Where Have All the Christian Men Gone? My Conversation with John Eldredge

Many men balk at the idea of going to church. Some resist the tendency in Christian circles to "feminize" God. Others object to how Christian men tend to be so tame and passive — more like women — and very bored. And so, it is perhaps not surprising that John Eldredge's books, especially Wild at Heart, have been wildly successful. Seeking to discover the secret of a man's soul, Catholic and Protestant men alike are rushing to buy and read Eldredge's books.

To generations of men who have been force-fed the idea that there are no real differences between the sexes and that men ought to explore their "feminine side," Eldredge offers the encouragement to explore their "father-son wound," to join in the battle for their masculine heart, and find the warrior deep inside. If men understand the reality of sin and the devil and reconnect with the original purity and openness of their masculine hearts, Eldredge claims, they will liberate their hearts' capacity for feeling. Men everywhere are responding to Eldredge's description of heroism and sacrifice, as well as the masculine desire to protect, defend, and honor.

However, Catholic and Protestant writers alike have found serious flaws in Eldredge's theology concerning the wildness and even the sovereignty of the Author of Life, and especially Eldredge's claim that the Gospel is a "dangerous story." While most would agree with Eldredge that men and women are different, and that those differences should be recognized within churches, they disagree with Eldredge's assertion that theological systems and rule-keeping cripple our notions of God and men. Others are troubled by Eldredge's contention that boys become men only in the company of other men. While the initiation into manhood (or womanhood, for that matter) is best facilitated by members of the same sex, God created men and women to complement and complete each other. Because of this, we most fully reflect God's image through giving and receiving self-donating love, particularly in the sacrament of matrimony.

I recently had the singular opportunity to discuss with Eldredge whether his thinking had evolved since writing Wild at Heart. After describing his own experience with the men's movement that began in the 1980's, he said he used to feel like a voice in the wilderness. Not anymore: he has seen a growing recognition that men are different, and have a need to be heroes.

 Eldredge told me he is even more convinced that God wants to father us. And that grown men, not just boys, are in continual need of that fathering and masculine initiation. He emphasized that although our age is cynical, healing is available. "We have to treat the wounds and not just the behavior."

Was he familiar with Pope John Paul II's "Theology of the Body"? He said Catholics frequently come up to him after he speaks to tell him about it. They send him books and CD's explaining the Pope's teaching, such as Christopher West's series Naked Without Shame. "I was greatly encouraged by the Pope's teaching," Eldredge said, adding that he plans to order John Paul's Love and Responsibility. And yet, Eldredge could not articulate how his teaching differed from that of the late Holy Father. "It would probably take a better theological mind than mine to point [the difference] out." I found his humility and modesty enchanting.

When I explained that John Paul's development of personalism takes into account the importance of the subjective experience of the individual, Eldredge got excited. Anything about the heart's experience motivates Eldredge. I told him how John Paul's training as a theologian and philosopher enabled him to discover in the subjectivity of man's inner world a unity with the objectivity of man's outer world.

Fortunately, the secrets of a man's soul (or those of a woman's) are not secret within the teachings of the Catholic Church. The Church has always affirmed the importance of cultivating the soul even while living in the world; men and women alike are called to grow in holiness, to conquer vice, and to cultivate virtue. And we need look no further than the stories of the saints for images of authentic masculine heroism.

They are full of the heart. They are full of the powers of the mind. They are united by an integrated understanding of the nuptial meaning of the body and the spousal relationship of God to the Church, and God to each individual. The writings of John Paul II are particularly compelling to the "wild hearts" of the present day.

I have a feeling John Eldredge will one day seriously study "Theology of the Body" and Love and Responsibility. I would love to see what he writes then.

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  • Guest

    As a leader in the Catholic men's movement, I am greatly encouraged by your article. I have read all of Eldredge's books and find them somewhat useful, but lacking serious theology and the depth of approach found in Catholic teachings. Unfortunately, not many Catholic books for men are written with the readability of Eldredge's books and therein lies one of the great challenges.

    John Paul was, indeed, a masterful blend of philosopher and theologian. And it is hard to read a book on male Catholic saints that is NOT demonstrative of a brave and passionate heart.

    I find Pope Benedict's works even more readable for most men. I hope that he, in the future, graces us with some comments on the unique challenges of Catholic men.

  • Guest

    I find there is a big elephant in the room Eldredge does not dare talk about. Men are frustrated at their inability to find a truly masculine spirituality. But could it have anything to do with the fact that most of them are sterile? Even when protestants read Theology of the Body they tend to edit out the contraception stuff. They assume he only says that because he is Catholic so we don't need to listen to that part. Even Catholics do that.

  • Guest

    Randy,

    Surely you don't mean most men are actually sterile, do you?  You must mean that they use artificial birth control. Right?

  • Guest

    Randy, I like your thinking, develop it a little bit more. I don't want to make assumptions. Do clerify the "sterile" word. I'm interpreting it literally, figuratively as well as PTR's take.

  • Guest

    PTR, I think he meant most spiritualities are sterile.  :-)

  • Guest

    On the following the pun is intended –

    Boy, that sterility comment was kind of snippy.

    Didn't mean to cut you off.

    If you're gonna be impotent, you may as well look impotent.

    You vas ect a me?  Translated from the almost-mostly-Catholic as  "Are you talkin' to me?"

     

    GK – God is good!

  • Guest

    RandyGritter's comment about the "elephant in the room" struck a chord with me, as I have observed the same thing in reading Elderidge's writing- in fact, I have even used that exact phrase.  John and Stasi Elderidge's book "Captivating (which is similar to Wild at Heart, but for women) explains that woman's great gift is her beauty and her ability to bring life to the world (through being a mother, as well as spiritually bringing life to relationships, etc.).  Because of these incredible blessings which woman has to offer the world, the devil has a special hatred for her and seeks to destroy her and the gift she brings to humanity.  Here is a quote from the book (pages 84-85):


    "Eve is his [Satan's] greatest human threat, for she brings life.  She is a lifeaver and a life giver.  Eve means "life or 'life producer.' … Put thos two things together- that Eve incarnates the Beauty of God and she gives life to the world.  Satan' bitter heart cannot bear it.  It assaults her with a special hatred."


    There are countless examples of his attacks against woman in our culture- women being abandoned and abused, women being encouraged to kill their own children through abortion, false ideals of beauty that women are pressured to live up to, etc.- all of these are aimed at trying to destroy woman's gifts to the world.  However, in explaining all this, the Elderidges completely miss the point that contraception is one HUGE way in which the devil seeks- quite literally -to destroy women's ability to bring life.  How can women heal from their wounds and be truly whole and truly life-giving in the way that God intended them to be when they intentionally destroy the life-giving ability (fertility) that is stamped into their very bodies as a sign of their life-giving nature?  Women are made to give life both physically and spiritually.  Therefore they cannot heal and be whole if they try to be life-giving in a spiritual way and yet are destroying their ability to give life in the physical sense.  We are body and soul- what we do with the body affects the soul, and vice versa!


    So going back to men: how can men truly be the heroes, the warriors, the protectors of what is good and right, as they are called to be, when they are not protecting women from this assault, when they are acquiescing to the devil's plan to destroy the life-giving mystery that woman has to offer?


    Furthermore, men truly find themselves in giving themselves completely- that is what it means to be a hero.  How can man give themselves completely when they are holding back a part of themselves (fertility and strength), a part that God made as part of his marvelous creation? They are then divided within themselves–effectively fighting themselves, trying to give fully while holding back. How can a man offer a woman his strength when it is being used to fight himself?


    If the Elderidges were able to see the "big elephant in the room" and come to understand the insidiousness of this attack, they could help so many more people in their journey toward healing and holiness.







  • Guest

    I did mean to include using contraceptives but most of the men I have talked to about this have been surgically sterilized. They don't see the physical effecting the spiritual. But maleness is both physical and spiritual. Is it not at least possible that rejecting the physical part of being a man might effect the spiritual part? It really is a closed question. Most protestants are not willing to ask it. Many Catholics are almost in the same place.

  • Guest

    My experience with men is that they tend to embrace one attribute that cuts the cocoon of their spirituality–they, we, compartmentalize.  In almost every area, we tend towards dis-integration.  This allows that "elephant in the room" mentality.

  • Guest

    Wow! this is a mamoth with tusks and all. Beautiful explanation lisapie. I'm saving this one for future reference. I read an article by a nutritionist who said don't eat seedless, it's robbed of it's magical life giving nutrients. How much more is it true with an organism that has a soul. I would be interested in more of this commentary from either you or Dspencer.

  • Guest

    Wow is right!  I never really thought about that aspect missing from his book.  Especially when you consider that freedom from pornography is such an important aspect of his ministry, you'd think the link between that and contraception/sterilization would leap out at you (Disconnecting sex from it's God-given purposes of unity and procreation, with resultant spiritual/psychological wounds).

    I can think of other prominent national ministries which also do not address the sin of contraception and it's results.  Promise Keepers and Focus on the Family come to mind.  I wonder why they don't at least point out the usefulness of NFP versus contraception, given its tremendous results and statistical support for helping families.  Makes me think that the devil must have a hand in it all.

    I have to agree with Randy, most couples out there are contracepting artificially or one spouse is sterilized.  There is usually a certain pride and defensiveness in their tone when speaking about it, which belies their conscience that deep down they know it is wrong but cannot admit it.  It is a dry and barren society!  A wasteland.  It feels taboo to speak of contraception being a poor and sinful choice.

    God, please raise up for us pastors and persons who can help reverse this situation!  May we be able to do our part to spread your truth faithfully and lovingly.

  • Guest

    The devil will fool even the elect. This is a prime example, isn't it? It's all taking place in this strong, wise, wealthy and religious nation. We've built a socity on Darwin's natural selection philosophy. We do the selecting and we naturally do it by contraception. Biotech and bioengineering are the hottest growth areas in schools and in industry. These comments on Virginia Fisher's article certainly took an unexpected turn , thanks to Randy.

  • Guest

    I am glad to see so many well thought out and heartfelt comments. I apologize for not being part of the conversation but there are movers packing up my home even as I type. I elected to ask my fiancee to supervise the guys so I don't get neurotic about my china while I make aprons! What else is a girl to do? Let the guys do their guy thing! LOL

  • Guest

    My fiancee and I are both 46 and want to have a child! We have four boys between us. Two of them are mentally handicapped. So we get to live the Culture of Life in a special way. Last summer he thought I was a nut when I said I followed the Church's teaching about contraception. Now, he is singing a different tune, praise be to God! 

    : )
  • Guest

    On the good news side–I meet with several hundred Catholic men who are striving to live fully Catholic lives–including pure and pro-life, non-contraceptive lives. Specifically, in our group men routinely witness to the special love relationship they have found with their wives by NOT contracepting.

     

    One case in point, an OB/GYN, after attending a Catholic men's retreat where a man shared who had his vasectomy reversed, went to his partners and told them that he was quitting doing any sterilzations at all on women-beginning immediately. The cost: $200k per year is what he walked away from by his heroic choice. Further, when men heard of the MD having such integrity in his professional choice, shared the story and now some half dozen men in the past two years, at our group, have had vasectomy's reversed in an enormous statement of Pro-Life belief.

     

    Courage is in short supply in our culture. But these and many other men, are standing for the truth.

     

    So praise God and keep praying for fortitude in Catholic men.

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