When author John Eldredge lived like millions of other white-collar Americans, his wife dreaded calling him at the office. He would answer the phone in his "work voice": blunt, tense, and in charge. During those years, Stasi Eldredge says, her husband told laundries to load his shirts with extra starch. Stasi gave his alter ego a playfully derisive nickname: Mr. Crisp.
Today Eldredge would rather emulate William Wallace, the sword-brandishing hero of Mel Gibson's film Braveheart, or Maximus, the single-minded warrior of Gladiator. Eldredge prefers wilderness to office space and risky adventures to living-room couches. He believes that men, as creatures made in God's image, have a God-given heart for adventure—usually starting with adventures in the outdoors, but working up to the adventure of loving a woman, even when she's furious, and the ultimate adventure of trusting God on uncertain paths.
When describing God, Eldredge often quotes the adjectives favored by biblical scholar Walter Brueggemann: "wild, dangerous, unfettered, and free." When speaking of Jesus, Eldredge describes a vigorous man of action, C. S. Lewis's untamed lion, one who would infuriate enough people to get himself crucified. And in describing the Holy Spirit, Eldredge favors a phrase from the mystics of Iona: He is the Wild Goose, always ready to lead us into uncharted and exhilarating territory.
To compare the disappearing Mr. Crisp to the man Eldredge is becoming, begin with the dust-jacket photo on his most popular book, Wild at Heart (2001). Standing amid the red sandstone bluffs at Garden of the Gods in Colorado Springs, looking like he's pausing from a vigorous hike, Eldredge wears an improbable light blue dress shirt with a button-down collar. One stray bit of hair on his forehead hints that a wild man wants to bust out. Eldredge's book Waking the Dead and the video series Wild at Heart: A Band of Brothers (both 2003) present the wilder Eldredge: Salt-and-pepper hair now flows past his collar, and he wears a moustache and Vandyke beard. In the photo he wears a dark turtleneck. But on the day he welcomes me to the Ransomed Heart Outpost (never call it an office, or face a $1 fine), he favors faded blue jeans and a plaid flannel shirt over a dark T-shirt.
Eldredge downplays his changing image, and quotes Søren Kierkegaard: "And now, with God's help, I shall become myself." But he soon adds another layer of significance: His look today represents his repentance for the years he spent in perfectionism and trying to please other people.
Beginning with The Sacred Romance (1997), which he wrote with Brent Curtis, Eldredge has questioned many of evangelicals' common assumptions:
He challenges Christians who apply Jeremiah 17:9 ("The heart is deceitful above all things and beyond cure") to their post-conversion hearts. "Not anymore it's not," he writes in Wild at Heart. "Read the rest of the book. In Jeremiah 31:33, God announces the cure for all that: 'I will put my law in their minds and write it on their hearts. I will be their God, and they will be my people.' I will give you a new heart."
And what about the seemingly humble assertion that Christians are just sinners saved by grace? It's a Big Lie, Eldredge writes in Wild at Heart, adding: "You are a lot more than that. You are a new creation in Christ. The New Testament calls you a saint, a holy one, a son of God."
As for the mincing piety that imagines heaven as an eternal church service: Boring! Eldredge again stresses the writings of Lewis and of George MacDonald, who imagine redeemed people communing with God, with each other, and with God's many other creatures. He writes in The Journey of Desire (2000): "Now, you've got to get images of Baptist receptions entirely out of your mind—folks milling around in the church gym, holding Styrofoam cups of punch, wondering what to do with themselves. You've got to picture an Italian wedding or, better, a Jewish wedding. They roll up the rugs and push back the furniture. There is dancing."