Wild At Heart by John Eldredge [Discussion]

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Is God Wild at Heart?

Unread postby musicmonkey » Mon Jan 31, 2005 3:12 am

Is God Wild at Heart? A Review of John Eldredge's, Wild at Heart
July 3, 2003
by Randy Stinson

Whenever a book written for men (notoriously known for their lack of interest in reading) sells 500,000 copies, you can be sure that it has made a clear connection. There is a lot right with John Eldredge's Wild at Heart, and with his compelling style of writing it is no surprise that thousands of men all over the country have been drawn to it. Eldredge has called attention to some problems with which most men seem to intuitively resonate:

Our culture (and even our churches) has adopted a strategy that facilitates the feminization of men.

Masculinity, with its predilection to adventure, rowdiness, and risk has become a condition to be cured.

Consequently, boys are in big trouble. School systems and churches have not taken the unique features of masculinity into consideration when designing curriculum or programs.

Our culture, intent on emasculating its boys, has produced a huge sense of withdrawal and boredom from its men.

As disconcerting as it may be to mothers everywhere, masculinity can only be imparted by masculinity. In other words, a young boy is never really sure he's become a man until another man, or group of men, tells him so.

Sadly, many, if not most, men have abdicated this responsibility.

Every man needs a battle for which he can live and die.

Eldredge clearly knows how to write to men and by the testimonies of many, he has achieved one of his objectives which is to give men permission to be men. With all of the good insights Eldredge offers in this book, it is actually a little painful to mention two of what should be considered very significant problems which undermine the entire book.

Problem One: An Unbiblical View of God

The first problem is that Eldredge appeals to a wrong view of God as his foundation for masculinity. Part of the thesis of Eldredge's book is that men have a battle to fight, an adventure to live, and a beauty to fight for. The problem occurs when he tries to project these activities onto the life of God. In the words of the title for chapter two, God is "the wild one in whose image we are made." Eldredge's description of God and His "adventure" leave the reader with a confusing and unbiblical picture of God. For him, men are risk-takers and adventure-seekers at heart because God is a risk-taker and adventure-seeker. He claims,

"In an attempt to secure the sovereignty of God, theologians have overstated their case and left us with a chess-player God playing both sides of the board, making all his moves and all ours too. But clearly, this is not so. God is a person who takes immense risks. No doubt the biggest risk of all was when he gave angels and men free will, including the freedom to reject him - not just once but every single day . . . there is something much more risky here than we are often willing to admit."
He goes on to say,

"[God] did not make Adam and Eve obey him. He took a risk. A staggering risk, with staggering consequences. He let others into his story, and he lets their choices shape it profoundly."

"It's not the nature of God to limit his risks and cover his bases."

"God's relationship with us and with our world is just that: a relationship. As with every relationship, there's a certain amount of unpredictability, and the ever-present likelihood that you'll get hurt . . . God's willingness to risk is just astounding - far beyond what any of us would do were we in his position."

While one can appreciate Eldredge's desire to root his understanding of men in the character and nature of God, these statements do not portray God in the same way that the Bible portrays Him which leaves Eldredge's understanding of manhood fundamentally flawed. The Bible depicts God as knowing the beginning from the end. He is aware of our thoughts before we say them. He knew all about us before we were formed in secret in our mother's womb. He removes kings and establishes kings. He holds the heart of the king in His hand. He is the potter and we are the clay.

In fact, the view of God that Eldredge proposes does not inspire my risk-taking, adventuresome inclinations, but quite frankly, demotivates me. I am willing to take risks, not because God takes them too but because I am confident that he knows no uncertainty. I engage in spite of my lack of knowledge, not because God shares my plight, but because he knows everything. I press on in spite of my powerlessness, not because God has limited himself, but because his power is unlimited. If God takes risks (which requires He is uncertain of the outcome) then I am left with a sense of hopelessness. If He doesn't know then who does?

For those familiar with the current debate over what is sometimes called open theism, Eldredge explicitly states that he is not advocating this position. But this is even more problematic. If he is familiar with the debate, and he is not an open theist, then why would he use language that is so closely tied to that position?

Based on the language that Eldredge uses, there are several problems. First, the sovereignty of God is placed in subjection to man's freedom. It is a man-centered model that develops a picture of God based on a particular understanding of human relationships. The best approach would be to begin with the nature of God as revealed in Scripture. Second, if God is taking risks, there are no assurances that God's purposes will actually be accomplished. If God is uncertain abut how his creatures will repsond, then how can we really be guaranteed that He will be ultimately victorious over evil in the end. Third, if Eldredge is correct, there is a diminishment of the power of God since there is no certainty regarding the outcome of his "risky" decision to create. God's power would seem to be limited to His creation's willingness to cooperate. The biblical view of God's omnipotence, His ability to bring about His will, shows that God is not sbject to or dependant upon His creatures (Isaiah 14:24-27; Matt 19:26; Ephesians 1:11; Luke 1:37).

A biblical view of manhood should be connected to the roles and responsibilities assigned in Scripture. Why not just argue that while God has made men and women in His image, He has also given them particular roles and functions that correspond to their gender? This can be easily seen in the warp and woof of Scripture where men are consistently called upon to lead and protect. They are called upon to fight and defend. In the contexts of homes and the community of faith, they are given the responsibility of headship and oversight. In cases where men like Moses or Abraham faltered in their courage or faith, they hear from the God of the universe that He will bring about His plan. He is in control. This is where they place their confidence. This is the point from which they draw their strength.

Problem Two: An Unbiblical View of the Believer

The second problem is that Eldredge, in his effort to encourage men to follow their heart in these matters of masculinity, has given a false view of the condition of the heart of a believer. His line of thinking can be seen in what follows:

"Too many Christians today are living back in the old covenant. They've had Jeremiah 17:9 drilled into them and they walk around believing my heart is deceitfully wicked. Not anymore it's not. Read the rest of the book. In Jeremiah 31:33, God announces the cure for all that.: 'I will put my law in their minds and write it on their hearts. I will be their God, and they will be my people.' I will give you a new heart. That's why Paul says in Romans 2:29, 'No, a man is a Jew if he is one inwardly, and circumcision is circumcision of the heart, by the Spirit.' Sin is not the deepest thing about you. You have a new heart. Did you hear me? Your heart is good." (Italics his)
Later in the book, he takes this topic up again. He says,

"To put it bluntly, your flesh is a weasel, a poser, and a selfish pig. And your flesh is not you. (Italics his) Did you know that? Your flesh is not the real you. When Paul gives us his famous passage on what it's like to struggle with sin (Romans 7), he tells a story we are all too familiar with . . .

After quoting part of Romans 7 from The Message, he picks up the discussion once again.

"Okay, we've all been there many times. But what Paul concludes is just astounding: 'I am not really the one doing it; the sin within me is doing it' (Romans 7:20 NLT). Did you notice the distinction he makes? Paul says, 'Hey, I know I struggle with sin. But I also know that my sin is not me (italics his) - this is not my true heart.' You are not your sin; sin is no longer the truest thing about the man who has come into union with Jesus. Your heart is good. 'I will give you a new heart and put a new spirit in you . . .'(Ezekiel 36:26). The Big Lie in the church today is that you are nothing more than 'a sinner saved by grace." You are a lot more than that. You are a new creation in Christ. The New Testament calls you a saint, a holy one, a son of God. In the core of your being you are a good man. Yes, there is a war within us, but it is a civil war. The battle is not between us and God; no, there is a traitor within who wars against the true heart fighting alongside the Spirit of God in us . ."

These descriptions of the life and heart of the believer drastically misconstrue or overstate the principles behind the doctrines of justification and sanctification. First, to say that the heart of the believer is "good" is not even biblical language. Eldredge makes a jump from the Bible's use of terms like "saint" and "child of God" to the conclusion that the heart must, in its converted state, be good. The Bible never uses language like this to describe the heart of the believer. Eldredge has confused the biblical concept of newness with complete goodness. Descriptions in the Bible such as the old passing away to make way for the new, being born again, being a new creature, and receiving a new heart are certainly helpful and instructive when trying to understand the life of the believer. There is definitely something new and the beginning of something good. But our confidence is not in the idea of goodness, but in God who started the good work. This is why Paul said to the Philippians, "being confident of this, that he who began a good work in you will carry it on to completion until the day of Christ Jesus." (Philippians 1:6) However, glaringly absent from scripture is the kind of goodness to which Eldredge seems to allude. The Bible describes the act of justification as a declaration of righteousness upon a heart that is not righteous. In fact, this is at the heart of the Christian message. The righteousness of the believer, is not his own, but is the righteousness of Christ. So contrary to Eldredge, here is The Big Truth in church today: We are merely sinners saved by grace!

Not only does Eldredge confuse the doctrine of justification, but he also misrepresents the doctrine of sanctification. Once we are justified by faith in Christ, the indwelling Holy Spirit begins to conform us into the image of the One through whom we were justified. Eldredge's explanation that "my sin is not me" only adds to the confusion he began. If it is not you, then who is it? In fact, the Bible, when describing the battle regarding the flesh, typically uses the word "flesh" to describe the unified actions of the physical body along with the emotions, mind, and will. The problem here is not one of passivity (it is not the real me) but one of activity (it really is me), emphasizing our own complicity in the sin that we committed. Only now, through the Holy Spirit, I am able to overcome these sinful inclinations of my flesh. This is not about whether or not my heart is good but about whether or not I will yield to the Holy Spirit (made possible by the new life in Christ) in these various battles with the flesh.

The distortion of these crucial categories has produced an unbiblical and confusing approach to the Christian life. Men do not need to sense confusion over their identity in Christ and how their sin impacts their decisions and inclinations. The overtones of this book to follow your new and good heart only help to create the "false self" that Eldredge is so intent on destroying. What men need is a clear picture of who God is and the truth about their own sinful tendencies as they attempt to follow Him. What they need to know is that their regenerated heart still has an inclination to sin, but they can overcome their inclinations to sin by the power of the Holy Spirit who indwells them. They do not need to place confidence in their "good" heart but in the God of the Bible who is not taking risks, wringing his hands, or waiting to see how all of this turns out.

Eldredge has some good things to say to men today, but coupling these good things with an unbiblical view of God and the believer in Christ, deals a blow to the entire book from which it cannot recover.


Randy Stinson is the Executive Director of the Council on Biblical Manhood and Womanhood. He may be contacted via email at stinson@cbmw.org.

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Wild At Heart: flaws and hints at open theism

Unread postby musicmonkey » Thu Feb 03, 2005 9:23 pm

I originally wrote a brief review of million-seller Wild at Heart in July, mentioning some of the flaws and hints at open theism. Soon after, it was enthusiastically promoted for my church's small groups via bulletin inserts and a plug from the platform. I contacted the church and raised my concerns about the book. Subsequently, I was asked by church leadership to prepare a more extensive review reflecting my perspective. I then re-read the entire book. This review goes through the book sequentially (although not exhaustively), commenting on key points of Eldredge's philosophy and theology, and is heavily based on my church report.

Wild at Heart has garnered a great deal of enthusiastic attention from diverse supporters over the past couple of years. <a href="http://www.insight.org/">Chuck Swindoll</a> has endorsed it, and it was the first book mentioned when I recently interviewed <a href="http://www.relientk.com/">Relient K</a> (a popular Christian pop punk band) and asked them what they were reading.

I will deal primarily with areas of concern, of which there are many. One gets the impression that Eldredge has read a great deal of New Age-flavored men's movement material such as <a href="viewforum.php?f=2">Robert Bly's Iron John</a>, but his theological studies have been lacking. Wild at Heart is a classic example of modern evangelicalism's infatuation with man-centered self-love psychology, baptizing it with a dose of Bible verses (typically torn out of context) and pronouncing it good. That mentality is why <a href="http://www.promisekeepers.org/">Promise Keepers</a> ran into trouble by promoting Robert Hicks' The Masculine Journey. Self-love sells better than Biblical self-denial.

Eldredge's carelessness with Scripture is evident from the title page for the first chapter, where we read this misquote: "The heart of a man is like deep water." Proverbs 20:5 NKJV. As Daryl Wingerd has pointed out, the NKJV verse actually says, "Counsel in the heart of man is like deep water." Eldredge changed the subject of the verse from "counsel" to "heart" to suit the theme of his first chapter, without giving any clue to readers that the verse has been modified in such a way as to completely alter the meaning. There is no excuse for twisting Scripture in this way, and his cavalier approach to God's Word is seen later on page 166 where he claims that Jesus failed in his first attempt to rebuke an evil spirit and had to get more information (Luke 8:26-33). This is a subtle link to open theism, denying the omniscience of God. Jesus never "had to get more information" so that he could succeed after first failing in his plans.

Eldredge makes a few good points on pages 6 through 15 about what manliness is all about. I don't think all churches have emasculated men to the extent he suspects, but there are some concepts to agree with in the first chapter. As a hockey player and coach, I enjoyed Eldredge's line about boys need for competition, even violent play:

Hockey, for example, was not a feminine creation. (p. 10)

As much as I enjoyed that insight, it wasn't too long before I ran into a serious concern:

God is a person who takes immense risks. (p. 30)

Eldredge supports his claim with Galatians 2:17, "If, while we seek to be justified in Christ, it becomes evident that we ourselves are sinners, does that mean that Christ promotes sin? Absolutely not!" However, this is overly simplistic. Just because God does not promote sin does not mean that God therefore takes immense risks. Apparently Eldredge has no understanding of compatibilism, the view that while God is sovereignly in control, man has responsibility as well. Where is the risk in Ephesians 1:11, where we read, "In him we were also chosen, having been predestined according to the plan of him who works out everything in conformity with the purpose of his will"? That is not the description of a risk-taking God. Rather, it reminds us of the sovereign God seen in Proverbs 16:9, "In his heart a man plans his course, but the LORD determines his steps."

I'm troubled by the statement about God on page 31:

Now he lives, almost cheerfully, certainly heroically, in a dynamic relationship with us and with our world.
That reduces God to more of a glorified human than the transcendent Creator of the universe. Eldredge writes on page 32,

Trying to reconcile God's sovereignty and man's free will has stumped the church for ages.

This statement presupposes that man's will is free, in contrast to the view of fathers of the faith such as Martin Luther, who wrote The Bondage of the Will to address this issue. As Romans 8:6-7 teaches, we are either controlled by the Spirit or by sin: "The mind of sinful man is death, but the mind controlled by the Spirit is life and peace; the sinful mind is hostile to God. It does not submit to God's law, nor can it do so." Perhaps free will has been over-rated. Man has a will and is responsible for his choices (compatibilism), but is not truly free, or God is not truly sovereign because his free will is trumped by man's, making man sovereign instead of God. If people can always freely choose to do other than they do (libertarian free will), how can Proverbs 21:1 claim, "The king's heart is in the hand of the LORD; he directs it like a watercourse wherever he pleases"?

Eldredge continues, I am not advocating open theism.
Really? Then why use the terminology of open theism and the concepts of open theism without any refutation? Perhaps Eldredge simply has not thought cogently on this topic, but that renders him unqualified to address the issue, and shows a recklessness that is not commendable.

The humanizing of God continues on page 36:
It is amazing to me how humble, how vulnerable God is on this point.
The term vulnerable means susceptible to injury, attack, or criticism, or being liable to succumb to temptation. Based on the context, I assume Eldredge means that God is open to the pain of rejection. While that may be true in a limited sense, God is not caught off guard and unexpectedly hurt by human reactions. Isaiah 42:8-9 says, "I am the LORD; that is my name! I will not give my glory to another or my praise to idols. See, the former things have taken place, and new things I declare; before they spring into being I announce them to you." Jesus offers foreknowledge as evidence of his deity in John 13:19, saying, "I am telling you now before it happens, so that when it does happen you will believe that I am He." The God of the Bible does not get caught off guard by our actions.

Chapter 4 is called The Wound, and deals with the hurt caused by fathers. On page 60, Eldredge claims that every male

takes an arrow in the center of his heart, in the place of his strengthÂ…the wound is nearly always given by his father.
I believe that is somewhat exaggerated. While many fathers are flawed, are the vast majority so bad that they administer such severely hurtful wounds to their sons? That may well reflect Eldredge's personal experience, but I think he over-generalizes here, resounding the themes of his men's movement heroes like Robert Bly.

It's unusual for Christian books to discuss "pecker size" (p. 65), but at least Eldredge did not attribute this discussion to personal prompting from God.

Wild at Heart addresses the difficult topic of how to respond to bullying on page 78. Christian families will vary greatly in how they choose to train their boys. Eldredge has only one solution:

hit him . . . as hard as you possibly can.
Some might question the wisdom of this in a world where guns all too often come into play. Escalating the violence may be a fatal miscalculation. When the Bible speaks of turning the other cheek, is it not possible that walking away from a confrontation shows greater strength than punching a tormentor? Eldredge insists that only emasculation can result, and seems unwilling to consider the Biblical injunctionof Romans 12:21, "Do not be overcome by evil, but overcome evil with good."

Chapter 7, Healing the Wound, promotes unhealthy theology. On page 134 we find Eldredge weeping with desire to be like Maximus in the movie Gladiator, a Roman polytheist warrior who seeks vengeance through violence. God then supposedly begins chatting with Eldredge. We read God's Word by way of Eldredge:

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 warrior . . . yes, even Maximus. (ellipses in original)
This is presented as a quote from God; if we accept Eldredge's claim, it must be construed as equal with Scripture, since it is divine revelation. The problems with that should be obvious. On page 136, Eldredge's friend gets some modern touchy-feely counseling straight from God:

God spoke exactly what he needed to hear-masculinity is spiritual. Then he heard, "True spirituality is good." And then, "You are a man. You are a man. You are a man."

God is willing to waste time stating inane truisms like "True spirituality is good"? Excuse my cynicism at all of these personal revelations. Eldredge is not done yet. On page 137 we read,

Â…sitting in my office one day, God began to speak to me about the painting and my role in it.

The grammar of Eldredge's sentence asserts that God was sitting in Eldredge's office when the Creator struck up a conversation, but I assume that Eldredge actually meant to refer to himself as the one who was sitting there, rather than God. Nonetheless, this typifies his delusions of having regular casual conversations with God.

Page 148 approvingly introduces us to a pastor who guides someone into revisiting a dream in his office. He tells the person how to behave during the dream, and when a lion approaches, he tells the dreamer what to ask the lion (all while this person is supposedly still dreaming). The lion then responds in surprising fashion. I'm baffled that any coherent person could take this seriously. Simultaneous conversations with a real pastor and a dream lion? Eldredge is impressed with the "remarkable story," but I guess if you're used to chatting with God in your office, a talking dream lion isn't that far-fetched.

Eldredge's friend Brent offers some unique "life-changing advice" on page 149:

Let people feel the weight of who you are," he said, "and let them deal with it.
I fail to see the Biblical support for that seemingly arrogant concept of manhood. Of course, no Biblical justification is offered in the book. The viewpoint is simply assumed to be valid.

There's bound to be some controversy over Eldredge's approach to the story of Ruth. On page 191 he writes,

This is seduction pure and simple--and God holds it up for all women to follow.
I envision leaders of church singles groups panicking as they learn that a single woman is at her best when she can arouse a man (page 192). On page 202, God shows up to visit with Eldredge again:

On the second day God began to speak.
Thankfully, Eldredge admits, "He was right." This casual approach to God and his supposed revelation is troubling. Not surprisingly, the book ends with another God-John chat. Unfortunately, this Blackaby-inspired Experiencing God mentality has infected evangelicalism to a remarkable degree. For an antidote, see Greg Koukl of Stand to Reason as he deals with Experiencing God on his website.

Overall, Wild at Heart offers a few useful insights into manhood, but is fatally flawed by egregious errors including a fondness for man-centered psychology, a tendency towards open theism, a weak approach to sin, an unacceptable view of justification, and an unhealthy reliance on personal revelation.

Positive aspects of Wild at Heart include the advice that modern parents (or is it post-modern parents?) need to realize that little boys who are always nice, always clean and never bloody are robbed of their masculinity. When discussing the book with my brother, he volunteered that his wife had noticed this fear of adventure in an upper-class neighborhood where she had been involved in childcare. Some parents would even go down slides holding their children, fearful that their precious baby would be hurt if allowed to venture down on their own. Of course, that approach ensures that the children will remain "precious babies" for far too long, probably getting beat up in elementary school as a direct result of being over-protected through their pre-school years.

I don't have a problem with a church small group studying Wild at Heart if--and only if--the flaws are clearly examined and dealt with. That would be a useful apologetic exercise in developing critical thinking skills, something that is sadly lacking in Christian men to a far greater extent than Eldredge's "wound."
Last edited by musicmonkey on Wed Mar 30, 2005 2:57 pm, edited 4 times in total.

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my personal interpritation of WAH

Unread postby Mercuryotis » Fri Feb 04, 2005 10:22 am

I hope (and believe) that Eldredge was not as off in his theology as he sounded. I think it is the nature of certain books to sound like they are way out there when they are simply trying to introduce society to a innovative way of thinking. Im not saying that there arn't problems with his book, just that many of them are flawed metaphores, rather than out and out heresy.

1. God taking risks

i read this as an illustration of God being a father.... written for the benifit of men who already had a very impersonal relationship with Him.
Men like this need to understand that God does have an emotional investment. he is hurt by our resistanse to love him. and love does require free will. whether or not you classify that as a risk is your own business. certainly he knew the result. still he chose to sound suprised when Adam sinned. probably just so he could express his greef about the fall. Sending his Son into the world was also a type of risk, again not from the all seeng eyes of God, but from our perspective it was an exercise in faith in man prefigured by Abraham and Isaac

2. Response to bullying

this may have resonated with me because i always felt helpless in the face of bullies and though i always responded to that kind of thing meekly, or allowing the proper authorities to deal with it. I never felt like i was honoring God. i was afraid of getting hurt or in trouble, or worried that my parents and teachers would think i was a bad kid because i was in a fight. while i don't agree with violence, i do agree that if one is a coward, avoiding a fight isnt much of a virtue. Should i ever become a father I wonder what i would do in this situation, i hope the men here especially the parents have some insightes into this!!!

3. His dialogue with God

I also wasnt put out too much with his dialogue with God, though i see the dangers in that. still daily i have feelings that God is speaking to me., typically not in words, usually its in the form of directions or meetings. or experiences and sometimes moments of understanding. but i don't think i'd beable to describe those experiences unless i used words do describe the kind of knowledge or understanding i recieved. though even if i did translate it into words and write it in a book i don't think it would be indanger of ever being compared to Holy Scripture. mostly because it would be personal and probably of little use to anyone else except maybe for someone who was going through extreemly simmaler experiencs and having simmaler feelings about them. still it is very easily to be decieved at moments like these and i don't understand my own heart well enough to determine where all of these thinks are comming from. I'm always praying "Lord let me not be deceived"

Over all I think this critisism is too harsh, but not wrong either. I'd liken it to reading a spanish language book and wondering why more latin wasn't explained. Men's studies are a specialization in Christian literature and not everyone is going to find it useful in learning the "main thing". we always have to reorient ourselves whenever we notice we are leaning too much in one direction. Manhood has a place in Christianity though the still seems to be alot of confusion still about what constutes masculinity and how God wants men to use thier uniquely masculing gifts. Just some thoughts i don't know if they are scriptural, if not please let me know.

A man cannot live an authenticly human life as a man, unless he has become a child of God.

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Unread postby musicmonkey » Mon Feb 07, 2005 5:27 am

eskimocounselor wrote:You are my hero! I read some of your articles on your site. I tried to tell my wife about some of the things that made me feel strange John Elderedge wrote in Wild at Heart, but you explained them much better than I could. You caught all my hangups about the book as well as some that must have slipped by. I'm reading Raising the Dead right now and I'm not sure how many more hollywood illustrations I can take. I'm just keeping my salt shaker handy while reading. I think that there is some nutritional value to it, but I just wish he would stop trying to be like Gandalph and William Wallace so much. -Aaron-

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It's been a few years...

Unread postby scottfinn » Thu Feb 10, 2005 9:42 pm

... but I did read all the way through once. I did get sucked in a bit, and I did find some things of value in it, but there was just something I could not connect with. Since it's been a while, I can't even put a finger on what it was. I used to just eat up books like this. Now, I find them full of rah rah cheerleading and all kinds od self-help-isms. I am finding that I prefer a Bible these days.

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