John Eldredge has written a number of books about male masculinity, the most popular being Wild at Heart. The point of this review is not to evaluate and critique that work, but to evaluate the subsequent book written by Eldredge, The Way of the Wild Heart. This volume adds to what Eldredge wrote in the first volume.
The Way of the Wild Heart contains 15 chapters in all. They are dedicated to what Eldredge describes as a problem in Chapter 1: that the world is filled with partial men, who are mostly boys. They live in the body of a man, have all the responsibilities of a man, yet are uninitiated into the role of masculinity. As he says, we are Unfinished Men (p. 6). The rest of the book is given over to describing the stages men must go through in order to be fully masculine: Boyhood (chapters 3-4), Cowboy (chapters 5-7), Warrior (chapters 8-9), Lover (chapters 10-11), King (chapters 12-13), and Sage (chapter 14).
Initially, I would like to say that Eldredge makes some good points. Through my own personal readings and observations my opinion is that there is a feminization of males afoot in our country. A lack of fathering is partially to blame for this. From Eldredge's point of view, many men have not been taught how to be masculine. Whether it is a lack of a proper role model, or some other factor, men in our country do not know how to be men.
That being said, Eldredge says so many things that are out of step with Scripture, one would best be warned to steer clear of his writings. Several examples will illustrate. First of all, while Eldredge uses the Bible to substantiate his points (which I address below), he relies heavily on secular movies, so much so, it seems as if they have more authority for him than the Bible. Instances of this can be seen throughout the book. In all, I counted well over two dozen references to different films, such as The Prince of Egypt (p. 17), The Empire Strikes Back (p. 28), My Big Fat Greek Wedding (p. 32), The Godfather (p. 32), Antoine Fisher (p. 58), and Braveheart (p. 61). This is a typical practice among church growth pastors who tend to have a fixation on using Hollywood to support so-called biblical teaching. They believe that the best way to reach their audience is by using illustrations found in popular culture.
What are of a greater concern were other things in the book. If a reader is interested in learning about an author's point of view, find out the authors upon whom they themselves rely. In Eldredge's case, he talks of C. S. Lewis, George MacDonald, St. John of the Cross, Thomas Kempis (p. 112), Larry Crabb (p. 167), Ed Murphy, Neil Anderson (p. 174), and Dallas Willard (p. 221). As for Lewis, he made a great contribution toward Christian apologetics, but few Christians are aware that he did not believe in biblical inerrancy ("C.S. Lewis Superstar," Christianity Today, Dec. 2005). Further, he believed in prayers for the dead, purgatory, and as D. Martin Lloyd-Jones warned, he stood against the substitutionary and penal view of Christ's atonement (
Christianity Today, Dec. 20, 1963). Lewis credits MacDonald with being the major factor in his coming to love fantasy, and endorsed his books, even though MacDonald had been influenced by the false teachings of Emmanuel Swedenborg. As to salvation, he was a universalist. St. John of the Cross was a Roman Catholic mystic who taught that by practicing faith, hope, and charity, man can reach union with God (or perfection).
In regard to the modern names mentioned, Larry Crabb is a popular author in the Church Growth Movement, and espouses the humanistic teaching of self-esteem. His views on psychology are anything but biblical. He has redefined confession, sin, and repentance, all in psychological language. Neil Anderson is another who has attempted to blend psychology with biblical doctrine. He holds that Christians can be controlled by demonic spirits. On his website, under “Recommended Reading,” Dallas Willard's list includes New Age authors, Roman Catholics, and others that would cause concern for any serious Christian.
That Eldredge has been influenced by modern psychology is apparent in his discussion of men having been "wounded" by not having been properly nurtured to become masculine. He devotes pages 52-56 to a discussion of this. In reading these pages, I was struck with the oddity of his views. For example, he writes, "A boy's heart is wounded in many ways. He is wounded when he does not live in a world made safe by his father, when he is not free to explore and dare and simply be a boy, when he is forced to grow up too soon. He is wounded when he does have that world, but it ends with a sudden loss of innocence" (p. 53). He gives more attention to this on pages 88-91, in a section called "Undeveloped and Wounded." His treatment of this is reminiscent of pop psychological literature.
His use of Scripture is disturbing. The patient reader will not find so much a blatant misuse of passages, but a subtle forced interpretation, not uncommon in books of this nature. Eldredge will take a passage, and while it seems he is being true to the meaning, will often miss the real point made by the author, a problem found throughout the book. On page 25 he cites Matthew 7:9-10 to support his statement that most men feel essentially fatherless, saying that that is why Jesus taught on the fatherhood of God so much. Never mind that the main point Jesus was making in this passage was about prayer, and that God will give us those things that He deems good for us to have. In missing this, Eldredge writes that Jesus "is trying to speak to our deepest doubt about the universe." What doubt is that? That we are "true sons of a true father." On page 125 he explains that God wants to take us on an adventure, and then quotes Romans 8:14, when that passage has nothing to do with God "taking us on an adventure." The real point of the verse is our assurance that we have been adopted by God.
An interesting statement is made on page 220 in regard to a passage that appears in 1 John. Eldredge says "You, my brother, are from that noble line. You are a redeemed son of Adam, now the son of God (1 John 3:1-2). You were born to rule, and you were redeemed to rule." I think he has missed something. Thomas Watson had a good response to this man-centered view. In quoting only part of his original text, he wrote:
Question. 1. What is the chief end of man?
Answer. Man's chief end is to glorify God, and to enjoy him for ever.
Here are two ends of life specified. 1. The glorifying of God. 2. The enjoying of God.
First. The glorifying of God, 1 Pet. 4:11. "That God in all things may be glorified." The glory of God is a silver thread which runs through our actions. 1 Cor. 10:31. "Whether therefore ye eat or drink, or whatsoever ye do, do all to the glory of God."
This is the true reason behind our redemption.
The number of problems and weaknesses with this book extend beyond my comments here. If this book is read, it should only be done so with caution. It is another example of how false teaching and careless handling of Scripture has slipped into the church with scarcely anyone noticing. With that in mind, Paul's exhortation to Titus as a leader in the church is also applicable to us: that we should hold fast to the Word and be prepared to refute those who contradict the teachings therein (Titus 1:9). – Ray Hammond, Christian Book Previews.com
I can fix it. I don't need directions. I can figure this out on my own. These thoughts that erupt from a man's bravado, from his deep urge to be a real man. Yet underneath this, there is a louder voice countering, You can't. You're not capable. You're weak. Many men-possibly all men-face two looming questions at some point in their life. What does it mean to be a man, and am I one?
The Way of the Wild Heart reaches out to "unfinished men" trying to understand and live their role as men and fathers. Exploring six biblically based stages, John Eldredge initiates men into a new understanding and ownership of their manhood and equips them to effectively lead their sons to manhood.