I'll be honest with you. When I first saw the title of Erwin McManus's latest book, THE BARBARIAN WAY: Unleash the Untamed Faith Within, my first thought was, "Gimme me a break! Unleash? Untamed? Barbarian? Is this a spiritual manifesto or the latest physical fitness fad?"
The cover didn't do much to alleviate my cynicism. It seems like youngish pastors these days are in a contest to exude as much hip-ness as possible, and McManus, pictured wearing black and standing on the double yellow lines of an urban street at night, looks like he's poised to take the "cool" trophy. Plus, he calls himself not only a pastor but also a "cultural architect." What's up with that?! Is being a pastor not enough for ya? Not cool enough?
I reveal my rather embarrassing lack of generosity to illustrate how far I've come when I say, "All hail the cultural architect!"
THE BARBARIAN WAY packs a powerful spiritual punch in a small package. Clocking in at 148 pages, the book urges Christians to throw off the yoke of ... Christianity, a polite religion that he says has stultified the true message of Christ and his vision for the lives of his followers.
"Somewhere along the way the movement of Jesus Christ became civilized as Christianity," he writes. "We created a religion using the name of Jesus Christ and convinced ourselves that God's optimal desire for our lives was to insulate us in a spiritual bubble where we risk nothing, sacrifice nothing, lose nothing, worry about nothing. I wonder how many of us have lost our barbarian way and have become embittered with God, confused in our faith because God doesn't come through the way we think He should."
As you've probably gathered from the title, McManus advocates a more romantic, adventurous, and arguably reckless paradigm for Christian living. He defines the "barbarian way" as being about love, intimacy, passion and sacrifice. "Barbarians love to live and live to love. For them God is life, and their mission is to reconnect humanity to Him. Their passion is that each of us might live in intimate communication with Him who died for us. The barbarian way is a path of both spirit and truth. The soul of the barbarian is made alive by the presence of Jesus."
But the defining aspect of the barbarian way is really fearlessness. McManus effectively argues that the Christian life is about a lot of things, but it's never about being safe --- emotionally or physically. It's about becoming strong via bold vulnerability, the call of Christ to engage with a dangerous world. It's not an insurance plan.
"For years I have made it my mission to destroy the influence of the Christian cliché, 'the safest place to be is in the center of the will of God.' God would never choose for us safety at the cost of significance. God created you so that your life would count, not so that you could count the days of your life," he writes.
He goes on to say, "When we fear God and God only, we are no longer bound by all of the other fears that would hold us captive. The fear of death, the fear of failure, the fear of rejection, the fear of insignificance --- all of the fears that we know by name and haunt us in the dark of the night become powerless when we know the fear of the Lord. And if this is not enough, we discover that perfect love casts out all fear. Not even God will hold us or control us by fear. When we fear Him, we in essence begin to live a life where we are fearless."
I think this take on the Christian life is especially gripping in this age of fear mongering. Politicians, news outlets, the neighborhood gossip, and even some pastors --- everyone does it. And there are things going on in our communities and in the world with which we do need to be engaged. But not from a position of fear. We need to engage the world with fearless love.
There are aspects of THE BARBARIAN WAY that I would argue, but mainly on points of emphasis rather than substance. For example, the barbarian way seems like "the Lone Ranger way" for much of the book. When McManus does get around to talking about community, I like what he has to say. But I think it could have used a little more prominence. And the premises of a few of his statements were suspect in my book, no pun intended. But basically, I'm nitpicking. McManus has ignited my spiritual imagination.
And none of this is keeping me from sending this book to my brother and suggesting it to a few other friends, including you.
Reviewed by Lisa Ann Cockrel on February 10, 2005