Wild at Heart [Book Review]

“Men wanted for hazardous journey. Small wages. Bitter cold. Long months of complete darkness. Constant danger. Safe return doubtful. Honour and recognition in case of success.”
Thus read, according to legend, Ernest Shackleton's recruiting pitch when he was looking for men to join and expedition to transverse Antarctica.  
Whether or not this story is true, I believe that men want an adventure. They are designed and called to pursueprovide, and protect (as I wrote in Men Must Pursue). 
Or as he framed it in his book Wild at Heart, John Eldredge says that men innately have the desires for: 
  1. A battle to fight
  2. An adventure to live
  3. A beauty to rescue
An older book which I had on my shelf for years, I had heard some negative comments about this book. But even though I disagreed with some of Eldredge’s ideas, Wild at Heart challenged my thinking and my actions about manhood.

First Impressions

My initial hesitations about this book began even before I read it, based on feedback I received from friends. And from the first few pages (and throughout), I was turned off by how Eldredge stretches (or even twists) Biblical truths.
Here are a few examples:
  • Men should love the wilderness because Adam was created in the wilderness (pp. 3-4). I’m not sure Genesis 1-2 supports this.
  • Turning the other cheek can’t be done if you don’t fight back (pp. 78-79). I’m not opposed to fighting to defend oneself or others. But Eldredge uses human reasoning (and not great logic, at that), instead of biblical exegesis, to support this idea.
  • God was disappointed with Bathsheba (p. 190). Eldredge bases this merely on the fact that her name isn’t listed in Matthew 1.
So, I wouldn’t take Eldredge’s words as “the bible,” because 1) it’s not, and 2) he misuses the Bible. Nonetheless, found this book incredibly helpful for me in my growth as a man – as a husband, father, friend, and minister.

Spurred On
“Let us consider how to stimulate one another to love and good deeds.”  Hebrews 10:24
The word stimulate in this verse can also be translated provoke or irritate . Basically, we are called to spur each other on to great things, much as a cowboy used his spurs to make his horse run faster. Wild at Heart was definitely a spur in my side.
As I read this book, I had to get past how much it caused me to bristle. As Eldredge talks about his adventures in the wilderness, I wanted to shout out, “But I hate camping! I hate roughing it. Does this make me less of a man? Is manhood measured by fishing and hunting and the number of nights spent in a sleeping bag?”
Of course, not. And it is only later in the book that Eldredge is clear about this. At the least, I am glad that I had these provoking ideas. My passive and fearful nature wanted to get defensive. But I had to calm down, and ask myself a lot of questions. I realized that I don’t get to define manhood, any more than Eldredge does.
Only God gets to define manhood. My identity must rest in Him alone.

The Gospel and Manhood
The turning point for my connection with this book came in chapter 6, “The Father’s Voice.” Here, Eldredge points the reader to the big picture of God’s story. God created the world, and He is actively redeeming and sustaining it. And as we live our lives, He is working to crush our false sense of self. We cannot achieve the fullness of manhood unless we accept and trust in our identity in Him.
“The history of man’s relationship with God is the story of how God calls him out, takes him on a journey and gives him his true name.” (p. 103)
Any encouragement I received in chapter 6 vanished in chapter 7, “Healing the Wound.” Don’t get me wrong – I thought this chapter was solid theologically. But really, who likes thinking about their past wounds and hurts?
I realize that I have wounds that I have not fully dealt with. They still hold me back and hurt me. I realize that I am often full of emptiness, and the fear of failure, and the shame of past failure. I still struggle with admitting that I am weak and needy, such as when I nearly drowned when I was on a mission trip, because I was too ashamed to ask for help. (And afterwards, I felt ashamed for needing help, and then ashamed for being ashamed. Grrrrr.)

The Conclusion
Maybe wilderness-averse guys like me need to be a little more wild at heart . And maybe some naturally-wild guys need to take the advice of Jeremy Whitebol (in Wisdom in Manhood) and “be quiet, grow up, listen up, and get to work.”
No matter how much (or how little) I agree with Eldredge about his ideas about biblical manhood, I am glad I read this book. By bristling against my own notions, and by digging into some unhealed wounds, Wild at Heart has done the greatest thing I could have asked for. . . .
This book has helped me realize how much I need Jesus and the Holy Spirit to change me, so that I can be the complete man – and husband, father, friend, and minister – that God has called me to be.
**image courtesy of tpsdave via pixabay

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