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Wildly unbiblical title

(Originally printed in the Summer 2003 Issue of the MCOI Journal beginning on page 1)

Real Men Don’t Hug Unless…

{All “real men” would answer C’ to the posed questions.}

1. Alien beings from a highly advanced society visit the earth. You are the first human they have encountered: and as a token of inter-galactic friendship, they present you with a small but incredibly sophisticated device that is capable of curing all diseases, provide an infinite supply of clean energy, wipe out hunger, and permanently eliminate oppression and violence. What would you do with it?

A. Present it to the Prime Minister.
B. Present it to the Secretary General of the United Nations.
C. Take it apart.

2. As you grow older, what lost quality of youth do you miss most?

A. Innocence
B. Idealism
C. Firecrackers

3. In your opinion, what is the ideal pet?

A. A cat
B. A dog
C. A dog that eats cats

4. One day your wife wakes up feeling ill and asks you to get your three children ready for school. Which would be your first question?

A. Do they need to eat or anything?
B. Are they in school already?
C. There are three of them?

5. What is the human race’s single greatest achievement?

A. Democracy
B. Religion
C. Remote control

6. You have been seeing a woman for several years. She is attractive and intelligent and you always enjoy being with her. One leisurely Sunday afternoon, the two of you are taking it easy. You’re watching a soccer game and she’s reading the paper when suddenly-out of the blue-she tells you that she thinks she really loves you, but can no longer bear the uncertainty of not knowing where your relationship is going. She says she’s not asking whether you want to get married; only whether you believe that you have some kind of future together. What do you say?

A. That you seriously believe the two of you have a future, but you don’t want to rush it.
B. That although you also have strong feelings for her, but you cannot honestly say that any time soon you’ll be ready to make a lasting commitment, and you don’t want to hurt her by holding out false hopes.
C. That you cannot believe the Wallabies lost to South Africa two weeks ago.

7. Okay, so you have decided you really love a woman and you want to share with her all the joys and sorrows the world has to offer, come what may. How do you tell her?

A. You take her to a nice restaurant and tell her after dinner.
B. You take her for a walk on a moonlit beach. You say her name and when she turns to you with the sea breezes blowing her hair and stars in her eves, you tell her.
C.Tell her what?

8. When would you hug another male?

A. If he’s your father and one of you has a fatal disease.
B. If you’re performing the Heimlich procedure.
C. If you’re a professional football player and a teammate scores the goal to win the world cup. If you also pound him fraternally with your fist hard enough to cause fractures.1Real Men Don’t Hug Unless…:

wild heart graphicThe May 1982 release of Bruce Feirstein’s book Real Men Don’t Eat Quiche: A Guide to All That is Truly Masculine launched another era in American culture. The feminist movement was in full swing, and to some, at least, it seemed as though there was a general questioning of what it meant to be a man. Over time, the book title gave birth to a variety of lists, some humorous-such as the above-and others ascribing depression and other maladies to a general belief of the above. One website even has a list of the “Top 73 Things Real Men Don’t Do.” The number-one answer arrived at by online voting is, “Hey, Ralph… will you come to the bathroom with me?”2 with 34% of the vote. Comedian Tim Allen has made a living by caricaturing the souped-up lawn mower on his television show Home Improvement and his notorious mimicking of male communication, “Auuuughhhh. Auuuuughhhhh. AUUUUUUGHHHHHHHHH’!!!!

Real Men Don’t Eat Quiche may have been written, in part, in reaction to what was becoming the feminization of men through the teachings and conferences of individuals such as New Ager, writer, poet, and conference-speaker Robert Bly. In an article written as a sort of celebration of Robert Bly. Thomas R. Smith comments on Bly’s views and teachings of the 1970s:

“In fact. Bly’s intellectual engagement with gender matters reaches back at least to his 1973 essay, ‘I Came Out of the Mother Naked.’ Building on Jung’s theory of the coexistence of both masculine and feminine traits in the psyche, Bly’s essay stands as a manifesto guiding his subsequent thought on the sexes He wrote All my clumsy prose amounts to is praise of the feminine soul, whether that soul appears in men or women.'”3Thomas R. Smith “Praising the Soul in Women and Men: Robert Bly and the Men’s Movement” MENWEB 2002,

In 1975 Bly began his “Great Mother” conferences, where he and others promoted the spiritual and cultural values of matriarchy. Conferences he carries on even to this day.

The 1980s saw the birth and growth of the men’s movement, and some of the men’s conferences had Bly speak at these as well. This eventually led to the writing of Iron John, which was first published and released in 1990 by Addison-Wesley Publishing Company, Inc. The book was an immediate best seller with immediate effects among its readers, although not necessarily to the delight of the feminists with whom he had been working up to that point The reasons are obvious. Newsweek’s cover for June 24, 1991, displayed a grinning, bare-chested CEO holding a toddler in one arm and a conga drum in the other.4Thomas R. Smith “Praising the Soul in Women and Men: Robert Bly and the Men’s Movement” MENWEB 2002, In the January 1992 edition of the New Internationalist (a publication of Marxist ideology) in an article by Erica Simmons, we read:

“Under the tutelage of Minnesota poet Robert Ely and guided by his bestselling book Iron John thousands of American men are gathering to forge a new masculine identity.”5Erica Simmons “New Age Patriarchs,” New Internationalist, Issue 221 January 1992:

Simmons astutely observes this view draws heavily from Jungian psychology, and then writes:

“Bly has diagnosed the psychic wounds of contemporary American men. They are afflicted with inexpressible feelings of grief and are emotionally repressed and socially isolated from one another. They are nice guys who are adept at meeting the needs of women and submerging their own. They have abandoned the old macho version of manhood but lack a suitable new model of masculinity. They are what Bly calls soft men.'”6Erica Simmons “New Age Patriarchs,” New Internationalist, Issue 221 January 1992:

In describing the sort of men who were involved in this fast-growing phenomenon, she states,

“Those who come to Bly want to free their own Wild Man.”7Erica Simmons “New Age Patriarchs,” New Internationalist, Issue 221 January 1992:

Of course, soft men are bad and wild men are good. Thomas R Smith had pointed out Bly was building on Jungian theory and the internet magazine Xy agrees:

“Bly makes use of Jung’s theory of archetypes, to argue that within each man there are numerous archetypes that will influence behavior and attitudes some in healthy ways and some in violent and unhealthy ways These archetypes include the Wilder Man, the King the Trickster, the Lover, the Quester and the Warrior. Masculinity is the product of these deep psychological scripts, and particular archetypes are expressed at different historical periods.”8“Wildmen,” Xy, Spring, 1991:

Ideas have consequences, and it seems important to understand the basis of Jung’s thinking which influenced Robert Bly and his writings.

Carl Jung Meets Philemon the Demon

Carl Jung was an associate of Sigmund Freud during the early part of the twentieth century. Jung soon parted ways with Freud, however, and began developing his own psychoanalytic theories- based in large measure on occultism. Historian Mark Noll, author of The Jung Cult: Origins of a Charismatic Movement, goes into great detail about the occultic roots of Jung’s theories. According to Noll, Jung begins having a series of visions in 1913 and hears disembodied voices talking to him. He offers his body as a receiver of these messages from the spirit world and, through this process, develops what he calls “active imagination.” By 1916, Jung is in regular communication with a spirit-being known as Philemon and others who Jung believes reveal to him the foundation for his life and work. His communication with these spirit entities serves as the core of his psychoanalytic theories about “archetypes” and the “collective unconscious.”

The “collective unconscious” is simply another name for the spirit world. Jung theorized all of mankind was linked together in the psychic world by this “collective unconscious,” and each person who tapped into this world could gain wisdom and insight. As parts of this collective unconscious are numerous archetypes- which he describes as entities such as warrior, mother, wise old man, the self, God, etc.-who could come into a person’s consciousness through dreams and mental images.

From a Christian perspective, Jung is describing the spirit world and communication with demonic spirits. According to Mark Noll, Jung drew heavily upon Theosophy, spiritualism, the writings of Atheist Friedrich Nietzsche and Evolutionist/Pantheist Ernst Haeckel, the historical roots of pagan sun worship, and a nineteenth-century movement in Europe known as the “volkisch movements.” These were Germanic groups who cultivated the alleged superiority of the Aryan race-which led to the rise of Nazism. Mark Noll’s research provides compelling evidence Jung’s theories formed the basis of a new religious cult.

“Jung’s earliest psychological theories and method can be interpreted as perhaps nothing more than an anti-Christian return to solar mythology and sun worship based on Romanic beliefs about the natural religion of the ancient Aryan peoples.”9Elliott Miller. “The Jung Cult: Origins of a Charismatic Movement” by Richard Noll: Christian Research Institute: http://www equip org/free/DP215.htm

The church was not unaffected by Bly’s movement as some Christian counselors began embracing these teachings and running their own weekend retreats in Iron John fashion. A large church in the Northwest suburbs of Chicago was embarrassed to learn one of the men’s retreats included the men running naked through the woods in an effort to let out their “wild man.”

Enter the Promise Keepers

In the same year Bly published Iron John, another group entered the burgeoning men’s movement, The Promise Keepers, officially incorporated in December 1990, were already planning and praying for their first conference which was held in July of 1991 at the University of Colorado Events Center with an attendance of 4,200 men. They developed their “Seven Promises.”

    1. A Promise Keeper is committed to honoring Jesus Christ through worship, prayer and obedience to God s Word in the power of the Holy Spirit.
    1. A Promise Keeper is committed to pursuing vital relationships with a few other men, understanding that he needs brothers to help him keep his promises.
    2. A Promise Keeper is committed to practicing spiritual, moral, ethical, and sexual purity.
    3. A Promise Keeper is committed to building strong marriages and families through love, protection and biblical values.
    4. A Promise Keeper is committed to supporting the mission of his church by honoring and praying for his pastor, and by actively giving his time and resources.
    5. A Promise Keeper is committed to reaching beyond any racial and denominational barriers to demonstrate the power of biblical unity.
    1. A Promise Keeper is committed to influencing his world, being obedient to the Great Commandment (see Mark 12:30-31) and the Great Commission (see Matthew 28:19-20).

While not without its problems, as others have rightfully pointed out, the essential idea of these promises was to bring Christian men back to a biblical foundation and live out their lives under the guidance of the Holy Spirit and the revealed Scriptures. In a short amount of time (through good organization, marketing, and gaining the attention of the Christian media), Promise Keepers began filling stadiums around the country. What they were teaching was in stark contrast to the men’s movement, which was rooted in pagan teachings. The problem was not that the men weren’t bringing about the self-actualization of their “wild man,” but rather that the “wild man” was crucified with Christ, and He now was to be the center and focus of their lives. The desire of the leaders of Promise Keepers was that through sound teaching and the motivation which comes from large gatherings, the result would be men who would become responsible, faithful husbands, fathers, and friends. They would be challenged to be a vital part of their local church and to be an example, not only to their children but to younger believers as well. Commentary on the effectiveness of this strategy is probably better left for someone else to make.

Iron John Gets Born Again

In 2001, eleven years after the publication of Iron John, Thomas Nelson Publishers released Wild at Heart by John Eldredge. This volume is currently one of the most popular “Christian” books on the market today. In fact, the May 2003 Christian Bookseller’s Association Bestseller List places it third among the top 50 books and number one in the “Christian Living” category. Thomas Nelson has now started marketing other products related to Wild at Heart, including a “Field Manual” and tape series.

The author, John Eldredge, was trained as an actor, eventually became head of the Research Department in the Public Policy Department at Focus on the Family, and is much in demand at men’s and pastor’s conferences throughout the world. Eldredge has an MA in counseling but has little theological training.

That he is in such demand for what he has written in Wild at Heart, however, makes one wonder if pastors or churchgoers are familiar with sound doctrine and the influences of paganism upon his writings.

One of the few negative-though very accurate-critiques of Wild at Heart so far was written by Byron Borger, an associate staff member of the Coalition for Christian Outreach in Pennsylvania. Borger is also the owner of Hearts & Minds Book store in Dallastown, Pennsylvania.

Borger, who comes from a more liberal theological background than does Midwest Christian Outreach, Inc. (MCOI), has noted serious theological faults with Eldredge’s writings and wonders why evangelicals can’t see through the false assumptions and pagan roots of Eldredge’s philosophy.

As Borger notes:

“The changes needed in Wild at Heart… are not minor: for it to be an altogether reliable book for serious Christians, it would need major and serious reworking. This mess of a book has got fatal flaws.”10Byron Borger. “John Eldredge’s Wild at Heart: A Critique,” Coalition for Christian Outreach, June 2002: http://www.ccoiubilee.orq/minexfolder/minex2002/june2002/Borqer_June02 html

Borger points out that Eldredge draws upon the writings of Robert Bly, author of Iron John. The reviewer says Eldredge brings up an interesting discussion about the purpose of man, but then:

“…he [Eldredge] falls back under the influence of those who seem to have most influenced his thinking in this area-for instance, a quasi-Freudian neo-pagan poet and writer, Robert Bly, who was all the rage in the1980s.”11Byron Borger. “John Eldredge’s Wild at Heart: A Critique,” Coalition for Christian Outreach, June 2002: http://www.ccoiubilee.orq/minexfolder/minex2002/june2002/Borqer_June02 html

Although Eldredge writes the book in Christianese, Robert Bly is quoted favorably throughout, and in fact, Bly’s writings form the core of Eldredge’s book and philosophy on men and what it means to be a man. Robert Bly’s “Wildman” is now reborn as man who needs to get in touch with his wild heart.

The book and the movement based on Eldredge’s book have caught the attention of the secular media as well. Patrick Kampert in his article in the Chicago Tribune writes:

“My friend Wayne is a commercial airline pilot who lives in the northwest suburbs. He is a fine husband and father and a dedicated Christian. He is the kind of guy who, on the surface, the Promise Keepers might have pointed to years ago as an example of what they hoped to motivate men to become.

“But if you look deeper, Wayne is actually an example of the Promise Keepers backlash among evangelical men that is quietly rolling across the country, stoked by the books of Colorado author John Eldredge.”12Patrick Kampert, “Evangelical men keep promises in new ways.” Chicago Tribune, Perspective, Sunday, February 16. 2003 Section 2. p. 3

Although Bly likes the book, Patrick Kampert writes that Bly believes Eldredge “is sometimes impeded by speaking Christianese.” 13 Patrick Kampert, “Evangelical men keep promises in new ways.” Chicago Tribune, Perspective, Sunday, February 16. 2003 Section 2. p. 3 However, baptizing Bly’s pagan teachings in Christianese has proven to be a highly lucrative endeavor.

No More Mister Nice Guy

In the “Introduction,” Eldredge outlines what he sees as the need for this book by Christian men:

“Most messages for men ultimately fail. The reason is simple: They ignore what is deep and true to a man’s heart, his real passions, and simply try to shape him up through various forms of pressure. ‘This is the man you ought to be. This is what a good husband/father/Christian/churchgoer ought to do.’ Fill in the blanks from there. He is responsible, sensitive, disciplined, faithful, diligent, dutiful, etc. Many of these are good qualities. That these messengers are well intentioned I have no doubt. But the road to hell, as we remember, is paved with good intentions. That they are a near total failure should seem obvious by now.

“No, men need something else. They need a deeper understanding of why they long for adventures and battles and a Beauty — and why God made them just like that.”14John Eldredge, Wild at Heart, (Nashville TN Thomas Nelson Publishers. 2001), XI

Now while we would certainly agree that rules, systems and principles do little to change a person, the Scriptures really don’t teach anything approaching the idea that our “wild” hearts are reliable guides to truth or behavior. The Prophet Jeremiah wrote, “The heart is deceitful above all things, and desperately wicked: who can know it?15Jeremiah 17:9, KJV The Apostle Paul in Romans 1 and 2 outlines what a wild heart looks and acts like, and it isn’t a pretty picture. The Scriptures are clear: Our problem is not that we are not in touch with our wild heart, but rather that we are, and we need to allow Jesus Christ to change our hearts by grace alone through faith alone in Him alone.

But it’s also important to put Eldredge’s view into historical perspective, where we find it to be dismally derivative of previous failures to truly understand what God requires of men. Not only is it a simple matter to trace Eldredge’s Jungian influences to their pagan roots, it’s also not difficult to find misguided antecedents to his “wild man” theme in church history.

A Walk on the Wild Side

Christians everywhere have chronically struggled with reconciling their inherited cultural definitions of masculinity and femininity with the requirements of Scripture. Each struggle has produced its own set of distorted views that proponents tried to equate with biblical teaching and which discerning believers have had to guard against. Perhaps the most well-known example of this was the medieval concept of “chivalry,” and its most famous obituary was Cervantes’ magnum opus Don Quixote.16The Penguin Classics series provides a very readable and humorous translation by J.M. Cohen Miguel de Cervantes Saavedra, The Adventures of Don Quixote {New York Penguin Books 1980) History shows us both how chivalry was the culturally based, great granddaddy of Eldredge’s current distortion as well as how a changing European culture continuously modified it and, finally, abandoned it.

Chivalry started out as music to a wild man’s heart-music accompanied by the sound of metal slamming against metal and more bone-crunching, head-splitting damsel-in-distress action than you could shake a halberd at. Unfortunately, it also originally was accompanied by pillage, plunder, rape, and general mayhem. This is because the word chivalry was initially nothing more than a reference to fully armed fighting men, who tended to be a rough bunch in a Europe that was still in the process of being evangelized. Nevertheless, once enlisted in the service of the Crusades, chivalry began to be tamed by Christian themes. By the twelfth and thirteenth centuries, the influence of biblical commands had (thankfully) transformed the word into a reference to a code of conduct characterized by honor and courtesy. Even then, it was a code of honor for male guardians of a feudal social order who kept the vast majority of European men in the virtual slavery of serfdom. Sure, back then, “wild” men got to roam about the countryside busting heads and saving fair maidens, so long as they were fortunate enough to be born into the one or two percent of the population who didn’t have a family to raise and could afford to be a “knight errant.”

Alas! The real world eventually caught up with them, and the time came to put away childish things. By the end of the sixteenth century, inexorable social forces-including the Protestant Reformation-were conspiring to dump the remaining vestiges of feudalism as unceremoniously as the delusional Quixote’s horse, Rocinante, dismounted its rider when he foolishly sought to defend the honor of his imaginary Empress Dulcinea. For the next few centuries, “wild” men would be confined largely to pirate vessels on the high seas and had very little to do with Christianity.

But more recently, the generations who straddled the nineteenth and twentieth centuries in the English-speaking world witnessed something known as “Muscular Christianity”17cf. Clifford Putney, Muscular Christianity: Manhood and Sports in Protestant America. 1880-1920 (Cambridge: Harvard University Press, 2001). which was largely a reaction against the Victorian era’s domestication of masculinity and the resulting fear that it would lead to increasing effeminacy among men. For the British Empire at that time, with all the immense territory it had acquired, this could only be perceived as an invitation to disaster. They needed “manly men” to keep all those colonies in line. And in the United States where the movement soon spread, an ethic was needed that would keep Protestants in charge of America’s “manifest destiny”18“Manifest destiny” was a phrase coined by John L O’Sullivan in 1845 when he declared it was “the fulfillment of (America’s manifest destiny to overspread the continent allotted by Providence” This, in turn, was used by many politicians to justify territorial acquisitions beginning with the Mexican-American war through the end of the nineteenth century] in the face of increasing immigration from Catholic regions of Europe. In both cases, “Muscular Christianity” fit the bill.

Now it should be noted many positive things came out of this movement. Until the mid-nineteenth century, the concept of organized sports was virtually anathema among most English-speaking Protestants primarily because of the lasting influence of seventeenth-century Puritans, who considered them merely frivolous entertainment (especially on Sunday). Muscular Christianity affirmed the value of God-given physical activity, and it came to be seen as a valuable way for such organizations as the YMCA to retain young male converts to the Gospel who might otherwise backslide without this type of peer support. Without this movement, professional sports such as baseball and football may have had a more difficult time gaining social acceptance, and a large part of twentieth-century American culture might never have happened-at least not as we remember it.

However, it also had its downside (and we’re not talking about the latest .220 hitter who just scored a multi-million-dollar contract with a major league team). Coming right on the heels of Charles Darwin’s Origin of Species, it’s no big surprise that Muscular Christianity was highly influenced by the then-new evolutionary theories. One major way that the new movement was promoted was through popular novels such as those written by Anglican Minister Charles Kingsley (1819-1875), who wrote Westward Ho! (1855) and was also an active promoter of evolution-so much so that Darwin cited him in The Descent of Man (1871). Although there’s a danger of oversimplification here, it’s not difficult to see strong affinities between Muscular Christianity and Darwin’s “survival of the fittest” axiom. It seems Kingsley was aware of this danger, but he had inward conflict as to how to resolve it.19Cf. Henry R Harrington “Charles Kingsley’s Fallen Athlete,” Victorian Studies. 21. No 1 (Autumn, 1977) 73-86 Kingsley was no Social Darwinist-in fact, as a committed Socialist, he was adamantly opposed to the kind of conclusions the likes of Adolf Hitler would later draw from Darwinism. Eventually, many proponents of Muscular Christianity could be found rationalizing clearly un-Christian behavior in much the same way as later would the Nazis.

This was a problem Kingsley shared with other leaders of the Muscular Christianity movement-a characteristic that Kingsley resisted having applied to himself, especially since it was primarily his enemies who did so. Nevertheless, in 1857, his book Two Years Ago firmly established him as a leader in the movement [the same year that British lawyer Thomas Hughes (1822-1896) published Tom Brown’s School Days, which elevated him to a similar stature]. While both men opposed the idea of “muscularity without Christianity or moral considerations”20Harris, Styron, “The ‘Muscular Novel’: Medium of a Victorian Ideal” Tennessee Philological Bulletin 27 (1990): 6-13 they couldn’t prevent the movement from spawning a “might-makes-right” mentality, or from glorifying militarism and justifying the colonial oppression of other races by white Anglo-Saxons. To say Muscular Christianity was detrimental-to the Protestant missionary movement in particular and a setback for global evangelization in general-is no small understatement.

Yet, Kingsley and Hughes were both professing Christians, so why couldn’t they do more to help their followers avoid these errors? The answer is they had locked themselves into certain cultural assumptions (evolution being only one of them) that tended to obscure a proper understanding of Scripture instead of enhancing it. One of these assumptions was common in Victorian England: The notion that women were morally superior-or at least much more morally sensitive-than men. This led to the widespread belief that morality itself was a feminine trait as opposed to a masculine one. This tended to sabotage every effort to promote morality within Muscular Christianity since the movement was preoccupied with re-invigorating masculinity among male Christians.

But, perhaps, even more, problematic was the fact Kingsley sought to revive a concept that traces back to Plato: Masculinity should be defined in terms of aggressiveness and even belligerence and, far from being bad things, these impulses should actually be considered virtuous.21For a discussion of this in Kingsley’s thinking see David Rosen’s “The Volcano and the Cathedral Muscular Christianity and the Origins of Primal Manliness.” in Donald E. Hall. ed. Muscular Christianity: Embodying the Victorian Age. (Cambridge, U K Cambridge University Press. 1994): 17-44 Plato used the Greek word thumos to summarize his concept of this primal, manly force. Thumos commonly was used to refer to passionate emotion, fierce rage, and angry outbursts. Plato saw no contradiction with thumos being not only the source of the male sex drive and fistfights but also morality. But then, as far as we know, Plato had never read the Law of Moses or the Book of Proverbs, either.

So what kind of “morality” would result when Plato’s thumos was grafted into Christianity alongside the Victorian notion that traditional morality was effeminate in nature? Such grafting is usually called “syncretism,” and it’s never a good thing. When Christianity is syncretized with unbiblical concepts, Christianity loses, and sooner or later spiritual bankruptcy follows.

Only after World War I, during which the British suffered nearly a million dead and over two-million wounded did Muscular Christianity begin gradually to fade away. (The U.S., entering the final year of the war, suffered roughly one-tenth of those casualties.) The world had suffered 8.5-million dead and 21.2-million wounded. In the wake of this carnage, the church suddenly discovered it had much bigger issues to deal with than its concept of masculinity. (When the next World War introduced Rosie the Riveter, it made that issue seem strangely quaint, indeed!) Muscular Christianity’s bankruptcy was now impossible to hide.

Twenty-four years earlier, in 1894, someone had given a copy of Leo Tolstoy’s pacifist tract, The Kingdom of God is Within You, to a Hindu barrister who was practicing law in Natal, South Africa. He would later write in his autobiography that Tolstoy’s book “overwhelmed” him. Its message-while no more biblical-was the exact antithesis of the Muscular Christianity the British Empire was then used to help hold itself together. This set off a chain-reaction beginning with the barrister-Mohandes Karamchand (later known as Mahatma) Ghandi-that would eventually dismember the British Empire beginning with the loss of its largest colony-Ghandi’s homeland of India. By then, Muscular Christianity had contributed greatly to the failure of evangelism in India. When asked what he thought of Christian civilization, Ghandi replied, “It would be a good idea.” All too many English-speaking Christians had sacrificed a clear presentation of the Gospel on the altar of masculinity and what it supposedly meant to be a “manly man.” We’re still paying the price for it today.

Eldredge’s Syncretism

A century ago, the proponents of Muscular Christianity syncretized Christianity with Victorian culture and Platonic thought, which resulted in spiritual bankruptcy. Today, John Eldredge syncretizes Christianity with Hollywood cultural and occultic/New Age thought, and the result is the same.

In Chapter One of Wild at Heart, Eldredge lays out his argument for men to be “wild at heart” by giving a brief analysis of Legends of the Fall-a film that stars Anthony Hopkins, Brad Pitt, Aidan Quinn, and Julia Ormond. In the film, Brad Pitt plays Tristan, the “wild man” whose immorality, criminal conduct, and selfishness lead to the deaths of several characters in the movie-including his own wife-as a result of his bootlegging operation. He is a godless man whose only involvement in spiritual matters is his dabbling in Native American spiritism. The two other brothers are Alfred (played by Aidan Quinn) and Samuel (played by Henry Thomas). Both try to live decent and honorable lives. Samuel, however, is killed in World War I, and Alfred becomes a responsible businessman and runs for Congress.

At the movie’s end, Tristan has gone off into the wilderness, leaving his child to be cared for by his father and surviving brothers. He eventually was mauled to death by a grizzly bear, and the Indian narrator in the film applauds this tragic and senseless end as a “good death.” Tristan has left nothing but destruction to all those around him-but Eldredge views him as a heroic character and claims most Christian men really wish to be like Tristan.

According to Eldredge, “I have yet to meet a man who wants to be Alfred or Samuel. I’ve yet to meet a woman who wants to marry one.” Tristan, says Eldredge, “is wild at heart.”22John Eldredge, Wild at Heart, (Nashville TN Thomas Nelson Publishers. 2001), 12 If what Eldredge says is true, it is a very sad commentary on the spiritual state of those who profess to be Christians. Tristan was certainly wild at heart. But more proper descriptions of Tristan would be: pagan, uncivilized, primitive, selfish, rebellious, and barbaric. Is this a proper role model for a Christian man? John Eldredge promotes this to be so.

In the beginning of Chapter Five, Eldredge quotes from the movie Michael, starring John Travolta: “To give a man back his heart is the hardest mission on earth.”

Travolta plays a beer-guzzling, cursing, smoking, and womanizing angel who has come from Heaven to give back “heart” to a reporter played by William Hurt. During this process, Travolta succeeds in playing Cupid, and Hurt has premarital sex with his fellow reporter, played by Andie McDowell.

For those who would want to examine Eldredge’s teachings and claims, he anathematizes them and inoculates others from them. In the second chapter, he states:

“On the other hand, if you’re a Pharisee, one of those self-appointed doctrine police … watch out.”23John Eldredge, Wild at Heart, (Nashville TN Thomas Nelson Publishers. 2001), 24 “You can tell what kind of man you’ve got simply by noting the impact he has on you. Does he make you bored?

Does he scare you with his doctrinal Nazism?”24John Eldredge, Wild at Heart, (Nashville TN Thomas Nelson Publishers. 2001), 27

The Changing of the Guard

And so, the stage is set for what will follow. Those who attempt to check the validity of his writings against Scripture are “doctrine police” employing “doctrinal Nazism,” for whom you need to watch out. On the other hand, New Ager Robert Bly (who is quoted prolifically throughout the book), Sam Keen, Brennan Manning, Bruce Cockburn, and a host of other occultists and New Agers are portrayed as sources to be trusted. For those who are unaware, Sam Keen is the author of Fire in the Belly-another New Age book that came out around the same time as Iron John. Jungian Keen, like Bly, is a spiritual disciple of Joseph Campbell (who was mentored by Carl Jung). Keen and Campbell conducted seminars together.

Keen’s Fire in the Belly suggests each man is on a spiritual journey to achieve manhood, and men are unconsciously in bondage to women. Keen urges men to become both sensitive and fierce (or, as John Eldredge would describe it: dangerous or wild).

In an interview adapted from a National Public Radio series and posted on the Internet, Sam Keen describes his journey out of what he calls a “Southern fundamentalist-Christian tradition.” According to Keen, “I gradually broke out of that narrow Christianity, and the experience inoculated me against any form of ‘true belief.’” Keen is fearful of a resurgence of what he calls religious fundamentalism all over the world. “All over the world we see a return to absolutism, to authority, to the desire to have the Word of God represented in government. We see it in Islam, in Christianity, and in Judaism.” (Renewing Our Sense of Wonder :: An Interview with Sam Keen (

On Keen’s website, he compares Osama bin Laden’s fundamentalism to the fundamentalist beliefs of Jerry Falwell and Pat Robertson. He says of Falwell and Robertson:

“They have as much respect for our style of life as Cotton Mather would have for life within the Playboy mansion. Unlike most of the enemies we have faced in the Third World, they do not want their share of the secular consumer society; they want to destroy it.”25Sam Keen, “Ideas in Process: How Shall We Respond to our Enemy?”

Brennan Manning, another writer who has captured John Eldredge’s wild heart, is a Protestant mystic who has been popular in Christian circles during the past two decades.

Manning is characterized as “The New Monk of Mystic Protestantism” by the Spiritual Counterfeits Project (SCP), a Berkeley-based discernment ministry (i.e., doctrine Nazi) headed by former pagan Tal Brooke.

Author John Caddock explained the heretical and pagan roots of Manning’s religious beliefs in the spring 1998 issue of SCP Journal. According to Caddock, Manning’s promise of intimacy with God “is a mixture of Eastern Mysticism, psychology, New Age theology, liberation theology, Catholicism and Protestantism.”26John Caddock, “The New Monk of Mystic Protestantism Spiritual Counterfeits Project Journal, Spring, 1998

Caddock details one of Manning’s techniques for achieving intimacy with God. This is called centering prayer, and it is a technique that Manning learned from Trappist Monks Thomas Keating and Basil Pennington. This involves using the Zen Buddhist technique of emptying one’s mind as a way of supposedly gaining intimacy with God.

In addition, Manning teaches a new extra-biblical doctrine called the “false self” versus the authentic self, which he apparently adapted, in part, from Basil Pennington’s book True Self/False Self: Unmasking the Spirit Within. Manning also quotes favorably from Carl Jung to promote his theories about intimacy with God.

John Eldredge devotes a considerable amount of time discussing this “false self” and “true self.” It rises, says Eldredge, out the “wound” each of us receives from our father or from life’s tribulations. According to Eldredge, each man is wounded and has created for himself a “false self” that is a pose directly related to the kind of wound he received. His goal is to help men become free of this false self and discover the so-called true self.

The pagan magazine Gnosis details the theological journey of Keating and Pennington as they developed their new techniques for prayer. The goal of this process, says Gnosis:

“… is to dismantle the ‘false self,’ the needy, driven, unrecognized motivations behind untransformed human behavior. They suggest the false self as a modern equivalent for the traditional concept of original sin. The ‘true self’ is buried beneath the accretions and defenses. A huge amount of healing has to take place before our deep and authentic quest for union with God is realized. This, in essence, constitutes the spiritual journey ….”27John Caddock, “The New Monk of Mystic Protestantism Spiritual Counterfeits Project Journal, Spring, 1998

Of course, one can’t locate these concepts of the “wound” or “false self” in the Bible because they come directly from the writings of Jungians, Trappist Monks, Protestant mystics, and Zen Buddhism.

Manning’s writings evidence a clear commitment to mystical ecumenicalism and a willingness to adopt any religious technique that appears to lead the person into so-called intimacy with God.

How do the Scriptures view these claims? In Romans, Paul describes men as they really are: Sinners who need the help of the Holy Spirit not to sin. In Romans Chapter 8:5-9, we read: 

For they that are after the flesh do mind the things of the flesh; but they that are after the Spirit the things of the Spirit. For to be carnally minded is death; but to be spiritually minded is life and peace. Because the carnal mind is enmity with God: for it is not subject to the law of God, neither indeed can be. So then they that are in the flesh cannot please God. But ye are not in the flesh, but in the Spirit, if so be that the Spirit of God dwell in you. Now if any man have not the Spirit of Christ, he is none of His.(KJV)

It is unbiblical to claim we’re simply all victims of someone else’s “wounding” us so that we all develop a “false self.” We are not simply the product of someone else’s sinful behaviors against us. If this were true, then no one could be held responsible for one’s own actions, yet God does hold us responsible. We all sin, and we are all accountable before God for our behaviors and attitudes. Jesus didn’t die for our mythical “false self.” He died for our self-perpetrated sins while we were “wild at heart.”

At the beginning of Chapter Five of Wild at Heart, Eldredge quotes musician Bruce Cockburn. At the beginning of Chapter Seven, he quotes Wendell Berry, a philosopher, and leftist environmentalist.

Bruce Cockburn is associated with the radical environmental group Greenpeace and the Unitarian Service Committee. On his website, he criticizes conservative Christians in the United States and describes himself as someone on the “commie-anarchist Christian end of the spectrum.” In another interview, he says he has been influenced as much by Allen Ginsberg and William Burroughs “as by any Christian writers. The things I’ve always related to about other people’s spiritual experience is the mystical side because they’re talking about that direct contact [with God].” Poet Ginsberg was a pedophile and supporter of the North American Man-Boy Love Association. One can only wonder how Ginsberg’s writings have influenced Cockburn in a positive manner and why John Eldredge felt compelled to quote him.

Eldredge also quotes Wendell Berry, an environmentalist who blames Christians for the alleged cultural and economic exploitation of non-Western societies. In his essay, “Christianity and the Survival of Creation,” Berry says:

“I want to begin with a problem: namely, that the culpability of Christianity in the destruction of the natural world, and the uselessness of Christianity in any effort to correct that destruction, are now established clichés of the conservation movement….the indictment of Christianity by the anti-Christian conservationists, is in many respects, just.”28Wendell Berry, “Christianity and the Survival of Creation ” Crosscurrents,

Berry later talks about his fondness for Buddhism:

“Buddhism, for example, is certainly a religion that could guide us toward a right respect for the natural world, our fellow humans, and our fellow creatures. I have a considerable debt myself to Buddhism and Buddhists.”29Wendell Berry, “Christianity and the Survival of Creation ” Crosscurrents,

Some may argue that we cannot assume “guilt by association,” and that is certainly true. Others may point out that just because Eldredge quotes from someone doesn’t necessarily show that he agrees with them. That is also true. The problem is the worldview Eldredge promotes is, as we have shown, fully in keeping with the worldview the previously mentioned persons hold to and promote. The techniques he has utilized to promote it are to use “Christianese” and to label as suspect any who might use Scripture as the standard.

Anti-Biblical Themes Throughout

John Eldredge has built his “wild at heart” theme on the works of Jungians like Robert Bly, Sam Keen, and others. As such, it is to be expected that he reaches unbiblical conclusions. His advice, however, is increasingly popular and he has become one of America’s best-selling authors of “Christian” men’s books. We find out that God is limited in knowledge, somewhat along the lines that Gwen Shamblin or Gregory Boyd teaches.

“He [God] prefers the adventure, danger, risk, the element of surprise.30John Eldredge, Wild at Heart, (Nashville TN Thomas Nelson Publishers. 2001), 30

“God is a person who takes immense risks.”31John Eldredge, Wild at Heart, (Nashville TN Thomas Nelson Publishers. 2001), 30

We could continue, but the view of God Eldredge lays out is of one who is pretty powerful, knows quite a bit, and is constantly caught off guard as a result of the risks he takes. In fact, as Eldredge writes about the sin in the Garden of Eden, he sets up a very different scenario from what we find in Scripture. All this time we thought rebelling against God’s command not to eat the fruit was the problem, but alas, we were wrong. After quoting Genesis 2:16-17, he writes:

“Okay, most of us have heard about that. But notice what God doesn’t tell Adam. There is no warning or instruction over what is about to occur: the Temptation of Eve. This is just staggering. Notably missing from the dialogue between Adam and God is something like this: ‘Adam, one more thing. A week from Tuesday, about four in the afternoon, you and Eve are going to be down in the orchard and something dangerous is going to happen. Adam, are you listening? The eternal destiny of the human race hangs on this moment. Now here’s what I want you to do …’ he doesn’t tell him. He doesn’t even mention it so far as we know. Good grief — why not?! Because God believes in Adam. This is what he is designed to do — to come through in a pinch.”32John Eldredge, Wild at Heart, (Nashville TN Thomas Nelson Publishers. 2001), 50

It is far more likely that it isn’t in the text because it isn’t true other than in the mind of John Eldredge. He then tells us that when the serpent tempted Eve, Adam did:

“Nothing. Absolutely nothing. He says not a word, doesn’t lift a finger. He won’t risk, he won’t fight, and he won’t rescue Eve. Our first father-the first real man-gave in to paralysis. He denied his very nature and went passive. And every man after him repeats the sin of Adam, every day.”33John Eldredge, Wild at Heart, (Nashville TN Thomas Nelson Publishers. 2001), 51

This is certainly a creative new definition of original sin and the sin nature. Rather than being rebellious against God, it is not being ready to fight.

We must really concur with Byron Borger, in his essay on Wild at Heart, when he says this book “is so laden with wrong-headed biases that the book is unsound.”34Byron Borger, “John Eldredge’s Wild at Heart: A Critique” Coalition for Christian Outreach, June 2002

What does the Bible say about sound doctrine? The Apostle Paul certainly has a different view of doctrine than does John Eldredge. In 1 Timothy 1:3-4, Paul urges Timothy to “command certain men not to teach false doctrines any longer nor to devote themselves to myths and endless genealogies.”

In 1 Timothy 4:16, Paul commands Timothy:

“Watch your life and doctrine closely. Persevere in them, because if you do, you will save both yourself and your hearers.” In 2 Timothy 4:2-6, Paul warns Timothy he must preach the Word faithfully and warns that a time is coming when men will seek out myths instead of sound doctrine. He writes: “For the time will come when men will not put up with sound doctrine. Instead, to suit their own desires, they will gather around them a great number of teachers to say what their itching ears want to hear. They will turn their ears away from the truth and turn aside to myths. But you, keep your head in all situations, endure hardship, do the work of an evangelist, discharge all the duties of your ministry.”

The Apostle Paul placed a high value on doctrine, and his comments to Timothy about myths easily could have been about John Eldredge as one who provides a message that “itching ears want to hear.”

Eldredge also mocks the Christian man who tries to be “nice” and blames Christianity as a whole for doing “terrible things to men.” These “terrible things” apparently include teaching men to be good and nice.35John Eldredge, Wild at Heart, (Nashville TN Thomas Nelson Publishers. 2001), 7

No, Christian men aren’t called to be nice, claims Eldredge. They’re called to be wild, dangerous and to have a desperate desire for a “battle to fight, an adventure to live, and a beauty to rescue.”36John Eldredge, Wild at Heart, (Nashville TN Thomas Nelson Publishers. 2001) 7

The Bible, however, has a far different description of what a Christian man should be. Both men and women are to exhibit the fruit of the Holy Spirit, which include: “love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness, and self-control” (Galatians 5:22-23).

This doesn’t sound like “wildness.” It sounds more like being “nice” and “good”-two traits Eldredge seems to reject. These traits were displayed by Alfred in Legends of the Fall. What Tristan displayed were the works of the flesh as described in Galatians 5:19-21: “The acts of the sinful nature are obvious: sexual immorality, impurity, and debauchery; idolatry and witchcraft; hatred, discord, jealousy, fits of rage, selfish ambition, dissensions, factions, and envy; drunkenness, orgies, and the like …”

Drawing upon Jungian concepts of the “false self” and the “true self,” Eldredge claims men must reject this “false self” and discover the “true self,” which is free of the “wounds” inflicted upon him by his father or other influences in his life.

Borger notes that Eldredge also introduces a new concept about salvation and being “born again” by the Spirit of God into a new life in Christ. He writes:

“Eldredge seems to think that the blood of Christ shed on the Cross was shed for the sins of the false self (which is no longer a metaphor, but an ontological reality alongside the soul, in there somewhere, I guess.) … he develops a theology not of ‘the devil made me do it,’ but ‘my poser/girlie-man/false self-made me do it.’ Interestingly for a conservative evangelical, he unapologetically states, ‘your heart is good.’ ”37John Eldredge, Wild at Heart, (Nashville TN Thomas Nelson Publishers. 2001), 9

Borger continues:

“Mr. Eldredge says, ‘The real you is on the side of God against the false self.’ This odd psychobabble, apparently presuming a neo-Jungian, Blyian view of the self, leads Eldredge to confuse what classic theology calls our ‘two natures.’ He insists that our hearts are pure. (‘We are never told to kill the true man within us, never get rid of these deep desires for battle and adventure and beauty.’) I am left breathless and confused: I have no idea what to make of all of this.”38Byron Borger. “John Eldredge’s Wild at Heart: A Critique,” Coalition for Christian Outreach, June 2002: http://www.ccoiubilee.orq/minexfolder/minex2002/june2002/Borqer_June02 html

Borger then asks a compelling question:

“Doesn’t the publishing house [Thomas Nelson] have a theologian on retainer to check for this sort of shoddiness? (Well, on second thought, maybe they don’t. This is the same publishing house that brought us Gwen Shamblin and Benny Hinn, fudging on silly little notions like the Trinity.)”39Byron Borger. “John Eldredge’s Wild at Heart: A Critique,” Coalition for Christian Outreach, June 2002: http://www.ccoiubilee.orq/minexfolder/minex2002/june2002/Borqer_June02 html

The Bad Fruit Is Coming

It is rather ironic that John Eldredge’s late co-author Brent Curtis (The Sacred Romance) fell off a cliff several years ago while mountain climbing. Curtis was being “wild at heart” and left a wife and two boys.

While it may still be too early to assess the eventual damage to families from Wild at Heart, it is likely this book will bring forth bitter fruit. Men who buy into the “wild at heart” theme will become irresponsible, reckless, and selfish. They will choose adventure over responsibility; childishness over maturity; and “wildness” over the Christian traits of self-control, selflessness, and holiness. They will model their lives after Tristan instead of Alfred-after the fruit of the flesh rather than the fruit of the Holy Spirit.

Byron Borger has said it well:

“I think Eldredge has spent too much time fooling around pursuing his hobbies, searching for his manly soul. Fly fishing has given the man a bit too much time to think, and it seems that he thinks mostly about his own sorry self (and the sorry state of his bourgeois buddies.)”40Byron Borger. “John Eldredge’s Wild at Heart: A Critique,” Coalition for Christian Outreach, June 2002: http://www.ccoiubilee.orq/minexfolder/minex2002/june2002/Borqer_June02 html

The Jungian and occultic premises upon which Wild at Heart is based cannot produce anything other than bad fruit. The fleshly fruit from Wild at Heart is not yet fully ripened, but when it does, Christian counseling offices will be dealing with a whole new phenomenon: the “wild man” who has decided to reject his personal responsibilities to seek adolescent adventures. Wild at Heart, in essence, is a call for Christian men to become irresponsible pagans. We are not called to become men like Tristan or Maximus the Roman Gladiator, but we are called to become like Jesus Christ.Ω

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