Friday, July 16, 2010

Book Review: Wild at Heart by John Eldredge

It's a bit of a different thing reviewing the 10th anniversary edition of a New York Times bestseller than it is reviewing a new release. The book has obviously already resonated with a great many people and has staying power as well--they don't put out revised and expanded editions of flash-in-the-pan bestsellers. The questions a review should ask, it seems to me, tend more towards the reflective--not, "What will this book do?" but "What has this book done, and why? And is that a good thing? And what does that tell us?"

It's also a bit of different thing reviewing a book for which one is not the intended audience. This is a book for men, about men. It is a book about gender differences, and I am a woman reading and reviewing it. I can choose to believe its assertions or not. I can try to evaluate whether the worldview and system that Eldredge sets forth rings true with my observation and experience--but I cannot interact with the questions from the inside as he intends his audience (of men) to do.

Eldredge says that there are three God-given desires built into every man:
1. A battle to fight
2. An adventure to live
3. A beauty to rescue

Additionally, he says that every man is battling fear, primarily in the form of the question "Do I have what it takes?" That healthy men will operate out of their strength, through Christ to fight the battle, live the adventure and rescue the beauty. But that the wounds to a man's strength (from the world, the flesh and the devil) leave men so afraid that they are not "man enough" to pull it off that they end up either
--desperately over-compensating and trying to prove to themselves and everyone else that they can do it, or else
--abandoning it all as hopeless and left as weak, passive and ineffective.
The way out of this mess is the recognition and healing of the wounds, finding the source of true strength (God), and acceptance of the battles, adventures, and beauty that God has in store for each man.

It's easy to see why this book has been so popular and widely used. Eldredge is a good writer. Alternating anecdotes and explication, he unpacks his ideas thoroughly and carefully, making it virtually impossible to miss or misunderstand his points. Additionally, he invites the reader to go through the material slowly, taking time to process and apply the principles he lays out. This combination makes the book ideal for a church small-group study or class setting. In tone, Eldredge is relentlessly encouraging and positive. And the schema that he sets out is general enough to cover a full half of the human race, but the probing questions he uses to guide his readers through their own self-discovery and healing are the sort that are probably going to spur growth with just about anyone who interacts with them seriously and intentionally.

No single interpretive lens for categorizing and understanding people will give us the whole truth. Individuals are too complex and varied for that. Meyers-Briggs, the Enneagram, and perhaps even cat-people-dog-people can shed some light on who we are and give us tools to interpret and name and understand what we see and feel. By using multiple lenses we can see different truths and gain an ever more accurate and nuanced understanding of who we are as people. Eldredge's work in Wild at Heart (and its companion book for women, Captivating) give a valuable and truth-revealing lens to help us better see ourselves.

If you're inclined to read Eldredge's work, I would particularly recommend you do so together with Tim Keller's short (though challenging) book Counterfeit Gods. Eldredge's weak point is his theology. Wild at Heart is basically a work of Christian pop psychology--and quite a good one. While Eldredge's theology informs and shapes his views of people, I think that his worldview--his first lens, if you will--is a psychological, not a theological one. This isn't surprising, or even necessarily a criticism. The man was trained as a counselor, not as a pastor or theologian. Keller says in his promotional video on Amazon that "Idolatry is anything more fundamental than God to your happiness, meaning in life, or identity." Eldredge describes very clearly some of the ways that we go looking for happiness, meaning and identity apart from God--but he does not name them as idols--and he calls for a return to God to find identity, etc, but he writes as if simply recognizing God as the better source is sufficient. As if it were that easy. Keller recognizes how bent on idolatry the sinful human heart is. As he preached in his sermon at the Gospel Coalition in April 2009, idols must not simply be discerned--they must also be exposed and destroyed. The always excellent Keller gives some superb teaching in rooting out things that we'd rather not look square in the face.

All of us need help to see ourselves and to see God truly. We all need corrective lenses. (Scripture tells us that those who worship idols blind themselves, and though Christ comes to give sight to the blind, through our continuing idolatry we continue to screw ourselves up.) If you're looking for some self-understanding and encouragement, Wild at Heart (and Captivating) are certainly worth trying out.

Four stars out of five.

This review was written as part of Thomas Nelson's Book Sneeze Review program. I received a complimentary copy of the book to read and review. I was under no obligation to provide a positive review.

No comments: