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Mild at Heart?

You may want to read this comment-driven conversation first, just to get a larger framework for this post (Warning: Sam and I are both very verbose!)

Maybe it’s the fact that I live in the South…where taking the Jeep to go mudding is actually a standing weekend option. Or the fact that we eat ribs in slabs, or the notion that football really is a religion in these parts. I mean, seriously, many a tooth has been lost over being on the wrong side of the Alabama/Auburn, Georgia/Tennessee, Florida/FSU, Georgia/Florida cheering section.

But the book by John Eldredge, Wild At Heart, was once considered a godsend ’round these parts when I first heard about the book in 2001 and read it later that year. I remember the book recommendation came from the pulpit at the time, and it was addressed in the context that men needed to stand up for the church, for our wives, for our children, but in order to do that we needed to understand some of the attacks on our hearts, the methods that the enemy uses to attack men in particular, and how ultimately we need to be strong defenders because in so many arenas of life, Godly men need to stand up.

I bought the book and didn’t read it for many months. Then I lost my job. I lost a few good friends. I started to see things in my character and my person that I had not dealt with. I didn’t even know how to deal with. I just assumed that they would be part of me.

As I sat in despair (and procrastination from school work), I watched the clock tick past 10pm in my quiet room and as a I sat on my bed with one light over it, I finally pulled out Wild at Heart and began to read. And read and read and read. I didn’t put it down until I was done. I literally pulled a near all-nighter reading the book. I finished the book before the 10pm the next day.

After reading it, I can’t say that I knew what to do or that I was healed right then and there. But it definitely helped direct my thoughts about where I had a run away from real manliness, which incorporates the image of God, which is what man was designed for to begin with. That definition of man helped me really discipline myself for community, accountability, and redefine what i considered heroism. Previously I had thought that heroism was determined in a moment, an adventure. Wild At Heart helped me to see that the whole sum of my life would determine any heroism. I had been living in quiet desperation, but at that point, I think the door cracked for a bold, even wild, Christian me. Don’t get me wrong, I don’t have a short temper and blame it on my “wildness”, I realize that sometimes my anger is reflective of something good, that I can be angry with injustice, and myself, and the things that the enemy has done to short-circuit goodness and good things. In any case, Wild At Heart was an incredibly important gateway book for me during this season of my life.

When I moved down to Atlanta and began attending a Korean-American church for the first time in many years, I remember bringing up the book in conversation with a great deal of overt gusto and affection, until I recognized a frown on some faces. I was puzzled. With my “band of brothers”, where fathers had been abusive, marriages had been broken, and men had been absent in the church, Eldredge’s book served as wonderful fodder for “digging deeper”. Among my new Asian friends, I got feedback that Eldredge was way off theologically and extremely biased to Western notions of masculinity. My excitement for what Eldredge’s book had done for me and the healing dialogues that I had just a few hours’ drive away was summarily dismissed.
Asians do tend to differ on their notions of wildness, and certainly there is no cowboy mentality. But even autobiographically, I will confess that my father was infatuated with John Wayne and Gen. Douglas MacArthur, so perhaps there again is how my own father’s dispositions have taken me on a road less taken.

Now years later, I see that there has been much ado about this book, my conversation with Sam Shin notwithstanding, check out these 447 reviews on Amazon.

I certainly feel wilder at heart, now 5 years later, and I definitely feel like God is the whole reason to how I understand my life, my masculinity, and even my theology. I guess I only shrug my shoulders now when it comes to the topic of Eldredge, the same way one would if echinaicaea had cured my cold but not another’s. But is he really THAT bad? Does it really hurt the body of Christ THAT much? Should we ban his writings altogether? And what would that do for us? Who would be able to write then? Anne Lamott, Donald Miller, Philip Yancey and all these others…they’re going to be like pinatas.

I don’t know what other people say, but ever since I “got” the Gospel, I haven’t been afraid to read anything. Perhaps that’s where the “wild” part comes in.


About David Park

Christian 2nd-generation Korean American; Atlanta Georgia; more details to come.

5 responses to “Mild at Heart?

  1. Sam S

    David, I will respond. I know we might be arguing this til we’re blue in the face. But to summarize, do I think this is the worst book around? No. Do I still wish it wasn’t written? Yes. IMHO

  2. Ha! Thanks Sam for responding. Honestly, I would have been disappointed if you hadn’t.

    Again, I don’t mind that you wish that the book hadn’t been written. Let’s put it this way, I’m glad I read it!

    On the other hand, there’s a certain book, Mein Kampf that I wish hadn’t been written. Or perhaps, the Satanic Bible or maybe the Malleus Maleficarum? I think there are hundreds more that we can agree we both wish would never have been written. What say you? Still friends?

  3. Sam S

    David, YES! I agree with you. Those are DEFINITELY books that deserve to be shelved. AND YES, let’s still be friends. Besides, who else is there to speak to in the Asian-American Christian blogosphere.

    BUT, ever since you “got” the Gospel, which I know what you are talking about by that statement, a book like this should make you cringe. This is not because you are scared to read it. We have nothing to fear in Christ any way, including Mein Kampf. But, as a professor of mine once said, “In this world, we don’t have time to read good books, only great books.” It is not that I am afraid to read books as this. I just think there are many books out there that do make you long for Christ and His glory and yes, even to be a stronger, biblical man who leads His family and shepherds them, much more than this one.

    And as one who believes in the Gospel and has “gotten” it, let me quote this again to you: “The Big Lie in the church today is that you are nothing more than ‘a sinner saved by grace.” You are a lot more than that. You are a new creation in Christ. The New Testament calls you a saint, a holy one, a son of God. In the core of your being you are a good man. Yes, there is a war within us, but it is a civil war. The battle is not between us and God; no, there is a traitor within who wars against the true heart fighting alongside the Spirit of God in us . .”

    A sinner saved by grace can never be “nothing more than…” It is in every way what makes me a new creation. I still do not get it. I know you’re saying that you are not making this book out to be the greatest book, and that you have in a sense passed it by. But maybe, just maybe, if I have made any sense to you in this, if you could just let your friends in JEld Bootcamp know these problems, maybe if they instead learn also to “get” the Gospel, then maybe they’ll really experience and know the joy of being a righteous in Christ man who now lives solely on the identity of a saved sinner. Boy, JEld tries to get the church to see that we’re more than saved sinners. But I’m with John Newton, I see being a saved sinner, an amazing grace that saved a wretch like me, or as William Cowper so beautifully puts what it means to be a saved sinner:

    There is a fountain filled with blood drawn from Emmanuel’s veins;
    And sinners plunged beneath that flood lose all their guilty stains.
    Lose all their guilty stains, lose all their guilty stains;
    And sinners plunged beneath that flood lose all their guilty stains.

  4. josh ⋅

    Well this prolly won’t matter much, but the book was certainly significant in my journey at one point. I don’t take as much issue with the theology, but then again I’m not a calvinist so I guess I wouldn’t. The key reflection he makes though is not as much theological as sociological which is perhaps why the theology is problematic. His book(s) address sociological conditions in the church; why men aren’t there and why they are bored when they are there. Since it is primarily addressed to sociology it is necessarily human-centered, which is not inherently problematic as long as one grasps the larger story.

    As for the “Big Lie” I have to agree with JEld on this one. Sinner saved by grace is of course no small thing. In a big way it is the main thing. But, it is only one half of the equation. Here’s why I say that. Jesus’ death is the atoning sacrifice for out sins, but our faith does not rest on Jesus’ death primarly. His death is made significant ONLY by the fact that he was raised bodily from the dead and it is by virtue of his resurrection that he is “first born from the dead.” If Christ is not raised then we are still in our sins.

    So, yes, we are sinners saved by grace, but we are also new creations. It is not that the sinful nature has been eradicated (which is not what I think he is suggesting), but that our primary identity is not that of sinner. And of course he’s right on when he says that our battle is not with God but with the enemy inside of us. We are not only saved from something, but to something. Eldredge is, I believe, trying to address that something to which we are saved. And primarly is he arguing that we are not saved to “niceness” which is mostly what seems to be presented as a Christian life.

    Part of the issue is that we primarly are attached to the legal framework as the paradigm for salvation and use legal terms, especially justification. It is a beautiful and biblical paradigm, but it is only that, a paradigm – a way by which we explain salvation. It is not the only paradigm

  5. This is good…this is good.

    Josh, I think Sam’s key problems stem from Eldredge’s misuse of Scripture and humanist view of God. Underneath the romantic language of Eldredge is a risk (real or perceived, depends on the sensitivity of your heresy radar) of open theism and neo-Arminianism. My case is very much like yours, because I think that those dangers are only dangerous once you’ve bought into true Christian discipleship, which I believe that Eldredge’s targeted audience hasn’t. It’s the same way if a coach yells to the casual spectator, “They’re throwing a 2-3 zone, you need to drive and kick! Drive and kick!” The spectator is like, “What? I just got free tickets and a hot dog.” They’re not aware of what the defense is doing, they’re not even in the game. Eldredge’s tactics and language are directed towards getting men in the game, to understand what to look for, and that the game matters.
    I completely agree with you here that it is not a theological work, but directed towards attacking the social constructs within the church that have prevented or discouraged men from being fully alive and active in the body of Christ.

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