Friday, March 5, 2010

Wild At Heart / Captivating

I finally picked up a copy of Wild At Heart and its companion book Captivating (for those unaware, these books by John Eldredge--the second one in collaboration with his wife, Stasi--are about their idea of what it means to be a real Christian man and real Christian woman. The books have been quite popular among some evangelicals--Wild At Heart especially).

If I had known when I started the books that Eldredge is a Focus on the Family man, I would probably have read with a less charitable eye and would have caught on quicker to some of the problems with the books.

Now, I don't want to disparage the books too much, because I think they communicate a good deal of powerful truth. They preach the gospel, and I respect the apparent fact that so many people have found genuine healing in from these books. It is certainly true that every man and every woman is deeply wounded inside, and that God alone can heal our brokenness.

I think it's kind of helpful that they frame "the wound of the masculine heart" in terms of feeling inadequate, or not up to the task, and "the wound of the feminine heart" as feeling unloveable, or unworthy.

But this would be much more helpful if they understood that gender differences are really only general tendencies, not rigid categories. Often times women are plagued by feelings of inadequacy and not being up to the task. And it would be absurd to say that men care nothing about being loved.

The Eldredges make some statements that seem on the surface to support the kind of role flexibility that is truly healthy and helpful (e.g. they talk about wonderful Christian women they know who are not into "girly" activities, but are nonetheless "captivating"). But these efforts at accomodating the outliers on their gender map go unexplained and unreconciled to the main thrust of their argument--e.g. part of their argument being that every woman dreams of being a beautiful princess.

Which brings me to my second complaint: the Eldredges make no effort to distinguish what is healthy and what is unhealthy in the gender role expectations set by the media. Instead, they appeal to popular movie themes as if these could tell us what the innate desire and fantasy of every man and woman must be. It as if it never occurred to them that the media shapes people's fantasies, often in unhealthy ways.

Perhaps most glaringly, however, these books openly reject the teaching of scripture, without giving any explanation. They pretend to draw conclusions from a handful of stories and passages, but it seems pretty clear that they are reading into these texts what they have already decided to be true.

They reject the image of the industrious, hard working wife described in Proverbs 31 as impractical. They state that Christian women are too busy and are only tiring themselves out in trying to serve others. Instead, women should be putting their effort into being beautiful and seducing their husbands. Because the real purpose of a woman is to cultivate her own beauty. And here they appeal "every woman's" desire to dress up in beautiful clothes, and "every little girl's" interest in make up and doing things with their hair and being a princess.

Now, the last time I checked, vanity was a sin. 1 Tim. 2:9-10 exhorts women to "dress modestly, with decency and propriety, not with braided hair or gold or pearls or expensive clothes, but with good deeds" (NIV). Likewise, 1 Pet. 3:3-4 advises wives "Your beauty should not come from outward adornment, such as braided hair and the wearing of gold jewelry and fine clothes. Instead, it should be that of your inner self, the unfading beauty of a gentle and quiet spirit, which is of great worth in God's sight" (NIV).

I am sure the Eldredges would protest that they are advocating the same kind of inner beauty of which 1 Peter speaks. Perhaps they are. But they are also advocating the kind of vanity about one's personal appearance that the texts are warning against.

The same problem occurs in their discussion of masculinity. The books hold up male aggression and even violence as what God created men for. But the New Testament seems much more concerned about curbing aggression than encouraging it. Just before the previously mentioned advice to women, 1 Tim. 2:8 exhorts men "to lift up holy hands in prayer, without anger or disputing" (NIV). And 1 Tim. 3 states that male church leaders should be "temperate, self-controlled, respectable," "not violent but gentle, not quarrelsome." This sounds a lot more like the "domesticated" man John Eldredge despises than the "dangerous" and "wild" man he upholds as a model.

As I said before, there is some powerful truth in these books, but unfortunately it is mixed with some highly destructive falsehoods. And the more I try to wrap my head around what exactly John and Stasi Eldredge wanted to say, the more I conclude that they are in fact, two deeply hurting, broken, and very confused people, who don't really know what they are talking about, but who are grasping hard, both at the gospel message, and at the stiflingly rigid gender roles they advocate.

1 comment:

Miranda said...

Thanks for the assessment Virgie. I haven't read these, and I think they would annoy/offend me a whole lot. Maybe I'll pick them up eventually so I can have an opinion, but in the mean time I'll take your word for it.
Oh, and I never wanted to be a princess, and I still don't wear makeup.