Book Review: “Wild at Heart” by John Eldredge (2001)

“Discovering the Secret of a Man’s Soul”

This book makes an all-right read for a Christian Men’s Group (which is how I came to read it in college), but leading that group must be a discerning man with a doctrinally sound head on his shoulders. Otherwise, you might run the risk of leading young men astray. Eldredge seems like a smart and adventurous guy, but he also seems very capable at manipulating his readers, giving just enough Bible to please the Christians, and just enough psychobabble to please everyone else.

At the core of Wild at Heart is Eldredge’s worthy mission of helping men to become less sissified and a bit more manly in this increasingly gender-mixed society of ours. When I first began reading the book, I was struck by his talk of a boy’s ingrown desire for adventure and danger. That’s me, I thought. And when he spoke of there always being a beauty to rescue, well, as a hormone-raging college student, I was immediately hooked. Although I’m the most practically-unromantic guy in the world, I’ve always had a vividly romantic imagination. As I waded through his examples of adventure and personal accounts and anecdotes from movies and songs, I saw that I was in for the long haul.

Towards the middle of the book, however, Eldredge started to lose me, first with the “my dad didn’t love me” garbage. As a Bible-believing student at the time (and now teacher), I’ve never been one to blame anyone but myself and Adam for my own sin, so when he started getting into all the “it’s your father’s fault” crap, he totally turned me off. Baloney’s made for dorm-room sandwiches, not for molding young, fertile minds. Secondly, I couldn’t get behind his philosophy of church or his dangerous ideas of “getting closer to God” through music, art, and movies. I’ve read Francis Schaeffer, so I’m sure it can happen, but for a Christian teacher like Eldredge to encourage his generally-young-or-otherwise-immature readers to pursue such “religious experiences” via secular works ungrounded in the Word is to lead these feeble lives down a slick and dangerous path.

Simply with his choice of subject matter for this book, Eldredge has already acknowledged that his target audience is a specific type of man: one who already lacks discernment and who needs guidance toward right, godly living. With this audience in mind, Eldredge ought to have taken this God-given responsibility to guide these men supremely toward God’s Written Word. But instead, he squandered the opportunity in favor of promoting this shallow, wolf-in-sheep’s-clothing Emergent Church stuff. Reader beware.

Beyond these two major problems which run mostly through the central chapters of the book, I think that Eldredge’s look into what makes a man tick is basically right on. When I read that “Jesus wasn’t a pansy,” I got the message. God made man in His own image, so to suggest that men were made to be risk-taking adventurers who fight blood-and-teeth for what they love, I can believe it. So overall, I’d say that Wild at Heart is “masterfully book-ended trash” (though I don’t expect my blurb will ever make it to the re-issued back cover).

©2015 E.T.

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