My rating: 1 of 5 stars
The central idea of this book is that men have three desires that should be pursued: to fight a battle, to live an adventure, and to rescue a beauty (pp.9-14). I agree with much of what Eldredge says about these three God-given desires. They are part of what it means to be a man. And if all the book were saying is that pursuing these desires can be a way to alleviate boredom, I wouldn’t have a problem with it. The problem is the book elevates those needs to far too high a level. He says they can’t be disregarded without losing one’s very soul (p.9). The initiation into manhood (through the pursuit of these desires) seems to be elevated to the level of being the equivalent of salvation. Jesus’ invitation in Rev.3:19-20 BEHOLD, I STAND AT THE DOOR AND KNOCK. IF ANYONE HEARS MY VOICE AND OPENS THE DOOR, I WILL COME IN AND EAT WITH HIM, AND HE WITH ME, rather than a call to repentance becomes an offer by Jesus to “take me into my wound” – a key step, says Eldridge, in attaining fulfilled manhood.
The point of inviting Jesus into your wound is to recover from the emotional stress of some past suffering. That recovery is actually equated with redemption, and is portrayed as much more important than the forgiveness of sins. In fact, forgiveness of sins without this is portrayed as cruel (pp.128,129).
The desire for adventure, competition or winning a woman’s heart are God-given desires that help a man have the energy to do many of the things men need to do – such as earn a living. And there is nothing wrong with a father teaching his son to be aggressive in appropriate ways and appropriate times. But does Scripture elevate that to the level of redemption? Isn’t the greater emphasis in Scripture the exhortation to limit our aggressiveness? We are called to gentleness and meekness. Eldredge does make some mention of this, but by far the great emphasis in the book is in the opposite direction. When his son is confronted with a bully, Eldredge urges him, “I want you to hit him…as hard as you possibly can” (p.78). He goes on to explain that this is compatible with turning the other cheek, because before turning the other cheek you must first establish the fact that you are able to retaliate, and that is done by hitting the guy as hard as you can (p.79).
The resulting attitude is anything but the meekness Scripture calls for, as is seen in the key advice that changed Eldredge’s life: “Let people feel the weight of who you are, and let them deal with it.” A far cry from denying self and considering other more important than yourself (Mt.16:24, Php.2:3)
Open Theism is the belief that God doesn’t know the future. I have heard that Eldredge denies being an open theist, but there are statements in the book that at the very least demonstrate a horrendously inadequate understanding of the sovereignty and foreknowledge of God. God is portrayed as someone who does not know which way things will go, and who is hoping for the best. “God is a person who takes immense risks” (p.30). Risks? If God is sovereign AND WORKS OUT ALL THINGS IN CONFORMITY TO THE PURPOSE OF HIS WILL (Eph.1:11), what risk could He possibly face?
Eldredge demonstrates the shallowness of his understanding of God’s sovereignty: “He can’t be moving all the pieces on the board, because people sin all the time.” (p.30) The idea is that if someone sins, God can’t be in control of that action, therefore God is not in control over events that involve human or angelic decision making – an idea that flatly contradicts passages like Gn.50:20, Acts 4:28 (which show God in control even of the outcome of sinful decision making without Himself being guilty of the sin).
This tendency toward open theism reaches alarming proportions in the discussion of why God didn’t warn Adam about the possibility that Eve would be tempted. Why didn’t God warn Adam? “Because God believes in Adam. This is what he’s designed to do – to come through in a pinch.” (p.50) How else can that be interpreted other than God didn’t warn Adam because He (mistakenly) believed that Adam would “come through in a pinch”?
Another major problem with this book is the reliance on human wisdom. Numerous Bible verses are referred to, but they are used in much the same way as poems, song lyric quotes, movies, etc. – illustrations of a principle. But the principles themselves are drawn from human reasoning, psychology, and (especially) movies. In fact, when Eldredge discovered he had a problem with an explosive temper he determined that it came from fear and loneliness (?), and he was seeking a solution to that problem. “My answer came through several movies.” (p.126)
Unbiblical assumptions that come from the world of secular psychology are asserted without defense, and then pressed into the Bible. How could a person discover from the Bible itself that Eve was “hiding in busyness or demanding that Adam come through for her”? Or that God is seeking to thwart the false self by taking a man into his wound (ch.6)? Or that the cause of anger is fear from some hidden, past pain (which, he hastens to add, is not your fault – p.129)?
Part of the danger of this is a practice that some have referred to as “psychobabble.” When I use that term, I don’t mean it to be a general slam on all psychological ideas. What I mean by that term is the practice of using terminology that by itself doesn’t really have any meaning in order to disguise and idea that would otherwise enjoy little acceptance. It’s hard to argue against the practice of inviting Jesus to enter your wound, because those words don’t have any clear meaning. What does it mean to enter your wound? I may be wrong, but the impression I got from the book is that entering your wound means revisiting some past suffering in an effort to “heal” from it. That is an idea that is much of the backbone of Freudian psychotherapy, but that contradicts the more biblical approach of forgetting what is behind and pressing on toward what lies ahead.
There are several other smaller problems with the book, such as:
Unnecessary vulgarity. One wonders if the several references to sex organs is really necessary. Especially objectionable is the retelling of the story of Ruth and Boaz. As Eldredge tells it, Boaz wasn’t giving Ruth what she needed (a ring), and so she seduced him. “(Boaz) had been working from dawn till dusk…they’ve just finished and now it’s party time. Ruth takes a bubble bath and puts on a knockout dress; then she waits for the right moment. That moment happens to be late in the evening after Boaz…is drunk, which is evident from what he does next: pass out…There is no possible reading of this passage that is ‘safe’ or ‘nice.’ This is seduction pure and simple – and God holds it up for all women to follow” God wants all women to follow the pattern of seducing a boyfriend by crawling under the covers with him when he is drunk?
Lack of discernment. Not only does Eldredge show little discernment, but he seems to be opposed to the idea of doctrinal discernment altogether when he sums up what was wrong with the Pharisees by saying they were “doctrine police” (p.24). Jesus had a lot of complaints about the Pharisees, but policing doctrine was not one of them. In fact, Jesus “polices” their doctrine.
Questionable views on the voice of God. The words Eldredge attributes to the only wise God sound more like thoughts that came from the mind of man. He tells the story of how one day he asked God if He was pleased with Eldredge, and he claims that God spoke to him and said, “You are Henry V after Agincourt…the man in the arena, whose face is covered with blood and sweat and dust, who strove valiantly…a great warrior…yes, even Maximus. You are my friend.” Does that sound to you like the voice of the Creator? Could God find no better example of a powerful warrior than a character in a popular movie?
The idea the God gives direct revelation through subjective feelings is a dangerous doctrine. We end up being the author of God’s Word, and we mistake our feelings for divine revelation. This is illustrated as Eldredge describes another statement that changed his life: “God…speaks in ways that are peculiar to our own quirky hearts – not just through the Bible… To Stasi he speaks through movies. To Craig he speaks through rock and roll (he called me the other day after listening to “Running Through the Jungle” to say he was fired up to go study the Bible) …God’s word to me comes…through…books. I’ll be browsing through a secondhand bookshop when out of a thousand volumes one will say, “Pick me up.” [It should be noted that the song “Running Through the Jungle” is by the group Impetigo, who have some of the most obscene lyrics imaginable.
Most men who read this book (including me) are encouraged by many of the ideas (especially the part about your wife signing on to you getting a motorcycle!), but the errors of emphasis, errors of theology, elevation of human wisdom over Scripture, and the general misuse of Scripture make the book especially damaging and dangerous.