Monday, September 22, 2008

Erwin Raphael McManus

Last month Phil Johnson went off on Erwin McManus--taking him to task for his pretension and faddishness. But most importantly, for his absence of biblical teaching on the gospel truths of sin, atonement, justification, repentance. Here's the closing. I'd be interested to hear if anyone successfully thinks the challenge can be answered:
    . . . my fundamental quarrel with McManus is not about whether he repudiates this or that label. It's not even about the menagerie of high-flown titles he does load his resumé with. It's this: clear gospel truth is almost impossible to find in the material he publishes and posts for public consumption. And in that regard, I don't see a whole lot of difference between Erwin McManus and Joel Osteen. He's Osteen with blue jeans and an occasional soul patch rather than a shiny suit and a perpetual grin.

    Am I being too hard on McManus? I expect we'll get lots of commenters (including the usual suspects and some first-time drive-bys) who will insist that I am. McManus seems to have lots of passionate devotees online. To them I say: Welcome to our blog. Convince me. It should be easy to do if I'm wrong. Simply show me a few places where McManus makes the gospel plain and clear for his audience, with straightforward, biblical explanations of sin, atonement, and justification for sinners—including a distinct and compelling summons for sinners to repent.

    Yes, I realize that is historic, confessional, old-style doctrine—and it's not at all the sort of thing a "futurist" likes to talk about.

    That's my point.
Read the whole thing.

Update: I think it's worth pulling up from the comments this response by Phil:

Thanks for the link. I didn't notice you had posted this till last night and it was too late to add much to the discussion. Here are a few of points I'd like to underscore:

1. In reply to some comments like that of Timothy (from the UK, above): I wasn't raising this question with regard to a single sermon or video. I'm pointing out that I can't find anywhere where McManus has dealt with sin qua sin--an offense against God as opposed to a personal hurt or emotional/psychological dysfunction. And I have never seen him even hint at the idea of repentance. I wouldn't be automatically critical of a preacher for a single gospel message that didn't include every aspect of systematic theology. In other words, I agree with your point: while it's true that the resurrection is essential to the gospel itself, that doesn't invalidate every tract or sermon or witnessing encounter where the resurrection isn't expressly mentioned. (I defended that very point a couple of years ago in the infamous controversy about Francis Chan's evangelistic video.) But if someone who preaches all the time never mentioned the resurrection--indeed, seemed to be deliberately avoiding it--I'd think it completely fair to raise the question of whether he really believed it.

2. I have exchanged several e-mails about this with a senior staff member at Mosaic, and I received one message from Erwin McManus himself. Neither of them supplied references to any message or online resource where McManus has ever mentioned the necessity of repentance. I had a hard time getting the senior staff member to understand that I wasn't challenging McManus over an issue of technical theological terminology. His main reply to me was that just because McManus doesn't use words like repentance, justification, and penal substitution, it's unfair to assume he doesn't teach those doctrines. But after exchanging several e-mails with him, he still couldn't (or wouldn't) point me to any online resources where McManus has dealt with the ideas of repentance, justification, or propitiation using different terminology.

3. So if we count that, plus all the replies to my initial post about McManus, plus all the comments in this thread, it brings the grand total of documented examples where McManus deals with the issues of sin, repentance, and justification to exactly zero.

4. I'm not trying merely to be harsh here. But I honestly don't see why anyone would think McManus's approach to avoiding the gospel is any better than Joel Osteen' approach to avoiding it. I understand that they appeal to different demographics, so there are real stylistic differences between the two of them. But my concern is with the missing substance.

5. I'd like to know why some who feel perfectly free to label Osteen a heretic think it's unnecessarily "vitriolic" to put McManus in the same category. A few of you have suggested that it's uncharitable even to raise this question. No one yet has offered a reasonable explanation why.