Eldredge, John. Wild at Heart: Discovering the Secret of a Man’s Soul. Nashville: Thomas Nelson Publishers, 2001.
It’s a man’s world…at least that’s what John Eldridge thinks. Wild at Heartis a dangerous book. In fact, I think it’s fair to call it the spiritual handbook of toxic masculinity…although there really is nothing all that spiritual about it. Eldridge invites his reader into a mythical world of male dominance…complete with blatant misinterpretations of scripture, knights, valor, battles, warriors, sleeping beauties, chivalry shining armor and all sorts of amalgamations of silly shit…he calls God’s will. To top it all off…I came of age in a space where people actually believed all of this foolishness.
One of my buddies pulled me aside. From the look on his face, I didn’t know what he was going to say. Then, his voice got real low. “I’m in love. I’m so in love…and I’m going to tell her too. I’m not just willing to fight for her… I’m willing to die for her.” I was stunned. I really didn’t know how to respond. Finally, I inquired, “Where did you get all of that language from?'” With no hesitation, he replied, “Wild at Heartof course.“ I didn’t know what the hell he was talking about. Within a few months, everybody was talking about it.
The back says it all…
Every man was once a boy, and every little boy has dreams, big dreams: of being the hero, of beating the bad guys, of doing daring feats and rescuing the damsel in distress. Every little girl has dreams, too: of being rescued by her prince and swept up in great adventure, knowing that she is the beauty.
But what happens to those dreams when we grow up? Walk into most churches, have a look around, and ask yourself: What is a Christian man? Without listening to what is said, look at what you find there. Most Christian men are bored…
In Wild at Heart, John Eldredge invites men to recover their masculine heart, defined in the image of a passionate God. And he invites women to discover their purpose as well, as they discover the secrets of a man’s soul, and learn how to delight in his strength and wildness.
I can’t explain it. Toxic masculinity spread like a disease. People were all over this shit. I resisted. When one sees the epidemic growing…you have to provide an antidote…i.e. the truth.
By the way, the woman he said he would die for…called him a dumbass.
Interaction and Exposition of the Text:
John Eldredge begins to carve out theological territory in the initial paragraphs of the book, calling God one who longs for adventures, battles and beauty. Doesn’t this sound like a romance novel? The church’s demands that men be responsible, sensitive, disciplined, faithful, diligent and dutiful are the road of good intentions that leads to hell (xi). Since when is sensitivity hellish? Before the book even begins, in earnest, Eldredge has staked his book on his ideas about what constitutes God and declared one’s thoughts on manliness has direct effect on their eternal salvation. Manliness = salvation? The next page, xiii, drops Matthew 11:12 in for affect: “The kingdom of heaven suffers violence, and violent men take it by force.” You have to kick ass before God will love you. Give me a break…
The first chapter is all about the wilderness. It is the only place where he, or any other man, is truly able to find his heart and this, of course, has biblical reasons: “Adam…was created outside of the Garden of Eden, in the wilderness….Man has always been in and of the outback…(3)” Always? The text also illustrates that the most phenomenal biblical revelations always happened in the wilderness. Look at Moses, Jacob, Elijah, John the Baptist, and Jesus (5). Crucifixion/Resurrection? Christ was not able to get his heart back until he went to the wilderness and found himself. As men, our purpose is to go and do likewise (6). Christ need a heart transplant? Eldredge’s hermeneutical principles are incredibly suspect. In the first six pages, it is clear that he develops a purpose and then finds scriptures that meet that purpose, often at the expense of the totality of the text and what Christians have historically claimed about God. There is a further assertion in these pages that man is created at a higher order or more in God’s image than females. For Eldredge, the scriptures become a weapon to perpetuate sexual violence to uphold patriarchy.
Sissy? “These guys are what is destroying Western Christianity…Who wants to hang out with a bunch of sissy nice guys? This is why there are no real men in our churches…(9).” He defines real men through a description of their three great needs or desires: “A Battle to Fight,” “An Adventure to Live,” and “A Beauty to Rescue.” Eldredge begins with Exodus 15:3, “…the Lord is a warrior; the Lord is His name,” to exposit why men love Braveheartand feel the need to prove themselves in battle. If God is a fighter then we are not living up to His image if we are not engaged in battle, “like it or not there is something incredibly fierce in the heart of every man (10-11).” God as movie star? Eldredge then speaks to the boringness of church: “Compare how you feel watching James Bond or an Indiana Jones thriller to how you feel at Bible study…(12),” in declaring that every man needs adventure. “There is something wild in the heart of every man…(13)” Every? Eldredge uses a high school romance to describe how men grow out of being in love in order to be committed. “We all need a beauty,” he affirms (14-16). All? Eldredge writes this thing as if it’s the latest work of movie fiction. The problem is that he sells is as truth.
Talk about mansplaining. Eldredge enlightens us with his definition of what it means to be woman:
“The world kills a woman’s heart when it tells her to be tough, efficient, and independent…The core of a woman wants a man to fight for her, to experience adventure with him, and for him to be captivated by her…Every woman wants a dangerous man…(17-18).”
These are the assumptions about women that fuel the rest of the book. In fact, you couldn’t write this awful book without oppressing women.
Gender/sexuality is incredibly static for Eldredge. Which leads to even more violence to more groups of oppressed and marginalized people. These definitions of gender/sexuality are hell.
Eldredge uses his expositions of his insecurities to inform our perception of God. He uses scripture very selectively and only when it informs his opinion. Eldredge creates an excuse for violence…continued violence. He also seems to have been asleep for the past fifty years to the advancement of women and many other marginalized peoples. Independence is not a mark of an amazing woman…not a bad one. In order for his system to function, Eldredge has to go further.
“The Wild One Whose Image We Bear” is a discussion of what God must be like and how that informs what men must be like. There is a particular focus on the movie Braveheartand its application to informing theodicy. Eldredge states: “I am convinced that Jesus was far more like William Wallace than he was Mother Teresa (24/29).” Killer or Healer? He then proceeds to use his categories to create a Doctrine of God. God definitely has a battle to fight. God is warring throughout all of scripture, Old and New Testaments, and Samson did not become a beast until “the Spirit of the Lord came upon him (26-27).” God is fierce. This is why we should fight for God’s kingdom and for romance at all times (29). Every page spews with misogynistic bullshit. “If you have any doubt that God loves adventurethen spend the night alone in the woods…He is not safe, but he is good…Safety and security is the anti-God…(29-30)” God risked the death of his son so that he might have the adventure of fighting for the beautythat is his church (32). This is one fierce, wild, and passionate guy (35). God has officially become like every thrill junkie and outdoorsman on the planet. No one could ever fit the paradigms he is creating. Surely, being human is more important than being a man. God didn’t become a warrior…God became a child.
The words of Albert Schweitzer begin the third chapter: “The tragedy of life is what dies inside a man while he lives…(40).” Schweitzer would not have approved of the use of this quote. Guaranteed. He was far too human for that. Eldredge’s questions that are so haunting to every man include: “Am I really a man?” and “Am I fierce, wild, and passionate?” For women the primary question is: “Am I going to be able to find a true man? (42-43)” Watching pornography and sports are the substitutes for true battles for women, true adventure and true passion. Glory is placidly lived through a screen instead of experienced by the individual. Modern man is a failure of what it means to be a man (44). Man is afraid to live bravely, adventurously, and passionately primarily because man failed at the fall and didn’t take leadership over Eve. All that most do now is live posing to be a real man (48-55). Lastly, nowadays most men are hiding behind women’s skirts and don’t have the courage to be who they need to be. The third chapter speaks of and illustrates his point that men are really messed up due to the fall and must get back to truly imaging God by being brave, adventurous, and passionate (59). Eldredge talks about pornography as someone who is very knowledgeable…not someone who is opposed. If manhood is the goal, then God is not. Eldredge keeps peddling visions of misogyny and calling them God. There is perfection in our pain. Wounds make us human not deficient.
“The Wound.” Eldredge states the answer that sums up the life of a man is the answer to the question: “Dad am I a wild man?” Most men live their lives terrified they are not a man and intent on proving they are (62). True men always draw their identities from their fathers (63). All men want to know is if “their peckers are the right size for their age…” This is what gives men confidence and strength (66). “The Father Wound” is the largest gaping wound in the hearts of most men. Men’s fathers either make or break them (74). If a father messes up then a child can be destroyed or paralyzed for life. They will either become gay, insecure, live without emotion, or be a horrible sissy nice guy. Of course to be any of these things is worse than being dead (74-75). The chapter beckons a few questions: “What about the children who grow up just fine without a dad or religion?” “What about a gay man?” “Who defines masculinity?” and “Who are you to say that you have discovered the core of masculinity, are you not affected by the fall as well?” The entire book is based on dangerous straw arguments that can easily be blown over. The problem is that people would rather hear this than to know that they actually have to learn to simply be who you are.
“To give a man back his heart is one of the hardest missions on earth…,” from the movie Michael and the beginning of the chapter entitled “The Battle For A Man’s Heart (78).” The greatest problem in the west today is our domestication of males. Domestification? We take away manhood from a very early age. Our culture has got to realize, “if you want real men then you have to accept the danger of real men as well (83-84).” Real men? Domestication takes away the soul of a man and makes him less than human, because you are denying them the privilege of imaging God (86). Domestification? If you have already been domesticated, there is a way to get your heart back, but it is going to be a great battle (88). Domesticated? “I know there are battles all around, but the greatest testing ground is the battle for the heart of a woman,” Eldredge declares (90). Without the woman the man cannot feel full and alive. Homosexuality is a distraction and an attempt to repair the hole of the domestication with masculinity. You will not be able to go after the woman that makes you fully alive until you are wholly affirmed and that type of affirmation can only come from the father (95). Domestification? You must take all your hurts and questions to the father. In this chapter, Eldredge lays the groundwork for his idea of spiritual formation/finding God… “Be a man!” Jesus would’ve laughed his ass off at this ignorance.‘“Who do we turn to in order to be wholly affirmed?/Who gives us our name? (102).” Psalm 139 makes it clear God has a particular ideal that he has created us to be and if we are not being a man then we are not living up to that ideal. God is trying to initiate us into this manhood, and fix are boring lives, if we will only let him (105). Initiate? God demands that we admit our masculine woundedness and then follow him to regain complete masculinity. Through thwarting the false self we have created, we are able to obtain the salvation of masculinity. Salvation of Masculinity? We fight back to regain control and the chains that bind our soul (112-113). Man chains? All that is wrong with humanity has one source, Adam’s choice of Eve over God. For centuries we have been choosing the woman first and this is where the world’s problems begin. We must learn to choose God over Eve once again, because we will only find healing in taking our broken masculinity to God (116-117). Women are the devil? I thought this book was about uplifting everyone?
“Healing the Wound.” Wendell Berry: “The task of healing is to respect oneself as the creature we were created, no more and no less (120).” Like he does the Bible, Eldredge is taking this quote completely out of context. We are “NOT” created to be one with the masculine God. Dependence is not something to be ashamed of, but rather something to be embraced. Dependence on love? We have created a society that says real men are independent and reliant on no one. This is not how God has created us. It is no shame that a man needs healing, anybody that had been away from their father does (123-125). Eldredge states that the prayer of salvation is, “Jesus take me into my wound…Christ, of course, says ’Behold I stand at the door and knock…’ (130).” Next we must forgive the past, especially our fathers, and then allow God to be our father and our future masculinity (135-136). What about our mothers? When we begin to offer others our true selves then we are ready for the glory of battle (138). Glory? War is hell. Our true self is being a manly beast? I know a great many people that will never fit such a paradigm.
“A Battle To Fight: The Enemy.” A real man has vision greater than self (he does not seek to save his life) and is cunning (he knows when to fight and can sense a trap). Real man? We must never forget that the world is enemy occupied territory and that we must constantly fight against the devil (142-143). Satan gives the masculine heart insecurity to keep him from being a real man and conquering the world for God’s purposes. Masculine heart? If one wants to be a real man of God then they must stop sabotaging their manliness and embrace it. We defeat the devil by embracing our strengths (145-147). “We must let everyone around us feel the weight of who we really are as men and let them deal with it…We must embrace manliness and quit participating in the carnival of counterfeits- counterfeit battles, counterfeit adventures, and counterfeit beauties (149).” He concludes by exposing the birth of Christ as a wild battle of galactic good and evil using Revelation 12. “I am sick of these silly nativity scenes…There is a dragon out there, he tried to eat Jesus, and we must slay him (154-155).” Slaying the dragon? The fantasy myths only seem to grow with every page. In order to promote Jesus as a warrior he has to make Satan his equal in battle. I think this is a severe misunderstanding of who Christ is. Jesus has already won. Christus Victor. Actually, Jesus won by not fighting.
The war continues as John Eldredge teaches men how to have a strategy to defeat Satan. The greatest indictment of the modern man is the lack of danger in his life. We insure our lives against everything, and nothing of real substance ever takes place, because we are terrified of what it would mean to fight (159-160). Insurance as spirituality? When we are immersed in evil, Satan’s favorite line is “I’m not here, this is all you and you’re to blame for whatever happens.” This is not true and we must learn to realize that all things bad that happen to us our not our fault. They are Satan’s and we must learn to fight against him (163). Sometimes bad things are our fault. We must courageously believe that we our on the right side and never believe we are on the wrong side again, for this is true manhood (165-166). Belief? We win the battle of masculinity in the same way Jesus did, God was with him. If God is with us then we will have the strength to be real men (168). I don’t think that means what you think it does. We need the weapons of war in order to be real men including the belt of truth, the breastplate of righteousness, the readiness of the gospel of peace, the shield of faith, the helmet of salvation, and the sword of the spirit. Do these sound like feminine items to you? (173) Weapons? War? We must never go into battle alone, but we don’t need accountability groups, we need battalions of fellow warriors that are willing to fight and shed their blood with us (175-176). Man accountability? Eldredge then assures the reader that they will be wounded on this journey, but they must keep pressing on to the upward call of Christ Jesus. “Was Christ not wounded in battle?” he asks. Eldredge, as if he is Saint Peter himself, concludes by declaring: “If you want to live in God’s kingdom then it is going to take every ounce of passion and forcefulness you’ve got, scripture even says so: The kingdom of heaven suffers violence and violent men take it by force…(Matt. 11:12).” Remember, the kingdom is not, and never has been, inhabited by sissy nice guys (177-178). Violence? Sissy nice guys? One’s disposition as a man has much to do with whether or not he will see heaven. Man heaven? Not only is the idea of man heaven asinine, it is completely contrary to the message of Jesus.
Eldredge uses the country group Dixie Chicksto begin his tenth chapter, “A Beauty to Rescue,” reminding the reader of the lines “Cowboy take me away, closer to heaven and closer to you.” The assertion of the song is that women’s purpose and dream is to meet the cowboy that will show them the way to God and to who they really are (180). I’m sure they created that song with Eldredge in mind. If masculinity has come under assault in modern times, then femininity has been brutalized. We have completely lost sight of the fact that women reveal the exotic beauty and mystery of God (182). Eldredge is the one doing the brutalizing. Satan/actually Eldredge…lies constantly to women telling them: “You are not desired…You are not worthy…You will not be protected…No one will fight for you…” Most women think they are going to miss being loved by a man because of these lies. Because its all about the man? Men must spill out their lives and fight for the woman to counteract the lies (183-184). Women will never feel worthy unless they are fought for (185). Men are the only thing that can validate women? We must fight for the maiden in the tower and quit using women (187). What happened to the dragon? A real man is made to fight, love, and life for the heart of a woman (190). Real? Men must give their lives to this battle. Recognize this line? Eldredge has a very low view of women. He claims that they can only find wholeness when their cowboy comes for them. Furthermore, he really does not believe singleness to be the virtue that Paul claims it to be in the New Testament. According to Eldredge, a real man’s entire romantic life consists of rescuing the beauty from her insecurity. The woman is the real symbol of initiation into this salvation of real manhood. In turn, the battle for a woman’s heart is a sacrament (on par with baptism or communion) in the thought and theology of Eldredge. From my perspective, it seems to me like the script should be flipped.
God has set the stage for a high stakes drama on this earth and called it “good.” Movie? The world only works when we embrace risk and live by faith. A man will not be happy and will be unable to love God fully unless he has adventure in his work, in his love life, and in his spiritual life (200). Get your popcorn? “Two roads diverged in a wood and I took the one less traveled, and that has made all the difference…(202)” Not Robert Frost too? The real man never takes the risky path and does not incubate himself against risk (203). “A man’s life becomes transcendental when he embraces adventure and releases control on favor of the dreams of his heart,” Eldredge dramatically states after two extended stories. Dreams of violence? Real masculinity can only be find in the wild and the seeker must go there (207). If God is everywhere why…? God is in the unknown and not in suburbia (208). “A man will never more of a man until he embraces an adventure beyond his control, or when he walks into a battle he is not sure of winning (213).” What about just talking about the risk of love? God is adventure, so God is also what truly makes the man (215). Man God? The highest attribute of God to the male is not love (that is for females), but adventure. Women are secondary throughout the book and sometimes third or fourth or fifth. Misogyny really can make somebody crazy as shit.
Consequences, Reaction, and Concluding Thoughts:
John Eldredge is ignorant. He allows childhood fantasies to shape all of his gender realities. Surely, gender is a far more fluid concept than what Eldredge speaks of. It is wrong to say that any gender exhibits the certain attributes of God better than any other…because we all image God differently. It is dangerous to say that a woman’s purpose in life is to be rescued by a man. Is she simply supposed to sit back and take whatever comes? It should be revealing when you tell a woman that you’re going to fight for her…such an assertion only seems to foreshadow violence. In fact, I would encourage anyone who hears these words to run as fast as they can.
The consequences of Eldredge’s hearasies have been proven by the criminal enterprise La Familia Cartel in Michoacan, Mexico. They refer to beheadings and assassinations as divine justice and use Wild at Heart as their proof text. Everyone who enters the cartel must read it and there are reports of cartel members forcing all school children in the area to read it. The Cartel makes it plain: “God’s blood stained clothes in Isaiah 53…proves that sometimes we have to get real bloody to be like God.” (La Familia Moachoacan: A Deadly Mexican Cartel Revisited, by George Grayson, Foreign Policy Institute/ Focus on the Family Outreach, June 2009).
The things that John Eldredge says on a theological level are absolutely blasphemous. Eldredge has created a Man Theology that centers the entire Bible and the entirety of one’s spiritual life on being a man. Salvation is not being redeemed of sin or setting the world to rights, but rather becoming the manliest man one can be. Finding and conquering the beauty becomes the sacrament. Life becomes not about the least, but rather preservation and gratification of manliness. The things that Eldredge says about God are horrific. In his mind, God has a big fat erect penis…looking to slay the world to prove his manliness. In his attempts to make God manly, he completely destroys Christian orthodoxy in favor of his own theology. Eldredge takes scripture out of context and manipulates it for his own purposes. He claims to be evangelical, but even the most radical Biblical scholars exhibit more fidelity to scripture than he does. The one true God is not something off of a popular movie…but something that exists uniquely in the soul of all creation.
“Love the Lord our God with all of our heart, mind, soul, and strength. And to love our neighbor as our self (Mark 12:29-31).”
“Love the Penis our God with all of our heart, mind, soul and strength. And love your Penis.”
Come on folks… Surely, God is about more than penis religion.