Apr 30, 2008

A Response to “Anti-Eldredgeanism"

An initial response to Want a Better Lens? Let's complexify: John Eldredge pt.2. I do not wish to really critique my good friend Brett’s writing, I always appreciate his thoughts and sincere pursuit of truth—an example to us all. I simply wish to add some of my own thoughts to the conversation, which have been around for a while at least conceptually, and of which Brett’s thoughts have revived in part. I am not really a staunch supporter of John Eldredge, but I have found his work challenging and uplifting at the various times I have read them. My primary intent, then, is to respond to the strong controversy surrounding works like Wild at Heart that both I and Brett have come across. There will always be people who disagree, but these critiques stand out because they are generally so adamantly, almost blindly, opposed to Eldredge’s work.

As mentioned, I have come across a fair share of “anti-Eldredgeans” (good term, Brett), and unfortunately, I think they too commonly stop at the surface metaphors of Eldredge’s writings. I wish to note that I've also read Waking the Dead and Captivating, and I believe they supplement his previous writings like Wild at Heart, perhaps even offering a more complete idea (or maturation of ideas).

In response to a female commentator’s words, I would recommend that she read Captivating if she hasn’t, because Wild at Heart is written for men, about their hearts, not women's. Captivating was written by John and his wife Stasi about the woman's heart, which is uniquely different, yet complementary of a man's. The design of both a man and woman united (i.e. marriage), the Eldredge’s propose, are intended to complete the image of God (see also Mike Mason’s The Mystery of Marriage for a more theological perspective on men and women and this purposeful relationship; or for a from a more Christian sociological supplementary work on men and women, see Shaunti Feldhahn’s For Women Only and Shaunti & Jeff Feldhahn’s For Men Only).

It is always important for a reader to try to understand the real purpose or theme of a writer's work (this I learned from being a student of history), especially early on in the particularl writing. The Eldredge's purpose seems to focus on what aspects of God are reflected in both man and woman individually and united (each demonstrating a bit of who God is since He created them both in His image). I'm not sure if their writing is so much about what we should do, but how we need to begin understanding ourselves as men and women of God. It’s about beginning to find fulfillment in how God made us—in the case of Wild at Heart, it can be argued that God designed us to in fact have adventurous spirits, to be warriors, and to fight for others (these all can take different forms). Eden is important for the Eldredge's work because it is there that man and woman were created in God's image. The point of Eldredge, particularly in Wild at Heart is that American men (not necessarily the world, i.e. universal) have lost some of God's essential characteristics (a warrior or leader at heart, steadfast in Truth, standing for those He loves, and rescuing them when they have fallen or wandered away). Men have lost this, Eldredge writes, through a variety of means such as social or familial emasculation.

Christ, on the other hand, offers us another unique aspect of God (e.g. peacemaker, servant leader, relationship, etc.), and the purpose for which we are to strive (Christ-likeness or oneness with God—see Oswald Chambers My Utmost for His Highest). Are we not to worship God as the whole, as the Trinity (Father, Son, and Holy Spirit), and not just focus on one aspect of who He is (i.e. just the Son—this may sound heretical, but hopefully you understand what I’m trying to point out)?

“I tell you the truth, the Son can do nothing by himself; he can do only what he sees his Father doing, because whatever the Father does the Son also does” (John 5:19b).

The New Testament (Christ’s Gospel) reaffirms the Old Testament—it completes it rather than necessarily replacing it. Some things are removed that were originally necessary in the OT (e.g. animal sacrifice), but the fundamental Truth is still exemplified by Jesus (i.e. the Law and the Prophets).

Again, perhaps the Eldredge’s are simply wishing to return our gaze to God the Father, especially in light of the Old Testament. I do not believe their writings are meant to be theology or a “stand-alone message”. I believe that instead in Wild at Heart, Eldredge writes in response to how people have almost emasculated the image of Christ, thus pressing that conception upon men (naturally, the other extreme occurs outside the Church, with interesting ideas of masculinity associated with sex, physical strength, etc.—also false). Does not Christ exemplify his Father as well as being a peacemaker in the examples of his righteous anger in the Temple, his stance against the Pharisees, even against Peter at times, and not to mention his confrontation of Paul on the road to Damascus?

In the case of Wild at Heart, Eldredge seems to wish our focus to be on the discussion of the heart of men (and the heart of women in Captivating). It’s a book about healing from past wounding from fathers, mothers, relationships, etc. I do think Eldredge is a bit overly "emotional" in his writing (i.e. trying to stir our emotions with inspiring words and images, though if that’s the case is his point not somewhat demonstrated?), but that does not negate some of the truths he has caught from the Gospel. No one is perfect but Christ alone, and like Brett has begun to do, all words and thoughts of authors, professors, preachers, peers, etc. need to be approached as best as possible through the eyes of Christ’s Gospel.

Looking at our culture, men do seem commonly passive and generally weak of heart, thus perhaps stirring women to rise up in response to that social or familial void. Men have not demonstrated adequately God calling toward leadership in life (however small the domain, i.e. even if it just pertains to family). It’s not that there isn't a place for women in leadership, there surely is. Men united with women in the effort of acting as a leadership team is perhaps a primary desire of God for marriage and for a variety of roles. Think of the idea of a pastor and his wife—the two are essential for the leadership of a church, one cannot succeed without the other—they both have their unique gifts and roles that complete the leadership. This is how God designed us, to need not only Him but community and people. This is discussed by Paul on many occasions.

I wonder, then, whether those who resist the ideas of Eldredge are not in fact doing so because they in fact see truth in them, that their own lives are exemplifying the problems American culture has brought about? Is not resentment often rooted in jealously, in seeing in others what one wishes he or she in fact had (often character traits or qualities)?

In response to Brett; are the Eldredge’s really approaching their writings from the lens of positivism? It would seem the opposite—a focus (perhaps a bit too strong at times) on experience and feeling God in those experiences. Isn’t that about the work of the Spirit stirring in each of us (our hearts, souls, and minds) a passion for the LORD? In their works, the Eldredge’s seem to be focusing primarily on the heart aspect, thus leaving the soul and mind aspects to other writers (we have plenty of them). I have only scratched the surface here; I’m trying to bring out some of the main ideas.

Overall, Eldredge’s organization is called “Ransomed Heart Ministries”, and with books like The Sacred Romance (about our relationship with God), Wild at Heart (man’s being in the image of God), Captivating (woman’s being in the image of God), and Waking the Dead (people’s God-given callings based on the passions He has instilled upon their hearts), etc. I do not think the Eldredge’s would want people (and I’m sure some do) to take their writings alone as Truth, but rather as a small piece of the greater whole. There is much to learn from their books, and to be encouraged by. Regarding the "anti-Eldredgeans" I have met, none have given me adequate proof that they have even really read the book with careful thought and reflection. Our culture is too often inclined to stop at the surface, the metaphors, therefore failing to discover what is beneath and apply those discoveries to the greater context—we have become a fast-paced “now” culture, and thus such a pursuit is said to take too much time and effort.

Let us as Believers “seek first to understand then to be understood” (Stephen Covey, Seven Healthy Habits for Daily Living), and really try to understand who, in this case, the writers are, what some of their background is, and thus why they are writing (i.e. their purpose and intent). Thus, after we have begun to understand their works in their entirety, can we respectfully and more thoroughly point out their flaws, which every work contains (e.g. this blog I have written).


Brett Stuvland said...

Hey Josh,
Thanks for your insightful analysis. I hope to touch upon some of your points in the upcoming posts.

I can assure you that there is a lot of good in this book, and a lot of good to be praised in the upcoming posts.

Concerning trusting experience, it is the hallmark of modern liberal theology, with Friedich Schleirmacher (1768-1834) as it's father. The only thing about looking inward and at experience, is that experience is sinful.

That's what leads to the alternative of revelation, in trusting that by looking to Christ, and the shape of his life, I will be able to see who I am to become, and already becoming.

God bless you, my brother,

Anna Jordan said...

Josh -

I was guided here by the comment you posted on Brett's blog and was interested in what you had to say.

I would classify myself as a staunch anti- Eldredgean and have actually thoughtfully read every book you listed in your blog and have written several comprehensive papers analyzing, discussing and comparing their content with popular culture, current Christian ideologies, and actual Biblical texts. All that said, being anti-Eldredgean is not a stance I take lightly.

My absolute, number 1 issue with the Eldredge's - and actually every book you listed on your blog and a few others including "Do You Think I'm Beautiful" - another book that apparently speaks of the exact content of every woman's soul, is that they put people, and the kind of relationship they are capable of having both with God and each other, in a box. The books essentially say that God created exactly 2 types of people - men and women - and he made all the men the same with the same traits and made women the same with the same traits. Which means that if you do not fall into the box that John Eldredge has said you should fall into you aren't a man or woman of God. I read Captivating first and could hardly relate to any of it which means to me that God didn't make me the way John and Stasi said he did and there's nothing wrong with that. I don't want to partner up on someone else's adventure. I don't want to be rescued. I don't want to be romanced by Jesus and I'm still a woman of God.

God made all people different and made them all in his image (not just parts of his image that fit with our current cultural stereotypes) with the ultimate goal of becoming more and more like Christ.

I do want to encourage you to read American Manhood and Gender & Grace. American Manhood will debunk the stereotypes under which Eldredge writes and demonstrate that our current concept of manhood is very different that it was years and years ago and has, in fact, evolved and changed over time. Gender & Grace is just an excellent book that should be read by all.

I'm thankful to both you and Brett for opening up this dialogue.

All the best,


Tabitha said...

Hey Josh, I really appreciate you sharing your deep thoughts and I am excited to see how God uses and grows you where you are and where you will go. I love you!