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?