Wild at Heart
While the book Wild at Heart by John Eldredge has some helpful points, overall it has some serious flaws. I thought this review by Daryl Wingerd accurately described some of them, so I’m going to repost his review here.
A Critical Review of John Eldredge’s Wild at Heart
Author: Daryl Wingerd
John Eldredge’s book Wild at Heart was recommended to me by several different Christians. To be honest, reading this book was not high on my list of priorities, but the people who recommended it to me are very dear and trusted friends. Partly out of respect for them, and partly out of my pastoral sense of obligation to “Test all things; hold fast what is good,” I made the time to review what Charles R. Swindoll endorsed as, “the best, most insightful book I have read in at least the last five years.”
From the outset, you will undoubtedly notice that my review of Wild at Heart is overwhelmingly unfavorable. There would be no point in tempting you to read this entire essay by leading you to believe otherwise. But still, I want to begin by saying that I do not disagree with everything John Eldredge has to say. I believe, as he does, that men in America have become passive, passionless, and even feminized in some regards. I commend his efforts to convince fathers to steer their boys in a more masculine direction.
Like Eldredge, I am drawn to adventure, excitement, and even danger. In my fourteen years as a Los Angeles County Deputy Sheriff (1986-2000), I found that I was most alive and at my best when duty called me into hostile situations, from which the ordinary wise civilian would flee. Cops, firefighters, and soldiers are a little strange that way. I love maps. I love to explore. I am an outdoorsman and a hunter who, in my late thirties, has found neither the time, the money, nor the energy to pursue these activities as much as I would like. One of my favorite stores is the giant Cabela’s outlet near Kansas City.
I have a six-year-old son, and three daughters. I want my son to be a real man. I want him to be different from his sisters. I expect that he will be more aggressive, more physical in his play, and dirtier when he comes in at the end of the day. I want him to be brave, noble, adventurous, and yes, just a little daring. These are qualities I try to encourage in him and model for him (often to the chagrin of my loving and patient wife).
So for those of you who have read Wild at Heart, you can see that I do find at least some common ground with John Eldredge. But once these few footholds of common ground are established, we part company almost completely. From the one page introduction all the way through chapter 12, aside from all the manly man stuff, I found little to commend.
As I write, I am aware of the fact that this book is wildly popular in many Christian circles. Some who will read this review are undoubtedly fans of John Eldredge and of his books. Speaking to those fans, I ask you this: Knowing already that my review will be critical, will you read what I have to say? I hope you will, because if you find that my critique of John Eldredge’s book is off the mark, you will have lost nothing but a few minutes of time. But if you find that the problems I point out are real and serious problems, then I believe you will agree that it was time well spent.
My purpose in the next few pages is not to examine Wild at Heart under a microscope. I am certain that many popular books could be painted in a negative light under such close scrutiny. My purpose here is to address three major problems—ones for which no microscope was needed. I want to focus on these three problems because they not only appear throughout the book, they characterize the book.
Simply stated, the problems are as follows: First, Eldredge mishandles Scripture badly. Second, the central theme of the book is not consistent with the teaching of the Bible. Third, Eldredge conveys a low, humanistic, and even heretical view of God. If I can demonstrate that these three problems do, in fact, characterize Wild at Heart, I will have done all I intended to do, and you will have something to think about.
Problem #1: Recklessly Dividing the Word of Truth
In his introduction, Eldredge says, “Most messages for men ultimately fail.” “The reason is simple,” he writes. “They ignore what is deep and true to a man’s heart, his real passions, and simply try to shape him up through various forms of pressure.”
Needless to say, I wondered what new message he was offering men. Within the first few pages it became abundantly clear. Chapter one opens with the following quotation from Proverbs 20 verse 5: “The heart of a man is like deep water . . .”
As I read the first chapter I discovered that what men need, in Eldredge’s estimation, is to find their hearts. On page 3 he writes, “I am searching for an even more elusive prey . . . something that can only be found through the help of wilderness. I am looking for my heart.” On page 6—”If a man is ever to find out who he is and what he is here for, he has got to take that journey for himself. He has got to get his heart back.” And then on page 8—”The church wags its head and wonders why it can’t get more men to sign up for its programs. The answer is simply this: We have not invited a man to know and live from his own deep heart.”
I now understood the relevance of Proverbs 20:5 (according to Eldredge). Since the heart of man is deep and elusive, men need help understanding their hearts better. They need to learn to live according to the true desires and motivations of that heart if they are to find true fulfillment—if they are to be all God intended them to be. It would be difficult to argue that this is not the central theme of the book.
And this is where I noticed the first major problem—Eldredge’s consistent mishandling of Scripture. I am not speaking here of his interpretations of Scripture. I take issue with the manner in which he handles certain biblical texts. To say the least, he takes Scripture out of context. But even worse, he actually edits Scripture to make it suit his purpose and affirm his teachings.
Proverbs 20:5 does not say what Eldredge claims it says. Now I know you’re expecting me to pull out some deeper understanding of the original Hebrew and call Eldredge’s scholarship into question, but I didn’t need to go to that much trouble. All I had to do was open my Bible—my NKJV Bible—the version from which Eldredge said he had quoted.
His quote reads like this: “The heart of a man is like deep water . . .” The meaning of the sentence, as quoted by Eldredge, is that the subject “heart” is described and explained by the adjective phrase, “like deep water.” The heart is like deep water, Eldredge claims. But the NKJ text actually reads like this: “Counsel in the heart of man is like deep water.” In the biblical text, the subject of the sentence is not “heart,” but rather, “Counsel.” The simile, “like deep water,” refers to the subject, “Counsel,” not to the object of the prepositional phrase, “in the heart of man.” So the Bible teaches us that counsel is like deep water.
To conclude and teach, as John Eldredge does, that “The heart of a man is like deep water,” especially when his quotation of the verse capitalizes the first word as if it were actually the beginning of the sentence, is not to merely misinterpret the meaning of the text; it is to change and misrepresent the meaning of the text. This would not all be quite so serious if he had not built the entire theme of chapter one (and really, the whole book) on the meaning of his edited version of Proverbs 20:5.
Another passage of Scripture with which John Eldredge takes unjustified liberty is the beginning of Genesis. On pages 213-214, in describing Adam’s relationship with God, Eldredge includes this commentary on the creation account. “Before the moment of Adam’s greatest trial God provided no step-by-step plan, gave no formula for how he was to handle the whole mess. That was not abandonment; that was the way God honored Adam. You are a man; you don’t need Me to hold you by the hand through this. You have what it takes. ”
Such a statement not only reveals Eldredge’s highly imaginative interpretation of the beginning of Genesis, it also reeks of humanism (man-centered thinking) and is even suggestive of Pelagianism (a centuries-old, but still popular heresy which tells mankind basically what Eldredge portrays God saying here to Adam— “you have what it takes” to deal with the consequences of your sin).
I was also fascinated when I learned what Eldredge says went wrong in the first place—how man’s (deep) heart got lost, and why men feel the need to find it. I was disturbed to find that it didn’t seem to have anything to do with sin. His understanding of the problem could be summarized like this: Eve (woman) is perfectly happy being domesticated because she was created inside the Garden of Eden. Adam (man) on the other hand, has always felt restless. He has always had this inner need for adventure, exploration, danger, etc.
Why does man have this need? Eldredge explains on pages 3 and 4: “Man was born in the outback, from the untamed part of creation. Only afterward is he brought to Eden. And ever since then boys have never been at home indoors, and men have had an insatiable longing to explore . . . The core of a man’s heart is undomesticated and that is good. ”
Do you hear what he is saying? Adam was better off—more suited to his environment— before God brought him to (or confined him in) the Garden of Eden. If Eldredge is right, then in a way it seems that God cursed Adam before he sinned. He took him out of the environment in which he would have been fulfilled, and placed him in an environment that would repress his deepest inner longings. And when Adam sinned—when he was kicked out of the garden—he actually got what he wanted. What the Bible portrays as a curse was really a blessing to Adam.
One more example worth mentioning, though not directly related to the central theme of the book, is Eldredge’s treatment of Luke 8:26-33—Luke’s account of Jesus’ encounter with the demoniac of the Gerasenes tombs. In using this passage of Scripture to illustrate the need for vigorous resistance to spiritual oppression, Eldredge writes, ” . . . when [Jesus] encounters the guy who lives out in the Gerasenes tombs, tormented by a legion of spirits, the first rebuke by Jesus doesn’t work. He had to get more information, really take them on . . . ”
This explanation of the encounter, found on page 166, certainly affirms Eldredge’s point, but once you read the biblical text for yourself, you should understand just how ridiculous (if not blasphemous) it really is. Even a cursory reading of Luke 8:26-33 will convince you that these demons never resisted, or even questioned Jesus’ first (and only) rebuke. In fact, the whole dialogue between Jesus and the demons took place precisely because they knew exactly who He was, and they knew they had no choice but to obey His command.
For those who think the liberties Eldredge takes with these biblical texts is acceptable, I remind you of Peter’s words regarding the holy Scriptures “ which untaught and unstable people twist to their own destruction . . . ” (2 Peter 3:16). Peter was referring directly to the distortion of some of the difficult portions of Paul’s epistles, but he concludes that sentence by saying, “ . . . as they do also the rest of the Scriptures” (including Genesis, Proverbs, and Luke).
Problem #2: Whitewashing the Human Heart
The second major problem is with Eldredge’s main point—the core of the message he hopes to get across to Christian men. While inviting them to “know and live from” their deep hearts (pg. 8), Eldredge seems to have forgotten (or else he doesn’t really believe) that the preeminent thing that comes out of the human heart is sin. Jesus said, “What comes out of a man, that defiles a man. For from within, out of the heart of men, proceed [all kinds of wickedness] . . . All these evil things come from within and defile a man” (Mark 7:20-23).
Eldredge’s central message also argues with Jeremiah who wrote, “The heart is deceitful above all things and desperately wicked” (Jeremiah 17:9). Jeremiah’s condemnation is immediately followed by his rhetorical question regarding the heart of man: “Who can know it?” The answer, assumed by the question and supplied in verse 10, is that only the Lord can search the heart of man and know it. Nevertheless, the message to men in Wild at Heart is that they should “know and live from” their deep hearts.
Later in the book Eldredge seems to think he has found a loophole in Jeremiah’s negative portrayal of the human heart when he denies the notion that the human heart remains corrupt after regeneration. On pages 133-134 he writes, “Too many Christians today are living back in the old covenant. They’ve had Jeremiah 17:9 drilled into them and they walk around believing my heart is deceitfully wicked. Not anymore it’s not.” On pg. 144, he continues this idea when he writes, “The Big Lie in the church today is that you are nothing more than a ‘sinner saved by grace.’ You are a lot more than that. You are a new creation in Christ. The New Testament calls you a saint, a holy one, a son of God.”
When I first read this section, I was forced to carefully think through what Eldredge was saying. There is some truth in what he says. We are new creations in Christ. We have been given new hearts. We have been given new desires, new loves, and a new distaste for sin. The New Testament does call us saints. So what are my objections to his teaching here?
First, on pages 143-145, as a means of absolving the regenerate human heart of any sinfulness, Eldredge creates an unwarranted distinction between “the real you” (your heart) and “the false self” (the flesh). Basing his divided man on one verse of Scripture (Romans 7:20, NLT—”I am not really the one doing it; the sin within me is doing it”), Eldredge writes, “your flesh is a weasel, a poser, and a selfish pig . . .Your flesh is not the real you” (pg. 144). In the same section, he paints a far more flattering portrait of “the real you” (the heart): “You are not your sin . . . Your heart is good . . . In the core of your being you are a good man” (pg. 144). “The real you is on the side of God against the false self” (pg. 145).
I recognize that Christians are in an ongoing battle against the flesh. What I do not recognize, and what certainly cannot be drawn from the Scriptures, is such a clear dichotomy between the flesh and the heart. In fact, whenever Scripture mentions such a battle, or any kind of distinction in that battle, it is between the flesh and the Spirit (Romans 8:1, 4, 5, 9, 13; Galatians 5:17).
I understand, especially in light of Romans 7:17-23, that there is a certain degree of mystery regarding the exact nature and relationship of the terms flesh and heart. The problem, though, is not the presence of the mystery. The problem is that John Eldredge thinks he has solved it. He so boldly declares the regenerate heart to be good—God’s ally in the battle against the evil flesh—that the unwary reader might rush headlong to follow its dictates. After all, who would not want to follow such a noble leader as the Eldredge version of the regenerate heart?
But before anyone does that, please consider carefully the words of several wise Christian men from our past. Jonathan Edwards, possibly the greatest theologian America has ever known, wrote,
” . . . it is a mysterious thing which has puzzled and amazed many a good Christian, that there should be that which is so divine and precious, [namely] the saving grace of God and the new and divine nature, dwelling with so much corruption, hypocrisy, and iniquity, in the heart of the same saint.”1
Charles Spurgeon, in commenting on Jeremiah 17:9, said, “There is within our nature that which would send the best saint to hell if sovereign grace did not prevent. There is a little hell within the heart of every child of God . . .”2
And George Muller—the beloved preacher of the 19th century, in recounting one of the times when he, as a long-time Christian, fell into sinful behavior, said this about the human heart:
“If the believing reader does not know much of his own heart and of man’s weaknesses, he will scarcely think it possible that, after I had been borne with by the Lord so long, and had received so many mercies at His hands, and had been so fully and freely pardoned through the blood of Jesus, which I both knew from His word, and had also enjoyed; and after that I had been in such various ways engaged in the work of the Lord; I should have been once more guilty of great backsliding, and that at the very time when the hand of God was lying heavily upon me. Oh! how desperately wicked is the human heart.”3
In portraying the regenerate human heart the way he does—in teaching men that they should “know and live from” that heart, Eldredge certainly seeks to refute what these men have said.
He also completely ignores two other important facts: Scripture never glorifies the heart the way he does, and nowhere does the Bible advise or encourage Christians to trust, or “live from” even their regenerate hearts. On the contrary, the eternal wisdom of Proverbs 28:26 tells us that “He who trusts in his own heart is a fool.”
Consistently in the New Testament, we are commanded to live, not from our hearts, but rather by the Spirit of God as He directs our lives through the Word of God. In telling the Christian man to “know and live from” his deep heart, Eldredge, even if unintentionally, minimizes the necessity of the Holy Spirit and denies the sufficiency of Scripture. And it is not just by implication that he directs men away from the Spirit and the Word. On page 200, I found this statement:
“God is intimately personal with us and he speaks in ways that are peculiar to our own quirky hearts—not just through the Bible, but through the whole creation. To Stasi he speaks through movies. To Craig he speaks through rock and roll…God’s word to me comes in many ways—through sunsets and friends and films and music and wilderness and books. But he’s got an especially humorous thing going with me and books. I’ll be browsing through a secondhand book shop when out of a thousand volumes one will say, ‘Pick me up’—just like Augustine in his Confessions. Tolle legge—take up and read.”
He goes on to explain how such a message from God came to him through a book (title not given) by an author named Gil Bailie. Bailie related a piece of advice given to him years earlier by a spiritual mentor. The message read like this: “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.”
I would like to point out first of all that when Augustine heard children chanting the words, “Tolle legge,” (take up and read) the book that he was moved to read was the Bible—Romans 13:14 to be exact.
Secondly, the words given to Bailie, and then through his book, to Eldredge, are hardly biblical. They seem to encourage self-fulfillment—not the appropriate kind that seeks personal fulfillment in Christ, but rather the selfish kind that opposes the consistent message of self-denial and sacrifice contained in the New Testament.
Nevertheless, another statement, found on page 201, makes it clear that John Eldredge really believed that the words in Bailie’s book were a direct message from God:
“Reading the counsel given to Bailie I knew it was God speaking to me. It was an invitation to come out of Ur. I set the volume down without turning another page and walked out of that bookstore to find a life worth living.”
Apparently he saw no need for prayer or the guidance of the Scriptures in making this life-changing decision. A bit of questionable second-hand advice from a man named Gil Bailie was more than sufficient.
All of this is very bad, but the worst problem with Eldredge’s whitewashed understanding of the regenerate human heart is found on page 134. Immediately following his comment about the error of applying Jeremiah 17:9 to the Christian, Eldredge makes this statement: “What God sees when he sees you is the real you, the true you, the man he had in mind when he made you.”
Notice that Eldredge is speaking of “the real you” in the present tense. He is talking about right here, right now—not some point in the future. Now listen carefully to the very next sentence, where he poses this question: “How else could [God] give you the white stone with your true name on it?”
To what “white stone” is Eldredge referring? Though he does not give the reference, I’m certain that he was referring to Revelation 2:17 which says, “To him who overcomes I will give some of the hidden manna to eat. And I will give him a white stone, and on the stone a new name written which no one knows except him who receives it.” The white stone is given to saints—those who overcome—those whose faith is proven true, and who will spend eternity in heaven.
According to Eldredge, how can you or I get that white stone? What is the only possible way to enter heaven? God must see the purity of your own heart—a heart that is no longer “desperately wicked and deceitful above all things.” He must see “the real you, the true you, the man he had in mind when he made you,” if he is to grant you entrance into heaven. “How else could he give you the white stone with your true name on it?”
If you do not see the problem here, you may want to study carefully the biblical doctrine of justification. Read Romans chapter 4, where Paul writes of “the blessedness of the man to whom God imputes righteousness apart from works” (v. 6). “Blessed is the man to whom the Lord shall not impute sin” (v. 8).
Imputation is to have something charged or credited to your account. As believers in Christ, our sin was charged to Christ’s account, while His righteousness is credited to our account. “For He made Him who knew no sin to be sin for us, that we might become the righteousness of God in Him” (2 Corinthians 5:21).
When God looks at you—when He justifies you as a Christian—when He accepts you as righteous—what He bases that declaration on is most certainly not “the real you,” as Eldredge asserts. God does not justify you on the merits of your regenerate heart. God justifies a person, by grace through faith, on the basis of Christ—on the basis of His death which paid the penalty for sin, and His righteousness by which we are covered or clothed. That is the only way God could give us the white stone.
Martin Luther once said that Christians are like “snow-covered dung.” It is only the purity of the covering—the righteousness of Christ—that God sees as the basis of our justification. Does God give you a new heart in regeneration? Yes! Does He then justify you on the basis of that heart as Eldredge claims? Most certainly not! As Paul wrote in Romans 4:5, God “justifies the ungodly.” Were it not for that beautiful truth, neither you, nor I would have any hope of heaven.
John Eldredge never does proclaim the gospel in this book. But for those who are familiar with the discussion, his apparent attempt to explain the core doctrine of justification sounds more like the Roman Catholic position—justification through an infused righteousness. Faith is necessary, along with righteousness, Rome insists. But the righteousness required is that of the believer, not the alien righteousness of Christ.
In Rome’s view, unless you are actually righteous—unless God sees “the real you” as a good person, you have no hope of heaven. However strongly Rome denies this, in their man-made religious system justification is not granted by God’s grace; it is given as a deserved reward. Theirs is not the Christian gospel, but it is the view Eldredge seems to be affirming.
Problem #3: Making God in the Image of Man
John Eldredge’s “insight” into the human heart is bad theology. But as early as chapter two, he goes from bad to worse, diving below the murky waters of theological error, and burying himself in the muck of outright heresy. This is what I was referring to on page 3 of this review when I spoke of his “low, humanistic, and even heretical view of God.” In order to show you this, let me first quote Eldredge where he writes, on page 32, ” . . . for those aware of the discussion, I am not advocating open theism.” Why does he insert this disclaimer? What is open theism?
Open theism is a theological heresy, the proponents of which hold that God does not know the future perfectly. God is not omniscient in their view. He is learning day by day, along with us. He is very wise, they say, so He can predict the future very accurately, but He does not know it infallibly, let alone control it.
Just so you understand, this is not a Christian belief. It is not one of those “minor” doctrines. God is a Trinity, He is sovereign, He is righteous, He is omnipotent, and He is omniscient.
To deny God’s omniscience is heretical, just as surely as to deny the deity of Christ. John Eldredge says he does not advocate this heretical view, but we must look at the facts.
On page 30, he tells of a wilderness adventure where he was in real danger from grizzly bears. As he thinks of the wildness of the situation, of the possibility and reality of death, he writes, “It then occurred to me that after God made all this, he pronounced it good . . .”
Just a quick note here: In saying this, Eldredge seems to have forgotten that when God pronounced creation “good” (actually He said, “very good” ) a little thing known as the fall of man had not yet occurred, and therefore, death had not entered the world. What God called “very good” did not include the danger of a man being mauled to death by a grizzly bear.
Eldredge continues musing about his predicament when he says, referring to the goodness of this wild and dangerous place, “It is [God’s] way of letting us know he rather prefers adventure, danger, risk, the element of surprise.”
Now I don’t know about you, but when something surprises me, it is because I did not know it was going to happen. When I take a risk, I do not know the outcome. If I were omniscient, there could be no “element of surprise,” there could be no “risk.” And in case you wonder if I am just picking on one lone statement, consider the following examples where Eldredge promotes the same idea:
“God is a person who takes immense risks” (pg. 30). “He did not make Adam and Eve obey Him. He took a risk. A staggering risk, with staggering consequences. He let others into his story, and he lets their choices shape it profoundly” (pg. 31). “God lives in a dynamic relationship with us and with our world” (pg. 31). “As with every relationship, there’s a certain amount of unpredictability, and the ever-present likelihood that you’ll get hurt” (pg. 32). “God’s willingness to risk is just astounding—far beyond what any of us would do were we in his position” (pg. 32).
I couldn’t help but chuckle at that last one, because if you really think about Eldredge’s view, we are in God’s position. We have, at any moment, the ability to surprise God. We have the ability to hurt God. We have the ability to make God’s risks become bad ones. In fact, by knowing what we intend to do in the next moment—things that will surprise or hurt God—we know the future better than He does!
Some of the leading proponents of open theism are Clark Pinnock, Richard Rice, John Sanders, William Hasker, and David Basinger. These men have co-authored a book entitled, The Openness of God: A Biblical Challenge to the Traditional Understanding of God, in which we find the following statements: “We believe that the Bible presents an open view of God as living and active, involved in history, relating to us and changing in relation to us.” In their view, God “is happy to accept the future as open, not closed.” ” . . . God cares about us and lets what we do impact Him.”4
Do you notice that these statements sound similar to those made by Eldredge? Keep in mind that within the last several years, two votes were taken by the members of ETS (Evangelical Theological Society): one vote declared open theism to be heresy, while the second was the decision to expel several of these men from the organization for their heretical views.5 And as you remember Eldredge’s statements about God being a risk-taker, know that John Sanders, who openly advocates open theism, has written a book entitled, The God Who Risks: A Theology of Providence.6
I realize that I cannot know what is in John Eldredge’s mind. He may, in fact, not believe what these men believe. But his book will have a prominent place on the bookshelves of many open theists because he promotes, even if out of ignorance or carelessness, their heretical view of God. Wild at Heart will make wonderful devotional reading for those who hold such beliefs.
And Eldredge is not finished with his creative but degrading portrait of God. Having re-created God in the image of man by making Him less than omniscient, Eldredge continues in his effort to humanize God by making Him needy. You could easily find yourself feeling sorry for God, if He is anything like Wild at Heart portrays Him. Consider this quote from page 36:
“As a counselor and a friend, and especially as a husband, I’ve been honored to be welcomed into the deep heart of Eve. Often when I am with a woman, I find myself quietly wondering, What is she telling me about God? I know he wants to say something to the world through Eve—what is it? And after years of hearing the heart-cry of women, I am convinced beyond a doubt of this: God wants to be loved. He wants to be a priority to someone. How could we have missed this? From cover to cover, from beginning to end, the cry of God’s heart is, ‘Why won’t you choose me?’ It’s amazing how humble, how vulnerable God is on this point.”
Please forgive me, but I could almost hear a whining tone as I listened to “the cry of God’s heart.” This understanding of God does not engender feelings of worship as much as pity.
And here again, Eldredge removes Scripture from its context in portraying this needy God. He continues the above statement by writing, ” ‘You will . . . find me, says the Lord, ‘when you seek me with all your heart.’ (Jer. 29:13). In other words, ‘Look for me, pursue me—I want you to pursue me.’ Amazing.”
The only amazing thing I found was that Eldredge discovered all of this information about God, not from Scripture, but from the time he has spent with women.
And what about Jeremiah 29:13? That verse is in the middle of a promise from God to His people—a promise that He will redeem them after seventy years of captivity—a promise that they will seek Him and they will find Him—a promise from the God who knows, declares, and controls the future, even the free choices and actions of people. Jeremiah 29:13 is not, as presented by this book, a pitiful plea from a desperate and lonely God who needs people to seek Him, find Him, and love Him.
Eldredge goes on to tell the reader (pg. 36) that the reason God often delays in answering prayer is because “he wants to talk to us, and sometimes that’s the only way to get us to stay and talk to him.” If God is as needy as this book presents Him, how did He manage to survive throughout all of eternity past without us? And I can’t help but wonder how He feels about Eldredge’s statement on page 32: “God needs to get a message out to the human race, without which they will perish . . . forever.”
“God needs . . . “?!! Those two words, if they are ever next to each other in a sentence, must be in the reverse order if they are to be true. Mankind needs God “for in Him we live and move and have our being” (Acts 17:28). But to say that God needs anything is to contradict what Scripture says— “as if He needed anything, since He gives to all life, breath, and all things.” (Acts 17:25).
I am going to end here. I read the whole book, but 222 pages of humanism, radical Arminianism, open theism, and the bending, stretching, and editing of Scripture was more than enough. There is much more that could and should be exposed regarding John Eldredge’s book, but time, and the reasonable length of a book review convince me to stop.
I have learned one important thing from this book. The wild popularity of a book, among the Christian culture of America, even among a large number of pastors, is more often an indicator of superficiality and error than of truth and sound doctrine. Americans want treatment for their itching ears, and this book gives a good scratch.
I am convinced that not so many years ago, when the senses of Christians were “exercised to discern both good and evil” (Hebrews 5:14), Wild at Heart would not have been published by any Christian publisher, much less read by hundreds of thousands of believers.
But our senses have become dull, and for one reason: We have not heeded the warning of Colossians 2:8 in that we are allowing ourselves to be cheated “through philosophy and empty deceit, according to the basic principles of the world, and not according to Christ.”
I know that many will argue that there is much good to be found in Wild at Heart—good that outweighs the bad. But for those who feel this way, I have a few questions: If you knew that a glass of pure spring water had one drop of arsenic in it, would you still drink it for the water? Would you give it to a thirsty friend? Shepherds—would you give such water to your sheep?
On the night before He was crucified, Jesus prayed to the Father on behalf of all who would become His followers. His request, found in John 17:17 was this: “Sanctify them by Your truth. Your word is truth.” With this in mind, a fair and necessary question to ask yourself is this: Does the counsel given by John Eldredge in Wild at Heart represent the truth of God?
Spurgeon once said that truth may be distinguished from error by three standards: “by God, by Christ, and by man; that is, the truth which honors God, the truth which glorifies Christ, and the truth which humbles man.” 7
Wild at Heart does none of the above. On the contrary, John Eldredge’s book exalts man and puts him in control while at the same time portraying God as humble, vulnerable, needy, and limited in knowledge. Based on the above quotation, it seems certain that Spurgeon would not have affirmed this book as truth.
Not only can I not recommend this book, I feel compelled to warn Christians to keep it away from others, especially from the lost and from the immature believer. Books like Wild at Heart—books that humanize God and glorify man—books that teach a generation of Christian men, already weakened by humanistic philosophy and biblical ignorance, to look anywhere other than the pages of the Bible for guidance—have a seductive appeal to the flesh—a poisoning effect in the already deceitful and desperately wicked heart of man.
If I could say one thing to John Eldredge, it would be this: Contrary to the clear message of your book, the human heart, regenerate or not, does not contain the solution; it contains the problem.
And if I could leave just one reminder with you, the reader, 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 of Lyons—2nd Century A.D.)
1 Jonathan Edwards, The Religious Affections (Carlisle, PA: Banner of Truth Trust, 1997), 16.
2 Charles Spurgeon, 2200 Quotations from the Writings of Charles H. Spurgeon (Grand Rapids: Baker Books, 1988), 253.
3 George Muller, Narratives and Addresses (Muskegon, MI: Dust and Ashes Publications, 2003), 34.
4 Clark Pinnock, Richard Rice, John Sanders, William Hasker, and David Basinger, The Openness of God: A Biblical Challenge to the Traditional Understanding of God (Downers Grove: InterVarsity, 1994), 103-4.
5 Phil Johnson, Are We Losing the Battle For the Bible? (a message delivered at the annual Shepherd’s Conference at Grace Community Church, Sun Valley, CA, March, 2003)
6 John Sanders, The God Who Risks: A Theology of Providence (Downers Grove: InterVarsity, 1998).
7 Charles Spurgeon, 2200 Quotations from the Writings of Charles H. Spurgeon (Grand Rapids: Baker Books, 1988), 211-212.
Eldredge, John. Wild at Heart. Nashville: Thomas Nelson Publishers, 2001 (Spirituality/Christian living; 222 pages; hardcover; suggested retail price, $19.99) .
Copyright © 2003 Daryl Wingerd Christian Communicators Worldwide, Inc.
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