Book Review: Wild at Heart

In this book Eldredge tackles seeks to give men permission
to be what God created them to be – men. From his observation
of culture (i.e. movies), history and Scripture Eldredge reaches the
conclusion that men are hardwired to seek (1) a battle to fight, (2) a
beauty to rescue and (3) an adventure to live.
The motivation for this book is the cultural redefinition of
masculinity into one of two extremes. Men are encouraged to be
more feminine, squelching their masculinity, or they are encouraged
to be hyper-masculine, driven by a macho mischaracterization of
their masculinity.
While Eldridge approaches both issues in the book, his
primary focus is against the “feminization” of men. With that
in mind he sets out to reunite men with the battle, beauty, and
adventure drive within them. But before he fleshes out those three
points he spends the majority of the book laying the groundwork.
He looks at the questions that haunt men, the wounds we carry, the
battle for man’s heart and how ultimately the healing is found at the
cross. This then sets the reader up to learn about the battle to be
fought, the beauty to be rescued and the adventure to live.
I believe that Eldredge makes his point well but potentially
distracts from his point in two ways. First, his handling of scripture
led to some questionable views of God. Since this is not a theology
book and he’s making observations from a human perspective
rather than a doctrinal thesis I can understand his point of view,
but nonetheless it was a distraction for me and has undermined
the message of the entire book for others. Secondly, he only
occasionally warns against turning manliness into a super-macho
caricature, and at times, had I not noted the subtle warnings, I would
have felt that he was advocating what he warned against.
With those observations I still recommend this book,
especially for men, young and old. At the very least it will push the
reader outside the box and make him recognize that what passes
for “manliness” in our culture is handicapping the type of man God
wants us to be.

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2 Responses to Book Review: Wild at Heart

  1. hhcomings says:

    Very well summarized. If you ever want to pursue some other titles regarding cultural impact on men, I could offer some suggestions.

  2. hhcomings says:

    Having had a chance to think through some of the matters in “Wild At Heart,” since I first read it several years ago, I want to send you a more thorough response to your excellent review.

    You picked up some of the theological quirks in the book which, as you said, proved to be distracting. I, on the other hand, have become more aware of what I would consider Eldredge’s primary anthropological weakness. While I freely agree with his insights regarding God’s designs for a man, I come away from the book without having found there a clear understanding of the effect of sin on that design. Yes, he does deal with problems. However, he seems to deal with them in such a way as to be overlooked by readers.

    In the matter of man having a desire for adventure, the sin has corrupted his ability to evaluate risk. Biologists have been determined that there is a portion of the human brain which is a risk-adjudicator. It should develop in childhood and should enable a man to discern the worth or worthlessness of some risks. Yet, in our culture, there seems to be the idea that doing something risky is, in itself, manly, while weighing the risk in light of other issues (such as one’s role in being available to those who need him) is considered unmanly. It troubles me that, in Christian circles, we have very little imagination as to the dramatic and worthwhile risks involved in making ourselves available to the vulnerable in this world including the vulnerable lost sheep.

    With regard to man’s desire for battle, Cain is the very first to show the corruption of this instinct for competitiveness into a willingness to murder. I am very suspicious about using Eldredge’s proposition as an excuse to cross over a line from childhood cowboys-and-Native Americans to personal delight in the dynamic details of killing another human being either in fantasy settings or otherwise.

    As for a man’s desire to rescue something beautiful, Eldredge does well in showing this as a feature in the great stories including the narrative of Scripture; yet, I find that readers come away missing the point that this requires a man to be able to interact emotionally with beauty. Instead, man has a corrupted and very limited sense of beauty and what beauties are worth rescuing. In fact, it seems strange to me that we who profess faith in Christ and love to admire the shepherd-poet, David, seem in full agreement with the twentieth-century myth of the silent, detached male who is not in touch with his feelings. We call such men effeminate. I do not believe Eldredge intended this. He told of a father who longed for his boy to become a football player and scorned the child for wanting to play piano. I drew from what Eldredge wrote that he wanted me to know this was a mistake on the father’s part and that the three qualities of a man can be expressed by a pianist in the way he plays a piano fully as well as by a jock on a field. (I would say, sometimes a whole lot better.)

    More needs to be written, and I hope some has been, concerning manliness as it was intended to be biblically. Eldredge pointed out that in our churches our women are tired and our men are bored. I believe he is correct; but the boredom factor is due to the church not grasping a robust and wide-ranging vision of what an adventuresome, risk taking, rescuer of the vulnerable and beautiful looks like. AT the same time I believe we make mistake when we assume it looks like the way a fallen world portrays it.

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