In 2000, a Christian counselor named John Eldredge left Focus on the Family to launch an independent ministry with a mission to, among other things, “equip men to rescue others.” The following year, Eldridge released “Wild at Heart: Discovering the Secret of a Man’s Soul,” a book that sold more than four million copies in the U.S. alone.
The book sought to empower men to realize “dreams of being the hero, of beating the bad guys, of doing daring feats and rescuing the damsel in distress” and to help women realize dreams of “being rescued by her prince and swept up into a great adventure, knowing that she is the beauty.”
Critics claimed Eldredge was promoting an antiquated fairy tale version of gender, but the message resonated with millions and sparked a ‘Christian manhood’ cottage industry. This included books with titles like “Act Like Men: 40 Days of Biblical Manhood,” “Manhood Restored: How the Gospel Makes Men Whole,” and “The Dude’s Guide to Manhood.”
Has fifteen years of “Wild at Heart” propelled Christians forward or pulled them backward? I talk with John Eldredge about why he thinks the message is still relevant and what he would change if he were writing it today.
RNS: It’s been 15 years since your book “Wild at Heart” became a runaway bestseller. When you look back, what do you think made it resonate with so many people?
JE: “Wild at Heart” came at a critical moment in our culture; men and women were hungry for some straight talk about gender. We’d lived through the caricatures of the John Wayne and Donna Reed era, followed by the reaction of the feminist movement, and honestly, neither were satisfying. It left a lot of women and men wondering about the reality they found in their lives – that there are deep and soulful differences between men and women and what does it look like to honor one another while preserving the dignity of masculinity and femininity?
RNS: Some of your critics charge that your view of gender–with men as something of a knight in shining armor and women as something of a damsel in distress–is antiquated and possibly damaging. How do you respond?
JE: By saying that’s not my view of gender. We had been so conditioned by political correctness that for someone to step forward and say, “men are different than women” caused a knee-jerk reaction. Almost as if any attempt to talk about the masculine in particular was going to throw us back to the stone ages.
At the same time, we had all those talk shows where you found women asking, “Where are the real men? Why won’t men commit? Why won’t men treat us with dignity?” The point I am making about masculinity is this: [tweetable]Men bear a soulful strength and that strength needs honoring and cultivating.[/tweetable] The firefighters that ran up the stairs in the World Trade Center when everyone else was running down – that kind of courage is exactly what you want to cultivate in boys and men. You don’t cultivate it by telling them all strength is bad.
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