I am not sure that men and women will ever truly understand one another. I am a woman of faith, though, so I know that there are some things I accept and believe without understanding them; they’re called mysteries. Similarly, I can’t quite pin down why I had such a different reaction to Wild at Heart than I did to Captivating, but I’ll try to explain anyway.
John Eldredge’s Wild at Heart is not his first book on Christian spirituality, but it is arguably the best-known. It focuses on male spirituality; Captivating was written by Eldredge and his wife to complement Wild at Heart. I discovered as I read it, though, that despite still lacking some of the fundamental balance between the sexes one might find in the theology of the body, Wild at Heart presents a much more balanced approach to understanding the way Christian men experience God.
Aside from rarely mentioning the arts and openly disparaging a career-focused businessman early in the text, Eldredge manages to keep his observations of men broad yet pointed. He correctly notes that many Christian men have been told that they ought to be “nice guys”: don’t make waves, don’t get too close to anyone. Hearing this, they either shrink away from their calling to protect and defend or brush off that advice and lord their power over everyone else. Perhaps it is because I am a woman, so neither end really applies to me, but this division seemed less drastic than the meek/domineering dichotomy in Captivating.
As I mentioned in my last review, Eldredge characterizes men’s three goals as a battle to fight, an adventure to live, and a beauty to rescue. Here, the beauty must be a woman, and conveniently the battle and adventure often involve her as well. That seems problematic compared to his later conclusions. Perhaps his most important conclusion is that men must truly believe that they are men. They can only learn that from other men who tell them that they are no longer boys. They need other men to initiate them into manhood and to fight alongside them. They need fellow soldiers as they resist temptation and fight spiritual battles for themselves and those they must protect. If they don’t feel like men, they will turn to women instead of turning to God, the only one who can tell us who we truly are.
The consequences of not feeling like a man can be disastrous. Adam was supposed to protect Eve. Instead, he stood right by her side as she succumbed to confusion and temptation. He followed her into sin, but instead of turning to God for redemption, he and his woman both hid. Eldredge calls men to build relationships with other men; not to become women, but to rebuild a communal experience of manliness. It seems that men have only one goal: really, truly, deep within your heart, be a man. It was good enough for God.
Stylistically, not attempting to combine two points of view made this a much better book than Captivating. Group writing is almost always awful. Captivating also probably tried to be too much like “Wild at Heart for women” instead of having its own approach. Captivating tried to match instead of standing on its own. Having now read both of these books, I would recommend that men and women read Wild at Heart and take it into consideration as they try to build strong relationships to support good families with children who have been formed in the faith. Just be captivated with the wild heart.