Imagine a man –any man you know outside the Christian community. He might be a colleague,neighbour,fellow football fan or relative.
Now put him into a typical church context.Be honest.Does he fit?Unless there is an extraordinary work of the Spirit,is he captivated … or bored?? Author and counsellor John Eldredge says most churches fail to engage the hearts of men.Few –bar public speakers and musicians –have avenues to express their passion.Money,sex and power are off limits.Strong language must be edited out.And,Eldredge says, strength itself is sapped from the typical Christian man.
“The problem with men,we ’re told, is that they don ’t know how to keep their promises,be spiritual leaders,talk to their wives or raise their children. But,if they will try really hard they can reach the lofty summit of becoming …a nice guy,”writes Eldredge.“Now let me ask my male readers:in all your boyhood dreams,did you ever dream of becoming a Nice Guy?”
The real problem is that spirituality has been feminised and Christian men no longer know what it means to be masculine.
A good man,as the church seems to define it,is ‘dutiful …and separated from his heart ’Eldredge says.Boyhood dreams of being the hero,of beating the bad guys,of doing daring feats,and rescuing the damsel in distress are squashed (so too is the little girl ’s dream of being rescued by her prince and swept up into a great adventure,knowing that she is the beauty). But what if those desires in our hearts are telling us the truth,revealing the life we were meant to live?Eldredge asks. What if it ’s okay for men to be fierce, passionate and wild?
Why do scenes from Gladiator, Braveheart and Saving Private Ryan so stir the hearts of men?Eldredge says that Hollywood and the advertising industry understand hearts better than many Christians.They know that women long for intimacy,beauty and adventure and,in parallel,men long for a battle to fight,a beauty to rescue and an adventure to live.For Eldredge all of life is a battle for the heart –hence the Bible injunction to ‘guard your heart for it is the well-spring of life ’.
The danger inherent in denying our hearts ’desire is that we find other ways to feed our desires.The result is,at best, churches full of ‘nice guys ’dutifully fulfilling their roles as good Christian men; or pews filled with pressed men who are half-hearted,indulging their desires elsewhere or,at worst,no men at all as churches fail to reach men ’s hearts. John Eldredge ’s books tackle loss of heart:that weariness which comes from trying seven steps to a better spiritual life;six lessons for a fulfilled marriage; tips and techniques which deal with how we ought to live,but don ’t touch our hearts.
He uses contemporary films and lyrics throughout his books to show in vivid detail how the longings we have bear the stamp of eternity.They reflect our creator God ’s intimacy in the Trinity, His love of beauty seen in creation and His risk-taking heart which sent His only Son to call men and women into a life of adventure.
For Eldredge,whose background is in drama,the Gospel is an epic tale of perfection defiled,an ongoing battle with Satan,and Christ ’s triumphant struggle to rescue the beauty –his bride the church.He invites readers on a journey of desire –to recapture our hearts so we are caught up in the sacred romance.
In his latest book Wild at Heart he focuses on the loss of masculinity and its impact on both men and women. Eldredge knows his Bible.He knows Christians should ‘turn the other cheek ’. But,he argues,“You cannot teach a boy to use his strength by stripping him of it. Jesus was able to retaliate …but he chose not to.”
What does this mean in practice?In a playground confrontation with a school bully Eldredge encouraged his son to fight back.In response to criticism he says,‘…we suggest that a boy who is mocked,shamed before his fellows, stripped of all power and dignity should stay in that beaten place because Jesus wants him there?You will emasculate him for life.From that point on,0 all will be passive and fearful.He will grow up never knowing how to stand his ground, never knowing if he is a man indeed.Oh yes,he will be courteous,sweet even, deferential,minding his manners.It may look moral,it may look like turning the other cheek,but it is merely weakness.Our churches are full of such men.’ In another example Eldredge counters the advice one church leader gave his son –a 17-year-old basketball player. The Dad said:“Now don ’t go out there and ‘kick-butt ’–that ’s not a nice thing to do.Go out there and …be nice.Be the nicest guy the opposing team has ever met.”In other words be soft, Eldredge says.“That ’s the perfect example of what the church tells men.” ‘Emasculation happens in marriages as well.Women are often attracted to the wilder side of a man,but once they have caught him they settle down to the task of domesticating him.Ironically,if he gives in he ’ll resent her for it and she in turn will wonder where the passion has gone.Most marriages wind up there ’,says Eldredge:“a weary and lonely woman and a tamed man ”.
Eldredge ’s answer to restore the Christian man ’s authentic masculinity is an invitation to battle –to fight for lost hearts,buried identity and sapped strength.
“Where does a man go to recover his identity?That deep heart knowledge comes only through a process of initiation ”says Eldredge.“You have to know where you ’ve come from;you have to have faced a series of trials which test you;you have to have taken a journey; and you have to have faced your enemy. “The church would like to think it is initiating men,but it ’s not.What does the church bring a man into?What does it call him out to be?Moral.That is pitifully insufficient. Morality is a good thing, but morality is never the point.Paul says the Law is given as a tutor to the child,but not to the son. The son is invited up into something much more.He gets the keys to the car;he gets to go away with the father on some dangerous mission.
“The history of a 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. Most of us have thought it was the story of how God sits on his throne waiting to whack a man broadside when he steps out of line.Not so.He created Adam for adventure,battle and beauty; he created us for a unique place in his story and he is committed to bringing us back to the original design.
“Even if your father did his job,he can only take you part way.There comes a time when you have to leave all that is familiar, and go on into the unknown with God.” What then?“Ask God what he thinks of you …and stay with the question until you have an answer.The battle will get fierce. This is the last thing the Evil One wants you to know …Remember he is the accuser of the brethren.”
And beware of the world ’s counterfeits – counterfeit battles,counterfeit adventures, counterfeit beauties.“Battle your way to the top ”,says the world,and you are a man.Why is it that the men who get there are often the emptiest,most frightened,prideful posers around?They are mercenaries,battling only to build their own kingdoms.There is nothing transcendent about their lives.The same holds true of the adventure addicts;no matter how much you spend,no matter how far you take your hobby its still merely that –a hobby And as for the counterfeit beauties,the world is constantly trying to tell us that the Golden-Haired Woman is out there – go for her..”
Eldredge challenges false sources of power and security asking, “Where does your own sense of power come from?Is it how pretty your wife is –or your secretary?Is it how many people attend your church?Is it your position,degree or title? What happens when I suggest you give it up? “Jesus warns us against anything that gives a false sense of power.When you walk into a company dinner or a church function, He said,take a back seat.Choose the path of humility;don ’t be a self-promoter,a gladhander,a poser.Climb down the ladder;treat your secretary like she ’s more important than you;look to be the servant of all. “But don ’t take the path of humility because you are trying to be nice or to please people.Don ’t walk in simpering weakness. Choose to lay down your strength and to serve.
“If you want to know how the world really feels about you,just start living out of your true strength.Say what you think,stand up for the underdog,challenge foolish policies. They ’ll turn on you like sharks. “The world of posers is shaken by a real man.They ’ll do whatever it takes to get you back in line –threaten you,bribe you, seduce you,undermine you.They crucified Jesus.But it didn ’t work did it?Many of us have been afraid to let our strength show up because the world doesn ’t have a place for it. Fine.The world ’s screwed up.Let people feel the weight of who you are and let them deal with it.”
And what about women?As Eldredge says,“we cannot re-define masculinity into something more sensitive,safe and manageable then berate men for not being men. “If we believe that man is made in the image of God,then aggression is part of the masculine design.As Eldredge says,“We would do well to remember that ‘The Lord is a warrior;the Lord is his name ’ ((Exodus 15:3).”
Books by John Eldredge
The Sacred Romance was written by John Eldredge together with colleague Brent Curtis who was killed in a climbing accident on a men ’s retreat following the publication of the book. Together they describe how we are caught up in a great drama –a sacred romance – in which God is wooing us to himself,not just as the author of the story,but as the hero who is involved with us in all that goes on.
The Sacred Romance Workbook helps readers to explore the personal implications of the Romance,either alone or in groups.
The Journey of Desire by John Eldredge is an antidote for driven lives.It points the way to a life motivated by desire for God;an adven- ture of knowing and being known by him.It offers no schedules or self-help guides,but paints a picture of heaven which should draw desire and longing from the driest heart.
Wild at Heart invites men to recover their masculine heart,defined in the image of a passionate,freedom- loving,adventurous God. He invites women to dis- cover the secret of a man ’s soul and to delight in the strength and wildness men were created to offer.And he challenges the church to let men be men.
The books are available from Word in the UK or Care for the Family (029 2081 0800)which also stocks a boxed set of semi- nar tapes on The Sacred Romance.