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.

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About Jim

I'm currently the Communications Director for Missouri Operation for Vigorous Evangelism [MOVE] A Church planting ministry located in Jefferson City, MO. I believe that the church is the primary means through which God works in a community to love and redeem it. Here at MOVE we’re discovering new ways to be used for this purpose as God leads us and lights His path for us. As God forms this organization and shapes it for a new kind of world I want to be right in the middle of what He’s doing, traveling on this road of a disciple’s journey.

10 responses to “Book Review – “Wild At Heart” by John Eldredge”

  1. Richard Brooke says :

    hey, we are sinners saved by Grace, and we are born sinners, if you look at the fall of Adam and Eve in Genesis God does say we are born of sin, we were never born pure. So John Eldredge is correct on that! Have you read Genesis and seen that we are sinners born into this world?

    • Jim says :

      Richard,

      I appreciate your comment but I must wholeheartedly disagree with your assertion that we as humans are born sinners. To answer your question; yes I have read the Genesis account of the “fall” of man and nowhere does it say either by direct statement or context say that we are born sinners, Therefore I stand by my original statement that we are born pure. We don’t inherit sin from our parents as we do physical characteristics. They alone are responsible for their own sin, though the consequences of such sin can and often is passed on to the following generations, in our case death. (Romans 5:12)

      Here are two basic reasons why I believe in “Original Grace” and not “Original Sin”

      (1) Children in Scripture are depicted as being without sin (1st Corinthians 14:20; Psalm 131:2; Romans 9:11; Deuteronomy 1:39 etc.)

      The below syllogism states my argument;

      Major Premise: All those to whom the kingdom heaven belongs are persons without sin. (John 3:3-5)

      Minor Premise: All little children are those to whom the kingdom of heaven belongs. (Mark 19:14)

      Conclusion: Therefore little children must be without sin since no sinner can enter the kingdom; therefore we are not born sinners.

      (2) Total hereditary depravity (born sinners) necessitates that the son bear the iniquity (sins) of the father.

      The below syllogism states my argument;

      Major Premise: If all men are born totally depraved, then the children of Adam bear the sin of their father.

      Minor Premise: Scripture records that the child will not bear the sin of their father. (Ezekiel 18:20)

      Conclusion: Therefore, all men are not born totally depraved.

      Sin cannot be inherited because God gives the soul, and there is no darkness in Him, and there can be none in his “creation” (Ecclesiastes 12:7)

      The basis of spiritual death is not sin of one’s father, but the actual sins which he himself commits: “The soul that sins it shall die” (Ezekiel 18:4). Sins only result in the spiritual death of the individual who committed them (Ezekiel 18:5-18). The conclusion of the matters is that “the son shall not bear the iniquity of the father”

      There are objections raised that Scripture elsewhere does indeed place sin of the father upon their children (Exodus 34:6-7; Jeremiah 32:13; Lamentations 5:7; Joshua 7:1-11). However this objection fails to distinguish between the guilt of an act and the physical consequences of an act.

      Case in point, a child may suffer the consequence of his mother’s fornication, but he does not bear the guilt of that sin. These passages and similar ones refer not to guilt related to the sin but to the physical consequences of a sin. In relation to Adam, we bear the physical consequences of his sin (i.e., physical death), but we in no way bear the guilt of that sin.

      Though people may argue about when sin comes to affect a person, (and they will) none argue that it does. The central issue in all this isn’t when sin comes into a person’s life, but the fact that the sin problem must be addressed, and the only answer for man’s sin is the redeeming blood of Christ. (Revelation 1:5)

  2. Jim Cross says :

    The concept of original grace is a new one on me, but certainly worth some thought.

    Thanks for the fair review of Wild at Heart. I wish the second edition had cleaned up the sloppy theology, but the basic premise is flawed to begin with.

  3. lulz says :

    lol…if we were all born pure, there is no reason for the cross and that was all done in vain. your review is ridiculous.

    • Jim says :

      I don’t think that this is at all a laughing matter… to say that being born “pure” makes Christ’s sacrifice on the cross an action that was in vain is completely absurd. I wasn’t advocating total lifelong purity.

  4. John W Leonard says :

    Jim, I have a group of elders and a preacher who have pressed this book to be used in the face of specific and biblical refutation! Your objective ‘review’ was both honest and indicting! Our age reflects the continuing fulfillment of II Timothy 4:3-4! Leaders want psycho-babble over scripture!
    Thanks for your essential crtique. – John Leonard

  5. Osvaldo says :

    Jim, thanks for sharing your review. I have some questions. Why do you said: “Eldredge’s views of femininity and masculinity are grossly inadequate.”? Is this book in the category for Prove all things; hold fast that which is good?

  6. Heather Lockliere says :

    Have you thought that, yes we are sinners saved by grace, but once saved we become a New Creation? After receiving Christ we no longer keep the heart that was filled with our sin, but given a new heart and a new life of Christ living IN us. So, perhaps John Eldredge is speaking to the lie that the church clings to the “lie” that we are only sinners saved by grace because the reality is that with Christ’s record now covering us for all past, present and future sin, we are good. By not living like this we are not fully accepting the grace extended to us of a FULL pardon. This is not to say that we will no longer struggle with sin, but through God’s power we are made new. Just a thought for you to consider.

  7. Carla says :

    I know it’s an old post. To all those who defend this man, I would like them to consider what happens when a man follows this advice and the effects it has on a family. I am now living with the consequences of someone espousing such a philosophy. I wonder if any studies have been done on the possible damages to the family structure by the reckless embracing of the principles in Wild at Heart. It’s not pretty around here. I know that everyone is responsible for his own actions, but I wish churches would stop preaching out of books written by fallible men and return to the Bible. Just because it’s popular doesn’t mean it’s the truth, frankly often the overwhelming approval of men suggests just the opposite.

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