Erwin McManus is an influential entrepreneur, iconoclast, fashion designer, author, filmmaker and cultural thought leader who has devoted his life to the pursuit of God and the study of genius. He is the founder and lead pastor of Mosaic, a church and faith community in Los Angeles which has been named “One of America’s most influential churches.” 

Most recently McManus’ pursuit of God has been translated into a new book called The Genius of Jesus. McManus is on a mission to help us discover ourselves by rediscovering Jesus. The prolific teacher asks the fascinating question of “Was Jesus Really A Genius?” His talks unravel the true purpose of life and aim to discover the hidden potential in every human being. 


Erwin McManus: I’m an immigrant from El Salvador, and Spanish was my first language. I learned English here in the States. I never knew my real father and my mother remarried someone who was involved in what I would call creative underground economies and he gave me my name, which is an alias. Erwin McManus is not my birth name.

I grew up with a lot of tension and confusion, and by the time I was 12 years old I was in a psychiatric chair. At a young age, I was told that I was retarded and that there was nothing special about me. 

It was my life changing encounter with Jesus that helped me surpass all the pain and uncertainty of my past. He helped me believe that there was an extraordinary human inside of me, trapped under the many layers of fear and self doubt. When you meet a person who helps you see that there’s so much more to you than you could ever imagine, it is the most liberating experience you can have.


Erwin McManus: The book is the result of decades of research behind what creates a human genius. My whole life, I have been intrigued by great talents like Leonardo da Vinci, Picasso, Mozart and Einstein because they have expressed human capacity beyond what was thought possible. 

In the list of geniuses, I would see names of spiritual leaders like Gandhi, Buddha, and Mandela, but never Jesus. So I started evaluating whether Jesus is really a genius or is there an aspect of genius that he expressed. 


Erwin McManus: It was challenging to unravel why the genius of Jesus had been overlooked. For a genius to be identified, they have to have a domain, a canvas. You could identify Mozart’s genius in his music and Picasso’s in his paintings. But Jesus’ canvas was the human soul and spirit. He was able to change people, and that’s why his genius wasn’t easy to identify—because you can’t see his canvas. 

In a sense, the most beautiful discovery of the canvas of Jesus is us. What’s fascinating is that the genius of Jesus is transferable. When you allow his life, personhood and ideas to affect you, it changes you.


Erwin McManus: I had the advantage of growing up interreligious, so I never went to church for the first 20 years of my life. I could look at things open mindedly. People say that they don’t believe in God because of what they’ve experienced in the church. What I try to help them realize is that it’s not God they don’t believe in, it’s people.

It’s easier for us to stop believing in God than humanity because when we stop believing in God, we lose faith in people. You rarely give up on love, even when it hurts you. And yet, when we have a negative experience with God, we detach ourselves. 

Once I realized that I’m an imperfect person who others have loved and accepted, it was easier to live a life of grace and forgiveness.  


Erwin McManus: I deeply believe in the reality of Jesus Christ. I thought to myself “Isn’t it so strange that my entire life revolves around someone who lived 2000 years ago named Jesus?” I thought that this would make sense if he’s God. But what if he isn’t? 

After having many conversations with myself, I eventually reached the ultimatum that you’ve either been changed by the reality of Jesus or you’ve been changed by the idea of Jesus. 

While writing the book, I put aside my personal convictions about Jesus and wrote about him from the perspective of someone who didn’t believe in him. This helped elevate my faith and deepen my belief in his existence. 


Erwin McManus: If you’re going to do anything meaningful in life, you’re going to have some level of conflict with people. You will be disappointed and you will disappoint. It is important to realize that the dumbest decisions we make will not cost us money, they will cost us people. 

Many times, people want to learn the strategies for creating wealth. But the real strategy you need to learn is how to build a wealth of friendships, relationships and community. What makes you a better human is the kind of success that comes from trusted relationships with people. 


Erwin McManus: Everything I do in my life is the essence of who I am as a human. When I wrote my book The Artisan Soul, I would tell every artist that all art is an extension of the human soul and of the human spirit we create out of who we are. Your art is a reflection of you. 

At my core, I’m a storyteller. Whether it’s through film, designing or writing, my purpose is to influence people to live their most heroic self.

My podcast is called “The Genius Of…” I’ve spoken with guests like Lewis Howes, John Gordon, Angela Davis and many other great personalities. 

I love graphic novels, and what I admire about superheroes is the story of how they came to be. So the podcast is based around the mindset that every hero has an origin story, and that’s what drives the conversations. 


Erwin McManus: We need to stop categorizing people. People have asked me for years “Why would a pastor be creating fashion?” I tell them that they’ve got the question backwards. You should be asking “why wouldn’t an artist become a pastor?”

Being born in El Salvador, immigrating to the United States and traveling to 60 different countries doesn’t make me a reflection of how I was born. It makes me a growing configuration of everyone I’ve ever met and every experience I’ve ever had. 


Erwin McManus: We have to realize that our choices create momentum. In the past, your influence was based more on your accomplishments. But now, it’s based on your notoriety, and that’s why you will struggle to transform the world into a better expression of itself. 

What matters to me is that being influential is asking yourself the five “How” questions: 

  1. How much good can be done?
  2. How do I accelerate and elevate people’s capacity to do more? 
  3. How do I help people realize that there is a hero inside of them waiting to be awakened? 
  4. How do I help people discover their own creative essence? 
  5. How do I help people rediscover the genius within them?

I want people to be fully, beautifully and completely who they are meant to be.

Interview by Tricia Love Vargas

Presented by


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