine, September 23, 2005). During the time I attended Mosaic, I would have had no problem accepting a statement like that. At that time, I was a gnostic and a Christian mystic, dabbling in the occult without even realizing what I was doing. I was deceived into mistaking another voice for God. I emptied and opened up my spirit to what I thought was God and Jesus but eventually learned were impostors, voices of demons. I learned the hard way that only God’s Word is life and truth. (12) In my own experience at Mosaic, you always went to great lengths to keep scripture out of the conversation. Although in your preaching you would read texts and portions of the Bible, you poured your own meaning into them. Rather than asking “What does this say?” you focused on your own opinion, vision, thoughts, and words.
In your promo video for The Artisan Soul you said “I think it’s the most important message of my life,” and that you could teach people the “process for how to craft your life into a work of art.” But where does a life like this artist’s fit into that scenario? Was his life a work of art, or not? And if so, then why do you think he was compelled to end it? Or is true art defined only as that which promotes a positive message? And who, in the end, is the judge of what is good and worthwhile, and what is not? I have to be honest Erwin, when I heard this, it truly saddened me. You could have made the gospel the most important message of your life!
As you pointed out in your sermon, Jesus said that “only God is good.” (13) Yet instead of understanding that Jesus was teaching us that we desperately need his goodness because we have none in and of ourselves, you concluded that, “Everything is good because God is good.” Such a statement reflects a pantheistic worldview that walks hand in hand with the new spirituality and human potential movements, which teach that God is in everyone and everything. But this isn’t what the Bible teaches. It’s a Christ-less Christianity, hardly distinguishable from the “christ-consciousness” teachings of the high-profile, pagan gurus of today. Jesus himself warned that in the last days many would claim to be the Christ, but would not be, and instead be posers, deceivers, and ultimately, anti-christ. (14)
Your message of human potential kept me in bondage for years. Your message that, as you say in the YouTube promo, “people all over the world are waiting to be awakened to the deep God-given potential that is waiting to come to life. Every one of us are artists; we all have the artisan soul.” For years I believed that unless I did something outwardly impressive with my life, my gifts, and talents – my life would fall short. You had so built up this idea that we have to “do something big” that I became desperate for success. Pursuit of career became confused with pursuit of God, and my hunger for God was slowly choked out, replaced with a lust for the things of this world. That burden of transformation was all on me; and I was sinking under the weight of it. You didn’t tell me that no matter how hard I tried or what I accomplished, it would still fall short of the glory of God. You didn’t tell me that Jesus had already met the mark for me, so I don’t have to. You didn’t tell me that I don’t need to change the world because Jesus already did. But when the true gospel gripped my heart, I finally understood that because Jesus succeeded, I am still accepted by God when I fail. Now I know that my worth isn’t found in what I do, but in Jesus, and putting my faith in him.
Don’t tell me that I am amazing, Erwin. Tell me the truth about Jesus, and him crucified, buried, and risen for me. That is true human potential: what Jesus alone did on the cross. None of us could have done it, but the God-man, fully divine and fully human. Biblical human potential requires that God act on man’s behalf because our humanity equals sin and death. The Bible teaches that we are sinful at our core. But you teach that every human being is an artist at their core. When you say, “Everyone of us have creative potential that is to be unleashed for the good of the world,” where does a cross or a Savior fit into that scenario? As far as I can tell, in a world where we can make things better on our own, there is no need for a Savior.
Scripture makes it clear that God is saving us out of the world, not calling us to change it. (15) His purpose is not to “release everything inside of you and me, our passions, our intellect, our imagination, our creativity…to make the world more beautiful, to make the world a better place, to create an extraordinary future,” (The Artisan Soul ). His purpose is to seek and find that which was lost and adopt us into his family, so that each of us can share in Him and His inheritance. We were never meant to build a kingdom here in this world. Hebrews 11:16 says that those who have faith, “desire a better country, that is, a heavenly one. Therefore God is not ashamed to be called their God, for he has prepared for them a city.” It is those who look to the here and now, rather than to eternity, for whom the message of human potential rings true.
I thank God he saved me from a false gospel. He has shown me that there is infinitely more power in the Word he has already spoken in scripture, than in the word I hear within. He has shown me that he exists objectively outside of myself and is not merely something I sense spiritually with my own inner compass. I am desperately grateful for the gift of his Word, by which we can test all who claim to come in his name, as the Bereans did, and were commended for doing so.
In the years since I left Mosaic I have found it troubling that you self-apply titles like “futurist,” “cultural anthropologist,” and “cultural architect.” In your recent message in Austin, you used a new self-applied title, “expert on humans.” Yet ironically, when faced with the hardest questions and most primal longings of the human soul, you were unable to give anything more than empty platitudes. Instead of sharing with him the fantastic news that Jesus died to set him free from slavery and bondage to darkness, you told him to make happy art. When I attended Mosaic, your primary message week after week was, “Live the life God dreams for you.” From what I have heard in your recent preaching, and now your new book “The Artisan Soul,” your message has not changed. Your emphasis has remained on the creature, rather than the creator.
Maybe people do have God-given gifts. Maybe God even uses them. But the greatest gift, and the only one that really matters, is the gift of eternal life in Christ. Without the power of the message that we are sinners in need of being saved, all of your heartfelt attempts to be profound and meaningful are empty—like clouds without rain. You use a lot of words as the backdrop for your passionate and persuasive language, words like “soul,” “potential,” “dreams,” “passion,” “intellect,” “beauty,” “creativity,” “imagination,” and “materialization.” And although you are able to captivate your hearers, your message is foggy. What you are saying isn’t so important as the power of the emotional response you are able to draw out of people. Your lofty teachings may have a sort of power, but they do not have the power to save. Ironically, you fail to acknowledge that which makes us not only most human, but truly beautiful: God’s saving grace.
I earnestly pray that God would reveal truth to you, Erwin. I pray that his Word would cut through to your heart, as with a double-edged sword (16). I pray that you would work not to further your own kingdom, but the kingdom of God—which is not of this world. I pray that you will be undone, in the kindest, most merciful way. I pray you will hear The Lord calling your heart back to himself, and not harden it, but heed with surrender. Then your life will be truly epic. Then you will become a part of the most powerful movement since the dawn of time. Not one that sprung out of the mind of any man, but the one that the only true revolutionary, Jesus, began, and that he alone can accomplish and finish. I pray you will finish the race with your eyes fixed not on yourself but on the one who bled and died for you; not to affirm the “beauty and light” of your own soul, but so that your sins could be removed as far as the east is from the west and so you could be made a new creation in Him. I pray for you, Erwin, that you will hear the words of this letter, and if you find your heart pricked, repent.
For his glory—broken, yet alive to Christ,
NOTE: Although I published this post a few years ago, I was recently saddened to hear the news of Erwin’s cancer diagnosis. My prayers are with him and his family now more than ever. It is my sincere hope that he would turn to God in humble repentance, and live his life – not for the designer-Jesus of his own making, but for the one, true Christ revealed in scripture, known by the saints for millennia. May God’s wonderful mercy and blessing be with Erwin and his family.
1. Born dead into sin – Romans 5:12-21
2. Jesus is our peace – Ephesians 2:13-22
3. The wages of sin is death – Romans 6:20-23
4. He stood in our place – 2 Corinthians 5:21
5. Buried & raised with Christ – Colossians 2:8-15
6. In Christ a new creation – 2 Corinthians 5:17-19
7. He has done our works for us – Isaiah 26:12-13
8. The heart is deceitful – Jeremiah 17:9
9. Tower of Babel – Genesis 11
10. All is summed up in Christ – Ephesians 1:9-10
11. In his light we see light – Psalm 36:9
12. All scripture is God-breathed – 2 Timothy 3:16-17
13. No one is good except God – Mark 10:17-18
14. Many will claim to be the Christ & lead many astray – Matthew 24:3-5
15. The Parable of the Weeds – Matthew 13:24-30
16. The word of God pierces the heart – Hebrews 4:12
32 thoughts on “An Open Letter To Erwin McManus”
Thanks for sharing this. I pray that it does not fall on deaf ears.
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This was excellent. Our pastor in San Diego praised him and a re light went off in my head. Thank you for your truthful compassionate attempt to help people who are being led astray! Don’t apologize!!
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Thena, thank you for having the courage to speak the Truth openly and clearly.
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Well written and on point. God forgives and grace is a wonderful thing. I pay for Erwin.
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Justin, Frank and kimja67: thank you guys for your encouraging comments – I have needed it!
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As I always say….Quoting Ben Franklin: “A lie stands on one leg, the Truth stands on two.” Also, James 3:1 “Not many of you should become teachers, my brothers, for you know that we who teach will be judged with greater strictness. “
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I providentially came across this letter after a friend posted it on her Facebook page. Well done, thoughtfully and carefully articulated and unfortunately spot on with your analysis. Your evaluation of this man’s ministry (if heeded) can save many young striving artists in LA from profound deception in the name of Christ. Creative people don’t need to be seduced into believing that self-expression is self-realization; rather that their gifts are to be laid at the foot of the cross in humble service to the Savior of the world. We must decrease and He must increase. Thank you for your well crafted critique.
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Thank you so much for your comment. If this letter could spare even one person from the wasted years of chasing the idol of their dreams, then it will be worth it. I know I wish someone had helped me to understand the Truth of God’s Word during my time at Mosaic. Yet, we are all sinful, and prone to self-deception, and I am aware that I played my own part in receiving and believing Erwin’s message. But God is merciful, and He shows us that true self-realization only comes when we see ourselves hidden in Him, covered in His righteousness – not our own accomplishments.
Thanks for your careful sharing.
I think your last sentence says it best, “Covered in His righteousness – not our own accomplishments.” He has made us righteousness by his grace! It’s here, as we acknowledge the depth of this truth, that life for the believer begins. A teacher I greatly respect once said, “It’s the recognition of this truth that the enemy tries to stop, at all cost, the believer from understanding.”
My only thought and I’m pushing the boat out: Does Erwin at any point give testimony to having been made righteous by grace and, as a result, it’s from here that he launches into the various possibilities of what we could become in Christ as a new creation?
I ask as I do not the man personally and have only read a little.
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Thank you for taking the time to write this letter. I am so glad to have come across it, though it is heartbreaking. I keep hoping and praying that Erwin will repent and preach the true gospel. Recently, a friend of mine, who still goes to Mosaic, said they baptized 400+ people last year. It shook me a bit. How can so many people be baptized when their “pastor” is not preaching the gospel? I still don’t have an answer to that. I know baptism doesn’t prove anything, because even the Mormons baptize a good number of converts to their false religion. After I spoke with my friend, I resubscribed to Mosaic’s podcast because I just had to hear for myself if, maybe, and hopefully, Erwin had repented and was now preaching a Christ-centered, God-exalting gospel about faith, repentance, the cross and atonement. I am sad to report, there has been no such change. His “sermons” are still devoid of anything remotely resembling the true gospel of Jesus Christ.
Your letter was so kind in tone. I pray that Erwin comes across it. He has very thin skin, so it will probably be perceived as a “mean” letter, even though I know it comes from your heart, even as my articles also came from a heart of concern and love for the flock and elect ones currently attending Mosaic, some being my own friends. God will save his remnant out of Mosaic just as He promised, to bring out His own sheep and lead them by name (John 10).
Blessings to you sister. Keep the faith once for all delivered to the saints.
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Thank you so much for your kind an thoughtful comment 🙂 All I can say is “Amen” to your concerns, and hope that the Lord will remove the veil from the eyes of Erwin’s heart. The more I study scripture, the more I am amazed at how wonderful and exciting God’s unadulterated Word really is – so much more so than any individual’s spin on Truth. I don’t know for sure whether Erwin has read the letter, but Kim McManus did contact me almost immediately after I posted it, so I think there is a chance. Thank you for encouraging me in writing it, and encouraging me to remember that God is in control, and that not one of his sheep will be lost, despite the false shepherds who lead them astray, if for a time. I needed to hear that.
Blessings in your own ministry, and in Him,
Thank you for writing this. I have never heard of Erwin, but came across his name on a friend’s Instagram page. Since she is new to the faith and I’ve been praying for her walk, I decided to “Google” Erwin after she posted a picture of him at a service. I went to the website to try and find a mission statement, but couldn’t find one. This worried me and then I came across your letter. Thank you for writing this; it’s exactly what I thought. 😩 I now have to find a way to gently suggest to my beloved friend to seek out a solid bible based church. We do not live in the same city, any suggestions? I don’t want her, or anyone for that matter, to be led astray. I’ll be praying for Erwin and all of the people who attend Mosaic. Again, this letter was truly a blessing. Thank you!
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Thank you so much for your comments. Thank you for praying for Erwin and Mosaic too. I wish I could better direct you to churches in the L.A. area, but alas, after 13 years there, it is only since I left the area that I have been able to find a Biblical, expositional, solid theological church. The only one I am aware of there is John Mac Arthur’s church, although it may be a bit of a trek for your friend, depending on where she is located. If his church is too far, perhaps you could contact his church for recommendations? That is where I would direct you. I will be praying for your friend, to be led into truth, and spared wasted years sitting under false teaching. In Christ – Thena
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I too have been betrayed by Erwin and Mosaic after attending for 10 years for the very same reasons you did. Mosaic was instrumental in my rejection of Christianity. The books I have read, the sermons I have listened to, are a far cry from the posts on social media. I am confused as to what happened. Erwin left Mosaic, Hank took over, Hank left, Erwin came back, and it all went to pot. I was publicly shamed by a pastor that Erwin had honored a few weeks before. Called the church out on it, am blocked on Twitter. (I believe Erwin is not in charge of his own name.) The Erwin I knew and loved and spoke and authored 10 years ago is not the Erwin who projects today. I was at Mosaic until 2013 when all the people I bonded with when I first attended ten years prior had long since moved on. I went on the women’s retreat with Kim and thought, “what is the deal? Why am I not connecting?” So satisfying to oboe t I’m not the only person who feels betrayed by Erwin. I no longer live in Los Angeles but occasionally I wonder what happened to the church I used to hear so much about.
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Thank you for your comment. I am so sorry to hear you have left the Christian faith. If you’d like to process or dialogue about any of that, I would love to talk. Although I resonate with your thoughts regarding being hurt by Mosaic, I think I feel that hurt mostly in terms of the church’s theology. I believe that ultimately, it is the false, poor teaching of Mosaic that is the root issue. And while there are people like Erwin who perpetuate this problem, my hope and prayer is that he and others like him will see the Truth that is only found in God’s word, and bow their hearts in submission to Him; because his thoughts are higher than ours, and without him, we are all lost.
Much love and prayers for your healing, friend.
Thank you for speaking the truth in love… a well crafted letter written with integrity and care. As an Christian Art teacher, I have been following Erwin and Mosaic for some time. Though Erwin’s words on creativity strike a chord with me… it is the gospel that needs to be taught. I also believe that God’s purposes in your life are not yet finished or realized. I am praying that He, in is wisdom and grace, will make this know to you… Yours in Jesus’ name, Kees Van Niekerk
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Thank you so much Kees. Thanks for your encouragement. I pray that God will use me in whatever ways serve Him best. And I pray that you will teach young artists how they might glorify God with their abilities. In Jesus, Thena
I’m confused about this letter. I’ve listened to numerous messages by Erwin in th last few years and I have never questioned what he preaches. Every message is pointed back to Jesus, which is the Gospel. I’ve also read some of his books and he speaks both from scripture and experience. I understand that we won’t always agree 100% with everyone, but to say that Erwin is preaching a false message is a bit extreme. Also, not every book a Christian author writes needs to be about the Gospel.
Thank you so much for your thoughtful comment. I can completely understand where you are coming from. For most of the 4 years I attended Mosaic, I believed that Erwin was preaching the “gospel,” – although that was a term I could not have defined clearly at the time. I agree with you that Erwin can seem to point his messages toward Jesus, in that he makes mention of him, and aspects of his life and ministry. But he by no means ever clearly taught the doctrines which for centuries have been dearly held as central to the life and salvation of believers. Doctrines such as atonement, original sin, propitiation, and sanctification were either not mentioned at all, or if they were, only in the vaguest of terms. But these teachings connect directly to the core identity of Christ, and if they are tampered with, they make him into someone else – a different christ.
You said something to the effect of “Jesus is the Gospel.” But that is exactly the problem. Just because someone uses the name of “Jesus” doesn’t guarantee they are preaching the real Jesus of history. In fact, Jesus himself warned us that many would come in his name, claiming to be of Him, but that they would be imposters (Matt 24:3-5), and lead many astray. The only way to know whether the Jesus someone is preaching is the true Jesus, is to hold up their teaching to the light of scripture. Likewise, just because someone uses the word “gospel” doesn’t mean they are preaching the true gospel of Christ. In the book of Galatians, Paul starts out differently from so many of his other letters, with a stern tone of admonishment, saying,
“ I am astonished that you are so quickly deserting him who called you in the grace of Christ and are turning to a different gospel— not that there is another one, but there are some who trouble you and want to distort the gospel of Christ. But even if we or an angel from heaven should preach to you a gospel contrary to the one we preached to you, let him be accursed. As we have said before, so now I say again: If anyone is preaching to you a gospel contrary to the one you received, let him be accursed.”
Those are strong words, which make it clear that there most definitely are distortions of the gospel, and “different” gospels out there being preached. Paul’s verdict for the teacher who isn’t preaching the same gospel as the one he (Paul) laid out in scripture (see the rest of Galatians 1), is that they be cursed. I agree with scripture when it comes to the apparent seriousness of false teaching. That being said, I sincerely hope my letter to Erwin does not come across as condemning, but with hope that he might believe and teach the real, biblical gospel.
All of Galatians, as well as the book of Romans, give fantastic teaching on what the gospel of Jesus is really all about. In Galatians 3, Paul gets on the Galatians’ case again for having the wool pulled over their eyes, saying,
“O foolish Galatians! Who has bewitched you? It was before your eyes that Jesus Christ was publicly portrayed as crucified. Let me ask you only this: Did you receive the Spirit by works of the law or by hearing with faith? Are you so foolish? Having begun by the Spirit, are you now being perfected by the flesh?”
This begins to get at the heart of the true gospel: that NO works – i.e., nothing we “do,” can save us. Only faith in Christ, and believing what HE has done on our behalf. When we understand how bad we really are (original sin), and that we would have gone to hell without someone to save us, the gospel truly becomes good news. Hearing and believing that he took on himself the punishment we deserved (propitiation), is the sweetest thing to a believer’s ears. We are in the passive position. God is in the active position. We were completely dead in our sin against God (Ephesians 2:1-3), totally severed from relationship with him. But then Jesus came, and raised us out of our spiritual graves, by his payment for our sin with his perfect, acceptable life. Because he overcame the grave through his literal resurrection, we are now reconciled to God (atonement), and can walk in newness of life.
When Jesus breathed his last words, he said “It is finished,” – meaning that HE alone could, and indeed had done what must be done. The thing is, as soon as someone adds to gospel a qualification about something we have to “do,” it ceases to be the one, true gospel. As I explain in my letter, this is the reason I believe Erwin is not preaching the gospel. Because he adds to it, by telling us there are things WE must do. He puts the focus on us, and our doing, when the gospel clearly puts it on Christ alone. In Ephesians (2:4-9) Paul puts it like this:
“But God, being rich in mercy, because of the great love with which he loved us, even when we were dead in our trespasses, made us alive together with Christ—by grace you have been saved— and raised us up with him and seated us with him in the heavenly places in Christ Jesus, so that in the coming ages he might show the immeasurable riches of his grace in kindness toward us in Christ Jesus. For by grace you have been saved through faith. And this is not your own doing; it is the gift of God, not a result of works, so that no one may boast.”
I can understand your point that not every book a Christian writes has to be about the gospel. But I would say that any topic written by a Christian will necessarily include the gospel, for the simple reason that it is inseparable from any definition of the Christian faith and walk. That being said, I do believe there is a marked difference between the responsibility and role of a pastor, and that of an author. Scripture makes it clear that a pastor’s job is to minister the word of God to the people of God. This of course means teaching the gospel.
As Paul (again, Paul!) said in 2 Corinthians 11:3-4,
“I am afraid that as the serpent deceived Eve by his cunning, your thoughts will be led astray from a sincere and pure devotion to Christ. For if someone comes and proclaims another Jesus than the one we proclaimed, or if you receive a different spirit from the one you received, or if you accept a different gospel from the one you accepted, you put up with it readily enough.”
I hope I have made some sense, and helped you to better understand where I am coming from. I hope something I said might spark something in you, and if so, I hope you will search the scriptures to see what is true, and what is false.
Yours in Christ,
I just saw Erwin on the Hillsong channel. My first thought was – does this guy ever speak Jesus? I thought – dang, I wish he had taken the oppertunity to speak Christ with so many in attendance. Thanks for posting this – well done.
God bless you,
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I had been googling Erwin for various reasons today and ran across this. First, I want to thank you for the very kind way you addressed your concerns. That is an art that is often lost these days when there are concerns or disputes.
It has been years since I have seen Erwin and while I had met him a few times I had never attended his church so can’t speak directly to your concerns. The few times I did meet him, however (again many years ago), it was clear that Jesus and the gospel was at the center of his heart and passion.
But mainly thought I would share this which I also found googling today: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=6jqlZlYlr2c
It may not address all of your concerns but may at least some of them. He doesn’t directly get into the “Why Jesus?” part until 45 minutes or so in but it is well worth watching all of it so that his final illustrations make sense.
Thank you so much for your kind, encouraging words. It is my sincere hope that Erwin know the real Jesus, and I continue to pray for God’s mercy in his life.
I can completely understand where you are coming from, and why you feel that Erwin is a Christian, based on your personal interactions with him. I felt that way when I knew him as well, but I didn’t understand the gospel at the time, and so the “Jesus” I thought I knew was not the Jesus of the gospel, but another Christ. When God opened my eyes to the fact that I had believed in a false gospel, I was truly frightened to see how deceived I had been, and how susceptible any of us can be to believing a false Christ. It is precisely because I was deceived myself that I fear Erwin may also be deceived, and because when I was under his teaching, I never heard him preach the true Christ. It is because of my genuine concern for Erwin and those who attend his church that I have taken such pains to lay out my case for the pure gospel, as in this open letter.
I watched the YouTube video you linked to – thank you so much for sharing. This video is actually a case-in-point for why I believe Erwin is not preaching the gospel. Although he seemed to come close to explaining it toward the end of the talk, he never actually did. This was my experience in my time at Mosaic. Nice words about Jesus are said, even with a measure of truth to them – but the gospel is never given. In this entire talk, there was no mention of sin at all. Without an understanding of our depravity, we cannot understand what is it that Jesus truly accomplished on our behalf. Just as John the Baptist prepared the way for Jesus to come (fulfilling Isaiah’s prophecy) with his call to the baptism of repentance, so repentance also must precede our baptism of the Spirit, by Jesus. In order for us to be saved, we have to recognize ourselves as law-breakers (repentance), then put our faith in the only One who was able to perfectly keep that Law, on our behalf. In order to be saved, we have to see our unrighteousness, and Jesus’ righteousness cloaking us, as the one thing that makes us right with God again.
In the video you linked to, Erwin used the example of an earthly father and son, to compare to God the Father and his Son Jesus. I was really glad to hear Erwin say that it isn’t about our climbing to God, but God coming to us, in the person of Jesus. But he never explained the “why” of it. He never said why Jesus had to come. It’s ironic, since he made the point earlier in his talk, that the “why” question is one that points us to God. But the reason WHY Jesus had to come to the world, descending to our level, and even allowing himself to be brutally murdered on our behalf, is because that is the payment sin demands from a holy God. When we begin to see our sinfulness before a holy God, we begin to comprehend our need for a Savior.
Thank you for your sincerity and thoughtfulness. I have no doubt you desire the best for Erwin, as do I. But I also know from experience that unless the actual words of the gospel are spoken into people’s ears, they cannot come to a saving faith in Christ. I continue to pray that Erwin will know the gospel, and one day, tell it. I would love nothing more that to live to see that day.
In the love of Christ,
I came across your letter today… I was a member of Mosaic… before the name change… from The Church on Brady… I agree with your views here… one question? Was the troubled musicians name Jim? Intials JW?
Thanks for your comment Wendy – I sent you my response in a personal email 🙂
Hi.. Thank you for thoughts. You have written a very kind response to a difficult situation. I found Mosaic in 2012 and had hoped they would be an accepting community for artists and for all the city of LA. After taking a closer look, I was saddened by my many findings. An example… My last visit was in July 2017, after the service in the Santa Monica location, Erwin said he believed someone in the room had 10,000 $ to give to Mosaic so they could buy stage equipment. (He said he didn’t want to have to bring it from Hollywood each time they gathered.) He said he would sit on the stage waiting until that someone with the money stepped forward and the rest of us could go. Fat shaming was also in the message that evening. I’m not a large person but there were a few, so a little tact would have been nice…. I believe Mosaic possibly began with good intentions….and there are many in Hollywood who are searching for community. Mosaic goes out of their way to say “you belong here” but they never tell you why. ( as in, the bad news = our sin.. the good news = what Jesus did and will do if we ask Him.)
Hello Painter, and thank you so much for sharing. I’m so sorry to hear about what you saw at Mosaic. I think a lot of the folks there have good intentions, but unfortunately, because the church’s foundation isn’t the straightforward Jesus of scripture, that foundation is shaky and shallow. Mosaic calling itself “Christian” and Erwin saying the word “Jesus” here and there seems like enough, when you’re doing fine. But when people have real struggles and pain, the church doesn’t – indeed, cannot love and help them. Because what people need isn’t a hip venue or an awesome worship band; what we need is the gospel. Like you said – we need to hear the bad news first, so that the good news will really be sweet to our ears. Let’s keep praying for God’s mercy on Erwin, and Mosaic.
Wow! Powerful, and spot on!
I love your respectful but firm, straight forward Gospel challenge.
I, too, have had this same concern with Erwin since I met him at the then Church on Brady when he was an intern/staff member under Dr. Thom Wolf. (Mosaic and the satellites and loosely affiliated network of churches came later after he orchestrated the ouster of Thom.)
Grace and Peace,
Thank you for your encouragement, Garry.
Only Christ can open Erwin’s eyes. Let’s keep praying for God’s mercy in his life.
It seems like there are frequent and extreme pendulum swings in society. We had a liberal President and then we swing hard the other direction. It seems the same is true in protestant churches. In my youth, churches were full of hell-fire and damnation preachers aka Bible thumpers. But over the decades, it appears we have swung too far the other way. Today, there is too much Osteen and Lentz type preaching where the focus is on a better life now. Not enough on the blood and cross of Jesus. Not enough acknowledging and recognizing our sinful condition. As a result, I’m afraid there will be a staggering number of people who thought they were saved but will sadly hear “I never knew you”.
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Mark L, I couldn’t agree with your observations more. Without doctrine that includes our sinfulness and need to be forgiven, there is no gospel. I fear we may now be living through the great apostasy, or the great falling away, that scripture prophesied of the church in the latter days. Let’s keep praying for God to open hearts and minds to His truth.
Thena, it’s “Good Friday” 2018 as I write this. I just read your beautifully crafted exposition of the Gospel as you so lovingly and kindly took your “flashlight” and beamed it into the darkness of the “emergent” church. You represented the true and real Jesus Christ and His Gospel. And, I might add, you did it “artfully”. I too lived in Los Angeles for many years and worked in churches in the area of Worship Arts and Music. I’m one of those people who has an innate desire to express things from an artful perspective. The Lord gave me those kinds of gifts and the older I get (which now is OLD), the more I realize that the gifts He put into me were for the express purpose of pointing people to Him, the REAL Him, in the life and worship of the local church. For all the years of my music and worship “career”, I’ve found myself in trouble for being a contender for the true Gospel message in the churches to which I was called. I’ve realized over and over again that satan constantly spends his time and energy IN the local church, trying to deceive the leaders to make sure that the true Gospel message is watered down to nothing but “pudding”. I’m now in a church that preaches the Gospel…clearly and constantly. I must admit though. that I miss “art”. How I would love to work in a church in which we could use art in ways that would be truly glorifying to the Lord and point people to the Gospel. I think many of the churches that genuinely preach the Gospel are afraid of anything that even “smells” like art. They avoid it because it reminds them of the “fakers”. How beautiful it would be to be able to use our God given creative gifts in a setting where the Gospel is clearly preached and the Word of God is the priority. As in, last night’s service. We sang about the cross, we spoke of the crucifixion and the agony He went through to take on our sin. The truth was spoken. As I drove home though, I was thinking of different artful touches that would have enhanced the message on a special night like this. Not art for art’s sake, but art which would frame the message in a God glorifying way. Anyway, I DIGRESS. I wanted you to know that I so much appreciated your loving article. Can you imagine what would happen if Erwin McManus stood before the people in all the services and repented for hiding the message which can give them the only answer that really matters? Wow. The term “revival” comes to mind. I pray that the Lord will continue using you as “salt” and “light” as you share the truth! Many blessings to you!
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Thank you so much for your kind words. They came at a time when I needed encouragement and affirmation. I relate to all you shared about your desire to represent Christ and his gospel rightly, yet still missing that artistic component which can be missing from churches that are more doctrinally sound. I agree with you that pastors are often afraid of the arts, because they can seem less containable, less easily controlled. I do not believe that is the case at all, and I earnestly desire to be filled with the Spirit as I share the gifts God has given me – in orderliness and with all respect for the great God we serve. I am reminded of a line from my favorite movie Babette’s Feast, where one of the poor Christian sisters says to Babette, “In paradise you will be the great artist God meant you to be.” A part of me feels that I will never be satisfied with the limits of my expressiveness in this life – whether I am making lots of art or little. Yet, I still desire to create. Let’s pray for one another, that the Holy Spirit will inspire us to create from the eternal reservoir of his gospel truth. Thanks again for your sweet message!
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