Men are wild. They are not to be tamed. They are not to be “nice.” The author criticizes “nice” guys so many times in this book that I lost count. What’s the big idea of this book? Men were made to have a battle to fight, a beauty to rescue, and an adventure to go on. Our society has attempted to squeeze masculinity out of men. Battles are bad, boys should not play guns, or wrestle, or compete, men should chill out and smoke some weed! Women don’t need men to rescue them, it’s misogynistic to think they do, and safety before adventure is always the priority. Because of our societies anti-masculine bias, men have lost touch with who they are wired to be. This is not good.
Eldredge and Peterson say the same thing.
- Men need to be men. In many ways, Eldredge is a precursor to some of what Jordan Peterson says in his Twelve Rules Book. Peterson, like Eldredge, encourages masculine characteristics such as competition, leadership, independence, risk-taking, and struggle. Attempting to “gentle” men by squeezing these traits out of them is a terrible idea.
- Jesus isn’t a Softy Both men actively reject Jesus’ “Turn the other cheek” idea as a universal Christian action plan for dealing with conflict. Real men beat up bullies. They don’t tolerate being smacked around by them. Eldredge, complains that this verse is overused far too much, and men are better served to get their instructions from a Jesus who took a whip and cleared the temple from crooks, extortioners, and thugs. Peterson puts it this way “Christianity is not a call to victimize oneself in the service of others… Taking care of yourself doesn’t include being beat up!… It’s not virtuous to be victimized by a bully. Stand up straight with your shoulders back.” Eldredge is hotly critical of any version of Christianity that might tame a man and reduce him to merely being kind. “We must not strip a man of his strength and call it sanctification.”
- Western Civilization owes a debt of gratitude for men who were free to be men Eldredge believes that much of the good we have in the world today is on account of men who were free to lead, to battle, to take risks, and seek adventure. Peterson says the same thing with his whole push back against the “terrible western patriarchy.”
On these points, I find my self in near-total agreement. There is a wildness inside of me; that culture and Christianity has taught me is unhealthy. But it’s not.
Drug the boys. Four times more boys than girls are considered “sick” and given drugs to calm them down. Boys are rough, they don’t sit, they are not quiet, they push the envelope, and so boys don’t fit well with our education system. The solution has been to diagnose them and drug them. This is not good!
Choosing Eve over God. That was Adams sin. He knew what the right course was. The devil had duped Eve, but he wasn’t fooled. When Eve offered him the fruit, he didn’t object. He wanted Eve even if it meant disobeying God. Unfortunately, this is what men do all the time. They make goddesses out of women, and everyone suffers as a result.
A Purpose higher than one’s self. This book contains the most famous letter preserved during the civil war. Major Sullivan Ballou penned it to his dear wife, Sarah. He had a premonition of death, and so he wrote of his undying love to her and their sons who would grow up without a father. In the letter, he claims a cause higher than that of wife and family. For Ballou the higher cause worthy of risking death was: “I know how strongly American Civilization now leans upon the triumph of government, and how great a debt we owe to those who went before us through the blood and suffering of the Revolution, and I am willing, perfectly willing to lay down all my joys in this life to help maintain this government, and to pay that debt…is it weak or dishonourable, while the banner of my purpose floats calmly and proudly in the breeze, that my unbounded love for you, my darling wife and children, should struggle in fierce, though useless, contest with my love of country?
The Major did not want to die, not for his own sake, but because his absence would cause immense suffering upon his wife and children. Even so, the higher purpose prevailed. And this, according to Eldredge, is the sort of purpose every man must find. His use of war illustrations, mainly from blockbuster movies is nearly constant throughout the entire book. Men are supposed to fight for what’s right, men are not supposed to be cowards, men are supposed to risk greatly, sure I get all that, and even agree, but war? Why does it have to be war? I hate war; I’m not a fan, I guess war is man’s masculine language and the illustrations spotlight the risk that’s involved in making the hard right choice. Eldredge believes that men are supposed to be way more than courteous and polite, and I guess Braveheart, and Gladiator helps him communicate that message.
You are good His big theological push is to get men to see that in Christ, they are not wicked. He wants men to reject the idea that our hearts are sinful. They are not. They are good and righteous hearts. Eldredge is convinced that If you agree to your own wickedness you’ve given in to a devil’s scheme. We reject porn, tell the truth, and pay our taxes, he says, not because we are sinners saved by grace, instead we reject sin because we are Gods men! Eldredge has no time for any theology that wants to make much of our sinful condition.
You need a purpose! In particular. He goes after professional ministers. He says that if you’re well paid in ministry and comfortable and don’t have an overarching purpose that drives you, you’ll be easy pickings for the enemy to destroy you. An adulterous affair or some other moral lapse is the likely outcome for a purposeless minister who goes through the motions of ministry. — This was not particularly encouraging to me, as I am currently a minister that lacks a more dramatic purpose. Can a purpose be limited to faithful presence and survival in a neighbourhood? I feel like Eldredge would say, “No.”
You need to delight in Christ. “Ecstasy and delight are essential for the spiritual life in Christ. If it’s not there men will find other lovers,” says Eldredge. Again this section was less than thrilling for me to read. For a year and a half now, I’ve sat on a park bench each morning waiting to hear from God, waiting to feel close to him, waiting for delight in God. I read my Bible, I pray, and I listen, but ecstasy and delight do not come. Most of the time, I hear nothing but silence. I wonder where God is. Ecstasy? Hardly. Meanwhile, Eldredge, in his book relays time and time again where God talks to him and tells him stuff like a loving father to a son. It’s nice to read, of course, but It is not my experience at all.
You need to be initiated into Manhood Femininity cannot produce masculinity. Men are essential in the development of boys and men today, “real” men as Eldredge understands them are in short supply, and that’s a problem for our future. He spent a lot of time talking about how dad’s blow it with their sons. It’s true.
Roland Hines — “Myths are stories which confront us with something transcendent and eternal They are bigger truths than mere facts
Howard Thurman — “Don’t ask yourself what the world needs, ask yourself what makes you come alive and go do that because what the world needs is people who are alive .”
John Eldredge — “Life is not a problem to be solved but an adventure to be lived.”
He quotes at length Ezra Pounds “Ballad of the Goodly Fere,” which I loved. Jesus presented as a man’s man, a couple of lines, and you have the sense: “fere” means companion. “capon” means castrated — It’s Simon the Zealot eulogizing Jesus.
Ha’ we lost the goodliest fere o’ all
For the priests and the gallows tree?
Aye lover he was of brawny men,
O’ ships and the open sea.
Oh we drank his “Hale” in the good red wine
When we last made company,
No capon priest was the Goodly Fere
But a man o’ men was he.
I ha’ seen him drive a hundred men
Wi’ a bundle o’ cords swung free,
That they took the high and holy house
For their pawn and treasury.
Final Thoughts — Something isn’t quite right with this book, but I can’t put my finger on it. Maybe it’s an oversimplification? Perhaps not all boys are as rough and tumble as he thinks? Maybe there is too much swagger in this book? Too great a longing to ride horses and climb mountains and punch out bullies? Perhaps I’m confused over what exactly the “false self” is? Maybe all the daddy issue investigation was overkill? Maybe he talked about masturbation too much? Maybe it’s all the war illustrations. I hate war. Is being a nice guy such a bad thing? Perhaps it’s the false comparison that one cannot be manly and nice at the same time that doesn’t sit well.
For the most part, I appreciated the book, it reminded me to teach my son to be a man, and it summoned up the wild parts of my heart and blessed them. It’s ok for me to compete, and to take risks, and to want to win. It ok for me to chase my dreams. It’s right for me to stand up to bad people and make a fuss if things aren’t the way they should be. Hard work is a good thing, and it’s manly to fight for my wife, and the benefit of women in general.