A Worldly Goal Leads Away From God
The Book of 1 Corinthians is filled with some hard truths. Paul the Apostle is writing to the church in the ancient city of Corinth. These were people he introduced to the Gospel of Jesus. He loves them. His heart for these believers comes through repeatedly in the book. Yet it was a very troubled church. Concerning news reached Paul compelling him to write a letter of correction. The believers in Corinth had gone way off the rails. They were engaging in conduct that needed to be clearly addressed by Paul.
The apostle had founded the church at Corinth. He brought them the Gospel and lived with them for 18 months teaching them 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. They were even getting drunk at the communion table.
Corinth was a mess. Examining the situation revealed a simple cause for their problems. They were looking to the culture and the world as their guide. They were not following in the Lord’s footsteps. As a result, their church looked like the world rather than the Temple of God. They also looked much like the Greek culture around them rather than redeemed saints. For more read Why am I NOT Growing in Jesus?
Vegas of the Ancient World
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. The apparent attitude of the City was 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. They would 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 become the toast of the town for a time.
A Compromised Church
The problems in the church of Corinth reflected the city itself. Believers were importing the culture into the church and adding a Christian twist. Cultural relevance can be a terrible thing. The Corinthians were not comfortable leaving their Greek culture behind them as they followed Christ. They wanted to be called Christians and go to a church. They did not want to be holy and 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 was the recipe they developed. They adapted the cultures values and practices and added them to their church. They did not come out of the world and be molded into the image of Christ. Rather, they remained in the world, claimed the things of the world were actually good and tried to “Christianize” their fleshly desires so that they could keep on doing them.
So rather than stopping participating in a feast of debauchery, they brought their love of drinking into their communion celebrations. They 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 divided 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.
They were not only engaging in these things in the church, but they were also celebrating them.
The Bible says that there is a war between the flesh and the Spirit that is ongoing in each of us. The Spirit provides us the ability to follow God. The flesh wants to be carnal, impulsive, and sinful. All the things that man does that get the man on his own and just plain up to his ears in grossness are from the flesh. This is the instrument of death to the flesh.
Paul’s letter corrects the Corinthians and points them back to the Cross. He calls them 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 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.
Do What Feels Good
John Eldredge’s Christian bestseller Wild at Heart: Discovering the Secret of a Man’s Soul completely misses this point. It encourages the very practices that lead to Corinth’s confusion. As a result, the advice contained in the book leads people to the world and away from God.
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. Eldredge believes that this reflects a problem in man’s soul. No argument there. There is a crisis in Christian manhood. Most of us grew up without fathers. Others have never had good male Christian role models. Many are confused as to what it means to be a Christian man. For more on this read, Discipleship Starts with Our Holiness or listen to my podcasts Come Let Us Disciple Podcast Episode 3 | Pastor Chad and the Importance of the Word.
The obvious cause of this restlessness and discontent is sin. Man was created by God to live at peace and in fellowship with Him. We broke that communion through the introduction of sin into the world. The simple formula follows logically that the closer we are to God and the less sin, the more at peace and content we will be. This is a fundamental Christian doctrine.
Not so, says Eldredge. He argues that restlessness is actually good. What is more, discontent actually reflects the wildness of God. Since Adam was created outside of the Garden of Eden he was not comfortable with being domesticated and serving within its confines. Adam needed to return to the wild to satiate the hunger of discontent. This is the cause of the discontent felt by modern man. We were created in the wild and long to return to it. Therefore, man needs to accept that he is “Wild at Heart” and live life like an adventure. We all need a battle to fight and a damsel to rescue. We should not fight against the pull of the wild, we should go wild. The book is filled with stories of wrestling with his kids, camping and hiking in exotic locations and generally being men of the wild.
This claim seems logical on its face. It may make us feel better but it is contrary to the Bible. It is essentially telling us to do what feels good to us. This is nothing more than the popular cultural mantras of today being thinly veiled in Christianity. Neither the Old Testament narrative in Genesis nor the picture of perfection in Jesus come anywhere near supporting Eldredge’s premise.
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. This is a picture of fellowship with and enjoyment of God. There is no indication that Adam ate the fruit because he was bored or restless. He eats out of rebellion. Adam does what feels good despite God telling Him not to. It seems like Eldredge misses the message of rebellion. He simply imprints his theory on Genesis and calls it a day.
What is even more troubling is God is the one who made the Garden of Eden and placed Adam in it. He is there because God placed him there. Eldredge argues as a result that God’s decision was insufficient for Adam. Why? Simply because of how Adam allegedly felt. Adam needed to follow his feelings and we do too!
The Heart is Deceitful
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 to trust your heart. He says be answerable to your feelings of restlessness and discontent. Which should we believe?
Man is not restless in his heart because he is fallen says Eldredge. He is not perpetually ungrateful and subject to his sinful flesh because he is wicked, it is because God made him this way. Discontent is actually presented as a good desire of man’s heart. The author actually argues that since God created Adam outside of the Garden, discontent is from God. In a roundabout way, he is claiming 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 lead you to a better life in Jesus.
This is nothing more than what the Corinthians did 2000 years ago. It is what the flesh calls us to do every moment of every single day.
Take 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 cannot be content before Jesus. This is very clear from life and from the Scripture. God tells us that He will give us the peace of God that surpasses understanding after Jesus. 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 includes self-control, peace, and patience. These are the signs of a Christian life going well.
Adam is our example when we look at what not to do – the fall anyone? Jesus is our example of how to live a victorious life. He is a warrior and may love open spaces. He may enjoy camping and drum circles.
But He is ALWAYS the Prince of Peace. He describes Himself as lowly, meek, and submitted. He was fully content with and following His Father’s will. When faced with His death on the Cross, He does pray and struggle. He experiences the temptation that would lead to discontent and ingratitude. He does not embrace it for even a moment. Rather, He submits fully and peacefully to God’s plan. He is not grumbling as He gives His life away for us.
Can you imagine Jesus saying he was bored with hard work and simple obedience? Did he need to go mountain biking to feel better?
The whole idea behind this world version of manhood is just wrong. The world’s version of a powerful man can never define Jesus.
Men, I understand we are wild at heart. This book spoke to me when I first read it as a new Christian. What it was speaking, though, was not helpful in my walk with Jesus.
Absence of satisfaction in
life is a condition that plagues us as people. It is not from God. It is a result of the war that is ongoing in us. 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. We grow as Christians when we put on the mind of Jesus. It is when we take our rightful places as servants of Christ that we are finally truly content. This is why Jesus died for us, not so we can live like an outdoor show.
For more read A Slave by Choice and Why am I NOT Growing in Christ? A Hard Hitting Answer
4 thoughts on “Wild at Heart Book – Wildly Misguided Christian Manhood Advice”
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. 🙂
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.
Thank you for this review, it clarifies some of my uncomfortableness with that book. I was uncomfortable with the premise and men of the church went machismo with it. It wasn’t really a “bonding” experience for me with them.
Glad it helped Steve. Sorry you had a bad experience. Our bonding is always in Jesus. God bless you.