It’s difficult to write a review of a book which has been a best seller and has found wide acceptance in the evangelical church. Obviously, John Eldridge’s “Wild at Heart – Discovering the Secret of a Man’s Soul” has struck a chord that has resonated in many men. However, the evangelical sub-culture has a habit of jumping on bandwagons a bit late. Poet Robert Bly’s male “mythopoetic” movement manifesto “Iron John” was published in 1990.While it has been revised and updated this year, Eldridge’s book published in 2000 was a 10 year late adaptation of Bly’s book that covered the same basic themes of the disabling of masculinity, the male need for initiation and soul healing. Having read Bly’s work in the 90’s and plowed through the Jungian archetypal underbrush of other authors such as James Hillman, Robert Moore, Thomas Moore and Sam Keen; I find nothing much new with Eldridge’s work. It’s a basic re-hash of the 90’s men movement with some God talk and a few, rare Bible references thrown in despite its almost messianic claims to bearing “utterly phenomenal” spiritual fruit.
Eldridge relies heavily on popular movie figures such as Mel Gibson’s “Braveheart” and Russell Crowe’s “Gladiator” and other archetypal dramas and myths to support his claim that all men have a universal, God implanted desire for battle, adventure and romance. Unfortunately, Eldredge adopts a Nietzschean critique of Christianity and has wholly adopted a primitive, romantic view (ala Rousseau as well as Hollywood’s) of what men need – that since fictional portrayals of historical figures lived brave, daring, adventurous lives, we also ought to every minute, day and year and anything less is unfulfilling, and sin of all sins, boring.
The most serious problem with this book is its utter lack of biblical and theological foundation – while the male dilemma is diagnosed with brief reference to Genesis and a cure promised, it leaves out the essential dilemma for all humans, male or female, which is not a boring life but being born an enemy of God (Romans 5:10) and a child of wrath (Ephesians. 2:3). The solution to that is first of all to hear and believe the good news of Jesus Christ, to be born-again by the Holy Spirit, to repent and confess their sins, to receive the forgiveness of their sins, and be reconciled with their Creator. To some that may sound very simplistic but at the core it’s the problem of current evangelical churchianity – a gospel without Christ. Jesus is strangely missing as well as his gospel from the pages of this book. Even the chapter “Healing the Wound” no where mentions the basis for healing, forgiveness, reconciliation with self or others or God – which is the saving mission of Christ and his atonement on the cross.
Do many men have a hard time finding their place in today’s society? Yes. Does the church give conflicting messages to men about their role and obligations? Yes. Has masculinity too often been reduced to being nice? Yes. Do many men have to reconcile what they didn’t receive from their fathers? Yes. Are these new problems? No! Is painting my face blue, putting on a Highlander’s kilt and thumping my chest robustly the answer? Nope. These problems are as old as Adam. But Adam’s problem was greater than not having enough adventure, fatherly validation or romance and it was not resolved by relying on action movie formulas – it was in the bloody death of God’s Son, who in his incarnation, life, death, resurrection and ascension is still the best model of true masculinity for any age. In Jesus Christ I find all that is necessary to know who I am as a man and to live a life that is truly fulfilling and pleasing to God.
It’s sad that such a popular work within the church is so silent about the church’s Lord and Savior. I am tempted to conclude that many have become bored with the real Jesus and thus look for substitutes in false gospels even the outdated archetypal, mythopoetics movement. Without the true Christ at the center and core of my being, being wild at heart is a spiritual dead end.
That said, feeling the desire to express my inner caveman, I think I’ll go arm wrestle the neighbor or lasso and hog tie the dog.