There is an old saying that it is better to quit while you’re ahead. In his book Wild at Heart (Thomas Nelson, pub.), author John Eldredge would have profited greatly from heeding this advice. He very rightly points out that men are ceasing to be men because of the influence of society, changing social mores, and feminism. According to Eldredge, men need to be “men.”
He should have quit at this point. Instead of going to Scripture, he uses Hollywood productions, which apparently appeal more to Christian men than Bible studies do: “Compare your experience watching the latest James Bond or Indiana Jones thriller with, say, going to Bible study” (Wild at Heart, p. 13). Regardless of how much our flesh may be inspired by movie heroes, in Scripture we have the historical accounts of very real men (and women), and we know that “these things happened unto them for examples: and...are written for our admonition” (1 Cor:10:11). How can James Bond’s blatantly immoral lifestyle possibly encourage and inspire men to be real men as the Bible defines? Bond’s “heroics” may excite our emotions, but he remains a morally flawed figure of fiction.
Wild at Heart has been out for a while, but ask almost any Christian guy and you’ll likely find that he was offered this book at a men’s Bible study, retreat, etc., as a help to “recovering [his] masculine heart.” Eldredge even invites women to “discover the secret of a man’s soul and to delight in the strength and wildness men were created to offer.” But what does this mean? Many men enjoy hunting, fishing, and outdoor life, but not all do. That doesn’t make them lesser men. Courage and adventure are not limited to tackling the wilderness or scaling castle walls. Let’s talk about the courage it takes to talk to your neighbor, your family, or strangers about the gospel!
Eldredge postulates three supposed principles regarding men: “a battle to fight, an adventure to live, and a beauty to rescue” (p. 9). One cannot find these “principles” laid out in Scripture, so Eldredge must improvise, wresting Scripture to support an unbiblical premise.
He implies that only in the “wild places” do real men encounter God. He speaks of Jacob, Moses, and Elijah. “Moses does not encounter the living God at the mall. He finds him (or is found by him)...out in the deserts of Sinai, a long way from the comforts of Egypt” (p. 5). Eldredge asks, “Where did Elijah go to recover his strength? To the wild” (p. 5). In all three cases, these men were found of (or found) God after facing challenges from which they ran! Moses wasn’t away from the comforts of Egypt because he preferred the wilderness. He fled to Midian because his human-devised plan to free Israel failed and Pharaoh tried to execute him (Ex 2:11-15)! Jacob was alone in the wilderness because he feared the retribution of Esau his brother (Gn 32:6-24). Elijah didn’t “go to recover his strength” in the wilderness. He ran there for his life to preserve himself from Jezebel (1 Ki:19:3). God met Elijah in the wilderness, ministered to him, and gave him assignments that took him away from the wild (1 Ki:19:15-19).
Though denying “Open Theism,” Eldredge portrays God as “a person who takes immense risks” (p. 30) for “it’s not the nature of God to limit His risks and cover His bases” (p. 31). He also writes, “As with every relation- ship, there’s a certain amount of unpredictability.... God’s willingness to risk is just astounding...” (p. 32). This is certainly not scriptural. Yes, the Lord gave man the ability to choose, but His plan for their redemption was in place before the creation. The Lord Jesus is “the Lamb slain from the foundation of the world” (Rv 13:8). Psalm:90:2 tells us, “Even from everlasting to everlasting, thou art God.”
Repeatedly, Eldredge points back to an unbiblical example without seeming to have thought through his remarks. He relates how “after I saw Gladiator, I so longed to be a man like Maximus” (p. 134). Really? What do we know about Maximus? He was a polytheist who sought bloody vengeance through violence and obtained it in his dying moments. Is this the example Christ left for men of God to follow? “For even hereunto were you called: because Christ also suffered for us, leaving us an example, that you should follow his steps: Who did no sin, neither was guile found in his mouth: Who, when he was reviled, reviled not again; when he suffered, he threatened not; but committed himself to him that judgeth righteously” (1 Pt 2:21-23). But Eldredge goes so far as to declare that God said to him, “You are Henry V after Agincourt...the man in the arena, whose face is covered with blood and sweat and dust, who strove valiantly...a great war- rior...yes, even Maximus” [author’s ellipses].
We also believe that his “take” on Adam and Eve is unbiblical (i.e., that Adam was with Eve during the temptation). The scriptural account (Gn 3:1) begins with the Serpent talking with Eve. The verse cited (Gn 3:6) doesn’t say that Adam was with Eve, and to conclude otherwise seems to require reading somthing into the narrative. Eve “took of the fruit,” which, according to the literal rendering of the Hebrew means “took away, carried away, or removed.” The strong implication is that she carried the fruit to Adam before giving it to him. That doesn’t provide an excuse for Adam’s behavior. Eve was deceived and sinned, but Adam was not deceived, Paul tells us (1 Tm 2:14). In fact, Adam sinned with his eyes wide open.
Eldredge has also collaborated with his wife, Stasi, on a book for women. At one time ranking number 14 on the NYT bestseller list in the category of “advice” (and still on the bestseller list in 2009), is the book Captivating: Unveiling the Mystery of a Woman’s Soul by John and Stasi Eldredge. It appears that John by far overshadows Stasi in the writing of this book, often quoting entire passages from Wild at Heart (wait a minute—isn’t Captivating directed at women?). Overall, the whole concept behind the book is rather frightening, from a biblical perspective. As in Wild at Heart, the reader is continually reminded of “the child within,” with the dreams and hopes of childhood. Again, movies are brought into the mix as a way of defining what women (and men) really want in their lives, and this is likened to how Jesus used “stories” to reach people’s hearts.
Captivating is dedicated to helping women discover their role regard- ing the man in their lives and seeing things through his eyes. One passage describes how a man can get hooked on pornography or adultery. No, it’s not sin in his life, lust in his heart, or any of the things of which the Bible warns us. What he is seeking, according to the Eldredges, is really validation, ladies, and if your man isn’t feeling validated by you (and, as a side note they add, “and if his relationship with the Lord doesn’t give him this validation”), then with the first pretty face that comes along and offers something better, this guy is history. What does this teach women? Is this even true? The Bible tells us, “Husbands, love your wives.... Wives, respect your husbands.” It also says that to look at a woman with lust is to commit adultery with her. But here the onus is placed upon the wife to constantly try to live up to her (possibly sinful) husband’s (potentially unrealistic) expectations, or else get ready to watch him walk out the door after the next short skirt that goes by. Is this how a husband loves his wife as Christ loved the church?
Another section deals with the book of Ruth in the Bible and how she “captured” a husband. This is the beautiful story of a woman’s humble love for Naomi, a mother-in-law with nothing to offer her. We see Ruth’s obedience to Naomi and God’s subsequent blessing on her life, leading to the future birth of Jesus the Messiah. The Eldredges present this as an example of “how to catch a man.” The story bears little resemblance to the Scriptures. According to the Eldredges, “Boaz is a good man....But Boaz is not giving Ruth what she really needs—a ring. So...Ruth...seduces him....The men have been working dawn til dusk...they’ve just finished and now it’s party time....Ruth takes a bubble bath and puts on a knock-out dress; then she waits for the right moment....late in the evening after Boaz has had a little too much to drink: ‘When Boaz had finished eating and drinking and was in good spirits...’ (Ruth:3:7).” Eldredge comments, “‘Good spirits’ is in there for the conservative readers. The man is drunk, which is evident from what he does next: pass out: ‘...he went over to lie down at the far end of the grain pile’ (3:7)....Ruth approached quietly, uncovered his feet and lay down.’” He continues: “There is no possible reading of this passage that is ‘safe’ or ‘nice.’ This is seduction, pure and simple—and God holds it up for all women to follow when He...gives Ruth her own book in the Bible [and] also names her in the genealogy. Yes, there are folks that’ll try to tell you that it’s perfectly common for a beautiful single woman ‘in that culture’ to approach a single man (who’s had too much to drink) in the middle of the night with no one else around (the far side of the grain pile) and tuck herself under the covers. They’re the same folks who’ll tell you that the Song of Solomon is nothing more than a theological metaphor referring to Christ and his bride (Song:7:7-8)....I’m telling you that I think the church has really crippled women when it tells them that their beauty is vain, and they are at their feminine best when they are serving others” (pp. 156-57) [emphasis added].
It is a sad thing that this couple has managed to take texts from the Bible and pervert and twist them to suit their own idea of love, marriage, and presenting oneself as a living sacrifice to God. These books are still being offered to young (and not so young) men and women in churches, Bible studies, and recommended on Christian reading lists. We are in serious trouble when the Word of God is turned into a caricature and the men and women of God cast in a sleazy and less-than-honest light. May we be quick to discern when “Christian” writers try to portray Christian living in a manner contrary to the truth of Scripture.