So Far, A Heavy Heart For "Wild At Heart"

I promise to approach Christian counselor John Eldredge’s “Wild At Heart” with an open mind. It’s not the kind of book — that is, a book published by a Christian publisher — that I usually read, and I suspect that I’ll have substantial disagreements with Eldredge. This handsome, rock-climbing, fly-fishing Adventure Man, whose current offering, “Love And War,” describes marriage as the tossing together of Cinderella and Huck Finn, seeks to liberate men in the Church by getting them out of the building and into the mountains, the trout streams, the ocean, or anywhere bloodshed and injury is a possibility. Mercy. I must have missed that when Jeff and I got married more than 25 years ago. I rather liked the fact that he bathed and spoke in complete, non-Huck-like sentences.

Still, the “Wild At Heart” movement has taken evangelicalism by storm with its talk of men defeating the “nice guys” and “good Christian men” within in pursuit of the warrior, sage, prince, cowboy, soldier, explorer, daring dude God made men to be, and if I truly was created to long for a dangerous, dashing hero in the distress I hadn’t realized I was in, I guess I’d better read up on how to act the part. I’m terribly fond of my husband, oddly enough because he exhibits pretty much none of the qualities of a Huckleberry Finn, Wild Bill Hickock, Ferdinand Magellan or Ernest Hemingway. I kinda had hoped to avoid that sort of thing, and, well, God was good.

It’s true that Jeff did, before we met, spend six months deep in the Sawtooths panning for gold, just him and his dog, living off what he sluiced and dredged. But I suspect Eldredge would chide him for now being tamed, and me for having, quite unknowingly, tamed him with my casseroles, Christmas cards, and cribbage board. My guess is we’re not alone in this. And given the popularity of Eldredge’s work — the “Wild At Heart” Field Manual, the subsequent books and study guides and field manuals and conferences, his wife Stasi’s books confirming her desire to be fought for, rescued, and in love with Danger Guy, and the church fellowship, Ransomed Heart Ministries, through which the Eldredge take on Biblical gender roles and goals is promulgated and demonstrated — he’s clearly struck a chord. Men ARE bored, disillusioned, and prone to seeking affirmation through their careers, possessions, and, tragically, sometimes through pornography and infidelity. Women, too, are dissatisfied, exhausted, held back, and confused. I commend Eldredge for recognizing that the pews are filled with people who’d rather be elsewhere, anywhere, if only they could remember the places they once were happy.

But I have serious doubts that reinforcing traditional gender stereotypes and roles, even with the excitement and vigor he wishes to inject into those stereotypes and roles, is what the Lord wants for his people. Rather, I believe that our God wants every woman and every man to be exactly, completely, profoundly, unabashedly who it is they were created to be — and six billion people will demonstrate six billion ways of being, with the Holy Spirit’s help, fully alive as fully themselves. Men will be men, women will be women, simply because that’s how we’re created — but gender determinists miss the extraordinarily rich palette of humanness available at the hands of the Creator. It’s one palette, really, not two — not “male” and “female” — and the ability of the entirety of human expression to come from it is what points to an Almighty Artist and Creator behind it all.

Ontologically, men and women are different, and I’m glad. As a woman who loves a man, I can say that’s a good thing. But the differences, God be praised, among men (and the differences among women) are just as vast, profound, and striking as the differences between women and men. And God is glorified in it. Males may have in common the presence of, say, specific external genitalia, but it does not follow, either in Scripture or in what we know of life itself, that because of it a boy denied access to toy guns will chew a graham cracker, as Eldredge asserts, into the shape of a pistol — because boys gotta have guns.

And while I agree that the common portrayal of Jesus as a Nordic-looking pretty man with fabulous hair and the tepid, gooey affability of Mr. Rogers is truly cringeworthy, I just don’t accept that his temptation in the wilderness, as described in the Gospels, was an example of Jesus, the warrior son, seeking assurance from his Father that “he’s got what it takes” as a man. Paul, writing in 1 Timothy, reminds us that it is Christ’s humanness, not specifically his maleness, that saves us: “For there is one God; there is also one mediator between God and humankind, Christ Jesus, himself human, who gave himself a ransom for all.” (1 Tim. 2:5, NRSV). Eldredge would do well to remember that while gender is not eliminated in the Kingdom of God, it also isn’t, like race and class, a determining factor in living the Kingdom life or serving in its Church. Less emphasis on maleness and more on Christlikeness, please, whether we’re climbing rocky cliffs or diapering babies.

So I’ll go through “Wild” and comment further, I’m sure. But so far, I’m saddened that Eldredge’s vision for men and women is as informed by culture as it is. Still, until Zondervan and Thomas Nelson and other evangelical publishers seek out and promote egalitarian authors who speak on marriage, parenting, and family — and there are many — Eldredge and others will fill the void. There IS a void, but trying to fill it with the very things that created it in the first place is folly. I imagine Huck Finn probably would agree.

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