I’ll start my review of John Eldredge’s “Wild at Heart,” a 2001 best-selling book about the nature of Christian masculinity, with a compliment: His is a very unique perspective. You won’t find it anywhere else, least of all in the Bible.

OK, that wasn’t really a compliment. The truth is that I didn’t like this book at all. If you did, then I imagine you won’t enjoy the rest of this post, and I won’t be offended if you stop reading here.

Only let me add that it’s not just because I didn’t like “Wild at Heart” that I’m writing this. There are a great many things I can’t stand that I don’t blog about, like the Oregon DMV.

However, I don’t just disagree with the ideas contained in “Wild at Heart.” I think they’re detrimental and antithetical to the true life to which those who seek to follow Christ are called. Allow me to explain.

John Eldredge, an author and speaker with a grad degree in counseling, thinks the biggest problem in the church is that men are not being men. You see, he goes on, all men need three things: a battle to fight, an adventure to live and a beauty to rescue. We hadn’t previously been seeking these things, because before 2001, none of us knew that we needed them.

Now, Eldredge isn’t like some authors, who just spout off their opinions as the gospel truth, so to speak. No, sir. He has proof. The evidence he uses to back up his claims is as follows: 1. I have talked to men who feel this way sometimes. 2. Some Old Testament verses are pretty violent. 3. Men like action and war films. 4. Little boys like to wrestle and pretend to be cowboys.

Convinced? Thought so.

In Eldredge’s view, men were made to be explorers, lovers and warriors. Real men don’t work in cubicles, they climb mountains and sail the open seas! (How the real men make money to provide for their families is unclear. Perhaps there is gold hidden on top of the mountains.)

As far as role models go, Eldredge says, “Move over,” to those tired old saints and apostles that have inspired people for thousands of years. Instead, he locates the ideals of Christian masculinity in the characters of Hollywood action films, like “Braveheart’s” William Wallace and “Gladiator’s” Maximus Decimus Meridius — mocking Mother Teresa and scenes of Jesus spending time with children in the process.

Indeed, unless Jesus is toppling tables in the temple or being tempted by Satan in the wilderness, Eldredge has little use for him. When he does bring him up, he often tries to present him as a fierce, wild warrior man.

Yes, the biblical Jesus is more emotional and untamed than the sterilized, Terminator-like caricatures that appear in far too many Christian films. But a warrior? I don’t think so. Not Jesus of Nazareth, who disappointed so many precisely because he refused to be the conquering king they expected of their Messiah. Nevertheless, John Eldredge takes the man who said, “All who draw the sword will die by the sword,” and wedges him firmly into the mold he fought against up until the very end of his earthly ministry.

My greatest concern for men who read this book is that they will walk away as intensely focused on their own lives and accomplishments as Eldredge himself appears to be. He celebrates the earthly conquests of men and the senselessness of war, exultation I can’t see Jesus joining in, even at his wildest. He goes on to encourage one of his sons to punch a first-grade bully as hard as he can, explaining that we have “really misused” the whole “turn the other cheek” verse.

I disagree. Jesus said unequivocally that his kingdom was not of this world, and that we must live likewise if we really want to be part of it. We are to focus on God, to love him with everything they have, not to seek the earthly life and pleasures we were supposedly made for.

We therefore should not be troubled by worldly challenges or slights by others. Jesus taught crowds of listeners to give their cloaks to those who try to take their shirts, and to walk two miles with those who force them to walk one (Matt 5:38-48).

Perhaps the author of “Wild at Heart” wouldn’t consider such acts to be very manly. But I’m OK with that. I’d rather be a sissy for Jesus than a warrior for John Eldredge any day.

So those are some of my thoughts. What do you think?

14 thoughts on “So, I finally read ‘Wild at Heart.’ And I really, really hated it.

  1. Hi Tyler –
    You are a kindred spirit. I wrote a much longer review a few years ago, but we picked up on many of the same things. The review was available on my defunct website; a brief introduction to it is still available on my moribund blog: http://balanceandparadox.blogspot.com/2007/02/is-god-wild-should-we-be.html
    I will take the liberty of e-mailing the PDF review to you, in case you’re interested.
    And welcome to Oregon! I grew up in Portland but now reside in Atlanta.

  2. Hi Tyler –
    I do agree with you on some aspects but I think that John was making a point to the let the readers know “where have all the REAL men gone?” Yes, we should focus things that are not in this world but everything that is good is created by God and for our usage; not to be abused. I do understand your thoughts and opinions, and there are some things that I disagree from the book but nontheless this book is very good and it brings out a different perspective to the readers.

  3. I don’t want to be a sissy any day, because i am created in God’s image. “I SAID: YE ARE GODS” (in Spirit) Jesus says in Ps 82:6 and because you have corrupted your conduct, “SURELY YE SHALL DIE LIKE MEN” (Ps 82:7).
    Jesus tells us in John 14:12-14
    Very truly I tell you, whoever believes in me will do the works I have been doing, and they will do even greater things than these, because I am going to the Father. 

  4. Completely agree. The men’s ministry at my church are big on getting guys to sign up to the course based upon this book. For £70 we got the book and a 10 week course. Hated the book big time & dropped out of the course (I was also moving out of town towards the end of the course running time too).

    Adolescent at Heart seems a better title to my mind….

  5. Tyler. Could not agree more. The men of my church are going to be involved in the study of this and I am reading the book to have familiarity. Too much psycho-babble and new age (Robert Bly) stuff for me. I am a survivor of the Promise Keepers era of the 90s, so I have been there and done that.

  6. I guess I disagree with you. I’m glad you wrote the article, because (in addition to being well-written) it shows why people dislike John’s point of view.

    I was pretty discouraged there for a while, trying to be a nice guy, when I was built for a more intense life. But because I was trying to be nice all the time, I said “yes” too much and my own effectiveness became diluted. I was discouraged by people who were telling me to just live a quiet life (which is actually scriptural) and don’t work so hard. The problem is this: I’m naturally more intense than that. I had to stop living other people’s lives.

    So John encouraged me. And it’s not because I believed what he said was completely biblically derived, but because it resonated with me and what God was doing in my life. And it’s yielded fruit, including discipline, focus and some very good results for both me and my wife.

    Still, I see why people don’t get it. I’m not a huge fan of “The Shack,” even though I know a lot of people find encouragement there. I bet I think the same way about that book as you think about John Eldredge’s writing.

    Some words (read: books) are meant to be an encouragement to all Christians, and they come directly from the Word. Others are meant to be applications to certain ministries and ways of thinking (cognitive styles), such as The Shack (I guess; I still don’t really know) and writings of Eldredge.

    1. Hey Chris, thanks for the thoughtful and considered response. I’m really glad God was able to use Eldredge’s writing is a positive way in your life. I didn’t mean to imply that I believe that wasn’t possible. God is not limited to using books that I happen to agree with (and LOL, for the record, I didn’t like “The Shack” either :-P). He’s God. He can (and does) use anything he wants.

      I think what I found off-putting about Eldredge’s writing, and the way I felt the people and churches were responding to his writing, was that he claimed he was presenting “the” way Christian men are meant to live out our faith. Not “his” way, or “a” way. If it had been the latter, I don’t think the book would have bothered me as much as it did.

      But anyway, thanks again for your response. Best, Tyler

  7. Hi, I really think you missed the point of Wild at “Heart”. If you read Johns previous books you would see a guy transfixed on the “heart” of God (the masculine side vs not the feminine side…and bringing men and women back to the HEART of God (identity and purpose). My gut says the book is a little heavy handed toward being fully masculine, or maybe it’s right on its just deep which I think drives a stake through the heart of guys like me that became overly feminized due to a very feminine based church in America (pink marble, mauve walls, flowers on stage, mostly women running things due to men not stepping up to help, etc). John reminded me of the heart of God (100% feminine and 100% masculine). 90% of the Christian men I meet are in the overly feminized category. Would you agree or disagree and what would be the accurate biblical benchmark? They are nice girls in men’s body’s many of them IMO. I love to see men that are free in Christ and live with “authentic” love, patience, kindness, gentleness, etc. I dont see much fruit of the spirit in these nice, going through the motions men. But I do see a counterfeit fruits of the spirit (behaving, obligation, apathy, fear, anxiety, submission to a man and or and woman rather than to the Father, etc.). What I would suggest some people are missing with Wild at Heart is freedom. Men and women are not free in Christ and freedom scares them, it scares the Church. I say go deeper into the message Eldrigde is communating. It’s deep and its rich! People don’t have to agree with his passion for outdoor adventure but do you see where he is trying to take mens shrunken “hearts?” “Be bold, be strong for the Lord your God is with you,” explore inward. Joshua 1:9

  8. Oh, and you may enjoy the the root book and Author that John Eldgredge got his inspiration from to better understand his heart, but watch out its super deep and rich. Not for the weak or faint at heart. Healing the Masculine Soul by Gorden Dalby.
    Dude, I get that the book/message is not for everyone. I just have not heard a reputable case for why. Other than – it’s not my flavor. But to say it’s not biblical is only reinforng the reason it needed to be written. Our western church culture does not really get biblical manhood. Love you for having your opinion. Truley… I live thinkers and feelers. Love to talk it over a beer or a Coke some time.

  9. Can’t say that I am surprised to see that you are a typical “nice guy” who appears emasculated. Find your wild side brother! It’s in us all!

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