Book Review: Captivating – By John & Stasi Eldredge

 

Eldredge Captivating.pngLetter IIn Wild at Heart the question of man’s soul, his design and his relation to God is analyzed; in Captivating the question is turned towards woman. With his wife as co-author the two set out to ‘unveil the mystery of a woman’s soul’.

As with man, woman is made in a certain image, and that image is struggling to be seen. It is an image of God being reflected as is only done through the feminine nature, as the authors state: “And she, too, bears the image of God, but in a way that only the feminine can speak.”

This image is reflected in how “every woman in her heart of hearts longs for three things: to be romanced, to play an irreplaceable role in a great adventure, and to unveil beauty.”

The problem comes when the woman (or man) seeks to find these things in places other than God, when validation is sought from created things rather than the creator. They become haunted by questions and doubts concerning their beauty and they become wounded. This can be seen in two primary ways (both for men and women), “When a man goes bad, as every man has in some way gone bad after the Fall, what is most deeply marred is his strength. He either becomes a passive, weak man – strength sundered – or he becomes a violent, driven man – strength unglued. When a woman falls from grace, what is most deeply marred is her tender vulnerability, beauty that invites to life. She becomes a dominating, controlling woman – or a desolate, needy, mousy woman.”

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The goal of Captivating is to reveal the truth once more and to help in healing that wound and seeking ultimate validation through God.

Thus: “No man can tell you who you are as a woman. No man is the verdict on your soul… Only God can tell you who you are. Only God can speak the answer you need to hear. That is why we spoke of the Romance with him first… our core validation, our primary validation has to come from God.”

As with Wild at Heart, Captivating is built upon personal testimony coupled with Scriptural analysis and examples pulled from popular media so as to better relate to the reader. It is a call to women finding their true beauty, their true romance, in God, and at the same time to help mend her relationship with her fellow man.

I’m not sure how well I can give a true analysis of the heart of this book, simply for the fact that it is designed to speak to the soul of women rather than men, to confront their chief struggles rather than ours. I will say that I didn’t find it to have the passion or push which it’s counterpart did, it was a much quieter book. It might also be helpful for men who want to better understand the struggles of women in his life, but there are better books on the topic.

The text does well to lay out the human need of God, of not being able to rely upon ourselves or our fellows, and I think it is strong in this regard.

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Memorable Quotes:

-“Nature is not primarily functional. It is primarily beautiful.”

-“A woman becomes beautiful when she knows she’s loved”

-“Strength is what the world longs to experience from a man… Beauty is what the world longs to experience from a woman.”

-“Jesus has to thwart us too – thwart our self-redemptive plans, our controlling and our hiding, thwart the ways we are seeking to fill the ache within us. Otherwise, we would never fully turn to him for our rescue.”

Specific Criticisms

While I haven’t the insight to address the heart of this book there are a few qualms that I have with it.

Perhaps the first issue I have with the book is that it is forgettable. The reason I read the book twice was because when I went to write a review I couldn’t remember anything it said.

On top of being forgettable, the book also seems to make the feminine role entirely reactionary (bordering on passive). I’ve talked to women who loved the book Wild at Heart, but who felt largely uninspired by Captivating, and I think it’s largely because the book doesn’t inspire women to go out and do anything in the same way that Wild at Heart does, it just tells them to not be domineering and to be romanced. Where is the thrill here for women?

Along with these problems are additional theological ones. One of these is the place that the text places Eve (and woman in general) at the peak of creation, as if woman were somehow slightly higher in the scale of being than man, saying “Given the way creation unfolds, how it builds to ever higher and higher works of art, can there be any doubt that Eve is the crown of creation?” While I think it is a flattering way to interpret the passage and I in no way want to downplay the glory that is woman, I don’t think there is any basis for this interpretation of the text or any support for it elsewhere in Scripture. In short it simply doesn’t serve to add anything of substance to the text to warrant such a shaky interpretation.

Another issue is in the idea that “healing never comes against our will.” Now this is quite true in and of itself, healing (or salvation) do not come against our will; but this is simply for the reason that God through Christ works a new heart and a new will into us. It doesn’t come against our will because our wills are changed through the work of Christ and the indwelling of the Spirit.

Finally the book pushes the notion – popular during its day – of romancing God, perhaps well in line with the sort of books that try and set up a woman’s relationship to God as a dating one. Simply, this is a not a narrative native to Scripture.

A few minor technicalities might also point to the erroneous interpretation of Song of Solomon as an analogy between Christ and the Church rather than between a man and a women, as well as having a fairly low view of the work of Christ overall.

One other note is one that I can’t quite put into words yet. I’ve now read this book twice on separate occasions, and both times there is a general feeling that there is something amiss. Usually this feeling comes about when a text is focusing on works rather than faith and grace, however there is no one place that I can point to in this text as being indicative of this, therefore I’ll leave off for now.

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PCABoba

Eugene Lilley (MDiv, MA) is a member of the Society of Christian Philosophers and the American Chesterton Society.

He may or may not be a Time Lord.

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One thought on “Book Review: Captivating – By John & Stasi Eldredge

  1. I think I made it three pages into Captivating before I threw it across the room. Then I thought I was being unfair, so I started all over again and pretty much at the same point it ended up across the room again. I think that human beings are far too complex, too mysterious and too interesting to be defined by these books because it and it’s counterpart often miss the variety there is in what it is to be human.
    Unless A&E were the first masculine and feminine (higher) beings, then as Adam is the masculine image of God, then so too Eve must be the feminine image of God – yet we never think of God as a she who desires to be romanced, to play a role in an adventure, and to unveil beauty. Until we understand what the nature of God’s femininity is, how can we understand what human femininity is? How can we honor among ourselves what it seems that God lacks?
    What’s wrong with these books is that they’re wrong – they’re not what Jesus would have ordered or thought important enough to merit even the slightest mention. It is taking the people that God made to be unique and telling them to shape themselves into a specific mold – destroying the image that God gave them. Instead of shining as a unique person and image bearer of a multi-faceted God, it orders men and women to reform themselves into one set of acceptable behaviors in order to be considered properly masculine or feminine.
    Or put it another way, in the interest of christlikeness, we’ve done the Solomon solution and cut Jesus in two – women can be like Jesus like X and men can be like Jesus like Y, but women can’t be Y and men can’t be like X. We’ve separated God, and in that, separated each other.

    Liked by 1 person

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