Book Review – “Wild At Heart” by John Eldredge
For the last year I’ve been writing book reviews for Thomas Nelson Publishing and I will admit it’s been quite an enjoyable task to undertake. My most recent request was for the book “Wild at Heart,” by John Eldredge. Though the book has been in print for nearly a decade, a revised and expanded issue has just been released. I was a junior in Bible College when I was first introduced to this book. It was given to me by a friend who had just read it and has some serious concerns about its message, and he wanted me to read it to see if I came to the same conclusions. After making my way though the book I came to the conclusion that the book, while well intentioned, did have some serious flaws, ones that could be quite detrimental, especially to those with limited biblical knowledge. I have always been the type of person who tries to find some redeemable factor in anything that I read, and thought I have some serious issues with the book I will admit that I do agree with the basic premise of the book; that men are told to be a certain way by our society, and what we are told is destructive to the way God has wired us.
Now like Eldredge, I will admit that I’m drawn to adventure, excitement, and to some things that some would even consider to be downright dangerous. Outside of the excitement that I find in preaching the Word of God, I’ve found that I have felt most alive when duty called me into hostile situations, from which an ordinary person would flee. I think this explains why I enjoyed being a firefighter so much. I loved the adrenaline rush that came from going into a burning house… sounds crazy and it probably is… but I loved it. Now I am the father of a very adventurous 2 year old littler boy, and I’ll admit that I want my son to be a real man, a man as designed and purposed by God, not shaped and molded to fit the model of the world. I want him to be brave, noble, and yes even more adventurous than is already is. So this is an area where I can find some common ground with the book, but that being said the masculinity and adventure one reads about in the book may come across in a way other than intended. We read of Eldredge’s own adventures in hunting, fishing, rock climbing, whitewater rafting etc. Though he doesn’t directly make this claim, one may come away with the message that if they aren’t engaged in such activities then they’re not a “man”.
From my perspective, as both a man and a Pastor the primary issue that I have with this book is Eldredge’s mishandling of scripture. This sad reality is evident from the very first page of chapter one, where he changes the text of Proverbs 20:5 to fit the theme of the first chapter. Eldredge writes “the heart of man is like deep water,” however the actual wording of the text is “a plan in the heart of man is like deep water, but a man of understanding draws it out.” (NASB) The subject of the verse was changed from “plan” to “heart” to suit the theme, without giving any clue to the readers that the verse has been modified in such a way. Scripture is ours to “proclaim,” not to “modify,” regardless of how well intentioned our motives may be.
Though I could spend a great deal of time and effort raising areas of concern with Eldredge’s advancement of thoughts that are contrary to scripture, with the constraints of time and space I will only draw out what I consider to be the most obvious issues found in the book.
(1) Open Theism – Though he denies that he’s an open theist, his own words give evidence to the contrary. On more than one occasion he speaks of God in ways that can only be explained if you hold such a view; he writes “it’s not just a battle or two that he takes chances with…” (pg. 33) but the truth is God doesn’t take chances… knowing the outcome removes all consideration of chance.
Eldredge also takes the bold step of “humanizing” God, by making the statement; “It is amazing to me how humble, how vulnerable God is on this point.” (pg. 37) To be “vulnerable,” means to be susceptible to injury, attack, or criticism, or being liable to succumb to temptation. I am assuming that Eldredge’s point is that God is open to the pain of rejection. While that may be true in a limited sense, we must remember that God is not caught off guard and unexpectedly hurt by human reactions.
(2) View of Jesus – We are presented with the idea that Jesus failed at something He attempted. When He encounters the guy who lives out in the Gerasenes tombs, tormented by a legion of spirits, the first rebuke by Jesus doesn’t work, (pg. 168)and He needed more information to address the situation. (Luke 8:26-33) Even a cursory reading of the passage shows that these demons never resisted, or even questioned Jesus’ rebuke. The demons knew exactly who He was, and they knew they had no choice but to obey His command.
(3) View of Sin – This is probably the area where I draw most of my contention with this book. Eldredge does his best to disassociate the individual from their sin. He does this by presenting a clearly non-biblical picture of the condition of the heart of the believer. The statement is made “Sin is not the deepest thing about you have a new heart. Did you hear me? Your heart is good.” (pg. 136) Moving forward several pages he again addresses this idea; “To put it bluntly, your flesh is a weasel, a poser, and a selfish pig. And your flesh is not you. Did you know that? Your flesh is not the real you.” (pg. 146) Adding to this he makes the statement; “But what Paul concludes is just astounding: “I am not really the one doing it; the sin within me is doing it… Hey I know that I struggle with sin. But I also know that my sin is not me – this is not my true heart.”” (pg. 146) and “The Big Lie in the church today is that you are nothing more than “a sinner saved by grace.” (pg. 146)
Now I could write a book on how these statements are contrary to the teaching of scripture, but I’ll only make a few pertinent comments. First, to say that the heart of the believer is “good” is not even biblical language. We are born pure, but when we sin, our heart ceases to be “good.” Scripture clearly attests that the “heart” of man is not good but wicked (Ecclesiastes 9:3, Jeremiah 17:9, Mark 7:21-22, Romans 7:18) Saying that our sin is “not us” begs the question… then who is it? Does my sin belong to somebody else… NO our sin is indeed us, it is part of us. If we aren’t our sin, then what reason would there be for trying to resist it? If we aren’t our sin, then there would be no penalty for us in committing that act of rebellion. Eldredge claims that the “big lie” is that we are sinners saved by grace. Is this statement a lie, hardly, this is one of the foundational principles of scripture (Romans 5:8) In all of this it appears that Eldridge is propagating the idea that once we’re saved we can live a sin-free life, which is complete non-sense. Can we resist sin, yes we can, and we should. (1st Corinthians 10: 13) but to advocate that we somehow have the ability to never sin again is ridiculous, this being seen in the fact that no one outside of Christ Himself has ever lived a sinless life. Even Paul, who was a giant of the faith struggled and succumbed to sin. (Romans 7:19-20) To those who think they do not, or have the ability to not continue to sin I would remind them to consider 1st John 1:8 which says, “If we say that we have no sin, we deceive ourselves, and the truth is not in us.”
For the Christian, though not under the law, and not unregenerate, there is no absolute exemption from temptation nor the consequences of the sin that come from yielding to that temptation.
(4) Response to Attack – Bullying is a scourge in our society and we’re always looking at appropriate ways to handle it, on a personal level and how we are to instruct those around us, especially our children, as how to handle it. Eldredge has only one solution: “hit him . . . as hard as you possibly can.” I believe that in a real sense walking away from a confrontation shows greater strength than doe’s physical retaliation? Should we allow ourselves to be taken advantage of or bullied, no, not at all. But it is wise to save physical action as a “final solution,” one that is exercised with extreme caution. Let’s remember Paul’s words in situations such as this. “Do not be overcome by evil, but overcome evil with good.” (Romans 12:21)
I will openly confess that I struggled with this book. Knowing its intense popularity I wanted to find something redeeming about it, something that would set it apart from my last experience with it, but now having just re-read it, the conclusions that I have drawn are quite similar to the ones I drew years ago. Its foundation is very weak and Eldredge’s views of femininity and masculinity are grossly inadequate. But the most disheartening aspect of the entire book is Eldredge’s misuse of scripture. It’s for these reasons that I cannot and will not recommend this book to others, and I would seriously caution any person or men’s group against using is as a curriculum or bible study tool.
If I could give one piece of advice when considering this book, that has become so popular in Christian circles it would be these ancient and sobering words of wisdom:
“Error never shows itself in its naked reality, in order not to be discovered. On the contrary, it dresses elegantly, so that the unwary may be led to believe that it is more truthful than truth itself.”
Irenaeus; Bishop of Lyons, 2nd Century A.D.
Thank you to Thomas Nelson Publishers for the review copy of this book.