By Ron Foster

I recently had a chance to hear Erwin McManus’s sermon entitled “Is God in Your Future?” While not every reader has had the opportunity to hear the sermon, I still think you will benefit from reading this critique due to the dangerous nature of Erwin’s message. The thesis of his message is that we can be creators of our own glorious future with God. We need to escape from all these fatalistic or legalistic religions where we blindly believe everything is controlled and determined ahead of time by God. We need to free ourselves from the rules that are restraining our creative energy. Then we can rise up in freedom and create the future we have always dreamed of. God Himself has got our backs in this whole liberating and revolutionary process, giving us power and esteem to do all this.

Now let’s dig a bit into this sermon:

1) Erwin puts forth man as God’s partner in creation

According to Erwin, God is still creating. And thanks to Jesus, the world can be a better place. He is now at work even now creating a glorious future for the most valuable treasure in the universe: mankind. There’s a little bit of God in all of us that enables us to help Him out in the creation process. And oh, what a bright and glorious future it’s going to be. All we need is a world full of people who will rise up to the challenge, seize their divine moment, and make this place we live a heaven on earth. “Mission is why the Church exists,” [1] and Mosaic’s mission is to spread the news that God wants people to know that they have innate value. They are His top priority, He loves them more than anything, and He offers them things beyond their wildest imaginations if they just look inside and find Him there. Then, God will unleash their divine potential so they can make all their hopes, dreams and aspirations come true.

Erwin cites two passages from the Old Testament: 2 Kings 20:1-11, where Hezekiah is granted fifteen additional years to his life, and Gen 18:22ff, where Abraham intercedes for the righteous in Sodom and Gomorrah. Erwin uses these passages to assert that God has given us a kind-of diminished, intrinsic divinity. If we have “faith,” we can go about changing the course of the future, just as Abraham and Hezekiah did through their “conversations” with God. [2] They took the initiative and created a new future. And that’s the message, “Dig deep down and unleash what’s already within you to create a new future.” It’s all about “finding God inside yourself.” Notice how it’s our future. It’s all about us – our desires, our dreams and our aspirations. We, not God, are the center of our universe. Mankind is the pinnacle of all that exists. I don’t know about you, but that reminds me a lot of that situation at the Tower of Babel. What big dreams those people had! But God will not be mocked. To even suggest that God and man are on equal terms is beyond arrogance; it’s heresy – a twist on old-fashioned Gnosticism, [3] with a cup of panentheism. [4] And here’s the most disturbing thing: Erwin is using the Bible, out-of-context, of course, to fuel his false teachings.

Every facet of Mosaic is energized by this kind of teaching. Books like Seizing Your Divine Moment and Uprising revolve around mankind’s indispensable part in the cosmic drama. God values mankind infinitely more than Himself, and that’s why Jesus came and died for us. God is in desperate need of mankind, unable to survive without His beloved creation. He is Tom Cruise’s character saying with brokenhearted, puppy dog eyes, “You complete me.” (No one bothers to ask how God managed without humans beings all those eons before we came along.) All God really wants to do is love us and be loved, and all we have to do dig inside of ourselves to find Him. Then we can be part of the cosmic drama of loving and romancing others to God too. And what about hell? Well that’s just a place for those people God couldn’t convince, who chose not to be wooed. He loved them so much that He wouldn’t devalue their decision to reject His love. “If you love something let it go…” That’s what hell is, a place for all those who decided they didn’t want to be with God. Hell is a way for God to show them how much He respects that decision.

I’ve got to tell you, it’s a beautiful, storybook romance, and I see its appeal on listeners far and wide. But, unfortunately, it’s not based on reality, on truth, i.e. the Bible. It’s off-the-charts unbiblical; pretty much the antithesis of the central tenets of scripture. Yes, scripture is replete with instances of faithful people God called out for extraordinary acts of service. But the key word “God.” God displayed His glory through these men and women of faith. He called, He empowered, and He received the glory, not them, for God will not share His glory with another (Is 48:11). But, according to Erwin, if we can dig deep enough within, we can find that courage or faith or obedience or positive thinking. And God promises to come through for us and give us eternal life, or a personal breakthrough, or a leadership breakthrough, etc. (Leadership being the most important breakthrough at Mosaic). With this teaching, the doctrines of grace (i.e. biblical truth) are supplanted with inspirational anecdotes and supporting scriptural passages taken completely out of context.

Relevance is King at Mosaic, so anything relevant goes; and anything irrelevant goes out the window. And I mean ANYTHING! Things are tested and valued based not on their adherence to the Word of God, but based on their experiential success. People are not nourished with the Word of God, and when God’s sheep are not feeding upon the God’s word, they will find their fill and meaning in philosophies, books, core values, and mission statements. And they become very easy prey for wolves. At Mosaic, passion and vision are given supremacy over godliness and prayerful obedience. Oh, these former terms are used, but they don’t mean what the Bible says they mean. At Mosaic, godliness means following your dreams for God, and obedience means taking the necessary risks to accomplish this. One of Erwin’s favorite verses is Joel 2:28: “And it shall come to pass afterward, that I will pour out my Spirit on all flesh; your sons and your daughters shall prophesy, your old men shall dream dreams, and your young men shall see visions.” It’s a beautiful prophecy about the Holy Spirit being poured out at Pentecost, but at Mosaic, dreaming dreams and seeing visions are redefined to mean something like, “What are your own personal dreams? Dream those big dreams, because they’re from God! He’s on your side, so take big risks and make your dreams come true.”

Personally, I remember several times when the Holy Spirit’s discerning influence brought me into conflict with Mosaic’s Core Value #1: “Mission is why the Church exists.” Something just wasn’t right about that statement. I mean, it sounded right, kind of. That’s what Matthew 28 says, right? Mission is definitely one reason the Church exists. That was beyond question. But saying it was the ultimate and only reason didn’t rest well with me. It was like a thorn in my mind. I kept dismissing this feeling, assuring myself that I just wasn’t as wise or mature or knowledgeable as others in leadership and “authority” over me. But now I see things more clearly. These impressions served as a compass sets on the immutable Word of God. I remember when I opened John Piper’s book Let the Nations be Glad almost a year later, after leaving Mosaic, one of the first phrases in that book was, “Missions is not the ultimate goal of the church. Worship is.” [5] That served as a strong vindication of what I had been feeling, confirming to me that it was more than uneasiness about Mosaic first core value; it was discernment. [6]

2) Erwin claims that biblical doctrine can be dismissed BECAUSE it is being abused.

Erwin has called Calvinism a false religion like Buddhism. And he claimed it was a false religion because Calvinists supposedly abuse the doctrine of election. First, let me say that it is a sinful tragedy when anyone calling himself a Calvinist displays any arrogance in regard to being elect. This demonstrates a lack of wisdom in genuinely understanding the nature of this precious doctrine. I’ll come back to that in a minute. But, according to Erwin, in order for any doctrine to be declared untrue and dismissed, the only criterion needed is whether it has any history of being abused. Well, according to that criterion, we had better throw out the doctrines of Christian liberty, grace, freedom in Christ and love, not to mention the Lord’s Supper (See 1 Cor 11:17-34). How did the Apostles handle doctrinal abuses? One example is how the Apostle Paul stood his ground when Christians were being accused of abusing Christian liberty, or when he was falsely accused of teaching libertinism. He clarified the doctrine but did not dismiss or even alter it. He also warned the church of Galatia, having obtained an immense freedom in Christ, not to use that freedom as an opportunity to sin (Gal 5:13). But he did not renounce the doctrines regarding freedom in Christ. He only warned against abuses. We must not stop preaching truth merely because people abuse it for their own selfish desires. We must rebuke and correct these abuses, by God’s grace, but we are never permitted to alter the contents of the word of God.

Erwin can tell story after story about doctrinal abuses – about people he has met who hold to Reformed teachings and are, at the same time, arrogant about election. He says he has friends who are falling for this dangerous teaching. Dangerous? If anything, God’s sovereignty in salvation is the most humbling doctrine, for it strips us of all our pride. It tells us that we bring nothing to the table when it comes to salvation. God does it all. Someone once asked a man after giving his testimony, “So you’re saying that you had no part to play in your salvation?” to which the man responded, “Actually, I did bring something. I am the one who brought the sin that God needed to forgive.” The doctrine of election exalts God and humbles man, revealing his true state of affairs – utterly depraved and incapable, “dead in trespasses and sins” until “God made us alive” in Christ (Eph 2:1-6).

I have to confess, when I first embraced the doctrine of election, I did struggle with arrogance. My sinful nature surfaced. Thoughts would come to my mind like, “Look at how that person treated me; he couldn’t possibly be elect.” “How can a person behave in such a way? He surely is not elect.” Or someone would be rude to me or cut me off on the freeway, and before I knew it, the thought would pop in my mind, “Oh, he must not be elect.” I hated these thoughts. They grieved me terribly. And this verse of scripture really painted my condition well: “Did that which is good, then, bring death to me? By no means! It was sin, producing death in me through what is good, in order that sin might be shown to be sin” (Ro 7:13a). I know that passage refers specifically to the Law’s interaction with the sinful nature, but it sure did apply to my situation, and that’s why I began calling these times “Romans 7 moments.” And this Calvinism terrified me. Sometimes I wished I never learned these things, that I never had begun the journey down this road. I wanted to go back the way I came. “Ignorance is bliss.” But there was no going back. Instead, I had to grow up. This truth was a hidden jewel. I spent my whole life in church but never once heard these things. Now, finally, by the grace of God, I discovered this treasure. I discovered truth. I couldn’t change it. It had to change me. As one pastor said, I had to be broken upon the Word, but better that I be broken than the Word! No matter how difficult the road, I couldn’t go back to an “unbiblical Christianity” (I realize the contradiction in that phrase, but I believe my point is clear).

God has brought me a long way since then. I think about the Apostle Paul. He was certainly elect, but look at him only moments before his conversion. He was torturing Christians. He was hunting them down. He was, with cold, calculated wickedness, moving against the very work of God. But what happened? God claimed him as His very own. And the very verses of scripture I use to defend this doctrine are penned mostly by this apostle. And get this: how can I know what happened in that bunker in those last moments of Adolf Hitler’s life? Is it impossible that the Holy Spirit came upon him, granting him repentance and faith? Is it possible, however unlikely, that he fell on his face before God and wept bitterly, repenting of his horrible wickedness and sin-blackened heart, receiving justification for his sins? Is it remotely possible that we might, upon arriving at our eternal destiny, find him there? It is an utterly excruciating thought for me to think that Hitler could be in heaven, but I cannot know how the wind blows. And should this happen, would not my heart give glory to God rather than cry out, “Unfair!?” It is difficult for me to compare my innocuous sin to Hitler’s heinous wickedness. But were not my violations against God’s infinite holiness as heinous in His eyes and Hitler’s are in mine? Did not God’s righteous indignation burn against me before Christ’s blood atoned for my vile sins? Resoundingly, yes! That’s what’s so amazing about the grace of God. It extends beyond insurmountable odds to bring even the most wicked of sinners to Him; a wicked sinner like me. [7]

No, I cannot judge any person’s election based upon their present or past state. Election is a secret decree of God; it cannot be known by anyone but God. The secret things belong to the Lord (Deut 29:29). Whether a devout Buddhist or hardened convict or that homeless beggar who spit out curses when I mentioned Jesus’s name, I cannot know. God has not allowed that sensitive information to pass into any of our hands. And it is a good thing! So what do I do? First, fall flat on my face and thank God everyday that He has chosen me unconditionally and lavished me with His never-ending, unfailing love. Then, tell everyone I know about the love of God. Sow the seed of the gospel far and wide. Preach the Word in season and out-of-season. And pray hard that “God may perhaps grant them repentance leading to a knowledge of the truth” [8]

3) Erwin makes an indirect comparison to the unfaithful Israel and all Calvinists.

Erwin insinuated that all Calvinists have the same arrogant, exclusivist attitude to non-elect people that unfaithful Israel held toward non-elect foreigners. He asserts that Calvinists are like the unfaithful Israelites who excluded people based on race.

There is an enormous difference between the two standpoints. Yes, Israel did this, but this was never God’s intention. Israel’s rejection of foreigners was not prescribed in the Law of God. Rather, the Old Testament made provisions for foreigners to become members of the Israelite community, and therefore partakers in the covenant promises. [9] Israel’s own sinful pride and fear resulted in their exclusivist attitude toward foreigners in later generations, but this was a divergence from God’s command.

Calvinists holding true to the doctrine of election fully understand that it is a secret decree of God. We cannot know, as I said earlier, whether anyone is finally reprobate based on his or her present condition. We are called to proclaim the gospel as God’s established means by which He calls His elect and hardens the reprobate, and we are not privy to God’s secret counsel that knows the difference. We are to share without prejudice, sowing the seeds of the gospel to everyone everywhere. Does this sound unloving and uncompassionate? Is this arrogance? What greater love is there than to lay down your life so that others might hear the words of life? Calvinists like William Carey, John G. Paton and Adoniram Judson left everything behind to take this gospel of the kingdom into all the world. Why won’t Erwin mention these Calvinists? Because they utterly disembowel his notion that Calvinists are cold, uncompassionate fatalists who don’t love, don’t care and don’t obey the Great Commission.

4) Erwin’s Domino Metaphor has many holes.

Erwin conducted an inspiring activity with dominoes at the end of his message. [10] But what was he trying to communicate?

Let’s see, the domino represents what? Election? And the people who received it represent whom? God’s elect, maybe? The person(s) handing out dominoes at the beginning of the service represents whom? Maybe God? And the people who didn’t receive it represent whom? Maybe those whom God did not elect? Or maybe those who may be elect and haven’t been justified? Or maybe anyone who still has to decide whether he or she wants one?

So here’s the problem. The dominoes represent election, right? And we know those who received a domino at the beginning are God’s elect. But what about the ones who didn’t receive a domino at the beginning but got one from someone else later? If the domino can be handed from one who is elect to one who is not, making that recipient elect, then two implications follow: 1) election is no longer the choice of the original giver of dominoes (i.e. God); and 2) the recipient has a choice to receive or reject the domino. These implications are unbiblical. Biblical election, by definition, is God’s sovereign choice. Even if one holds to corporate election rather than individual predestination, one still has to concur that election is God’s sovereign choice. Even a cursory glance at scripture will show beyond question that God is the one who elects. [11] Yet Erwin implies that the right to elect is in the hands of the elect! These dominoes, originally given away only by “God” could later be given away by the elect. So those verses about the elect in the epistles of Paul, Peter and the other apostles really refer to the elect of Paul or the elect of Peter and not only the elect of God??

Another thing I noticed is that Erwin kept changing what the dominoes represented. They start off representing election. Then they changed to justification. [12] Then, later, they changed to evangelism. Shouldn’t what your symbol represents remain consistent throughout your analogy?

And how is a person standing at the front door handing out dominoes to strangers even remotely analogous to the all-wise, all-knowing, all-powerful God of the universe freely choosing His elect, whom He foreknew before time began? And if only a limited number of dominoes were given out at the beginning of the service, then how can the number of elect suddenly become unlimited? And why, when a person gave away his or her domino, was he or she allowed to remain standing? Perhaps I’m making too much of that last question since, if Erwin had the ability, he would have miraculously multiplied the dominoes rather than just had them passed on.

Erwin’s point in all this was that election is inclusive. Ultimately it’s up to every individual whether or not he or she wants to be elect. God just got the election ball rolling at the beginning, but now it’s up to us to keep electing as many people as we can.

The domino activity is flawed primarily because choosing and being chosen are antithetical concepts. Free will is the opposite of election. Free will is choosing; election is being chosen. In fact, the only way these two diametrically opposed views can fit together is if one of them is redefined. And that’s what Erwin was trying to do in the minds of his audience during this whole charade. He wants to redefine the term as something man-centered, liberated from God’s sovereignty and freedom.


Erwin is a talented and passionate communicator. His messages are inspiring and enthusiastic, and they always call the listener to action. But Erwin message is unbiblical. Alistair Begg said in a recent Podcast:

There’s a way to preach the Bible unbiblically…You can use the Bible as the springboard for all kinds of ideas, can’t you? Look around in here and find something that fits your fancy and then launch a rocket off it. People say, ‘That was amazing, wasn’t it? Remarkable what he got out of that.’ Well of course it is because he put it in before he got it out.” [13]

This quote couldn’t be more apropos. First, Erwin announced to his congregation, “You can create a glorious future for yourself with the help of God.” But in order to defend his man-centered proposition, he had to demolish its chief opponent, Reformed theology, a.k.a. Calvinism. Calvinism is a threat to Erwin’s teachings because it acknowledges God’s sovereign place at the center of all things and emphasizes scriptural authority over experiential authority. He first attacked Calvinism with a sucker punch, pointing out some historical and contemporary bad examples, ones who called themselves Calvinists but abuse the doctrines of grace. Second, he equated Calvinism and the biblical doctrine of election with Israel when they were disobedient to God’s commands. And finally, he conducted this domino activity that was very moving but falls flat on its face when examined more closely. In it, he puts forth his view that election is random and unfair, and that anyone who believes it should seriously reconsider, or at least redefine it for themselves to be more inclusive and man-centered.

I strongly submit that Erwin McManus’s interpretation of scripture must not be embraced as truth. This sermon, “Is God in Your Future?” is not a biblical sermon. Rather, it is a bitter taste of Erwin’s own personal crusade against biblical theology and the sovereignty of God.

1. “Mission is Why the Church Exists” is Mosaic’s Core Value #1, their Prime Directive, so to speak.
2. One of Erwin’s favorite words is “conversation.” The American Heritage Online Dictionary (Yahoo, Inc., 2007) defines conversation as: “the spoken exchange of thoughts, feelings and opinions.” Erwin encourages us to enter into a conversation with God where we can both be influenced by and be an influencer of God in a friendly exchange.
3. Ken Silva has written an excellent, in-depth article on Gnosticism in the Emergent Church. See
4. Panentheism means “God-in-all.” God created the entire universe within Himself and, therefore, all things created have elements of the divine within them. See for detailed information.
5. John Piper. Let the Nations Be Glad, Second Edition. (Baker Academic, 2003), p. 17.
6. Of course, the Church does exist for missions. But it also exists for worship, fellowship, the ministering to and equipping of the saints, among other things. However, the ultimate reason the Church exists is to glorify God. This is both ultimate and all encompassing. See my previous article “What Exactly is God’s Driving Motivation?” for an analysis of the ultimate end for which the Church exists, along with everything else in creation – the glory of God.
7. Of course the facts surrounding Hitler’s death, taking a cyanide capsule while simultaneously shooting himself with a pistol, lead us to conclude that he went to his grave unregenerate. My point, however, is that no one God chooses is beyond His reach.
8. 2 Tim 2:25.
9. An example of this is found in Exodus 12:48. Though foreigners could never change their ethnicity, they could, through circumcision, become full members of the community of Israel.
10. A random number of people were given dominoes as they entered into the room at the beginning of the service, and they were told, “You have been chosen.” Toward the end of the service, Erwin asked the ones that were given dominoes to stand. He then repeated what they were told at the beginning of the service: “You have been chosen.” Then he added, “How does that make you feel? Does it make you feel happy and proud? Look around at all the ones still sitting. They weren’t chosen.” His point was that people shouldn’t be proud or happy about being chosen, but rather should see how random and unfair it is. Erwin then had them give their dominoes to someone else that was still sitting and have them stand with them. Now his point was that we are not supposed to keep the dominoes to ourselves but rather give them away to as many people as we can so that everyone who receives a domino willingly can share in the joy. That would be fine if the dominoes represented the gospel. But Erwin established from the beginning that the dominoes represent election.
11. See John 15:16; Ro 9:11; Eph 1:4-6; 1 Th 1:4.
12. Election and justification are often confused as being synonymous, and this results in a heated disagreement over divine sovereignty versus human responsibility. However, there is quite a distinction. God elects because He is God. He elects before we are even born, even before time began, independent of any good or evil we have done or will ever do, and He elects without any cooperation from us whatsoever. Justification, on the other hand, is through faith in Jesus Christ. We believe in Christ and receive justification through faith in Him. God’s sovereignty and man’s responsibility in salvation exist together in these two biblical doctrines. (Compare Ro 9:11 and Ga 2:15-16 for this distinction).
13. Alistair Begg. “The Authority of Jesus, Part A” (Truth for Life Podcast, June 1, 2007). Luke 20:1-8, Series: The Gospel According to Luke – Volume 9. See

Published by Permission. This article also appears at Christian Worldview Network with a feedback section here.

Ron Foster and his wife and daughter Linda and Kira Lee live in Pasadena, California and attend Lake Avenue Church, where Ron teaches a men’s Bible study group. Ron holds an M.A. in Intercultural Studies from Biola University in La Mirada, CA and a B.A. in Bible from Hardin-Simmons University in Abilene, Texas, along with a teaching credential in Social Studies. Ron has served as youth minister, music minister and interim pastor of several churches in Texas before moving to Los Angeles for his graduate work. There, he joined and became a member and leader in Mosaic Church under Erwin McManus.

By God’s grace and divine mercy, he and his family left Mosaic after seven years and joined a God-centered fellowship. He currently teaches grade school in Pasadena, California. You will find Ron’s writings to be highly influenced by the biblical teachings of men such as John Piper, John MacArthur and Alistair Begg, who have powerfully encouraged and instructed him “from a distance,” through their God-exalting radio and internet ministries and through their books. Ron is especially thankful to God for the ministry of Dr. John Piper and his life ambition to “spread a passion for the supremacy of God in all things for the joy of all peoples through Jesus Christ.”