January 17, 2021

CT and me on Eldredge

CT has a large article on John Eldredge. I understand where the guys who give me “I hate theology” syndrome get annoyed at Eldredge, but I have to admit a lack of excitement myself, even though much of what he says has a Piperesque quality to it.

Dan Allender, one of Eldredge’s mentors during his graduate education, has delighted in his former student’s emerging ministry. Allender believes Eldredge stands in a literary stream along with Kierkegaard, Lewis, and G. K. Chesterton that appreciates Christianity as passion. “In many ways, I see John as the answer to Nietzsche’s statement that Christians are both idiots and weak,” he said. “John’s voice really is a call to the yes of the gospel.”

My problem is that I think Eldredge is running the risk of stereotyping male behavior into something fairly shallow, and leaving me (and other fat, bald, bookish guys), way out.

The video series features Eldredge and his colleagues Craig McConnell, Gary Barkalow, Bart Hansen, and Morgan Snyder doing manly things together: riding horses, rappelling down a cliff, rafting in white water, shooting skeet, and stacking hay in a barn.

But other parts of me resonate very much with what he says. If I ever read pop theology again, I’ll really give him a serious hearing. (I think his view of maleness has a lot to say for it in terms of sexual sin, pornography addiction and so forth.) I appreciate knowing about his connections to Crabb and Allender, two guys who have meant a lot to Denise and I in our marriage journey.

I am most impressed with his change of heart about the place of the small church. Count me as “small is real, small is beautiful, small puts the focus where it needs to be” kind of Christian, and one who supports Eldredge’s move out of , and back into, the church. We need a LOT more of this:

One of Eldredge’s most striking and controversial comments concerns the demands of attending church. “When the deepest treasure becomes our most dutiful burden, it really kills our hearts,” he writes in The Journey of Desire. “You might even need to give up going to church for a while or reading your Bible. I stopped going to church for a year; it was one of the most refreshing years of my life. I hadn’t abandoned God, and I very much sought out the company of my spiritual companions. What I gave up was the performance of having to show up every Sunday morning with my happy face on.”

What prompted Eldredge to take such a radical step? “The biggest clue was that I found myself sitting in the parking lot reading Scripture because I couldn’t find God inside. For me there was absolutely no life in it. It was routine,” he says. He spent the year reading the book of Psalms. “What is described in the Psalms is so much more passionate, so much more honest, and so much more true to human experience.”

Eldredge is quite possibly on to the legacy of Lewis and the recovery of a Christianity of joyful affections- male affections. He surely is on the track of the kind of healing a lot of men need. I wish him the best, and hope to read and understand him more in the future, even though I don’t ride horses or repel.

(P.S. Here’s the balancing, critical article in CT.)


  1. Kent Runge says

    Eldredge’s books have been good for me, but I understand where you’re coming from. He can be a bit extreme with the “Tarzan” stuff, but I think it’s reactive to the feminization of the church (which I would agree is a debatable issue).

    When my wife read “Wild at Heart” she was much more analytic than I, which is normal for us. I heard her say stuff like; “Eden was a garden, free from death, it wasn’t ‘Wild’ like Eldredge is saying!” She wanted me to change in some of the ways he stated men needed to change, but not all…

    I wonder if we really need to worry about other people’s “theologies” as much as we think we do?

  2. I came across Eldredge for the first time today, and what worried me was not his orthodoxy (not something terribly high up on my agenda) but the whole masculinity thing. I don’t need to go running round being macho to prove to myself or anyone else that I’m a man. And that’s the impression I got from what I read about Eldredge.

  3. I think Eldredge is an innovator. I found it funny how Eldredge left the group that is primarily responsible for promoting the feminized promise keeping butterfly kissing man syndrome to promote the quest for adventure within manhood done in God’s name. I have been blessed considerably by Eldredge’s books Wild at Heart and Waking The Dead and have viewed the DVD series in group sessions.

    BTW, the best part of the DVD is when they go clay trap shooting and each man places his cellphone into the clay trap launcher and they shoot their cellphones in the air with the shotguns. I laughed throughout that entire segment.

    Yes, like the CT article mentioned, there is a group of Christians that hate this book because many of them subscribe to and make their incomes off of the feminized dad, leave it to beaver images that they portray. Some people do take this stuff to the extremes. However, the most important part of the DVD is when the wives come to the ranch for a candlelight dinner at the end of the DVD’s. It clearly showed that the quest for adventure is needed, but the responsibility of submitting unto the wife and raising a Godly family has to be dealt with at the same time.

  4. I know little about Eldridge, having never heard of him prior to this enlightening post, but I know Christianity is not about being “manly.” At the same time, Christians are not called to be ascetics who deny all pleasure that comes from horseback riding, rock climbing or other physical exercise. As Totem to Temple points out, ther is a balance.

    I do, however, wholeheartedly agree with his discussion about skipping church and reading Psalms for a year. While I think that separation from a church ultimately leads a person into pretty wild beliefs because they are not subject to correction in their Biblical interpretations (thus becoming their own Scriptural interpreters), I have found myself skipping church at times because of a percieved lack of Spiritual presence at worship.

  5. I ought to be careful on my approval of that one.

    Eldredge says he had lost his real self, and I assume that was in a high level of church involvment. I also assume Eldredge has a fairly high understanding of the Word.

    But withdrawing from a healthy faith community for reasons like “I’m not getting anything out of it” are generally wrong choices. If the church is presenting the Gospel and the sacraments and pointing us to Christ, then we can quit all those church jobs and just sit there for a year and benefit greatly. Including going home and reading the Psalms.

    But if we expect the Church to be responsible for our spirituality, then we’ll go home when we are bored and not entertained, and that is a mess.

  6. I’m really surprised that no one on this site will take the shot and say it: Eldredge implicitly espouses open theism. (Wild at Heart, pg. 30: “God is a person who takes immense risks”) Lest you accuse me of taking this quote out of context, let me point out that the context of his entire theology and these best seller male liberation essays revolves around the risk taking nature of God, the “wild goose” who is the Holy Spirit. And of course Eldredge repudiates the charge that he’s an open theist…but he’s treading on thin ice, and plenty of men that I know personally are falling in the freezing water of this hyped up flavor of the month theology. I thought you had no patience for humanistic romanticism, why do you excuse this warped theology by calling it “the kind of healing a lot of men need”? What kind of healing is that? I appreciate your writing so much, your stuff speaks to me, and I know you included the CT link for the full story, I was just surprised you went so easy on this dangerous trend, while spending more time on the “Lifeway/Beth Moore Conspiracy.” Personally, I feel the Beth Moore/Life “conspiracy” is producing much more Biblical and helpful teaching, regardless of the motive of the publishers. Does this entry give you “I hate theology syndrome”? I hope not, I’m a nice, level heading guy, just trying to understand what you’re thinking…

  7. I’m aware of the Openness charge, and I’ll say a few things.

    1) I haven’t read his books.
    2) I have read the sites of those charging him with Openness. They would consign me to hell for most of what I write at Internetmonk.com. That’s not to say they are wrong, it’s just the usual suspects who find most everyone wrong. So I want to be careful.
    3) Openness or not, a lot of men need healing from the damage done to them in this culture. In my essay “I Hate Theology” at IM, I comment on those who can’t move past theology to pastoral application. I know the relationship, but I also know God hasn’t signed a contract that says if there is an error in a book the whole message is worthless.
    4) I’ve read Eldredge’s reply to the Openness Charge. I can’t see that he is embracing OT. Leaning towards too much anthropomorphism? I can buy that, but what happens if I preach some Bible passages all the time? Same thing. I thought his repsonses were 98% on spot.
    5) My issue with Lifeway and my faint- very faint- praise for Eldredge’s concerns for men are apples and oranges.

  8. Thanks for explaining. I don’t think you praised him much either now that I read your entry again. We’ve just got a lot of guys at my church taking the “woundedness” thing to a really scary level. It’s kind of the in thing right now in my community, I guess I just get tired of it.
    Thanks again for clearing things up. I appreciate you challenging me to think. You help me be a better Christian.
    I look forward to future dialogue.
    Thanks so much,

Speak Your Mind