No More Mr Nice Guy

Just after completing my previous entry, on Doug Giles, I come across John Eldredge, whose teachings on Christianity and “wild men” complement Giles’s macho vision. On his website Eldredge provides an introduction to his best-selling book Wild at Heart:

God designed men to be dangerous. Simply look at the dreams and desires written in the heart of every boy: To be a hero, to be a warrior, to live a life of adventure and risk. Sadly, most men abandon those dreams and desires— aided by a Christianity that feels like nothing more than pressure to be a nice guy. It is no wonder that many men avoid church, and those who go are often passive and bored to death.

Discussing another book, The Sacred Romance, we learn that:

In the heart of every person lies an inconsolable longing. Men often know it as the hunger for adventure. Women tend to feel it as a thirst for intimacy. This longing is the secret of our lives. It tells us who we are, what our life was meant to be.

If you have ever felt those deep yearnings, we have some really good news: this is what the Gospel truly offers. Life is more than chores and Christianity is more than duty. It is a Sacred Romance® —a great love story set in the midst of a life and death battle.

To this end, Eldredge has a ministry – Ransomed Heart, based in Colorado – that seeks to assist men’s “masculine journey”. This means conferences, books, but also a boot camp and generally being outdoorsy (Eldredge’s one-time co-author Brent Curtis went to glory in a climbing accident). Naturally, his wife Stasi has a similar ministry dealing with women’s femininity.

Eldredge’s background is with Focus on the Family, and he has a PhD in counselling, having studied under Larry Crabb and Dan Allender. Both Crabb and Allender are Christian psychologists, and have their own ministries putting out Christian self-help books. Crabb’s New Way Ministries describes its mission thus:

When He planned the New Covenant, God’s intention was to recover His reputation that His Old Covenant followers [that would be Jews – RB] had pretty well ruined. God’s priority then, now, and always, is His glory. New Covenant resources are provided so we could live lives that are all about God and not all about us.

The point is that God be glorified in us, not that He become useful to us.

The old life energizes a dad to want to straighten out his drug-abusing son, to be a good father who does things right. The new life empowers a dad to want above everything else to enjoy God and be abandoned and responsive and honoring to Him even when his son stumbles in the door at four in the morning, buzzed and defiant.

Allender, meanwhile, runs The Path Less Chosen, from where:

He travels and speaks extensively to present his unique perspective on sexual abuse recovery, love and forgiveness, worship and other related topics.

With their backgrounds in psychology, all three have rather more subtlety than the posturing Doug Giles. However, even you’re not worried about the use of psychology to promote gender essentialism and patriarchy these Christian psychologists remain controversial. Allender promotes the discovery of “repressed memories” of sexual abuse (scroll down here), despite that theory (seized on by some Christians after all the Christian ex-Satanists like Mike Warnke were shown to be frauds) having been completely debunked (third item here). Christian psychology as a whole raises the suspicions of some conservative Christians. One hostile Christian reviewer notes that:

Eldredge’s views on the nature of man come directly from pagan mythopoet Robert Bly and occultic psychologist Carl Jung, NOT from Scripture. According to Bly and Jung, man’s “true self” or “true heart” is good, but men have been corrupted into creating “false selves” to cover the “wounds” that have been inflicted on them by others, most notably by their fathers. Eldredge’s dismissal of Jeremiah 17:9 (“The heart [is] deceitful above all [things], and desperately wicked: who can know it?”) is theologically unsound. He mangles the doctrines of justification and sanctification, and their effect on the heart and mind.

A list of complaints follow, that include:

Eldredge and his friends seem to have a lot of unresolved personal “issues” and hang-ups with their own masculinity, and they assume that all men are like them… 

Like Larry Crabb, he presents Adam’s fall as a sin of abdication (not stopping Eve), rather than of Adam’s own rebellion and disobedience. The text only tentatively supports this view.

The reviewer also objects to Eldredge’s profanity and discussions of penis size. Aha, so that’s what it boils down to…

Meanwhile, if you want to meet Christians (male and female) who really do know about taking risks, check out the Christian Peacemaker Teams, a member of which organisation was recently profiled in Salon. Somehow roaming Iraq collecting testimonies about the conduct of the Occupation seems more worthwhile and genuine than sitting in a wood in Colorado congratulating oneself for being a man.