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