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…