Wild at Heart – Part 1

(April 2004 – Volume 10, Issue 4)

One of the most popular fads at the moment, at least among Christian men, centers around John Eldredge’s extremely popular book, Wild at Heart: Discovering the Secret of a Man’s Soul. The book itself has won numerous awards and kudos including the 2002 Gold Medallion Book Award (for the finest in evangelical publishing), the Family Christian Bookstores 2002 book of the year award, and an endorsement from Charles Swindoll, who declares, “I believe it is the best, most insightful book I have read in at least the last five years.”

The book itself is only the tip of the iceberg. There is the Wild at Heart field manual, the Wild at Heart journal, video curriculum, facilitator, kits with DVD’s ($100), and an audio book. Then there are the Wild at Heart four-day retreats, or “Boot Camps.” And for those who want the ultimate (and have participated in two boot camps) there is the four-day Wild at Heart Advanced—Platoon Leaders’ training. While both of these retreats are expensive ($395 and $795 plus travel) and intensive, they are in such demand that Eldredge’s organization, Ransomed Heart Ministries, has resorted to a lottery system to decide who will be able to attend. [1] Not to be left behind, a retreat called Ransomed Femininity is also offered for women twice per year.

That Eldredge has caught a wave is beyond question. But what is the draw? Why do millions of Christian men read this book and why do they stand in line to attend Wild at Heart Retreats? What is the attraction?

Let’s start with the good news. Eldredge is concerned, and rightly so, with the kind of man being produced in America, as well as in the church. I remember twenty years ago when a secular commentator lamented the “wimping of America.” He was referring to the modern propensity of turning boys into “girls” and men into “women” in the wake of the feminist movement. Over the last thirty years we have taught men to get in touch with their feminine side, learn to explore and share their feelings with other males, get over their reluctance to hug men and cry in front of others, control their aggressiveness and to submit to their wives. In other words, we have taught men how to be women. At the same time, of course, we have trained women to be more aggressive. Is it any wonder that men are confused about their roles today? The Christian world, always in lockstep with society, has done no better. From James Dobson (for whom Eldredge worked for many years) to Promise Keepers, men have increasingly been pressured to become more feminine. Promise Keepers seem to be particularly odious to Eldredge, although never mentioned by name.

In all of this I believe Eldredge has a point. It is time for men to be men again. Where Eldredge fails is in his choice of models. Rather than turning to the Scriptures for a careful study of what God designed men to be, Eldredge turns to fairy tales, movies, secular philosophy, human nature and experience. As a result he has struck a chord with men, because he is telling them what they want to hear rather than what they need to hear. He is merely echoing the secular men’s movement lead by unbelievers such as Robert Bly (whom he seems to quote more often than Scripture), itself an overreaction to the feminist movement. In other words, Wild at Heart, while identifying a legitimate problem does more harm than good.

But what is so bad about Wild at Heart? Are we just picking apart something because it is successful? I trust not, for Wild at Heart is so full of unbiblical content and downright error that even Christianity Today wrote a negative review. When Christianity Today, which embraces everyone from Robert Schuller to Tony Campolo, and seldom has a pejorative word to say about anything, feels compelled to issue warnings, it ought to cause warning signs to pop up in our minds. Christianity Today implied that Wild at Heart is a “syrupy pop book that pleases undiscerning ears” and then stated clearly, “The therapeutic virtues of the book, however, do not outweigh its theological and cultural vices…. Theological error emerges by page three.” [2] Actually a careful analysis of Wild at Heart should be unnecessary. It is so obviously flawed, so full of psychobabble, so blatantly out of line with Scripture, one would assume that it would be rejected out-of-hand by any who have a moderate knowledge of the Word. But alas, such is not the case. Reports are flooding in from all directions that conservative Christians, churches and Bible colleges are vigorously promoting Eldredge’s book. It is therefore necessary to detail specific concerns. These will be grouped in a number of categories.


Eldredge believes that every man everywhere has three burning desires in his heart: a battle to fight, an adventure to live, and a beauty to rescue (p. 9). Due to wrong messages communicated to us by society, parents and the church, these desires may have gone unrecognized or ignored, but they are there. [3] Until men realize this and begin to aggressively pursue these desires they will never be real men. Wild at Heart, and its related ministries, is an effort to restructure men’s lives around these three desires.

A Battle to Fight

Eldredge believes, “Aggression is part of the masculine design…. [boys] invent games where large numbers of people die, where bloodshed is a prerequisite for having fun” (p. 10). As a matter of fact this desire to slaughter is part of what it means to be made in the image of God who Himself is a warrior (p. 10). [4] I doubt that most of you ever knew about God’s desire to slaughter people.

An Adventure to Live

Eldredge teaches that God loves wildness, as is evidenced by thunderstorms and dangerous creatures (p. 29). What he does not recognize is that none of these things existed before the Fall. Man-eating lions, killer whales, and destruction are all consequences of sinfulness, not a reflection of God’s nature.

Of even more serious concern is Eldredge’s view that “man was born in the outback, from the untamed part of creation. Only afterward is he brought to Eden and ever since then boys have never been at home indoors, and men have had an insatiable longing to explore.” This would be laughable if it were not so serious. Genesis 2:4-9 teaches no such thing, and to base the nature of males on such a faulty premise is utterly ridiculous. Christianity Today comments, “He implies that God was trying to domesticate a wild Adam, as if Eden were designed primarily for women.” [5] If this were true, it would mean that God purposely frustrated the natural bent of Adam even before the Fall.

A Beauty to Rescue

“The theme of a strong man coming to rescue a beautiful woman is universal to human nature. It is written in our hearts, one of the core desires of every man and every woman” (p. 181). Of course there is no Scripture to support such a statement, so where does Eldredge come up with these things?


In the case “of a beauty to rescue” he leaves no doubt as to where he obtains his view: “From ancient fables to the latest blockbuster” (p. 181). This is representative of the book. Eldredge makes only fleeting attempts to substantiate his positions with Scripture, and even then, as we will see, he usually resorts to a distortion of the biblical meaning of the text. Rather, his sources are primarily secular literature, fairy tales, boyhood desires, other men and movies—lots and lots of movies. Time after time Eldredge “proved” his point by drawing our attention to Hollywood (pp. 11, 12, 13, 16, 22, 49, 65, 92, 109, 134, 149, 150, 158, 164, 172, 174, 175, 210). “My answer” he admits concerning a certain set of problems, “came through movies” (p. 126). He is convinced that “the movies a man loves reveal what his heart longs for” (p. 11). And what kind of movies do men love? Movies like Braveheart, The Magnificent Seven, Die Hard, and Gladiator (p. 11).For example, the character Tristan in the film Legends of the Fall represents the man who is wild at heart, and therefore, apparently a good role model. Tristan fights bears and men; he travels the world living out his adventure; he wins not one, but two “beauties”. He is what every man wants to be and what every woman wants to have, or so we are told. But it is a bit troubling that our author does not go on to explain that Tristan ultimately destroys everyone he touches: his family, his beauties, and eventually himself. He is a self-centered, ungodly man who finds no peace in life or within himself. Is this really what Eldredge wants us to become? Is this the goal of Wild at Heart? Perhaps he would renege if pushed, but he immediately writes, “Compare your experience watching the latest James Bond or Indiana Jones thriller with, say, going to Bible study.” (p. 13). Hey guys, let’s toss those Bibles—they are for domesticated housewives. Let’s grab our bowie knives and shotguns and head for the woods—or at least the video store for a good adventure flick. How can any Christian really take this book seriously?

The other major source of truth besides movies is, for Eldredge, literature. He quotes from a variety of authors, mostly unsaved (e.g. 9, 102, 104, 131, 149, and 169). But by far his most significant source is the leadership of the secular counter men’s movement, Sam Keen (author of Fire in the Belly, p. 146) and Robert Bly (author of Iron John, pp. 8, 10, 11, 71, 83, 91, 93, 105, 115, 132, 137, 140, 142, 172). If you are familiar with this genre of literature you will realize early on that Wild at Heart is simply a regurgitating of Bly’s view in Christian veneer.

Quite frankly, this is the root of the problem—Eldredge has virtually no understanding of Scripture and zero belief in its sufficiency. His source of truth is consistently outside the Bible. Had he spent even a fraction of the time contemplating the Word as he did watching movies and reading Bly, this would be a very different book. As it is Wild at Heart is a secular book with just enough proof texts and “God-talk” to fool the undiscerning and the biblically illiterate, which ought to scare us silly when we think about the awards it has won and the people who have endorsed it.

Unfortunately, it gets worse—much worse.


Anyone who has read much of anything I have ever written knows my disdain for the integration of psychology with Christianity. It is almost impossible to read any book on Christian living written in the last 25 years that does not have at least a trace of it. So Wild at Heart may not be in a class by itself in the use of pop-psychology, but it sure does not take long to call the roll. Eldredge has bought into every form of psychobabble imaginable. For example:

  • We are all victims (pp. 124-25, 132).
  • Sinful behavior is explained as psychological disorder.
    • Page 72 – “Adolescent misbehavior” is but a cry for involvement, engagement.
    • Pages 88, 89 – Parents, especially fathers, are to blame for our problems.
    • Pages 91, 92 – Pornography is addictive because down deep we believe if we can just find and win the beauty we will recover our own lost masculinity.
    • Pages 94, 95 – “Homosexuality is an attempt to repair the wound by filling it with masculinity.”
    • Pages 147-149 – “Sexual struggle [is] not so much… sin but… a battle for… strength…. Remember—a man’s addictions are the result of his refusing his strength.”
    • Pages 148, 149 offer a particularly disturbing example of visualization which is definitely tending toward the occult, along with some dream analysis that would impress Freud.

But the principle psychological infiltration in Wild at Heart has to do with the “wounded man” (pp. 60, 72, 105, 108, 112, 126, 127, 128, 129, 132, 182). The theory runs like this: We all have been wounded in life, most likely by our parents (Eldredge believes it is usually fathers). Until we recognize this wound, grieve over it, enter into it, we will be dysfunctional and troubled people. Eldredge’s edition of this theme is almost a complete rip-off of Larry Crabb, who in turn “discovered” this truism, not in Scripture but in secular psychologists Adler, Rogers and Freud. [6] That he does not so much as footnote any of these men seems a great oversight, since Eldredge hardly invented this hypothesis.

Of course the Scripture never denies that we have been wounded. We have all been sinned against, offended, hurt, and disappointed. We have all suffered harm at the hand of others. Neither does the Lord demand that we deny or ignore these wounds. But rather than becoming self-absorbed, grieving over these offenses or entering into them in some psychological or mystical way, the Lord calls for a whole different set of actions. First, we are to recognize that this is part of the human experience in a sinful world. God knows this, and He has so designed our lives that He is using these very offenses as instruments in developing us into what He wants us to be (Romans 5:3-5; 8:28; James 1:2-5; 2 Corinthians 12:7-10). Next, He calls us to forgive the offenders (Matthew 18:15-35; Luke 17:1-4; Colossians 3:13). Where forgiveness in the fullest sense is not possible, the Lord tells us to bless our enemy and leave any vengeance to the Lord (Romans 12:12-21). How very different is the timeless God-centered instruction found in Scripture from the man-centered fads of psychology.

We will conclude our evaluation of Wild at Heart next month.

[1] Boot Camp will accommodate 350-450 men and is offered 4 times per year; while Advanced handles only 60 at a time and is offered 4 times per year.

[2] Christianity Today, “Battle Cry” by Vincent Bacon, November 2003, p. 84.

[3] If a man dares to claim he does not have these desires, it can only be that he is in self-denial, by Freudian necessity, or he has become a coward (p. 14).

[4] This is an example of loose-canon type of exegesis found throughout the book. Eldredge does not deal with Scriptures in context, but simply pulls out a verse here and there to attempt to support his ideas.

[5] Christianity Today, “Battle Cry” by Vincent Bacon, November 2003, p. 84.

[6] See Crabb’s books: Inside Out, Effective Biblical Counseling, Understanding People.


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