Final thoughts on Eldredge

A few weeks ago I started writing some thoughts about John Eldredge’s Waking the Dead. Well, I’ve finally finished the book, and while I still think my criticisms are valid, my overall conclusion is that this is a very important book that many, many people should read, in spite of its faults.

This is why I think the book is so important:

  • His emphasis on the goodness of the Christian’s heart. While there are thousands of people out there who will tell you that the heart of man is evil, polluted by original sin and only good for the trash heap (that old “total depravity” thing), there are very few who dare to tell the truth: that we have been made righteous, that we are “whiter than snow” and that our heart is good, and that it matters to God.

    Everyone needs to hear this. Not just hear it, but know it, deep down in our hearts, so we can tell the enemy and those who bought in to the lie to “go [fill in the blank as you see fit].”

  • The truth that the real battle is simply the one for your heart. It’s that important.
  • His emphasis on the need for real community, not just going to church and/or going to a leader-focused Bible study/home group. Eldredge lays out a good overview of what the church should be like, but usually isn’t. I get a little tired of his “band of brothers” analogies, but bottom line is that it’s true – church should be about people supporting each other and fighting for each other, not just a leader-led relationship.

This is very important stuff, and Eldredge has the kind of voice that can be heard in nearly all types of churches.

Now, there are still a couple of things that are not perfect with this book, and I’d be remiss if I didn’t mention them:

  • He needs to hook up with a good theologian. This book could have been so much better, had he done so. An example is his “Daily Prayer for Freedom:” His 2nd paragraph starts out, “I cover myself with your blood…” and he proceeds to ask the Holy Spirit to restore his union with God. How is this Biblical? How can I cover myself in Jesus’ blood? or do it again? And just why do I need to have my relationship with God restored daily? Did God leave overnight? I know, I know … Psalm 51, right? But, remember, that was Old Testament, pre-Jeremiah 31, pre Pentecost, etc., etc.

    You see, he’s missed a major truth about our position in Christ. Our faith is in one act of Jesus shedding his blood, and we need to remember that. It’s probably good to pray that we be reminded of that daily, but there’s nothing more for us to do, except to acknowledge what already exists. Okay, enough of that. If you have doubts, read Romans.

  • I am still unsure about his sense of urgency. Certainly there is a battle, certainly the devil is doing his lionish prowling, and so on. And, like I agreed with earlier, I know that there is a battle raging for my heart, and for your heart. That very fact makes me think, “don’t go messing with my heart!” This sense of urgency and peril and impending doom can really mess some (not all) people up.

    I have a little plaque hanging above my desk, that I’ve had for close to 30 years, that simply says, “In quietness and in confidence shall be your strength..” Let’s not lose our heads, or our hearts.

So, with these caveats, I heartily recommend this book. The issues I have mentioned are not faith-threatening, and certainly aren’t any worse than the many of the other things you’ve probably been taught. The good things in this book are valuable enough to overlook a few theological shortcomings.

The Eldredge Chronicles

For some reason unknown to even me, I started posting some of the thoughts I have had as I’ve been reading John Eldredge’s Waking the Dead. It started, I guess, because I had already been thinking about some of these things. Without restating everything, I felt that his rather dramatic presentation in Chapter 2 may just encourage those people who already have an overactive sense of “spiritual drama,” where everything is a spiritual battle, and their lives always “hang in the balance.”

Well, I finally made it into Part 3, and I have to say, Waking the Dead is finally the book I expected it to be, and already I am telling people, “everyone needs to read this book.”

First, he – in a different way, of course – made the same point I was making: “Reach for the stars; follow your dreams; find yourself. It’s not that the advice is bad; it is, however, woefully inadequate.” I would have really liked him to have made this point earlier when he was first discussing the messages of myth, but I’m glad he said it. It’s not enough to pump people up with expectation, even if there’s truth there. In Chapter 6, Eldredge finally gets around to finishing out the picture, discussing the necessity of adding wisdom and revelation and “developing a discerning heart.” He warns that “Many things are trying to play upon … the heart,” something that many Christians seem oblivious to. In just this chapter he speaks enough truth to set many people free from religion, manipulation, guilt and condemnation.

It’s good stuff, and I can feel life flowing back into places that I haven’t felt in a while. Now, nothing I have read is really new to me, but the cool thing about real truth is that it doesn’t get old. We get old, and we get cold – and we need to hear the Good News again and again, because everything in the world tells us something different.

Again, this is good stuff. I may have completely misunderstood his direction; at least, it didn’t seem like he was going where he seems to be going now. Regardless of who was off track, it seems Eldredge and I have turned a corner and I like the direction we’re heading.

The Great John Eldredge Debate

Well, my comments about John Eldredge’s “Waking the Dead” sparked some debate (beyond the comments that were posted). I think I was a bit misunderstood, at least on some points. I re-read my post, and have read a bit more of Eldredge in the meantime. So far, my opinions haven’t changed. But, to perhaps qualify and clarify my thoughts, let me bullet-point a few things:

  • I am a strong believer in the power of myth, and always have been. Myth, fantasy, allegory, or whatever you want to call it, has a way of conveying ideas that “reality” sometimes cannot. Jesus told parables for that reason. God speaks in apocalyptic language. Myth unlocks and speaks to what Eldredge refers to as the “heart.” Throughout the years I have – sometimes to a fault – used myth to make a spiritual point. So, I am definitely not discounting the value of myth.
  • However, we cannot assume that what speaks to us in these myths – or what we interpret or read into them – is necessarily truth. I would tend to agree with Eldredge’s point that our hearts – as transformed by the Holy Spirit – are good. However, not all of our desires are necessarily good. There are foundational desires, like the desire to be loved and the desire to be significant, that are good. However, these desires can easily be twisted and misdirected, and myths often play to these misdirected desires. (Eldredge discusses this as motives, however to me the word implies a rational intent; either way, I think we need to examine them.)

    A good example of this is the Sondheim musical, Into the Woods. If you haven’t seen it, I suggest tracking down a DVD. The play takes a number of classic fairy tales and combines them in a very humorous way – for the first half. The second half of the play shows what happens as the moral implications of the character’s actions play themselves out and the characters learn the hard way that their desires were misdirected.

  • I suspect that many of our desires to “be someone” – to be Neo, or Sleeping Beauty, or whoever – may be as much an expression of our inability to accept that “ordinary” is okay as it may be a genuine truth that we are called for something better. One of my favorite CDs is Switchfoot’s “Beautiful Letdown.” I don’t think I have found lyrics any more inspiring than when they sing, “This is your life, are you who you want to be?” or “We were meant to live for so much more …” (Music, by the way, has the same power as myth – it speaks beyond our mind to something deeper, and can impact us in similar ways, good and bad.)

    We are all probably – I don’t know if I could say this about Mother Theresa – called to live for “so much more.” The question is, however, what does that mean? Does this mean we hang to a desire to be someone else, or just come to accept who we are?

  • A problem, then, is in discerning our heart as well as discerning the truth in myth. I still have a problem with Eldredge’s emphasis on urgency. All great adventure movies and mythic tales take place at that time when the world is in crisis and everything hangs in the balance. This, however, does not represent the whole story.

    This is not to say that one cannot apply principles from the Lord of the Rings in dealing with the minor crises of daily life. I have heard that on average, people experience three crises a year. Most of these are not the “big one,” but are crises nonetheless. But, I know many, many people for whom each day is a crisis, and many of them are either self-created, or just reinterpreted as one. Now, here’s an appropriate myth: The Boy Who Cried Wolf. If we constantly have to live on this high-adrenaline pseudo-spirituality, what will we do when a real crisis comes along?

  • It is important that we learn that we are accepted just being ourselves. It is important that we know our own significance. We don’t have to be “the One,” we are “the one” that God created. Our significance does not come from doing anything, or achieving anything. Our significance comes simply from being created and loved by God. That should be enough. People need to be set free from the lies that they are not significant, that they are somehow marginalized and without purpose or value. For this, I applaud Eldredge, as undoubtedly his book is facilitating that in many people.

Eldredge does make some of these points that I have mentioned, in different ways. However, I am finding his thoughts kind of muddled and inconsistent at times, and I am still trying to figure out what he is really saying. He seems to be more of a “feeler” than a “thinker,” so he processes differently than I do. And, he’s not a great theologian.

I am still concerned that Eldredge’s points could be interpreted to create an unrealistic dissatisfaction with our lives and who we are created to be. If we cannot realize that we are significant, just by being who we are, then our desires will be twisted as a result. We have to start by knowing that we are significant; then, I believe, we won’t need to go on a great quest. We may certainly be called to one, but it will be because of who we are, not because of who we need to be.

I’ll continue reading the book (I’m not even 1/2-way through, yet) and write at least once more, so stay tuned…

Crisis? What Crisis?

Okay, so I stole the title from an old Supertramp album…

I started reading John Eldredge’s Waking the Dead. I had read the first chapter online some time ago and thought, “I want to read this!” So, I bought it, and it’s sat around for a few months. Finally – perhaps because I’m more “dead” now and really need it – I decided to pick it up. I’m only 2 chapters into it, but already I’m questioning his premise. In fact, I was questioning his premise before I began reading this book; however, he has set forth 3 propositions that really clarify what it is with which I have a problem.

Here are his propositions in a nutshell:

  1. Things are not what they seem.
  2. Some struggle, quest or battle is under way, and may even be hanging in the balance.
  3. In this desperate hour, we have a crucial role to play.

I do appreciate his discussion on the importance of myth; I believe very much that myth can express “the deep truths of life.” However, myths can also express human needs and desires, which may not be so true. Now, as to his propositions, I can accept the first, that things are not always what they seem. I have referred to The Matrix on many, many occasions to make that very point. I also believe in point number 2, to a point; there is a spiritual war being waged. However, the sense of immediacy that he builds into this proposition concerns me a bit; more on this in a moment.

It’s point #3 that concerns me the most: that we have a crucial part to play. He references Neo of The Matrix, Frodo of Lord of the Rings and other great mythic heroes, claiming that these myths speak directly to us, the meaning being that you and I are each called to fulfill some great quest. Many of us would like to think so. It’s nice to dream that we are special, that we are the ones who can be “the One” save the world, to carry the ring to Mount Doom. But, is this true?

Perhaps Eldredge is writing to people with no sense of vision, and is trying to inspire them. Perhaps – and then I can see his point. But, I see danger in this approach, because I know people who live for this sense of immediacy, where everything is the battle of the century, there’s a demon behind every bush, and the Christian life is all about doing big things for God.

I think this kind of thinking is unfair, dangerous, and contributing to the flakiness of the church. It seems like “fast food” theology: there’s nothing boring or mundane, no planning or preparation, just hot, fast and now. I’m sorry, but life isn’t like that, and it’s not fair to lead people to believe that it is. What about the long, long periods of time between God’s communications with Abraham? We don’t know for sure, but it seems to me that Abraham went on for several years at a time without any major revelation from God; he just lived in faith, holding on what what he had received. Has anything changed today? Is God more in a rush now? Is Heaven in a panic? Somehow, I don’t think so.

Now, think back to all of those myths and great inspirational tales. We see glimpses of important times, focusing on the important people. Was Frodo wasting time all those years before he was given the ring? Then, when Frodo and Sam were off to Mount Doom, Rosie stayed behind to work in the pub. What was her great calling? Apparently, to be stable, and be there for Sam when he returned. What about all of the unnamed characters in any story you know of? What of the years before, and the years after? Can everyone be Neo?

The answer is obviously, “no.” It is insane to think that big or dramatic or any adjectives that we think are important are really that important. What about “If it is possible, as far as it depends on you, live at peace with everyone (Romans 12:18)? What if that is the essence of your calling? What if your calling is to be a great husband, father and employee? What if the most important, spiritually significant thing you do in your whole life is to teach your children? What if the greatest spiritual battle you face is to love your neighbor?

This is the normal, Christian life, people! You don’t get to save the world (if you recall, that’s been done)! Consider this:

And we pray this in order that you may live a life worthy of the Lord and may please him in every way: bearing fruit in every good work, growing in the knowledge of God, being strengthened with all power according to his glorious might so that you may have great endurance and patience, and joyfully giving thanks to the Father, who has qualified you to share in the inheritance of the saints in the kingdom of light. (Colossians 1:10-12)

Whoa, that sounds kind of boring after all that talk of Frodo and Neo. Perhaps. The power of myth can speak to us of universal truths – it can also lie to us, making us think that only the Neos and Frodos are significant, or that we have to live in constant state of crisis. Maybe the real mythic truth is revealed in the story of the tortoise and the hare.

I’ll continue to read Eldredge’s book and see where he goes with this point. Maybe if he can wake me from the dead, I’ll come back some day and delete this post – or at least come back and say that I was wrong. We’ll see. But, for now, I don’t see any major crisis; my plan is just to try to remain faithful with what I’ve got.