Wild at Heart, by John Eldredge (Thomas Nelson, Nashville, Tennessee, 2001)
Captivating, by John and Stasi Eldredge (Thomas Nelson, Nashville, Tennessee, 2005)

When a good friend lent me Wild at Heart, it took a long time for me to steel myself to read it, for I expected it to make me angry. I've had more than my fill of books, especially from Christian authors, telling men to be authoritative and women to wear makeup and Saran Wrap.

After the first few pages, I was sure I was right, and I was going to hate the book. But I kept reading—something I'm not sure was true of many of those who wrote the negative reviews I read—and became convinced it's a worthwhile book. Oh, there's plenty I found exasperating, a lot I disagree with, and much that's expressed poorly, but Eldredge is asking important questions and has a few good answers. Although it deals with much more than just the church, the book is worth reading if only because it dares reveal church as a place where, all too often, the men are bored and the women are tired—and offers a remedy. Captivating attempts to do for women what Wild at Heart does for men. It is not as good, but still valuable.

(I wonder why it is almost all of my reviews these days seem to boil down to, "This book has some good things to say even though it requires a lot of work to get past the way in which they are presented.")

If you're expecting a summary of the books, you'll be disappointed. I dislike summarizing books, even if I have time. Not only am I no good at it, but I believe that if a book is worth reading, it can't be effectively distilled; you must read it for yourself to get the truth it has to offer. "What's the bottom line?" is an inappropriate question for a good book. Herewith, then, not a reviewbecause the library is sending me dunning notices; I am engrossed in a serious battle with Windows and Palm for the soul of my computer; and choir practice starts in two hoursbut several random quotations (italicized) and points of commentary. [Correction: choir practice started and ended; the night passed into day; and I'm still not done. Could it really have taken longer to write a more formal review than just these bits and pieces? Well, yes, it could and would have.]

 

  • Corporate policies and procedures are designed with one aim: to harness a man to the plow and make him produce. But the soul refuses to be harnessed…. The soul longs for passion, for freedom, for life…. A man needs to feel the rhythms of the earth; he needs to have in hand something realthe tiller of a boat, a set of reins, the roughness of rope, or simply a shovel. The chief strength of Wild at Heart is its realization that modern society is trapping, taming, and enslaving us. The first sentence of this quotation could be said as much of the school as of the corporation, and it is applicable to women and girls as well as to men and boys. Although the author doesn't quote Wordsworth, I'm sure he would also say, "The world is too much with us; late and soon / Getting and spending, we lay waste our powers." The chief weakness of the book is its portrayal of both the problems and the solutions as special to the male sex. It is possible that men have been more afflicted than women, but that's no excuse for denying women both the recognition and the remedies. Eldredge has some wonderful suggestions for raising our sons; I'm saddened that some will read his book and not realize they are equally validand importantfor our daughters.
  • If the Eldredges would use words like "some" and "many" instead of "all," their pronouncements would be much more believable. Anyone who tells me that all girls love to wear "twirly" skirts and to preen in front of a mirror, and all women delight in painting their toenails and in wearing jewelry, immediately loses credibility because I know it's not true.
  • I've noticed that so often our word to boys is don't. Don't climb on that, don't break anything, don't be so aggressive, don't be so noisy. But God's designwhich he placed in boys as the picture of himselfis a resounding yes. Be fierce, be wild, be passionate. So true!and at least as true of girls. Children, male and female, wither under a constant "no" and an artificial taming of their nature. Denied reasonable opportunities to take risks, test their strength, and satisfy their need for adventure, they will either weaken and retreat or seek their adventures in unreasonable, more dangerous ways.
  • The Eldredges rightly emphasis the importance of fathers in the lives of both boys and girls, and pins on them the responsibility for delivering both the affirmations that lead us to true personhood and—sadly, more often—the wounds that cripple us.
  • [Forgiveness] is not saying, "It didn't matter"; it is not saying, "I probably deserved part of it anyway." Forgiveness says, "It was wrong, it mattered, and I release you."
  • Much of the criticism I've seen of Wild at Heart is similar to my original fears, decrying any attempt to return us to a society of chest-beating men and passive, women valued only for their appearance. A cursory reading of the book might support that fear, but Eldredge is clearly not saying that, even if it sounds like it in isolated passages. There is plenty of support here for men as musicians as well as mountain climbers, and for women with careers both within the home and without. There is much about his definitions of masculine and feminine I question, but I also concede the possibility that there is more to what he's getting at than my prejudices currently allow me to respond to.
  • We are faking our way through life, sure we will be found out. Violence is a coverup for fear, so is hardworking achievement, so is passivity.
  • When the Bible tells us that Christ came to "redeem mankind" it offers a whole lot more than forgiveness. To simply forgive a broken man is like telling someone running a marathon, "It's okay that you've broken your leg. I won't hold that against you. Now finish the race."
  • The Big Lie in the church today is that you're nothing more than "a sinner saved by grace." You are a lot more than that. You are a new creation in Christ.
  • [Eldredge quoting someone he does not name] Don't ask yourself what the world needs. Ask yourself what makes you come alive, and go do that, because what the world needs is people who have come alive.
  • Anyone who quotes George MacDonald and G. K. Chesterton wins major points in my book. I can't wait to read more of the Chesterton essay from which Eldredge extracted this homage to a homemaker's job: To be Queen Elizabeth within a definite area, deciding sales, banquets, labors and holidays; to be Whitely within a certain area, providing toys, boots, cakes and books, to be Aristotle within a certain area, teaching morals, manners, theology, and hygiene; I can understand how this might exhaust the mind, but I cannot imagine how it could narrow it. How can it be a large career to tell other people's children about the Rule of Three, and a small career to tell one's own children about the universe? How can it be broad to be the same thing to everyone, and narrow to be everything to someone? No; a woman's function is laborious, but because it is gigantic, not because it is minute.
  • I think one reason I found Captivating weaker than Wild at Heart is that the Eldredges have three boys and no girls. They seem to understand boys a lot better than they do girls, though perhaps I feel that way because our children were girls and not boys. Another weakness in both books is that John and Stasi each grew up in fairly dysfunctional families, which helps them identify more with brokenness and healing, but leaves me wondering what they truly know of healthy life situations.
  • [Eve] is the crescendo, the final, astonishing work of God. Woman. In one last flourish creation comes to a finish not with Adam, but with Eve. She is the Master's finishing touch.
  • Eve is God's relational specialist given to the world to keep relationship a priority…. [B]ecause of the Trinity, relationship is the most important thing in the universe.
  • Wild at Heart's descriptions of who men are, what they've lost, and how they might regain it reminds me very much of The Compleat Mother magazine, which comes from a totally different perspective. Yet its analysis of how modern attitudes toward pregnancy, birth, and breastfeeding have stolen from women our birthright, our strength, and our heart is similar to Eldredge's view of society's emasculation of men. Although the authors touch briefly on the uniqueness of a woman's role in giving life, literally and metaphorically, I find their cursory treatment of the subject to be a glaring omission, a gaping hole in their philosophy. The maternal force that wells up in even tiny girls is far more significant and important than swirling skirts and painting toenails!
  • This complaint is probably of little consequence to most, though I found it a significant impediment to understanding the books: in both the authors frequently make their points through references to movies and popular songs, which meant they were largely lost on me. What am I to make of a passage like this: "Think of Fran in Strictly Ballroom, or Tulah in My Big Fat Greek Wedding. Remember Lottie in Enchanted April, Adrian in Rocky, or Danielle in Ever After." I can only respond, "Huh?" I have heard of Rocky, and even watched My Big Fat Greek Wedding, though it didn't help any because I have no memory of who Tulah was. More exasperating, however, are references to movies I know, because then it's clear that the analogies given are based solely on cinematic characters. When Eldredge talks about William Wallace, he's speaking of the character portrayed by Mel Gibson in the movie Braveheart, not the real, historical Scottish hero on whom the movie is loosely based. Examples from The Lord of the Rings reference scenes and dialogue that never appeared in the book, and which for all I know are quite contrary to J.R.R. Tolkien's intent. I'm not against fiction, which is the best medium for conveying some truths, and I certainly can be inspired by movies. But both the analogies and the frequent use of them in these books shout to me that the authors and I live in vastly different worlds, which leads me to wonder how applicable their conclusions can be to my life.
  • We are in the late stages of the long and vicious war against the human heart…. I am not hawking fear at all; I am speaking honestly about the nature of what is unfolding around us…against us. And until we call the situation what it is, we will not know what to do about it. In fact, this is where many people feel abandoned or betrayed by God. They thought becoming a Christian would somehow end their troubles, or at least reduce them considerably. No one ever told them they were being moved to the front lines, and they seem genuinely shocked at the fact that they've been shot at.
  • If you wanted to learn how to heal the blind and you thought that following Christ around and watching how he did it would make things clear, you'd wind up pretty frustrated. He never does it the same way twice. He spits on one guy; for another, he spits on the ground and makes mud and puts that on his eyes. To a third he simply speaks, a fourth he touches, and a fifth he kicks out a demon. There are no formulas with God.

The bottom line (not of the books, but of my reactions): Wild at Heart, and to a lesser extent Captivating, are much better books than a cursory glance could lead one to believe. There is error here, and much confusion, but there are also truths and ideas and revelations that we cannot afford to ignore.

Posted by sursumcorda on Thursday, October 26, 2006 at 10:19 am | Edit
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Comments
I was one of those girls who liked to twirl and preen, but must say I full agree with your comment "The maternal force that wells up in even tiny girls is far more significant and important than swirling skirts and painting toenails!" Though I didn't dwell on motherhood as my sister did, and I am on a path that my not lead to marriage and family, I consider the blessing of a family to be one of the greatest gifts God can give me if he so chooses, even to the loss of "career". Sadly, this respect for motherhood is often a shock to those who are getting to know me, but to their credit some are convicted that they need to lend a bit more respect to the profession than they do.

Posted by IrishOboe on Thursday, October 26, 2006 at 3:11 pm
Rereading this, I realize that I said almost nothing about the parts of the book that resonated best with my own experiences, the parts which could very well be what the authors would call the main point. Not only am I reluctant to say too much about my own feelings in a place like this, but I'm also just beginning to try to figure them out. Though I have to say the real reason I didn't touch on more complicated points is that I didn't want to take the time and effort. And the post is quite long enough as it is! :)

Posted by sursumcorda on Friday, October 27, 2006 at 12:50 pm
I liked the forgiveness quote - I don't remember if it made it into my email quotes yet, but it will get there eventually. I have the same feeling about "all" versus "many" for the what "all boys" want to do. There are times that the feelings he describes are stronger than others, but I am certainly different than the boys and men he describes. (John Kuhns really likes Eldredge - and he would say that the description does fit him well, so I know that for at least some, and maybe even many men, Eldrege does have a lot to say). Movie references - yes - I wasn't that thrilled when Eldredge says how God spoke to him word-for-word a quote of a movie, rather than speaking scripture to him. I suppose God can do whatever he wants, but Eldredge does seem to be saturated with movies. As for your comment regarding the relevance of the quotes to a book or the book's author - I think that is fine - Eldredge was quoting the movie, not the book. I doubt that Eldredge would see the comparison between the Compleat Mother and Wild at Heart in the same way you do...

Posted by Jon Daley on Friday, October 27, 2006 at 4:51 pm
I agree Eldredge would probably not see the connection with The Compleate Mother, but he could benefit greatly from reading it. :) I think it would help him understand women better, and then maybe he'd see the similarities.

Posted by sursumcorda on Saturday, October 28, 2006 at 9:00 am
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