Barbaric Erwin McManus and Christian Conformity

Further thoughts on his book Unleashed: Release the Untamed Faith Within

As I mentioned in my first post on this book, Erwin McManus uses the metaphor of a barbarian for the Christian life.  What puzzled me was not only that his call is to adventurous living, but also the, shall we say, mode of living that he encourages.  He talks a lot about the passion that seems to be missing in the lives of many Christians, which is contradictory in nature for a people who are to be empowered by the Holy Spirit.  Then he takes a turn to the extreme by suggesting that we should be living lives of adventure and excitement in light of the gospel.

Throughout the book he talks about American Christianity as if not only it has become stale, but that it requires conformity. McManus obviously does not like conformity.  Do any of us?  The word has carries with it the luggage of oppression, hatred, condemnation, and other violations of personal freedom.  It may be a cheap analogy, but I am sure many of us think of the rank and file of mindless Nazi soldiers.  For McManus, a barbaric life is the opposite of conformity:

When barbarians travel together, they do not march in single file.  There is no forced conformity.  They are not required or expected to keep in step.  They walk together as free individuals joined not by standardization, but by spirit (pg. 71, emphasis added).

The question is: is conformity bad?  Frankly, it may be uncomfortable, especially for Americans who breath personal freedom more liberally than oxygen.  That does not mean that conformity has a negative impact on a person’s life.  Certainly when being forced to conform to a oppressive power, a company policy that violates human rights, or to the teaching of someone who is morally bankrupt, conformity is evil.  What about if one conforms to an empowering authority, a just law, or the righteous teaching of a godly man?  Take a look at what Paul says in Romans:

For those whom he foreknew he also predestined to be conformed to the image of his Son, in order that he might be the firstborn among many brothers. And those whom he predestined he also called, and those whom he called he also justified, and those whom he justified he also glorified.
(Romans 8:29-30 ESV)

Paul says that the Christian life is conformity.  As we are sanctified we are conformed to the likeness of Christ.  We become more like him and in so doing we become more like one another.  Later in Romans 12 Paul talks again about conformity and how it helps to mold the people of Christ, the church, as the Body of Christ.  Each person having their own role to play, but in many respects being conformed to his likeness and the renewed mindset that Christ grants us through his Spirit.  Paul does warn against conformity, but it is a warning against conforming to “this world,” meaning to forgo the pleasures of this life and look to Christ.

It is not just conformity itself that McManus finds stifling, but it is also the reason.  His picture of living a Christian life is living in fear of doing something out of line.  What if I get caught?  What if someone finds out?  What will happen if I do it anyway?  I don’t know about you, but if that is the Christian life, you can have it!

Discipleship has become the mechanism for uniformity rather than uniqueness (p. 64).

The civilized Christian does what is right out of fear; the barbarian does what is right out of love (p. 121).

Are we to follow after Christ for fear of wrath?  By all means, no!  The good news of Jesus Christ is that we are not saved by anything we do; salvation and faith are free gifts by grace.  Anything we do for Christ should never be motivated by fear, but by love and a desire to glorify God in all we think, say, and do.  In fact, Christ’s death on the cross frees us to do what we like, and as Christians what we like is pleasing to God.  Martin Luther said that when preaching the gospel correctly, people should think that you are teaching antinomianism, essentially lawlessness.  But when we come to a greater knowledge of our sin and a deeper understanding of what Christ’s sacrifice really means, it is virtually impossible for us not to be passionate about living a life God wants us to live because we are thus motivated by our love for him.


About Aaron Gardner

Aaron is a counselor and student of the Bible, passionate about sharing the good news of Jesus Christ. He lives in central Indiana with his wife, one-year-old son and their two dogs. View all posts by Aaron Gardner

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