Too Wild at Heart?
Just as Eldredge offers tough words for his fellow evangelicals, some evangelicals push back—sometimes even questioning whether he's an orthodox Christian.
Journal-keeping is important in Eldredge's spiritual life, and his entries include what he considers direct, personal communications from God. In Wild at Heart, he writes about feeling exhausted and beat-up while flying home from a trip to England, and asking God in his journal, "What of me, dear Lord? Are you pleased? What did you see?"
"This is what I heard," Eldredge writes. "You are Henry V after Agincourt … the man in the arena, whose face is covered with blood and sweat and dust, who strove valiantly … a great warrior … yes, even Maximus."
That passage, among others, drew a sustained critique from Rut Etheridge III, a seminarian and a member of the Reformed Presbyterian Church of North America. Eldredge's books have attracted some brief critiques, including a CT review of Wild at Heart and Waking the Dead ("Battle Cry," November 2003) and an essay in Modern Reformation magazine. But the most thorough and blunt criticism comes in Etheridge's nearly 11,000-word essay, "God in Man's Image," which appears on the website of Church of the Good Shepherd, a Southern Baptist congregation in Fishers, Indiana.
Etheridge told Christianity Today that he wrote the paper when some of his students at Heritage Christian School in Indianapolis asked what he thought about Wild at Heart. Though he intended the paper for his students, Etheridge agreed when his friend Shane Anderson, pastor of Good Shepherd, suggested posting it on the website.
Etheridge writes that Eldredge expresses an "alarmingly unbiblical worldview," especially regarding God's sovereignty and authority, the person and work of Jesus, the gospel itself, and the nature of God's direct revelation. Etheridge depicts Eldredge as well-intentioned but misguided, and he declined to call Eldredge heretical.
Challenging Eldredge's description of God the Father, Etheridge writes: "The massive irony of Eldredge's view of God is that he is unwilling to let God be as strong as God claims to be. Far from revealing the vigor of the Almighty, Eldredge removes it… . Eldredge has employed the reverse of John the Baptist's axiom: In order for men to increase, God must decrease."
Etheridge is no less pointed on Eldredge's belief that God compared him to Maximus, Russell Crowe's character in Gladiator: "Eldredge wants to be Maximus; so God tells him that he is Maximus. Eldredge wants to climb Mount Everest, so God tells him that in following his dreams, he is climbing Mount Everest… . He has made God the idol of his own psychological, emotional cravings. This is why Wild at Heart is so dangerous; it leads hurting people into idolatry."
Eldredge says he had not heard of Etheridge's critique before. "I don't read any press on me, good or bad—which is sort of funny, given his charge that I've made an idol of my own psyche," Eldredge wrote by e-mail.
"I suppose my reaction is simply 'You shall know them by their fruits' (Matt. 7:20). Etheridge claims I diminish God's sovereignty and lead people to idolatry (charges not unlike those leveled against Jesus and Paul, I might note). But that is not the actual effect that my works have had on those who read them. Far from it. Virtually every response we see is that people are drawn to a deeper worship of God and a deeper level of repentance. The actual fruit of my ministry—holier lives of men and women—is quite the opposite of what Etheridge describes. That's not a bad test, as Jesus said."