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256 pages
Nov 2006
Thomas Nelson

Soul Cravings

by Erwin Raphael McManus

Review  |   Author Bio  |  Read an Excerpt


Note: we have two reviews from our staff for this book

Soul Cravings is sort of an apologetic, aimed at the postmodern generation. Rather than persuade his audience with biblical proofs, scientific evidence, or logical arguments, McManus has chosen a philosophical approach. His reasoning is that our souls crave three things: intimacy, destiny, and meaning. The fact that all human beings have these cravings is evidence for the existence of God.

The big question is, if these cravings do point us to God, just where and how are we to find Him? The underlying theme throughout the book is that we will find Him in ourselves as we allow our cravings to lead us. In the introduction (it should be noted that McManus “creatively” does not use page numbers, rather he has 68 “entries” of various lengths) he writes, “This is not a book focused on empirical evidence for God. It is about coming to know ourselves…It is about our story; and if God exists, we should be able to find Him there.” To this end we are told to “follow love and it will guide you to God” (part 1, entry 4). Soul Cravings ends where it begins. In the conclusion we read, “All the evidence you need to prove God is waiting within you to be discovered.” And, “If you pay attention to your soul, it will guide you to God.” Again, “Explore nowhere else except deep within yourself…you will come face-to-face with God.”

Rather than take the reader back to Scripture (which describes and points the true way to God) or to Jesus, who most fully explains Him (John 1:14, 18), McManus would have us look inside ourselves to find God. And while Romans 1 and 2 would agree that God has planted evidence of Himself within our souls, the Scriptures are equally clear that “faith comes by hearing and hearing by the word of God” (Romans 10:17). One of the problems with pointing people back to themselves to find God, lies in the wickedness of our hearts (Jeremiah 17:9) and the inadequacy of our souls to comprehend God unaided by the Spirit using the Word. This is the fatal flaw in McManus’ system. At no point does he explain to his reader the gospel message. It is as if such information will get in the way. Rather, we follow our cravings and our cravings lead us to God. The Scriptures do not agree.

An interrelated problem found in Soul Cravings is the insistence that God’s love is unconditional. “What in the world would happen,” McManus asks, “if people actually began discovering the actual message of Jesus Christ—that love is unconditional…that Jesus was offering His love freely and without condition?” (part 1, entry 10). What does McManus mean by this? Is faith not the human condition for receiving saving grace? McManus never speaks of the cross as necessary for our atonement or redemption or for propitiation which satisfies the righteous wrath of God. Instead, the cross “is God’s declaration of love for you” (conclusion). So the cross is gutted of its full meaning and replaced with the gospel of unconditional love.

Soul Cravings has its high moments. McManus’ ability as a motivational speaker and writer are evidenced in the many inspirational stories and pep-rally feel. But McManus substitutes philosophical and psychological ideas for biblical ones. In the end, he succeeds in identifying the true longing of our heart (cravings) but fails to point us in the right direction. He does focus us on God, but it is the God found within our souls. He talks about Christ and the cross but reduces their meaning to nothing more than unconditional love. He does not explain man’s great problem as being sin, and his solution found only in Christ. And he does not talk to us about repentance or faith. He has opened the door in Soul Cravings to explore the true God but he has not taken his reader beyond the threshold. – Gary Gilley, Christian Book

Erwin McManus has written Soul Cravings as a means to speak to the unconverted, hoping to introduce them to the person of Christ. The book is divided up into three main sections: "Craving," "Search for Destiny," and "Search for Meaning." At the end he has a section entitled "Reflections of a Seeker." These sections are not made up of chapters, but essays, each one typically being no longer than several pages. Some of these essays include "A search for significance," "What's the meaning of this?," "The truth is it's about trust."

While I can appreciate his effort to speak to the lost and help them to see their need of Christ, there are a number of biblical problems with the book that concern me. In an effort to be fair, and provide McManus an opportunity to clarify several statements in his book, I sent an e-mail offering him an opportunity to clear these things up. His ministry sent me a link to a message he had given entitled "Soul Cravings: 08 Seek." This only helped to confirm that McManus does not fully understand the Gospel, but more than that, he is willing to proof-text the Bible in order to justify aberrant teaching. An example of this is an assumption he makes that serves as the main thrust of the book. He describes those who are not yet in a saving relationship with Christ as "seekers," a concept that is currently very popular within the evangelical church. This idea can be found on such pages as: 230, 231, 239, 254, and 283. One of the clearest pictures he gives of what a seeker is, appears on page 284: "[Yanni] was not a follower of Christ, but he was a very honest and sincere seeker." It is clear by the overall context of his book that he is describing those who are not yet in a saving relationship with God.

The main premise of his book is unsupportable by the Bible. Further, not only does the Bible not teach what he claims - that unbelievers are searching for God - it actually teaches the opposite.

While listening to his audio message referenced above, there were three passages he used to build his case that unbelievers seek God: Acts 17:27, Isaiah 55:6, and Luke 11:5-13. Space does not allow for a detailed exposition of each passage. Any reputable commentary can be consulted. As to Acts 17:27, contrary to how McManus uses it, it does not teach that unbelievers seek Him, that they want to, or that they even have the ability to do so. What Paul is explaining is that God has provided mankind with general revelation of Himself through His creation so that man can see that the world around him is made by God. This general revelation makes man responsible before God. Paul also teaches this in Romans 1:18-20. McManus has misused Acts 17:27, as he has Isaiah 55:6, which says nothing about the lost being able to seek God. Isaiah was describing what the Jews - people who were already in a covenant relationship with God - should do. At best, these passages show responsibility, not ability. As far as ability is concerned, one would need to look no further than Ephesians 2:1, where Paul describes the lost as thoroughly dead in their sin. Spiritually dead people have no ability to seek God. Likewise, he has misused Luke 11:5-13. The passage is not about unbelievers diligently seeking God, and through doing so will find Him, but about those who are already saved learning how to pray. Recommended commentaries that offer helpful explanations for these passages include Keil & Delitzsch (on Isaiah), and William Hendrickson (on Luke). As for Acts 17:27, this reviewer has found a good explanation in Louis Berkhof's Systematic Theology (1991 ed., p. 475).

Since a basic principle of Scripture interpretation is to compare Scripture with other Scripture, we would need to see what else the Bible says about unbelievers seeking God in order to have a well-rounded, biblical understanding. For that, we would need to consult Romans 3:11, where Paul clearly says, in part, "There is none who seeks for God." No more vivid image of man in his unsaved condition can be found than in this chapter. In saying the lost don't seek God, Paul borrowed that from David, who makes the same statement twice, once in Psalm 14:2, and again in Psalm 53:2, where he says in unambiguous language: "The Lord has looked down from heaven upon the sons of men, to see if there are any who understand, who seek God." What follows is most compelling, for David continues in verse 3 by explaining that God found no one. The Hebrew is very expressive on the fact that no one seeks God. Keil & Delitzsch have this to say: "The universality of corruption is expressed in as strong terms as possible . . . not a single one who might form an exception" (Commentary on the Psalms, p. 127). The Greek behind Paul's words in Romans 3:11 is just as explicit.

The very concept that the souls of men crave God could not be more unbiblical.

Another comment made in Soul Cravings that this reviewer found to be unbiblical was this one on page xvi: "Jesus once said that the Kingdom of God is within us" (Luke 17:21). A similar statement is made on page 285: "I am certain that if you will take the time to journey to the depths of your soul, you will not leave there disappointed, and perhaps to your surprise and astonishment what you will find there is God." McManus indicates at the bottom of page xviii that he is writing to an audience of unbelievers: "where you might meet God." And further, "I've never believed you can or should even try to force God on someone." The question I would have is: Where, in the entire Bible, does it say that unbelievers have God inside them? When McManus quotes Jesus' words from Luke 17:21 he has completely missed the Lord's intent. While there is some disagreement among commentators over whether Jesus said "the Kingdom of God is within us" (Hendriksen), or "the Kingdom of God is among us" (Pate), there is agreement among them that He would not have told the Pharisees to whom He was speaking that God was inside them. These were the Lord's bitter opponents! Telling unbelievers that God is inside them, and that if they seek hard enough for Him they will find Him inside, is a teaching that is not supported by any passage in the Bible. Rather, it comes from Eastern philosophy, and is a core teaching of Hinduism.

All in all, Soul Cravings has more theological/biblical problems than can be addressed in a short review such as this. This is not a book that should be given to the lost. The lack of a clear gospel presentation, the misrepresentation of important biblical passages, and a misunderstanding of what the Bible actually says about mans' condition before he is saved, and the author's willingness to proof-text the Bible, makes this work one that should be avoided at all costs. – Ray Hammond, Christian Book

Book Jacket:

We can spend our whole lives trying to satisfy the one insatiable part of our being, our soul craving. Our capacity for spiritual experience both proves our need for something greater than ourselves and leaves us wanting when we fill it with anything but God.

Soul Cravings is a powerful, down-to-earth exposition that interprets our need for intimacy, meaning, and destiny as common sense apologetics pointing to the existence of and our need for God. The book will deeply stir the reader to consider and chase after the spiritual implications of their soul's deepest longings.