John Eldredge’s Wild at Heart was published in 2001. It became a New York Times bestseller and it was re-released in 2011. An evangelical Christian, Eldredge wrote the book as a response to the crisis of masculinity he was seeing around him. He was concerned by the bored men, emasculated by the technologically dependent society we live in that recoils at the bombast and action of masculinity.
For Eldredge, many men have retreated from life, throwing themselves instead into work, pornography, video games or the religious watching of sports. This book is not criticising feminism or the wider culture but rather making a positive case for what manhood is, how it has been lost, and how it can be regained through a deeper relationship with God.
Eldredge’s father was an alcoholic who withdrew from his life and he spends much time talking about the ‘father wound’. He believes masculinity is something that is bestowed, an experiential process in which a boy learns how to be a man from watching his father. It can’t be taught by a textbook but must be done, acted out.
However, the tragedy of the modern age is that too many fathers are simply not men, and their sons come blinking into adulthood without a clue what it means to be a man, and thus perpetuate the crisis. Scared of responsibility, they split into two groups: the passive who cower away in pornography and video games, and the violent who lash out in gangs, abuse their families or perhaps get swept away by the ‘heroism’ of Islamic terror.
Of course, in this modern era any difference between men and women is attributed to ‘socialisation’ and this misunderstanding compounds matters hugely. A Christian knows that God created men and women separately to complement one another, and that saying two things are different doesn’t mean that either is of less value.
It’s also possible to talk about the problems men face without diminishing the problems that women face, and vice versa. For Eldredge neither the modern world, nor the feminised Christianity he encounters, speak to the core desire of a man’s heart. Drawing on cultural icons such as Braveheart and Gladiator, as well as the Bible, Eldredge believes that at heart men are wild, dangerous and adventurous and this was exactly how God intended us.
He doesn’t suggest that we quit our jobs, or start a fight club, but rather that we integrate this truth about our nature into our personhood. We should take risks, follow our passions, and listen to the voice of God. Eldredge was mischaracterised as advocating a shallow machismo but that’s not what he says at all. Instead, by growing closer to God and throwing ourselves into the spiritual battle that rages all around us, we can begin to satisfy the deepest desires of our male hearts.
Eldredge doesn’t do much finger-pointing and, like Jordan Peterson, his core message is one of personal responsibility. You have the power to learn manhood, you have the power to grow closer to God, you have the power to overcome the culture that wants, above all, to keep you chained to your desk as a mindless, drooling consumer. Be dangerous, says Eldredge, be a man – not a compliant nice guy.
I enjoyed the book; there was much to ponder and at times it really did hit home. I think he is correct in his assessment that men have lost touch with their true nature. I don’t agree with everything he says but at heart it is a simple message: only through a profound relationship with God can men discover who they truly are, and with this sacrosanct truth they will find their true purpose.