Problem #1: Recklessly Dividing the Word of Truth

In his introduction, Eldredge says, “Most messages for men ultimately fail.” “The reason is simple,” he writes. “They ignore what is deep and true to a man’s heart, his real passions, and simply try to shape him up through various forms of pressure.”

Needless to say, I wondered what new message he was offering men. Within the first few pages it became abundantly clear. Chapter one opens with the following quotation from Proverbs 20 verse 5: “The heart of a man is like deep water . . .”

As I read the first chapter I discovered that what men need, in Eldredge’s estimation, is to find their hearts. On page 3 he writes, “I am searching for an even more elusive prey . . . something that can only be found through the help of wilderness. I am looking for my heart.” On page 6—”If a man is ever to find out who he is and what he is here for, he has got to take that journey for himself. He has got to get his heart back.” And then on page 8—”The church wags its head and wonders why it can’t get more men to sign up for its programs. The answer is simply this: We have not invited a man to know and live from his own deep heart.”

I now understood the relevance of Proverbs 20:5 (according to Eldredge). Since the heart of man is deep and elusive, men need help understanding their hearts better. They need to learn to live according to the true desires and motivations of that heart if they are to find true fulfillment—if they are to be all God intended them to be. It would be difficult to argue that this is not the central theme of the book.

And this is where I noticed the first major problem—Eldredge’s consistent mishandling of Scripture. I am not speaking here of his interpretations of Scripture. I take issue with the manner in which he handles certain biblical texts. To say the least, he takes Scripture out of context. But even worse, he actually edits Scripture to make it suit his purpose and affirm his teachings.

Proverbs 20:5 does not say what Eldredge claims it says. Now I know you’re expecting me to pull out some deeper understanding of the original Hebrew and call Eldredge’s scholarship into question, but I didn’t need to go to that much trouble. All I had to do was open my Bible—my NKJV Bible—the version from which Eldredge said he had quoted.

His quote reads like this: “The heart of a man is like deep water . . .” The meaning of the sentence, as quoted by Eldredge, is that the subject “heart” is described and explained by the adjective phrase, “like deep water.” The heart is like deep water, Eldredge claims. But the NKJ text actually reads like this: “Counsel in the heart of man is like deep water.” In the biblical text, the subject of the sentence is not “heart,” but rather, “Counsel.” The simile, “like deep water,” refers to the subject, “Counsel,” not to the object of the prepositional phrase, “in the heart of man.” So the Bible teaches us that counsel is like deep water.

To conclude and teach, as John Eldredge does, that “The heart of a man is like deep water,” especially when his quotation of the verse capitalizes the first word as if it were actually the beginning of the sentence, is not to merely misinterpret the meaning of the text; it is to change and misrepresent the meaning of the text. This would not all be quite so serious if he had not built the entire theme of chapter one (and really, the whole book) on the meaning of his edited version of Proverbs 20:5.

Another passage of Scripture with which John Eldredge takes unjustified liberty is the beginning of Genesis. On pages 213-214, in describing Adam’s relationship with God, Eldredge includes this commentary on the creation account. “Before the moment of Adam’s greatest trial God provided no step-by-step plan, gave no formula for how he was to handle the whole mess. That was not abandonment; that was the way God honored Adam. You are a man; you don’t need Me to hold you by the hand through this. You have what it takes. ”

Such a statement not only reveals Eldredge’s highly imaginative interpretation of the beginning of Genesis, it also reeks of humanism (man-centered thinking) and is even suggestive of Pelagianism (a centuries-old, but still popular heresy which tells mankind basically what Eldredge portrays God saying here to Adam— “you have what it takes” to deal with the consequences of your sin).

I was also fascinated when I learned what Eldredge says went wrong in the first place—how man’s (deep) heart got lost, and why men feel the need to find it. I was disturbed to find that it didn’t seem to have anything to do with sin. His understanding of the problem could be summarized like this: Eve (woman) is perfectly happy being domesticated because she was created inside the Garden of Eden. Adam (man) on the other hand, has always felt restless. He has always had this inner need for adventure, exploration, danger, etc.

Why does man have this need? Eldredge explains on pages 3 and 4: “Man was born in the outback, from the untamed part of creation. Only afterward is he brought to Eden. And ever since then boys have never been at home indoors, and men have had an insatiable longing to explore . . . The core of a man’s heart is undomesticated and that is good. ”

Do you hear what he is saying? Adam was better off—more suited to his environment— before God brought him to (or confined him in) the Garden of Eden. If Eldredge is right, then in a way it seems that God cursed Adam before he sinned. He took him out of the environment in which he would have been fulfilled, and placed him in an environment that would repress his deepest inner longings. And when Adam sinned—when he was kicked out of the garden—he actually got what he wanted. What the Bible portrays as a curse was really a blessing to Adam.

One more example worth mentioning, though not directly related to the central theme of the book, is Eldredge’s treatment of Luke 8:26-33—Luke’s account of Jesus’ encounter with the demoniac of the Gerasenes tombs. In using this passage of Scripture to illustrate the need for vigorous resistance to spiritual oppression, Eldredge writes, ” . . . when [Jesus] encounters the guy who lives out in the Gerasenes tombs, tormented by a legion of spirits, the first rebuke by Jesus doesn’t work. He had to get more information, really take them on . . . ”

This explanation of the encounter, found on page 166, certainly affirms Eldredge’s point, but once you read the biblical text for yourself, you should understand just how ridiculous (if not blasphemous) it really is. Even a cursory reading of Luke 8:26-33 will convince you that these demons never resisted, or even questioned Jesus’ first (and only) rebuke. In fact, the whole dialogue between Jesus and the demons took place precisely because they knew exactly who He was, and they knew they had no choice but to obey His command.

For those who think the liberties Eldredge takes with these biblical texts is acceptable, I remind you of Peter’s words regarding the holy Scriptures ” which untaught and unstable people twist to their own destruction . . . ” (2 Peter 3:16). Peter was referring directly to the distortion of some of the difficult portions of Paul’s epistles, but he concludes that sentence by saying, ” . . . as they do also the rest of the Scriptures” (including Genesis, Proverbs, and Luke).