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Book Review - "Walking with God" by John Eldredge
March 25, 2008
If you have been in a Christian bookstore in the past six or seven years, you are undoubtedly family with John Eldredge. Beginning with The Sacred Romance (co-authored with the late Brent Curtis) and continuing with Wild at Heart, Captivating, The Way of the Wild Heart, and others, his books have been constant features on the Christian bestseller lists. His latest effort, Walking with God is poised to be another big seller.
In this book Eldredge seeks to teach Christians what it means to live in intimate relationship with God. To this end, he opens up his journals, using himself and his life as examples of how to do this. He says simply, “This is a series of stories of what it looks like to walk with God over the course of about a year.” But even more than a tale of walking with God, this is a book about talking with God. Eldredge wants his readers to enjoy conversational intimacy with God. “Really now, if you knew you had the opportunity to develop a conversational intimacy with the wisest, kindest, most generous and seasoned person in the world, wouldn’t it make sense to spend your time with them, as opposed to, say, slogging your way through on your own?” Eldredge offers his own growing ability to hear from God as a guide.
The book follows a unique format in that it does not have traditional chapters. Four broad divisions in the book follow the seasons but there are no chapter divisions. There is also little by way of deliberate teaching or by way of carefully building a case. In fact, this book reads more like a blog than a typical Eldredge book. The “sections” vary in length between a few pages and a few paragraphs and they tend to be written from a very personal perspective. If Eldredge had a blog I suspect it would read much like this book. This format may well appeal to people who are looking for an easy read and one that is directly applicable.
Walking with God is predicated on the assumption that God has a personalized will for each of us and that it is our job to remain in constant communication with Him so He can reveal this will for us. In the very first section, titled “Listening to God,” Eldredge shares a story about cutting down a Christmas tree. He and his wife had both felt that God had told them to cut down a tree on Saturday but they went on Friday instead. By ignoring God’s voice they put their lives in danger as their car suffered a breakdown and flat tires. The winter temperatures plunged precipitously while they were stranded. It was a serious situation, though thankfully one they escaped unscathed. From this story and many like it, we learn the importance of listening to God, even in the minutiae of life. There is, it seems, a “center of God’s will.” It seems that God’s will must be kind of like a level—there is a little bubble that is continually tipping to the left or to the right. Our task is to be constantly asking God for guidance and listening to Him in order to keep that bubble right in the middle. When it strays to the side, we fall outside God’s will and begin to live a life that no longer pleases or honors Him. Hence we must listen carefully and constantly. Only when we do this can we live the life God wants us to live and only then can we experience all of the blessings He has for us.
Knowing that many Christians do not believe that God communicates to us in this way, Eldredge makes a brief attempt to persuade in a section titled “Does God Still Speak?” His argument, it must be admitted even by his supporters, is hardly likely to convince those who have strong convictions on the matter. He primarily looks to the examples of God speaking to people in Scripture and concludes that this proves such communication is normative. Though he does acknowledge Scripture to be the first and foremost means of God’s revelation to us, and though he looks often to Scripture, he still insists that all Christians should expect to hear God speak to them personally. Nowhere does he interact with thoughtful objections to such communication. He essentially takes it as a given that God will offer fresh revelation today.
Though there is little formal guidance on how to hear God’s voice, Eldredge does suggest a process that goes something like this: Ask simple questions; remain in a posture of quiet surrender; sit quietly before God and repeat the question; try one answer and then the other in your heart and gauge how you feel about each. Carrying over from his previous books is the assumption that the human heart is inherently good and trustworthy. We can listen to our hearts and allow it to discern for us what is good and bad, right and wrong. Though God may speak in an audible voice, primarily we “hear” him in our hearts.
What are we to ask of God? Everything, it seems. Here are just a few of the things Eldredge teaches we should ask God about. “Do you want me to paint the bathroom?” “Do you want us to adopt a puppy?” “Should I stay late at work?” “Should we go to the ranch this weekend?” “What dates should we set aside to go hunting?” “God, where is my watch?” “Jesus, should I go fishing today?” “Jesus, do you want to heal Scout?” He also suggests that we ask God what Scripture passage He would have us read each day. We are to involve God’s direct guidance in every area of life.
As the book goes on and as the seasons pass the tales begin to grow just a little bit stranger. “God has been speaking to me through hawks,” says Eldredge at one point. He then describes watching a hawk through a telescope. “There was a moment when he looked straight down at me, and his eyes almost seemed as if they were the eyes of God. God looking down on me. I asked him what it meant. My love [replied God].” The story of the death of Scout, the family dog, while sad, is also quite unexpected. Eldredge spends a couple of paragraphs applying the promises of Romans 4 to his dog and then, when Scout actually dies, writes, “I heard him bark. Not in my memory, not in the past, but in that moment. In the kingdom of God.” He then asked Jesus what dogs do in the kingdom and God replied that They run. “And then I saw Scout, with the eyes of my heart, running with a whole pack of very happy dogs, near the feet of Jesus.” Meanwhile his son heard Jesus say, “He won’t give me the ball.” “To hear that from Jesus was more precious to us than I can say.”
A secondary theme of this book, which comes to the surface as we watch Eldredge live his life, is spiritual warfare. Eldredge has adopted the understanding that Satan and his evil spirits operate in domains and that as Christians we are tasked with protecting the domains God has assigned to us. He teaches that we are to be constantly binding the spirits that come against us, naming them and casting them out in the name of Jesus. He often models prayers like this one: “I bring the kingdom of God and the authority of the Lord Jesus Christ over my home, my bedroom, my sleeping, all through the hours of this night and the new day. I bring the full work of the Lord Jesus Christ throughout my home tonight—the atmosphere in every room, over every object and furnishing, all media, throughout the ceilings, walls, and floors and all places in them, from the land beneath to the roof above and to the borders of my domain.” An Appendix shares “A Daily Prayer” which, at several pages, is too long to describe, but which continues at great length with exactly this type of prayer.
And so it goes. As a glimpse into the life of John Eldredge this book may have some appeal. But as a guide to hearing from God, it has little value. What the author teaches is fraught with peril. Feeling that we need to hear direct and fresh revelation from God in every matter is a prescription for paralysis. Though such a discussion is beyond the scope of this short review, it is far better and far more consistent with Scripture to see that there is no such thing as the center of God’s will. God gives us the Bible to guide us to what He expressly commands and forbids. Beyond those black and white commands, He gives us great freedom to live our lives. He does not expect or demand that we will stop to demand answers from a “still small voice” for every situation we face. Instead, we fill our minds with Scripture, we study His commands, and we live life in the freedom He offers. Walking with God offers confusion rather than clarity. Take a pass on this one.
If you are interested in the subject of divine guidance, here are a handful of recommendations:
Walking With God