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Welcome to the online home of Tim Challies, blogger, author, and book reviewer.
November 01, 2004
In past weeks I have been challenged by several fellow believers on my statements concerning some of the people I have written about on this site. In particular, people have questioned my views on Rick Warren and John Eldredge. Because of their impact on the evangelical church, I have written about each of these men extensively over the past year. While I have read everything I have written (obviously) I realize that some newcomers to this site have not, so I thought I would take the opportunity to present my case for why I have serious disagreements with both of these men. I would like to ensure that people realize I am not just pointlessly raging against these men to make myself feel better or to fulfill a need to complain about other professed Christians. I believe God calls us all to be Bereans and to evaluate every teaching by the unchanging standard of His Word. That is what I intend to do in these articles.
Today I am going to write about John Eldredge and I hope to turn to Warren tomorrow.
John Eldredge became a major player in the evangelical world with the release of The Sacred Romance which he co-authored with Brent Curtis (who has since died). Following The Sacred Romance he wrote Wild at Heart, Waking The Dead, The Journey of Desire and more recently, Epic. I have read all of these except for Waking The Dead and The Journey of Desire. Eldredge’s books are targeted primarily at men and his writings have great appeal for men, many of whom feel that society has forced them to be like Mr. Rogers - harmless and just a little effeminate. Eldredge encourages men to be real men - to head to the wilderness and be the rugged warriors we all want to be if we look deep inside ourselves. Eldredge continually writes about William Wallace of Braveheart or Maximus, the main character in Gladiator - real manly men.
While Eldredge’s books certainly have outward appeal, it is important that we evaluate them in the light of Scripture. Having done so, I find several serious problems with his writings.
Open theism. Eldredge is likely the most popular proponent of the heresy known as open theism. Certainly his reach is far greater than the theologians who teach this. Open theism is the belief that God is only partially aware of what is going to happen in the future. When He looks into the future He sees the possibilities that will arise and may even know the consequences of those possibilities, but He does not know which option we will take. Thus when God formed Adam and Eve and told them not to eat of the tree, He sat back and waited eagerly to see what they would do. He was surprised and dismayed when they ate of the tree and immediately set about forming “plan b.” If we look at the Bible, then, we see a God who is vulnerable and nearly helpless, continually waiting for people to respond and hoping that they will exercise their free will in a way that will please Him.
Eldredge portrays God as “a person who takes immense risks” for “it’s not the nature of God to limit His risks and cover His bases.” (Wild at Heart, pages 30 & 31). He also says that “As with every relationship, there’s a certain amount of unpredictability…. God’s willingness to risk is just astounding…” (Ibid page 32)
Open theism, while it continues to gain prominence in evangelical circles, is a heretical belief as it denies God’s sovereignty and omniscience. If God is truly all-powerful, He must know everything there is to know - past, present and future. If God is sovereign, He must be omniscient. Open theism stands in direct confrontation to these views which the Bible plainly teaches. In one of his books (I apologize that I can no longer find the reference) Eldredge denies that he believes in open theism, even speaking of the doctrine by name, but his subsequent teachings clearly show otherwise.
Human depravity. Eldredge has significant misunderstandings of human depravity. He is clearly Arminian, but it seems that his views would clash even with many other Arminians (not to mention any Calvinist). He denies that the human heart, having been transformed by Christ, continues to be deceitful and wicked (as we read in Jeremiah 17:9). He views this as an erroneous teaching and one that has been destructive in the lives of many believers. He believes that the regenerated heart is intrinsically good and can be trusted. The believer should let his heart and his desires guide him.
This conflicts not just with orthodox theology and the vast majority of the great Christians of the past, but even with common sense. I do not know many believers who would agree that their hearts are good and can be trusted. Human experience shows that while through life my heart continues to become increasingly Christ-like, it is still desperately wicked. I would never intrinsically trust my heart’s desires.
Sources Cited. You can tell a lot about a book by looking at the bibliography, or failing that, by the sources the author cites. In Eldredge’s case there is reason for concern. He relies heavily on philosophers and mystics, especially Catholic mystics. A short samplings includes quotes from St John of the Cross, G.K. Chesterton Phillip Yancey, Gerald May, Soren Kierkegaard, George MacDonald and Phillip Yancey. Eldredge evidently loves and respects the mystics and their teachings, many of which seek to find God apart from Scripture.
Beyond authors, Eldredge quotes extensively from movies and popular books. In Epic, a book that is just barely over 100 pages long, he quotes from Apollo 13, Lord of the Rings, The Matrix, Saving Private Ryan, Pinocchio, Finding Nemo, Titanic, Braveheart, Gladiator and Star Wars, and this is merely a partial list. Many of these movies are filled with violence, sexual content and anti-Christian teaching. Yet he believes that these are valid tools to teach Christians about God.
Sola Scriptura. Eldredge denies much of the doctrine of Sola Scriptura. He does not explicitly say so, but it comes through clearly in his writings. For example, he writes about how God speaks to him, even audibly. He also speaks to him through movies (even the anti-Christian ones listed above) and other popular forms of entertainment. This belief is an implicit denial of the sufficiency of Scripture. I find no Scripture that can support the belief that God will speak to us through movies we should not be watching!
Use of Scripture. As is becoming all too common in evangelicalism, Eldredge uses Scripture as a tool to support what he wants to say. He does not carefully and systematically draw meaning from passages, but instead often forces his beliefs into them. He rarely provides any context to passages and many times relies on translations that provide a meaning foreign to the text. Garry Gilley, in his review of the book speaks about one passage of Ruth to which Eldredge assigns a particularly ridiculous meaning: “after all, no one else, to my knowledge, in the history of conservative biblical exegesis has ever come up with it before.” At other times he presents conjecture about Scripture as fact. For example, he says that Adam ate of the fruit because he chose Eve over God. But the Bible does not provide this information. Eldredge may be correct, but he can not prove it from the Bible and should not present it as fact.
These are Eldredge’s teachings that I have found consistent through the three books I have read. There are other concerns related to specific books, but for those I would refer you to my reviews of each title.
My evaluation is that Eldredge is not a trustworthy teacher of the Word of God. While he presents an attractive message and often does so in an attractive way, much of the content simply does not line up with Scripture. He denies many of the truths orthodox believers have long held to. I do not recommend his books and encourage you to exercise extreme caution when dealing with his teachings.