By Ron Foster
Apprising Ministries Correspondent

“I will ascend above the heights of the clouds; I will make myself like the Most High.’” – Isaiah 14:14

“Create the future” – Erwin McManus.

Two of Erwin McManus’s favorite topics are heroism and potential: Every person has a hero inside of them waiting to be discovered, and every person has great potential to be realized. In this article we take a closer look at this view of McManus.

In an article on his Mosaic Alliance website, Erwin McManus wrote concerning himself:

When I gave my life to Christ it was not to go to heaven or avoid hell or even to have my sins forgiven; it was for one reason above all the others – Jesus could change me to become like him in his character and in him my life would not be wasted. For me the gospel was a call to live a heroic life marked by honor, wisdom and sacrifice. This is central to the heart of Mosaic.

In McManus’s sermon entitled “Passages: 2 Kings 7,” he commented in reference to the lepers in verses 3-9:

even lepers can be heroes. And, I think, if you want to summarize what’s in this book [the Bible], that’s actually the central story, that Jesus Christ has come for us. God has stepped into humanity, the Creator into the created…and declared to us, ‘I’ve not come to condemn you but to bring you life…Allowed himself to be brutalized, beaten, crucified so that all of our hatred and bitterness and anger and sinfulness could be laid upon him so that he could overcome that and rise from the dead. And what I love about Jesus is that he doesn’t come back to us and say, ‘You know, you’re a leper.’ He comes back to us and says, ‘Do you know how much I love you? You have incredible potential.” And so this morning, here’s my invitation to you. Get to that place of desperation where God can squeeze that hero out of our soul.”

The hero theme is a prevalent motif in McManus’s teachings and writings, with particular emphases on the themes of the underdog or the barbarian hero who stands up against overwhelming odds. Mosaic’s men’s retreat, called “Highlander,” inspired by movies like Braveheart and Gladiator, pits man-against-man, team-against-team, in one grueling competition after another, from tug-o-war to orienting to kayaking. Men have even been known to strip naked for the competitions. It is a way to inspire men to find the hero within themselves. Several of McManus’s books also carry this theme, from The Barbarian Way, which inspires you to find your inner barbarian, to Uprising, which encourages the revolutionary spirit in each of us. McManus’s favorite Bible character is Jonathan, who did a “William Wallace” against the Philistines, a story he elaborated on in great detail in another one of his books Seizing Your Divine Moment..

Here’s one more observation. McManus’s staff profile at his yelo site reads:

[McManus] can often be heard saying: “You cannot choose how and when you will die, but you can chose [sic] how you will live your life.”

Which sounds remarkably akin to:

Everyone dies. Not everyone really lives. [1]

Unleashing the Hero Within You

“Jesus comes to us and says, ‘…You have incredible potential.’” I couldn’t find where Jesus said that in my Bible. In fact, the word “potential” doesn’t even show up in the gospels, or the New Testament for that matter. Furthermore, there is no reference in Scripture where Jesus speaks of the “incredible potential” of sinful human beings at all. In fact, in Luke 18:10ff, Jesus actually teaches quite the opposite. The story goes like this:

“Two men went up into the temple to pray, one a Pharisee and the other a tax collector. The Pharisee, standing by himself, prayed thus: ‘God, I thank you that I am not like other men, extortioners, unjust, adulterers, or even like this tax collector. I fast twice a week; I give tithes of all that I get.’ But the tax collector, standing far off, would not even lift up his eyes to heaven, but beat his breast, saying, ‘God, be merciful to me, a sinner!’ I tell you, this man went down to his house justified, rather than the other. For everyone who exalts himself will be humbled, but the one who humbles himself will be exalted.”

The tax collector in this story went home justified because of his humility before God. Jesus commended this man for his poverty of spirit and recognition of his unworthiness before God.

In the Sermon on the Mount, Jesus’s first words were, “Blessed are the poor in spirit.” What does that mean? Who are the poor in spirit? They are the ones who, like this tax collector, come to Jesus saying, “Nothing in my hand I bring, simply to the cross I cling.” [2] Would Jesus come to this man saying, “You have such incredible potential?” No. Jesus taught us that the reason this man was justified was because he saw the truth of his condition: he was devoid of any righteousness and goodness of his own and in desperate need of God’s mercy.

Erwin McManus would have us come to God offering the precious jewel of our uniqueness and our potential and then have Him polish it into something worthy of His glory. Jesus, on the other hand, would have us come to God, like this tax collector, agonizing over our spiritual bankruptcy, lowering our eyes and beating our breasts, saying, “I am nothing but a worthless sinner.”

It was this tax collector who was pleasing in God’s sight. The Holy Spirit opened his eyes to see that there was no good within him (Jer 17:9; John 3:19; Rom 3:10-12; Eph 2:1-2). Anyone coming to God offering Him anything, even his precious potential, is in danger of being turned away, i.e. eternally condemned. Jesus made this plain when He said, “This man went down to his house justified, rather than the other.” The Pharisee, who esteemed himself, went away condemned.

The danger of the Human Potential Movement, which is plaguing many of our churches even as I write this, is that it stands in direct opposition to Jesus’s teachings. Coming before God with any notion of one’s own worth and potential puts them in violation of the kingdom’s first entrance requirement – an acknowledgement of spiritual bankruptcy (Matt 5:3). Yet this is exactly what McManus and other Human Potential advocates are teaching in our churches today.

In an interview with Infuze magazine, McManus said, “We created Awaken [an organization spawned by Mosaic] as an organization to focus on unleashing the potential in every human being.” He goes on to say, “We’re so convinced that if we can help people see that they’re created in the image and likeness of God, they will be drawn to relationship with Him.” Is that how the gospel draws people, by showing them their worth in God’s eyes? Will they come running to the throne of grace longing for a relationship with their Creator if they can just see themselves more clearly in the mirror? (I’m speaking metaphorically). Did Jesus not say, “And I, when I am lifted up from the earth will draw all people to myself” (John 12:32)? Are people drawn to God by the beauty of the cross or by the beauty of themselves?

Romans 3:10-18 gives us a very good picture of ourselves without Christ, a sort-of looking glass assessment of our spiritual condition:

None is righteous, no, not one;
no one understands;
no one seeks for God.
All have turned aside; together they have become worthless;
no one does good,
not even one.
Their throat is an open grave;
they use their tongues to deceive.
The venom of asps is under their lips.
Their mouth is full of curses and bitterness.
Their feet are swift to shed blood;
in their paths are ruin and misery,
and the way of peace they have not known.
There is no fear of God before their eyes.

Yes, we were created in God’s image, but that image has been irreversibly marred by sin apart from the new birth. “…sin came into the world through one man, and death through sin, and so death spread to all men.” (Rom 5:12) Spiritual death dominates all of humanity, so that “every intention of the thoughts of [man’s] heart was only evil continually” (Gen 6:5). Only by regeneration of the Holy Spirit are we even able to see the kingdom of God (John 3:3-6).

McManus goes on to say in this interview:

And so part of what we’re trying to devote through Mosaic is creating an active sense of spirituality, that I am created to create the future. That it’s part of my stewardship.

The danger of that quote is its subtle deception. The term “stewardship” is tagged onto the end to make it sound biblical. However, this kind of creating is not within the domain of stewardship (= management) but sovereignty, because God alone is sovereign over all of His creation and its future. We as stewards are called to wisely manage God’s creation, not co-create with the sovereign Creator. Yet McManus continually asserts that man is sovereign over creation. Has God really abdicated His throne to mankind, as McManus suggests?

Big Dreams, But Where’s God?

On Mosaic’s Yelō website, it says:

We all have dreams, passions, and talents. The quest to live out your dreams begins by unleashing your creative spirit and coming face to face with the uniqueness of your potential.

It goes on to say:

yelō is an Awaken event that focuses on unleashing your creativity, elevating your influence, challenging your character, and maximizing your leadership potential.

The yelō team experiences first hand the reward of living in a strength-based diverse community. Using the metaphor of a mosaic, we bring our unique and substantial pieces together for a common purpose: to unleash creativity and build community in your organization. Inspired by an ardent and sincere belief in what we offer, we are committed to serving you and your organization. All of us have dreams hibernating inside of us, but we often find it difficult to make them come alive. The quest to live out our dreams begins by unleashing our creative spirit and coming face to face with the uniqueness of our potential. Along the way in life, we discover the importance of character in this journey and are confronted with the primal essence of who we are.

The author of this site writes that yelō is a “strength-based…community,” placing the emphasis on the strengths of the community members. I personally remember one of the first things I had to do when I began attending Mosaic – take the Myer-Briggs personality test. I remember that was pretty much how anyone was identified at Mosaic. “What is your Myers-Briggs?” was THE question asked of me for some time after that. Then, a few years later, McManus introduced the leadership to the Gallup Strengths Finder test. We were all “encouraged” to take it, and I remember long leadership meetings where we discussed our profiles, and once again, we were identified by our top five strengths. But then I started to reflect. The Apostle Paul’s words came to mind: “I will boast all the more gladly of my weaknesses, so that Christ’s power may rest on me” (2 Cor 12:9). Our weaknesses are gifts from God, perhaps even greater blessings than our strengths, because they force us to rely upon God’s strength. Yet I wasn’t boasting in my weaknesses. I was boasting in my strengths, my talents, my uniqueness, my potential. The prophet Jeremiah’s warning was applicable: “Thus says the Lord: ‘Cursed is the man who trusts in man and makes flesh his strength, whose heart turns away from the Lord.’” (Jer 17:5).

Yelo writes they have “an ardent and sincere belief in what we offer…,” referring to the products they offer – a series of strength assessments and personality profile tests – to “maximize your potential.” This is problematic on multiple levels. First, they have a sincere belief in their product; that is, they have confidence, faith in and reliance upon their products, resting their faith squarely on the wisdom of men (1 Cor 2:5). Second, the object in which they have this sincere and ardent belief is a product (or products). And third, these products are focused on human achievement and potential. There is no mention of “God” or “Jesus” on the entire yelō website, while, on the front page alone, the word “potential” was present three times and the word “dream(s)” four times, and these not referring to God directly or indirectly. It would seem pretty clear that what their website and their organization endorses is humanism.

Yelo also says, “All of us have dreams hibernating inside of us.” Perhaps, but who’s to say these dreams are good, i.e. God-honoring? For “the heart is deceitful above all things, and desperately sick, who can understand it” (Jer. 17:9)? For “none is righteous, no, not one; no one understands; no one seeks for God” (Rom 3:10-11). Yet everyone is encouraged to follow hard after their dreams.

They tell us, “The quest to live out our dreams begins by unleashing our creative spirit and coming face-to-face with the uniqueness of our potential.” First, notice the use of “our…our…our.” This focus is undeniably egocentric. [3] Second, “dreams, creative spirit, uniqueness, potential.” Again, every one of these words is more readily associated with animistic and/or mystical spirituality than with biblical Christianity. For example, the Native American vision quests employs similar terminology and engages is similar endeavors, whereas an encounter with the thrice-holy God of the universe calls for different vocabulary (see Isaiah 6:1-7).

Yelo goes on to write, “…the primal essence of who we are.” However, isn’t “the primal essence of who we are” fallen, sinful, depraved, spiritually dead sinners in need of a Savior to ransom us from God’s wrath and reconcile us to God by blood atoning work on the cross? Referring again to the story in Luke 18, the tax collector was the one who recognized the “primal essence” of who he actually was – a wretched, worthless sinner in need of mercy. On the other hand, it was the Pharisee who saw his strengths who was condemned by Christ.

So, in summary, what McManus and his team are offering is a product of human potential that will help you to fulfill your biggest dreams and become the best you that you can be. But Jesus Christ is only a means to an end in this “quest” to achieve greatness of self (see 2 Tim. 3:2). McManus offers our precious Lord Jesus as nothing more than a tool to unlock your potential and your uniqueness.

The primal essence of McManus’ gospel of human potential is the very antithesis of the teachings of Jesus. His is actually the “anti-gospel,” propounding the self-glorification of man and the dethroning of God. And it is a faint echo of those cunning words spoken so very long ago – “You will be like God” (see Gen. 3:5). Ω

(Scripture quotations are from The Holy Bible, English Standard Version®, copyright © 2001 by Crossway Bibles, a publishing ministry of Good News Publishers. Used by permission. All rights reserved.)


[1] That’s William Wallace’s famous line in the movie Braveheart.
[2] This comes from the third verse of Augustus Toplady’s hymn “Rock of Ages.” See
[3] The philosophical definition of “egocentric” is: “taking one’s own self as the starting point in a philosophical system.”