Wild at Heart Book – Wildly Misguided Christian Manhood Advice

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If you have read the Book of 1 Corinthians, you know that it is a book filled with some hard truths.  The author, Paul the Apostle is writing a letter to the church in the ancient city of Corinth that he had founded a few years prior about some concerning news that had reached him.  The believers in Corinth had gone way off the rails and were engaging in conduct that needed to be addressed and corrected by Paul.

The apostle had founded the church at Corinth and lived with them for 18 months teaching them about Jesus and of the Word of God.  Despite this, within a few years after Paul leaves, they were dividing among themselves over who followed the better teachers, they were engaging in sexual immorality and were getting drunk at the communion table.  Corinth was a mess and examination of the situation revealed a simple cause for their problems, they were looking to the culture and the world as their guide and not the Lord.

Corinth was one of the leading cities of the ancient world.  It was located in a prime trading area with a constant flow of traders, sailors and travelers coming through its gates. As a result of this location and trade, the city was fabulously wealthy and completely morally bankrupt.  Business travelers and sailors haven’t changed very much over the last 2000 years with the apparent attitude of what happens in Corinth stayed in Corinth being the motto of the day.  A good portion of the city catered to the lusts of the visitors, temple prostitution was rampant and debauchery was seen as the pillar of social achievement.  You had arrived in Corinth if you were able to get drunk, laze about and engage in sexual immorality at will.

Corinth was also a center of philosophical thought at the time.  In a culture that valued philosophy, it was the land of Plato and Aristotle, Corinth was where people with new schools of thought would gather and engage in contests of oration and logic in order to impress others and gain followers.  It did not particularly matter whether the new theories were true or that they particularly made sense, just that they were impressively said and that people liked them.  A new fancy philosopher would gather a following around him and financial backers behind him and become the toast of the town for a time…did you hear Maximo wasn’t he awesome, I am his biggest supporter…until the next big shiny thing came along.

The problems in the church of Corinth reflected the culture of the city itself.  It makes sense that they would as the Corinthian believers were importing the culture into the church and that always causes problems.  Cultural relevance can be a terrible thing.  The Corinthians were not comfortable leaving the things that were of value to the culture behind them as they followed Christ.  It was like when the Israelites were in the desert after God called them out of Egypt and they repeatedly complained to Moses about being in the desert and only eating manna – why can’t we go back to Egypt and east onions and leaks they cried – conveniently forgetting that they had been slaves in the process of being worked to death by the Pharaoh when God saved them.  The Corinthians wanted to be called Christians and go to a church, but they did not want to be holy, set apart for God as defined by God so they compromised.  A little bit of God, a little bit of Corinth and a little bit of me and called it good.  They adapted the cultures values and practices and added them to their church.

Rather than coming out of the world and being molded into the image of Christ as they walked with Christ, the Corinthians remained in the world, claimed the things of the world were actually good and tried to “christinize” their fleshly desires so that they could keep on doing them.

So rather than stopping participating in feast of debauchery, they brought their love of drinking into the love feasts, the communion table of their church and made it into a christian feast of debauchery.  Can you imagine people staggering drunkenly down the aisle to receive communion in your local church?

Rather than accepting that we are one in Christ, they took their love of factions and pride in following the “it” leader of the moment and applied that to the church as well.  They were dividing over and turning on each other over whether following Paul was better than following Peter or following Apollos – which is silly until we realize that we still do that today.

Rather than accepting God’s definition of holiness and sin, they chose to convince themselves that “we know better, aren’t we sophisticated” and begin accepting cases of outright sexual immorality among themselves and calling them examples of their love for people.

To put the icing on the proverbial sin cake, they were not only engaging in these things in church, they were celebrating them.

The Bible says that there is a war between the flesh and the Spirit that is ongoing in each of us with the Spirit providing us the ability to follow God and the flesh wanting to…..just be fleshly, carnal, sinful.  All the things that man does that get man on his own, in trouble, away from God and just plain up to his ears in grossness are from the flesh.

Paul’s letter corrects the Corinthians and points them back to the Cross, the instrument of death to the flesh and away from what the world says is wise and important.  The wisdom of the world is nothing but foolishness to God Paul says, don’t follow what what the world says make sense.  It is only through this death to the flesh that the appreciation of the Spirit, what is holy, can be truly understood.

John Eldredge’s Christian best seller Wild at Heart: Discovering the Secret of a Man’s Soul completely misses this point addressed by Paul in 1 Corinthians and encourages the very practice that lead to Corinth’s confusion.

In the book, the author seeks to address the discontent and unhappiness that seems to plague men in America.  Man is not content with a quiet life of suburban work and fatherhood and Eldredge believes that this reflects a problem in man’s soul.  No argument there.

Rather than looking at the simple answer for this problem, sin, he sets out the premise that since Adam was created outside of the Garden of Eden he was not comfortable with being domesticated and serving within its confines.  Adam needs the wild to respond to his discontent and we do too.

This claim sounds logical on its face but is simply contrary to the Bible.  There is no evidence that Adam was in any way unhappy or restless in the Garden of Eden.  Adam would walk with God in the cool of the day in the Garden and when the serpent comes and provides temptation, there is no indication that Adam ate the fruit because he was bored or restless.  It seems like Eldredgesimply imprints his theory on the Bible and calls it a day.

What is even more troubling is the fact that God is the one who made the Garden of Eden and placed Adam there – was God’s decision to do so wrong because John Eldridge says our heart is discontent?  The Bible calls our heart wicked and deceitful and further that God is soveriegn and will use all situations for the good of those who love Him according to God’s purposes.  God says just trust me and ignore that feeling of restlessness your heart provides.  John Eldridge says trust your heart.  Which should we believe?

The author continues and claims that man’s heart longs for the wild and adventurous and one needs to only understand this, perhaps mixing in a little primal scream therapy and watching MMA fighting, to fulfill the true desires and find the true contentment of man’s heart.

Man is not restless in his heart because he is fallen and subject to his sinful flesh and his heart is not restless because it is wicked, it is because God made him this way.

Discontent is actually presented as a good desire of man’s heart.  What is more, the author argues that since God created Adam outside of the Garden and then put him in the Garden, the discontent that you may be feeling is from God and it is God’s fault that you are not happy.

I really wonder how a conversation between the author and Paul would go:

Paul:  I have learned to be content in all things, whether in prison or shipwrecked or being stoned, I trust that God will use it for His glory.

Eldredge:  Paul, you are so silly with the whole contentment and gratitude thing, you should have trusted your discontentment because Adam was made outside the garden – perhaps some extreme camel riding would have lead you to a better life in Jesus.

What the author is doing is nothing more than exactly what the Corinthians did 2000 years ago and what the flesh fights for us to do every moment of every single day.  Take what is not ever from God, discontentment and lack of peace pretend it is not a result of our fallen natures, slap a christian sounding name on it and bring it into the church.

Man before Jesus is discontent, that is very clear.  Man, at times, while following Christ feels discontent, that much is also crystal clear.  But God tells us that He will give us the peace of God that surpasses understanding.  God tells us to give thanks always.  God tells us to live a quiet life in peace and work hard.

The fruit of the Spirit include self control, peace and patience…not restlessness, never discontent.

Adam is not our example, except when we look at what not to do – the fall anyone?  Jesus is our example.  Jesus was likely tough as He was a carpenter and He is a warrior, He is returning on a white horse leading God’s Army.  But He is the Prince of Peace.  He describes Himself as lowly, meek, submitted.  He was always fully submitted to His Father’s will.  When faced with His death on the Cross, He prays and struggles but He submits fully to God’s plan.  He is not grumbling as He gives His life away for us.

There is never a moment of discontent with Jesus – can you imagine Jesus saying he was bored with hard work and simple obedience, He needed to go mountain biking to feel better?

The idea is just wrong.  The world’s version of manhood can never define Jesus.

Men, I get that we are wild at heart – I really do.  It is a condition that plagues us as people but it is not from God.  It is a result of the war that is ongoing, the bad result.  It is because of the flesh and sin that seek to destroy us.  The answer to a dangerous animal is never to welcome it into your home.

God seeks us to be settled and undivided, following God’s definition of manhood set out in His Son Jesus.  The advice contained in Wild at Heart is directly contrary to this goal for us and will only lead to more heart problems as the flesh is indulged.

2 thoughts on “Wild at Heart Book – Wildly Misguided Christian Manhood Advice

  1. It’s been roughly eleven years since I read Wild at Heart, so my recollections are a bit rusty. I recall that part of Eldredge’s thesis was that men are uninterested in church life because it has become emasculated to some extent, as we tend to view Jesus as a sort of wimpy philosopher (or cherub-faced altar boy) rather than a former construction worker who commanded fishermen and dock workers (his language if I remember). So Jesus was kind of a “bad” dude and he set an example of Christian manliness by being fearless, bold, and ready to rebuke the authorities when necessary.

    My main takeaway was that Christianity can be heroic, manly, and adventurous, and this was supposed to get men more interested. I was a bit put off by his suggested exercise – that we ask God who we were created to really be, and then take the first name or image that came to mind as God’s answer. For John Eldredge the answer was “William Wallace” … ahem. So that worked out well for him I guess.

    I still find it difficult to pursue an attitude of gentleness, humility, and grace while at the same time being ready to unleash my inner machismo if necessary. 🙂

    Liked by 1 person

    • Hi Don,
      Thanks for the thoughts. I remember the 70’s version of Jesus that Eldridge is reacting against and agree with him that this is not an accurate picture of Jesus. Jesus is indeed the Captain of the Lord’s Army and powerful beyond our comprehension. We should never miss this. But He is also meek and gentle and humble – reacting to one bad stereotype by creating another gets us no where.

      Yes, his theory was our view of Jesus as unmanly was the problem with men not being involved, not our sinful nature and Adam like desire to duck responsibility and let Eve handle things.

      And yeah, Braveheart and William Wallace – the problem is that when you are new in Christ and struggling to figure things out like I was when I first read the book it sounds really good – why yes I am discontented and yes I would prefer not to submit and be humble – let’s all be Mel Gibson.

      It is a book that is so filled with bad advice but so enticing – it is why I wrote this.

      Liked by 1 person

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