Wild at Heart: Discovering the Secret of a Man's Soul - John Eldredge

Christine gave me this book a while ago and I'd started it once or twice but hadn't finished it until now. It's a fairly popular book among the men at my church, apparently, and one friend had mentioned it as an accurate portrayal of many of his own struggles. As Eldredge explains it, boys and men are "wild at heart": there is something untamed in them that should be untamed, but that society at large and churches specifically have been working to rein in. This has resulted in Really Nice Guys who are dead inside, emasculated and unable to be the men that God made them to be.

One of his themes is "the question that haunts every man," which is: "Am I really a man? Do I have what it takes?" The other major theme is The Wound, which every man has (usually given to him by his father) and which prevents him from answering that haunting question in the affirmative. So as a response to this problem, Eldredge explains how to heal the wound and then move on to the three things every man needs to be a man: a battle to fight, a beauty to rescue, and an adventure to live.

It's easy to see why this book is so popular, at least with the guys at my church, who tend to be pretty adventurous and "wild." (Though it was also used jokingly as an excuse to have an Xbox party.) Being told that it's God's will for you to quit being careful and timid sounds great, and being able to blame a lot of your spiritual and emotional problems on your dad and the church and the rest of society is also pretty freeing. There were parts of the book that I found myself agreeing with and thinking, well, maybe this is true.

But the thing that bothered me the most was the way Eldredge states things as universally true, and then gives examples that are so broad that they could represent anyone. For instance, this wound that every man has could make him fearful and timid. Or it could push him in the opposite direction, making him be super-macho. Or maybe something in between. Does that describe you? Aha! You're wounded! And it's also not entirely clear what he means when he talks about being truly masculine. It seems that he's easily fooled himself, despite the fact that this book is supposed to be about true masculinity. He's surprised when a friend turns out to be discouraged and depressed, because he has a nice car, a big house, a beautiful wife, and liked fly fishing. Throughout the book it just feels like what a man should be is some sort of stereotype—but the guy who's all macho and eats glass? Well, he's just faking it. If you look at all the movie scenes he refers to, you get a pretty two-dimensional description of true masculinity.

It also bothers me that when his son gets bullied at school, he advises him to get back up and hit the bully as hard as he can, because even though Jesus told us to turn the other cheek, he didn't mean that "a boy who is mocked, shamed before his fellows, stripped of all power and dignity should stay in that beaten place." There's at least one other place where he uses scripture a little dubiously but I can't remember exactly what it was.

So, I didn't think it was a wonderful book. I mean, there are parts that I can take from it and apply to myself, and parts that I think will help me understand some of my friends, but overall it felt like it had too much stereotyping and cliches. In the end, I felt like I had a pretty mixed-up picture of what Eldredge means by true masculinity, and a book of this time is supposed to lead to some clarity. I think it would be of some benefit to discuss it with some other guys who've read it and liked it, to see what exactly it is that I'm missing here.

Fed to jonathan's brain | November 11, 2005 | Comments (0)


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