Review by Daryl Wingerd
Eldredge, John. Wild at Heart. Nashville: Thomas Nelson Publishers, 2001 (Spirituality/Christian living; 222 pages; hardcover; suggested retail price, $19.99) .
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 majorproblems—ones for which no microscope was needed. I want to focus on these three problems because they not only appear throughout the book, theycharacterize 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.