Book Review: Wild at Heart – By John Eldredge

Eldredge Wild at Heart.pngLetter IIt is very rare that an author comes along who can pierce straight to the heart of an issue, who can state just what needs to be stated in just the way in which it needs to be said.

Yet this is just what John Eldredge does with his analysis into the soul of man. Man is made in a certain image, and that image is struggling to be seen. It is an image often clouded by the noxious smoke of secular psychology and is often subdued by a society which wants to neuter its men; it is this image which Eldredge desires to bring forth and to drive men to seek after, simultaneously dealing with the many problems which often accompany such a task.

“Eve was created within the lush beauty of Eden’s garden. But Adam; if you’ll remember; was created outside the Garden, in the wilderness… Only afterward is he brought to Eden. And ever since then boys have never been at home indoors, and men have had an insatiable longing to explore.”

This is the idea which Eldredge begins with; this call to reality. Immediately he dives into what it is that drives a man and it is around this which Eldredge forms the structure of his book: “… in the heart of every man is a desperate desire for a battle to fight, an adventure to live, and a beauty to rescue.”

Through a brilliant weaving of personal experience, social commentary and analysis of Scripture Eldredge brings forth the image of God in man, outlining just what this image is (through the heroic figure of Christ), how we have lost it, and it may be regained (and perhaps most importantly, the false ways in which we try and achieve it).

Man has fallen, he has been wounded, and the one of the most noticeable results of this is the fear of failure and the false persona which we now put forth – the question being begged by men is “do I have what it takes.” We seek validation through means other than God (chiefly through women) and in doing so set ourselves up for failure in the battle which is at hand. It requires an intervention by men to bestow masculinity; on the lower levels this requires action by the father, on the higher levels this requires action by God. As Eldredge notes: “Masculinity is bestowed. A boy learns who he is and what he’s got from a man, or the company of men. He cannot learn it any other place. He cannot learn it from other boys, and he cannot learn it from the world of women… Femininity can never bestow masculinity.

Yet there is still a wound, a wound which may only be healed through union with God and through sin being dealt with, through the realization that through salvation God has made the heart good. It is to him that man must go for affirmation and to get his strength, a strength which may then be given to those around him – thus, “A man does not go to a woman to get his strength; he goes to her to offer it.”

And yet so often (that is, always) we get it backwards: ” When a man takes his question to the woman what happens is either addiction or emasculation. Usually both… A man needs a much bigger orbit that a woman. He needs a mission, a life purpose, and he needs to know his name.

This mission, this purpose, and this name come from God, it can come from nowhere else; yet first we must be broken. We must first have a false persona shattered, we must first be made to see the truth. When our self fails, God comes through: “The true test of a man, the beginning of his redemption, actually starts when he can no longer rely on what he’s used all his life. The real journey begins when the false self fails… God thwarts us to save us.”

—————

While this is a book delving into the soul of man, it is not a book solely about man, for man only expresses part of the image of God in mankind. It is also a book about the soul of the woman: that women yearn to be fought for, for an adventure to share and a beauty to unveil (that is, to be delighted in). “…the deep cry of a little girl’s heart is ‘am I lovely’? Every woman needs to know that she is exquisite and exotic and chosen.”

Yet sadly without men who have been made alive there are too few women being fought for, and thus they reside in the tower still.

Wild at Heart is an adventure in describing the soul of man through the image of God where each attribute ties back into how God relates to mankind. As regards man he fights for us, adventures with us, rescues us; as regards woman he desires to be fought for, to share in our life and to be delighted in. It is a penetrating analysis into the nature of man, both practically and psychologically (as well as scripturally).

I highly recommend this book to both men and women alike, it is perhaps the most practical and insightful book on Christian living (or simply living in general) that I have ever had the pleasure of reading.

Memorable Quotes:

-“Desire reveals design, and design reveals destiny.”

-“Life is not a problem to be solved, it is an adventure to be lived.” (this actually just a modification of a statement attributed to Kierkegaard that “Life is not a problem to be solved, but a reality to be experienced” but which can only be definitively traced to Sarvepalli Radhakrishnan‘s statement that “Spiritual life is not a problem to be solved but a reality to be experienced.”)

-“‘Where are all the real men?’ is regular fare for talk shows and new book. You asked them to be women…”

-“It’s not enough to be a hero; it’s that he is a hero to someone in particular, to the woman he loves.”

-“A violent man destroys with his words; a silent man starves his wife.”

-“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.”

-“So many men make the mistake of thinking that the woman is the adventure. But that is where the relationship immediately goes downhill. A woman doesn’t want to be the adventure; she wants to be caught up in something greater than herself.”

-“God is fiercely committed to you, to the restoration and release of your masculine heart. But a wound that goes unacknowledged and unwept is a wound that cannot heal. A wound you’ve embraced is a wound that cannot heal. A wound you think you deserved is a wound that cannot heal.”

Specific Criticisms

Despite my high regard for the insight of Mr. Eldredge I do have a few criticisms of the text. For instance if we take the line “So long as man remains no real threat to the Enemy, Satan’s line to him is ‘You’re fine’. But after you do take sides, it becomes ‘Your heart is bad and you know it’.” The point being, as natural man our heart is bad, and it is only once we acknowledge this that Christ may begin his work and make it good – the corruption of our hearts is a past truth which we find it difficult to move past. I think Eldredge would have done well to specify that this dynamic, that ‘Your heart is bad and you know it’ is not just some lie which Satan might tell, but it is rather a past state/truth which Satan might try and drag us back into – the mindset of our old selves which we are meant to move past once reborn (all the while acknowledging that it was not on our own merit but exactly because our heart was bad that Christ came to make it new).

As Martin Luther says: “Therefore, when you begin to believe, you learn at the same time that all that is in you is utterly guilty, sinful, and damnable… When you have learnt this, you will know that Christ is necessary for you, since He has suffered and risen again for you, that, believing on Him, you might by this faith become another man, all your sins being remitted, and you being justified by the merits of another, namely of Christ alone.” The message that ‘your heart is bad’ cannot be one attributed solely to Satan when that very realization is one essential to salvation, rather, it is only a message which he may try and drag the believe back into.

A related issue comes with the line that “Knowing that my heart is good allowed me to block it, right then and there” (where ‘it’ is temptation/sin). It is simply insufficient to say that we look to our own good heart for this strength rather than the work of Christ (that is, that thing on which this good heart depends). It is the knowledge that Christ has put our sins away that allows us to find this strength. Yes, having a good heart is the result of this, but to look to our good heart for our strength is to look to the effect rather than the cause, it is only a superficial strength which need not necessarily be dependent upon the gospel. Perhaps this dynamic is present at the back of Eldredge’s thought, but it does the reader no good if it stays there.

A final little criticism which is worth pointing out is Eldredge seemingly placing Eve on a higher level of being than Adam, with Eve as pinnacle of creation, almost as if she were made of a higher quality than Adam. This is simply an idea which is not presented in scripture and is based by Eldredge upon a loose analogy concerning the sequence of creation. He argues that creation works from the most lowly up to the most exalted, therefore Eve – being the last thing made – must also be the best. This isn’t an interpretation of the text based upon any real exegesis on Eldredge’s part, rather it is an outside pattern that he puts on top of the Scripture, a pattern rooted more in Greek thought – Aristotle’s great chain of being – than it is in Scripture.

This conclusion by Eldredge is, then, an unScriptural assertion based on reading pagan thought into the Bible.

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3 thoughts on “Book Review: Wild at Heart – By John Eldredge

  1. I don’t like the idea of that book or the fact that a drug cartel co-opted it in order to secure its power in the hearts and minds of the men that run it. I know too many exceptions, men that don’t care for adventure or outdoor activities, pacifists who have no desire for battle, and still others who don’t seek marriage. To me, the book creates too narrow of a definition for man to take into account the scope and complexity of human diversity.

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  2. Does the abuse of a text negate the value of that text?

    I’d agree it’s a fair critique to say that the book shoehorns men into slightly too tight of a mold, but I think it’s unfair to say that it isn’t hitting on some general trends in masculinity. Fantasy and action video games and movies don’t suck up thousands of hours of the lives of both boys’ and mens’ lives because they’re not appealing to something within them.

    On that front, I think we could solve most of the issues by simply saying that the battle to fight/adventure to live/beauty to rescue can manifest in wildly different ways and therefore don’t look the same for everybody. Perhaps they have no desire to go wage war, but instead express that quality by playing video games, by reading fiction, by arguing on the internet, or by fighting their way up the corporate ladder. Perhaps their adventure is not going hiking or rockclimbing, but is reading comic books or ballroom dancing or cooking exotic foods.

    So yes, there are no doubt many who don’t fit into the mold, but I’d guess there are many more that either do or long to.

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  3. Depends on the text. I worry about the idea that men have to earn their manhood – as if surviving eighteen years of adolescence isn’t enough of a test and they have to do more or be more. So many people think they have to fight / battle / struggle / earn something that they should just accept. I was reading a sermon where the teacher said: “I believe that we’re in the problem we’re in in America today because there aren’t any men. There aren’t any men. There are a lot of males. There are a lot of guys who are born male. So you’re a male by birth, but you’re a man by choice.” I think we have to learn to see that for the lie that it is – men are males, men are manly, men are masculine, men are guys, men are anything and everything – they don’t have to earn it, just accept that’s what they are.

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