Book Review: “Unstoppable Force” by Erwin Raphael McManus (2001)

Bibliographical Entry

McManus, Erwin Raphael. An Unstoppable Force: Daring to Become the Church God Had in Mind. Loveland, CO: Group, 2001.

Author Information

Erwin Raphael McManus holds a B.A. in psychology from UNC at Chapel Hill and a Master of Divinity from Southwestern Baptist Theological Seminary in Fort Worth, Texas. While McManus calls himself the “primary communicator and cultural architect”[1] of Mosaic, a congregation of believers based in Los Angeles, California, the flyleaf of Unstoppable Force clarifies this ambiguity by admitting he is really the “Lead Pastor” of Mosaic. Besides being a communicator and writer, McManus is also a speaker on culture, change, and creativity and a lecturer on leadership, innovation and futurism. McManus is an activist and filmmaker, and the brains behind Awaken, a ministry which focuses on unleashing the creativity in all people to create a unique and innovative environment.[2] McManus and his wife are the parents of two children and the foster parents of one.

Content Summary

McManus’ book is a conglomeration of lectures (McManus, 221) loosely tied together that, when all is said and done, means to promote the revitalization of church life as it stands today by taking the church out of the past, challenging its outdated and outmoded traditions and pitting it head-on against the world by adapting it to the global culture of the twenty-first century. McManus splits his book into seven parts: after opening with the origin of how a strong church comes to be, McManus takes the reader from the atrophy of the contemporary church, through the three movements needed in the church (friction-traction, e-motion and cultural architecture), to re-formation of the church and finally to the point of creating a radical minimum standard for the church.

The origins of a strong church, according to McManus, are tied specifically to how the leader of that church approaches his environment (14).  Most important for the survival of the church are healthy relationships, both internally among the members and externally amidst the seekers (15). Beyond this balanced ecosystem is the need for the church to adapt to its environment (16), reproduce itself (17) and consequently nurture its offspring. McManus considers such a cultural movement by the church an apostolic ethos (19), something to which he refers quite often throughout his book.

McManus’ section on the atrophy stage of the church seeks to discover why churches have ceased their growth, and his conclusion is that they have ceased to serve (23). Members have fallen away, because church has lost its relevancy to their lives (29) and their environments (25), for while society has evolved with philosophies and technologies, the church has not caught on. Basically, the church has gotten stuck in the 1950s, and very few church leaders today know how to get unstuck.

As McManus moves into the three necessary movements for the church, he begins with a discussion on friction-traction. Here McManus uncovers six dilemmas faced by the church, dilemmas which consistently cause friction among the parishioners (44), and then discusses how the church can change these friction moments into traction moments. These include urbanization (45), technology (48) and humanity’s over-indulgence on information (51). Once the church can gain traction in this present culture, she can then build momentum (Chapter 2) and soon begin implementing real change (Chapter 3).

The second movement, e-motion, begins McManus’ exploration into the more theoretical and less practical suggestions for church growth. Here he focuses on a church’s need to both adapt to new environments and to create new and better environments through a change of heart to which the world can adapt (103). Such a movement is the basis for McManus’ suggested cultural ethos (101). Throughout Chapter 5, McManus focuses on how church leaders must focus on their words (122-3), the use of story (117-121) and metaphor (116)  in order to shape their culture (124).

In McManus’ third movement, he zeros in on specific responsibilities of the leader in revolutionizing the world through his apostolic ethos. Recognizing that a church adapts to its leader over time (140), McManus also promotes the development of leaders over mere congregations (145). He then concludes his discussion of movements through a focus on faith, love and hope (Chapter 7) as the fuel for these movements (147) and concludes with a discussion of how, through creativity as seen in the metaphor of the five elements of wind, water, wood, fire and earth (Chapter 8), the Christian community can reach the whole world. McManus then concludes his book with a return to ground zero and a focus on the “why” of church’s theology (188) and finally a call for all believers to accept and maintain a radical minimum standard (Chapter 10): holy living, active participation in ministry, basic tithe of 10% and a consistent evangelistic lifestyle (216).

Evaluation

While Unstoppable offers key insights into both the workings of contemporary culture and the place of believers inside that culture, it inadequately shows how these insights could be applied to the American church as a whole. From the outset, Unstoppable‘s stance appears so far from that of the average American church that many of its propositions seem wholly impractical. While McManus purports to decipher the puzzle of how to make a good church great, he brings to light too few realistic, workable methods for the average stuck-in-the-past church today.

After reviewing personal reading notes from the book and judging them according to both McManus’ and Mosaic’s websites, this author believe s that, because McManus is not an average pastor nor is Mosaic an average church, neither can be considered sufficiently authoritative in providing methods to solve the plight of the mainstream Church in today’s culture. First, McManus seems to have lost proper understanding of the office of pastor. While in Unstoppable,[3] McManus’ title is Lead Pastor of Mosaic, his website[4] instead names him the “primary communicator and cultural architect” of Mosaic—information found only in the final sub-tab of his site.[5] Despite his earlier desire to shepherd the Mosaic flock (142), McManus has seemingly replaced this desire with the trendier celebrity status with which he has grown accustomed. He also seems to misunderstand the special call a pastor must receive (122, 145). Second, though McManus writes about how the church must take this present culture head-on, he seems unwilling to consider Mosaic a church. Mosaic is called both “a uniquely innovative and international congregation” (Unstoppable dustcover) or a “Non-denominational Christian community” (Mosaic website), but is never referred to as a church save through implication on its FAQ website.[6]

McManus writes major portions of Unstoppable to access the leadership potential in all members of the church, which could be entirely beneficial. Nevertheless, his cloudy definition of pastor is cause for alarm, for he fails to differentiate between the pastor and the layman (140), suggesting that all it takes to be a pastor is either pure gumption  (122, 145) or attention to culture (133), rather than a special, spiritual gift from God Almighty.[7] This lack of attention encourages sloppy church management. With these dangers properly acknowledged, one can now give appropriate attention to the good in McManus’ discussions on leadership. He first describes a leader as both an advocate of change (197) and a catalyst who causes others to advance as he himself advances (75). He also writes that as a leader displays his values through both his actions (103) and his words (123-4, 141), his followers will soon reflect the same (140).

Not only does McManus’ incomplete presentation of the role of a pastor affect the power of his book, but his unclear definition of the church does the same. While McManus writes that a church’s purpose is to serve rather than to survive or thrive (23), he immediately follows this wise sentiment by admitting that when a church is at its peak, it has the most members and the most money (24)! His illogic continues when he writes that the need for parachurch ministries which have sprouted from churches and church members just goes to show how much the church is failing to reach the world (27). With such an introduction, one can hardly take the remainder of McManus’ work to heart.  But once again, random gems lie within the rubble. McManus’ indictment against many American churches is accurate, for they truly have both sacrificed their children for their traditions (31, 177) and embraced their limitations as a body (139).

Apart from his indistinct notions regarding leadership and the body of believers,  McManus does offer a great deal of key insights regarding culture. Had he touted this journal-like book of ideas as a guide for common believers to tackle culture, how apt it could have been! Comparing today’s culture to that of Ezra 3, McManus notes that our society now faces a generational gap not unlike that of Ezra’s day where the older generation mourns what once was, while the younger celebrates what soon could be (83). With Jesus as the ultimate example of adaptation to culture (85, 156, 179), believers must accept their role as mere gusts in this world (64) who can use the tools of this world (50) to reach the lost souls of this world, all the while being careful to remember that not all innovations are beneficial to the cause of Christ (188). McManus also observes that this post-modern culture has not rejected spirituality but has instead rejected Christianity (29). Therefore a change in the method of the apostolic ethos, through both actions and words (123), is the key to turning unbelieving hearts toward the Truth.

Other interesting and well-thought-out points McManus  makes throughout the book include the following. First, despite the lack of complete understanding with regards to God’s will, Christian know enough of His will (58) to perform at least three basic Christian duties: prayer, service and evangelism (150). Second, as believers carry out  their basic Christian duties, they must approach evangelism through attempts not to change an unbeliever’s beliefs but rather his cares—for a person can believe without caring but could never care without first believing (111). Third, with regard to living the Christian life, McManus point out that believers must do more than simply put off the old man: they must also put on something better (i.e. putting off greed and putting on generosity, putting off pride and putting on humility, etc., 180).

The key insights above acknowledge the fact that McManus’ goal in completing this book was to edify the believers and encourage a revolution of change from the old, useless traditions—to which a vast number of Christians are still tied—to a new, exciting, culture-facing, apostolic ethos. Had he followed any of the basic rules of high, informative writing, however (i.e. documentation through notes and bibliography), or organized his thoughts into something more than a quick mesh of lecture notes (221), he could have presented the Christian scene with a vital challenge towards change. Instead—in this author’s view—this book, as a lofty first attempt, is destined only to sit on the shelf collecting dust along with all the other bungling stabs at solving this growing problem of Christianity and culture.


[1] Retrieved on July 25, 2010 from http://erwinmcmanus.com/bio/

[2] Retrieved on July 25, 2010 from http://erwinmcmanus.com/awaken/

[3] Published in 2001

[4] Published in 2008

[5] Retrieved on July 29, 2010 from http://erwinmcmanus.com/bio/

[7] Ephesians 4:11

© 2010 E.T.

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One Response to Book Review: “Unstoppable Force” by Erwin Raphael McManus (2001)

  1. Pingback: Book Review: “Planting Growing Churches for the 21st Century” by Aubrey Malphurs (1998) | Elliot's Blog

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