Tuesday, April 27, 2010

The Barbarian Way: A Review (Part 1)

I recently finished reading Erwin McManus' book entitled The Barbarian Way. It's a short book intended to present McManus' idea of the way of life followers of Christ should really be pursuing: The barbarian way of life. He sees the church as having fallen into a "civilized" form of religion, where "the call to follow Christ has been repackaged to be smooth and trouble-free" (back cover). The barbarian way on the other hand is "a path filled with adventure, uncertainty, and unlimited possibilities" (back cover). His goal is to call us to live in that barbarian way.

I must admit that before I read the book the well was already a bit poisoned due to some troubling articles I read on McManus from guys I respect (Phil Johnson and Justin Taylor). On the other hand, some friends I respect also benefited from the book, so I sincerely prayed for teachability and an open mind as I approached it.

Overall I would say the book contains some valuable insights and challenging diagnostics of the contemporary Christian, myself included. However I think it also suffers from some serious deficiencies that would prevent me from recommending it to others. Here's a summary of what I found helpful about the book:

1. It calls Christians to suffer.
2. It gives a challenging call to the war between the kingdom of God and the kingdom of satan on earth.

Here's a summary of what I found detrimental about the book:

1. It is vague and therefore difficult to apply.
2. McManus' use of terminology ("civilized," "barbarian") does not seem to correspond to Biblical categories and therefore ends up muddying the waters.
3. He tends to make narrative normative.
4. His emphasis on the voice of God undermines the authority of the written Word of God.
5. Sin and grace (i.e. the gospel) are utterly absent from the book.
6. The promises of God are utterly absent from the book.
7. His approach in general lacks humility.

I'd now like to provide support for and elaborate on each of these points. In Part 1, what I found helpful:

1. It calls Christians to suffer. Jesus promised suffering for His disciples (e.g. Jn. 15:20) and the rest of the New Testament reinforces this very point (e.g. 1 Pet. 4:12-13). On pages 44-45 McManus says:

"Instead of finding confidence to live as we should regardless of our circumstances, we have used it as justification to choose the path of least resistance, least difficulty, least sacrifice...Actually, God's will for us is less about our comfort than it is about our contribution. God would never choose for us safety at the cost of significance."

Personally I am afraid of this message. I would rather find the path of least suffering where I can still feel like I'm being a good Christian. My goal is to maintain a profession of faith in Christ so I can stay out of hell but still also maintain all the stuff the world says and that I believe is important (high income, safe housing, nice cars, american dream, etc.). McManus challenged me by basically pointing out that such an approach is entirely inconsistent with true Christianity. It's not possible to have Jesus and the path of least suffering. It's one or the other.

2. It gives a challenging call to the war between the kingdom of God and the kingdom of satan on earth. On page 127 McManus says:

"Barbarians know the world of spirit. We know there is a darkness that subversively corrupts the hearts of men, and to do nothing is to be complicit. We are born into a war. We may feel like children, but we are warriors."

The Bible certainly bears witness that all Christians are in the midst of a war on earth (e.g. 2 Cor. 10:3-5, Eph. 6:12). Sometimes I like to think my sin has no consequences or that what I do really doesn't matter. But every time I give in to sin I'm giving the enemy a foothold in the war on earth. I fear he does not emphasize the comfort we have in knowing that in some sense the outcome of the battle has already been decided by Christ's victory (Col. 2:15, Jn. 16:33), but the point does remain: we are in a battle.

So there is certainly good in the book and I'm glad to give God glory for His use of the good parts of the book to mold me into the image of Christ. However, I do think there is still plenty wrong with the book. In Part 2 I'll discuss the seven points I found detrimental.

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