In recent years there have been an enormous number of books written by former evangelicals. Most of these books identify real problems in evangelicalism that need to be dealt with. Unfortunately most of these books offer solutions that are as bad as the problems they are trying to solve. They want to replace the velvet painting of Jesus with some kind of iPod Jesus or text message Jesus. I get frustrated because if the authors looked out of their evangelical bubbles and down the rich landscape of historic Christianity, he would find a Biblical Jesus that transcends time and culture and that will not need to be replaced in ten years when iPod Jesus starts looking out of date and gets traded in during the cash for clunker-Jesus program. The author replaces one form of subjective, experience-based Christianity with another.
Recently, some friends of mine have been listening to the Waking the Dead audio book by John Eldredge. I like to keep up on popular Christianity, so I agreed to listen as well. Unfortunately, I believe the book falls into the trade your velvet Jesus in for a twitter Jesus category.
The book is clearly trying to teach a certain type of theology. The question is, "What is the authoritative source (or formal principle) of John Eldredge's theology?" For Eastern Orthodoxy it is the Bible and sacred tradition. For Roman Catholics it is the Bible, tradition, and reason. For Lutherans like myself and others, it is the Bible alone (not to be confused with the Bible in my closet position of some evangelicals). Eldredge quotes the Scriptures, movies, and books but it appears that the authoritative source of John Eldredge's theology is John Eldredge's heart. When dealing with a theological issue, John Eldredge will first tell a story about something that happened in his life and the conclusion that the experience led him to. Then he will start quoting some movies that agree with the position that he already reached (or in some cases perhaps the movie even led him to the position). Finally, John Eldredge will start quoting Scripture to try to show that the Bible is saying the same thing. I have no problem with someone showing what a certain passage of Scripture means by carefully explaining the passage in context and then illustrating what that means by some quotes from a movie or book or life experience but when a person's heart becomes the authoritative source of doctrine then the number of possible interpretations is only limited by the number of people in the room and that might even change depending upon what they ate that day. Eldredge quotes John 16:12-13a to support his belief that the Holy Spirit is continuing to reveal new things to us.
John 16:12-13 I still have many things to say to you, but you cannot bear them now. However, when He, the Spirit of truth, has come, He will guide you into all truth
What Jesus is talking about is more clearly revealed when the rest of the verse and the following verse is read.
John 16:12-15 I still have many things to say to you, but you cannot bear them now. However, when He, the Spirit of truth, has come, He will guide you into all truth; for He will not speak on His own authority, but whatever He hears He will speak; and He will tell you things to come. He will glorify Me, for He will take of what is Mine and declare it to you. All things that the Father has are Mine. Therefore I said that He will take of Mine and declare it to you.
The Holy Spirit is not bringing a separate revelation but an understanding of the revelation already given. The Holy Spirit does not testify of Himself or hearts or any other thing. The Holy Spirit is always testifying about Christ.
John 15:26 But when the Helper comes, whom I shall send to you from the Father, the Spirit of truth who proceeds from the Father, He will testify of Me.
Jesus did not say that all the Scriptures are about MY NEW HEART as Eldredge would have it. Jesus said that all of the Scriptures testify about HIM.
John 5:39 You search the Scriptures, for in them you think you have eternal life; and these are they which testify of Me.
Luke 24:27 And beginning at Moses and all the Prophets, He expounded to them in all the Scriptures the things concerning Himself.
Eldredge is convinced that Christianity is all about healing your heart. In support of this notion he quotes all kinds of random passages that speak about the heart and then plays a shell game with Isaiah 61:1.
Isaiah 61:1 "The Spirit of the Lord GOD is upon Me, Because the LORD has anointed Me To preach good tidings to the poor; He has sent Me to heal the brokenhearted, To proclaim liberty to the captives, And the opening of the prison to those who are bound;
Eldredge then paraphrases the verse to make it all about healing hearts. Then he says that this is the verse that Jesus used to introduce his ministry (Luke 4:18) and therefore Jesus' ministry was all about healing broken hearts. What's interesting is that Eldredge ordinarily quotes from the NIV and the NIV does not even contain the phrase about healing the broken hearted in Luke.
Luke 4:18 "The Spirit of the Lord is on me, because he has anointed me to preach good news to the poor. He has sent me to proclaim freedom for the prisoners and recovery of sight for the blind, to release the oppressed,
Other manuscripts do contain the phrase (and I prefer those manuscripts) but the NIV does not follow those manuscripts. And we're talking about a passage that only occurs in the Gospel of Luke. Do you really believe that the central message of all of Scripture is only contained in one of the Gospels and even in that case only certain regional manuscripts of that one Gospel? This is what Jesus actually said and did.
Luke 4:18-21 "The Spirit of the LORD is upon Me, Because He has anointed Me To preach the gospel to the poor; He has sent Me to heal the brokenhearted, To proclaim liberty to the captives And recovery of sight to the blind, To set at liberty those who are oppressed; To proclaim the acceptable year of the LORD." Then He closed the book, and gave it back to the attendant and sat down. And the eyes of all who were in the synagogue were fixed on Him. And He began to say to them, "Today this Scripture is fulfilled in your hearing."
Some of those who were there with Him were at His baptism and saw the Holy Spirit descend upon Him. Jesus points to the descent of the Holy Spirit and the miracles and forgiveness of sins that He would perform as objective signs that He was the Messiah and fulfillment of Scripture. He was not saying that all the Bible is about people's hearts. He was saying HE is the fulfillment of all of Scripture.
Eldredge is convinced that he can trust his heart and whatever it tells him because he believes that the heart of a Christian is good. Strangely, most of the critiques that I've seen on the internet of Waking the Dead deal exclusively with this teaching of Eldredge and say that Eldredge is absolutely wrong because the heart is wicked. Reading Eldredge and his critics is like watching two one-legged men in a butt-kicking contest. Scripture uses both types of language to speak of the believer. Eldredge rightly points to Ezekiel 11:19 and 36:26 to show that God gives us a new heart. We are also told that the heart is wicked in Jeremiah 17:9. Eldredge seems to be using the heart to speak of a person's desires and James 1 tells us that sin is the result of us being drawn away by our own desires. We have been given a new heart but our heart can be turned to wickedness and sin. The book of Psalms was the hymnbook of both the Old Testament and New Testament church. In Psalm 51 which is also part of the historic Christian liturgy, believers pray that God would create a clean heart within them. Much like the man who said to Jesus, "I believe, Lord; help my unbelief!" we acknowledge that God has created a new heart within us but ask Him to create a clean one within us because we recognize our own sin. Eldredge's position would be somewhat coherent if he held to some type of Christian perfectionism but he doesn't. He rightly acknowledges that we sin daily but tries to detach that sin from having anything to do with the heart by ignoring certain passages of Scripture.
Eldridge thinks that the big lie in the church is that our heart is wicked. I really think the opposite is true. Even the secular culture around us keeps telling us to follow our dreams and believe in ourselves which assumes we have a good heart that can do no wrong. American evangelicalism tends to ignore or even deny teachings like original sin. Sermons are generally not filled with stern preaching of the law but with principles for godly living. Eldredge says that pastors should stop using the Bible to teach principles but that is exactly what he is doing in his book. He even uses Jesus' retreat into the desert as a principle for how the Christian should conduct his life. Eldredge says that beginners should start by studying the Bible to gain "wisdom." The Bible does contain wisdom but that is not the main purpose of the Bible and if you are going to view it as a wisdom-book then you are going to end up using it as a book of principles and miss what the Bible is really about--JESUS.
If Eldredge were correct that the heart of the believer is good and not wicked in any sense and if I am a believer then we have some real problems. If I am a believer and my heart is telling me that Eldredge is wrong then I have to be right because my heart is good and can't be wrong. Of course Eldridge could claim that I'm not a real believer, but Scripture defines a believer as someone who believes what Christ has done for them, not as someone who believes they have a new heart. Even if Eldredge and Joe the plumber both agree that they have good hearts, if they talk long enough I'm sure they'll disagree on something. When they disagree then who is right? Does mutual excommunication take place and they damn one another to hell because they know one of them must have a wicked heart and not be a true believer? If my heart is the final authority on all matters, how can disputes between believers be settled? If my heart leads me to commit adultery with another man's wife how can that be wrong? It can't be wrong when it feels so right...
I think this is the problem with the book. It encourages what I will call "cardiolatry." This is the first time I know of that "cardiolatry" will be used in this context so pay attention if you study the history of words. Cardia is the Greek word for heart so in this case the person would be making a false god by worshiping the heart. Cardiolatry has been used in reference to those who are obsessed with cardio exercises. It has also been used to speak of those who were devoted to the Sacred Heart of Jesus. I'm really not sure where I stand on the whole devotion to the Sacred Heart of Jesus thing or what it all entails (if someone out there does please let me know). But regardless of how good or bad devotion to the Sacred Heart of Jesus may be, devotion to your own heart is much, much worse.
In one form or another cardiolatry has existed throughout the history of Christianity. But the form that it takes Eldredge's book probably finds its roots in 17th Century pietism where everything depended upon the conversion experience. People were directed away from the objective work of what Christ did for them on the cross and told to look inward to see if they could really feel what Christ did and prove they were a Christian. This eventually led to the "new methods" of Charles Finney where emotional music and altar calls were used to manipulate emotions and create revivals. Eldredge says in the interview at the end of the audio book that he judges whether or not church is conducting its mission properly by how many people are "healed." This a pragmatic approach that ignores the foolishness of preaching that God has promised to use to bring true healing. During the revivals and Billy Graham crusades there were tons and tons of people who made some kind of decision for Christ but the vast majority of them abandoned Christianity within a year. I suspect the same will be true with this book. Doubtless, many will talk about what a big impact the book had on their lives but few will continue because it's all based on a person's subjective emotions and not the objective work of Christ.
Eldredge finds the most bizarre ways to read the "heart" into just about everything.
Matthew 5:20 For I say to you, that unless your righteousness exceeds the righteousness of the scribes and Pharisees, you will by no means enter the kingdom of heaven.
Eldredge says that Jesus was saying that the scribes and Pharisees did not have pure hearts and that was the problem. But that misses the point entirely. Jesus was pointing to the most righteous people of his day and saying that if you want to enter the kingdom of heaven you have to be more righteous than them. He was showing them that there was absolutely no possibility that they could enter the kingdom of God by their own righteousness. They needed to realize how sinful they were. They needed somebody else's righteousness. They needed to realize that they needed the righteousness of Christ imputed to them if they were ever going to enter the kingdom of heaven. They needed to turn away from trusting in the purity of their own hearts to trusting in the work of Christ.
Eldredge rightly criticizes the common evangelical interpretation of Revelation 3:20 where it is said that Jesus is knocking on the door of your heart and wants you to say some sort of sinner's prayer but replaces it with his own interpretation that still involves a heart that is not found in the actual passage.
Revelation 3:14-20 And to the angel of the church in Laodicea write, 'These things says the Amen, the Faithful and True Witness, the Beginning of the creation of God: "I know your works, that you are neither cold nor hot. I would that you were cold or hot. So, since you are lukewarm, and neither hot nor cold, I am about to spew you out of My mouth. Because you say, 'I am rich and have become wealthy, and have need of nothing--and do not know that you are wretched and miserable and poor and blind and naked-- I advise you to buy gold from me refined by fire, that you may be rich; and white garments, that you may be clothed, and the shame of your nakedness may not be uncovered; and eye salve so that you may anoint your eyes, in order that you may see. As many as I love, I reprove and discipline. Be zealous therefore and repent. Behold, I stand at the door and knock; if anyone should hear my voice and open the door, then I will come in to him and eat with him, and he with Me.
Jesus is not standing at the door of any one's heart. Jesus is standing at the door of an apostate church. They've essentially kicked out Jesus and Jesus is knocking at the door to remind them that Christianity is all about Jesus and he uses sacramental language referring to the Lord's Supper saying He will eat with them.
Eldredge claims that early Christianity was centered upon the resurrection but that modern Christianity has become too obsessed with the crucifixion. The exact opposite is true. There are fewer and fewer crosses in churches and most of them are bare. It is absolutely true that if Jesus was not resurrected then Christianity is pointless and it is an extremely important teaching. But central to the Christian faith from the very beginning has been the crucifixion.
1 Corinthians 2:2 For I determined not to know anything among you except Jesus Christ and Him crucified.
Galatians 3:1 O foolish Galatians! Who has bewitched you that you should not obey the truth, before whose eyes Jesus Christ was clearly portrayed among you as crucified?
1 Corinthians 1:22-24 For Jews request a sign, and Greeks seek after wisdom; but we preach Christ crucified, to the Jews a stumbling block and to the Greeks foolishness, but to those who are called, both Jews and Greeks, Christ the power of God and the wisdom of God.
The sign of the cross was made from the very beginning as part of the baptismal rite and in various blessings.
We Christians wear out our foreheads with the sign of the cross. -Tertullian 200 AD
Jesus did not die of a broken-heart as Eldredge claims. Jesus died because of our sins. He objectively bore the wrath of God for our sins.
1 Corinthians 15:3 For I delivered to you first of all that which I also received: that Christ died for our sins according to the Scriptures,
Eldredge says that pastors should stop using the Bible to teach principles but that is exactly what he is doing in his book. He talks about how people should be more concerned with having an "intimate" relationship with God than with theology but makes all kinds of theological statements about God throughout the book. The emphasis on "intimacy" with God is one of the symptoms of the feminization of Jesus and the church that Eldridge seems to object to in other parts of the book. Churches have replaced the Psalms and masculine, deep, theological hymns with songs that could be sung to a girlfriend (I've heard that there is an episode of South Park where they actually write Christian songs by replacing "baby" with "Jesus"). Jesus is not my bearded girlfriend. We are brought into communion with the Triune God but "intimacy" does not seem to be an appropriate way to view our relationship with God.
Eldredge says that the Scriptures are all about battles and war. He laments the disappearing of the hymn "Onward Christian Soldiers." I sang it recently at church and sort of groaned through it. I agree with Eldredge that many Christians wrongly live as if the devil and his demons do not exist. However, I believe that Eldredge is wrong in taking an offensive stance in spiritual warfare. Scripture is always calling us to "stand." We are in a defensive position, holding fast to God's Word. In Ephesians 6 the image of a Roman sentry is used to tell us how to put on the full armor of God. A Roman sentry could be put to death for two reasons. He could fall asleep at his post and be put to death. Or he could leave his post by rushing out to attack and be put to death for leaving his post. Christ attacks and fights the battle for us. We are called to a defensive position. "A Mighty Fortress is Our God" which is based on Psalm 46 is a much more Biblical depiction of spiritual warfare than "Onward Christian Soldiers." There is great danger in rushing out in attack against the devil. "People start finding the devil under every rock and their eyes are taken off of Christ. Throughout the book Eldredge seems to find the devil attacking him everywhere and seems to be on an emotional roller-coaster. He lacks the sober-mindedness and self-control that God calls teachers to have. (1 Tim. 3:2, Titus 1:6) Young men in general are instructed to be sober-minded (Titus 2:6) and Eldredge seems to frown on people who live this way.
Eldridge is rightly critical of the elaborate discipleship program that some mega-churches have but he wants to replace it with an equally unbiblical model. Eldredge says his model is based on Genesis 2:10-14 and some general observations of the methods of Jesus.
Genesis 2:10-14 Now a river went out of Eden to water the garden, and from there it parted and became four riverheads. The name of the first is Pishon; it is the one which skirts the whole land of Havilah, where there is gold. And the gold of that land is good. Bdellium and the onyx stone are there. The name of the second river is Gihon; it is the one which goes around the whole land of Cush. The name of the third river is Hiddekel; it is the one which goes toward the east of Assyria. The fourth river is the Euphrates.
Eldredge says the four streams are discipleship, counseling, healing, and warfare. Now, I challenge anyone to produce a coherent argument that will convince me that the above passage is talking about anything like that. If we want to know what discipleship is all about, shouldn't we just read the simple words of Jesus?
Matthew 28:19 - 20 Go therefore and make disciples of all the nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit, teaching them to observe all things that I have commanded you; and lo, I am with you always, even to the end of the age." Amen.
The only actual command in the Greek in the above passage is "make disciples." The participles following the command show how disciples are made. Disciples are made by baptizing and teaching people.
Eldredge creates a false dichotomy between the intellect and the heart. Eldredge is specifically targeting the importance of the heart and by heart he seems to be speaking of emotionalism but this only leads to temporary positive reactions. God has created man in such a way that when just the heart is addressed such as in a Chicken Soup for the Soul book a person might get all teary eyed but forget about it the next day. When the intellect is addressed and we really understand what God has done that will create a deeper and more meaningful emotional experience. Emotions are not bad but the goal of emotionalism is.
Eldredge is just replacing one form of subectivity with another. Even the prayer at the end of the book is all about "I" and what "I" am doing. Contrast this with the historic prayers of the church such as:
O Lord, our heavenly Father, almighty and everlasting God, who hast safely brought us to the beginning of this day, defend us in the same with Thy mighty power, and grant that this day we fall into no sin, neither run into any kind of danger, but that all our doings, being ordered by Thy governance, may be righteous in They sight; through Jesus Christ, Thy Son, our Lord. Amen.
Or even the very short Jesus Prayer used by many especially in the Eastern Church for spiritual warfare.
Lord Jesus Christ, Son of God, have mercy on me, the sinner.
A far more powerful and meaningful change in evangelicalism would be to turn away from subjectivity to the objective work of Christ accomplished for us on the cross. It's all about Jesus. The crucified Christ is where we find true healing for our broken hearts and where we find true life.