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Captivating: Unveiling the Mystery of a Woman's Soul

by sandra snider  
7/24/2007 / Book Reviews

John and Stasi Eldredge are very much into adventure, heroism, romance and drama. And movies. Lots and LOTS of movies.

Eldredge is the founder and director of Ransomed Heart Ministries and is the author of five other books, including The Sacred Romance, and Wild at Heart. His wife Stasi is also involved in the Ransomed Heart Ministries and co-wrote Captivating with her husband.

The book jacket of Captivating states that what Wild at Heart did for men, Captivating is supposed to do for women. Every woman was once a little girl, they say. And every little girl holds in her heart her most precious dreams. According to the Eldredge's, a woman has three core desires: to be swept up into a romance, to play an irreplaceable role in a great adventure, and to be the Beauty of the story.

"What were the things that romanced your heart as a girl?" the authors ask the reader. "Was it horses in a field? Was it the fragrance of the air after a summer rain? Was it a favorite book like The Secret Garden? The first snowfall of winter?"

But, alas, as the years roll by, the hearts of women get pushed aside, wounded and buried. Uncaring and inattentive fathers wound the psyche of the female soul, and the devil works overtime on us because he has a special hatred for women. Romance is only found in novels and adventure only found on television. Sometimes, however, when a woman watches a movie (The Last of the Mohicans, Braveheart, Gladiator, Sleeping Beauty, Cinderella, and the like) her heart begins to stir and speak again. She can, after all, live the life she dreamed of as a little girl. God will rescue her heart to live as a fully alive and feminine woman, a woman who is truly captivating. And just as Cinderella was invited to the ball, God invites women to a great Romance with Him.

According to the authors, God romances and woos through music, movies, greeting cards, words from friends, moments in the woods, literature, etc. In Wild At Heart, Eldredge says, "There are three desires I find written so deeply into my heart I know now I can no longer disregard them, without losing my soul. They are core to who and what I am and yearn to be. I gaze into boyhood, I search the pages of literature, I listen carefully to many, many men, and I am convinced these desires are universal, a clue into masculinity itself." He goes on to explain that he believes these desires are for a battle to fight, an adventure to live, and a beauty to rescue.

Eldredge's writing is artsy and poetic, certainly lofty and grandiose, but for me, as a Christian reader, what I find puzzling and missing in the above statement is simply, "I look into the pages of scripture." I can't argue that the Eldredge's hearts seem to be in the right place and scripture is sometimes used to support points they want to make. In the acknowledgement section of Captivating, they write, "And last but not least, to the One who loves us most and best, to our amazing God, our valiant, beautiful Lord. Oh, how we adore you. This is our offering. This is our love poured out."

John Eldredge is a popular contemporary Christian writer and I understand what the Eldredge's are attempting to do in Captivating. They are offering the reader a guided journey of the heart (heavily featuring the arts) to usher the female reader into an experience with God as our Lover.

With that said, however, the authors take more of a literary license with scripture than I am personally comfortable with. Consequently, there are things about this book that trouble me. And a key issue for me, besides content, is how something is packaged and presented.

In regard to this book, then, the question you will have to ask and answer for yourself is this: can the way something is packaged and presented alter truth? The conclusion I have personally come to is I think it does, and I think arguments can be made that the basic premise of this book misses the biblical mark. To be swept up into a romance, to play an irreplaceable role in a great adventure, and to be the Beauty of the story echoes a man-centered gospel to me: the whole, vast world is incomplete without me; creation reached its zenith in women; God exists to make me happy; I'm the one who's captivating; I'm the Beauty, here.

This is all just too New Agey for my spiritual tastes. Scripture states that I exist for His glory. It's God who is captivating. It's God who is awesome (Psalm 47:2) It's God who is imbued with beauty. I get uneasy with statements like, "A God who comes through for us." Yes, He is our deliverer and rescuer, but as a reader I get nervous when the focus is on the created and not the Creator.

Could a woman of today's persecuted and downtrodden church relate to the message of this book? To search again for the life she once dreamed of? To recover her feminine heart? To embark on a journey to be dangerous, passionate, alive and free?

(Scenarios: "I know you're in this jail cell because of your faith, but think of Fran in Strictly Ballroom, or Tulah in My Big Fat Greek Wedding. Remember Lottie in Enchanted April, Adrian in Rocky, or Danielle in Ever After." Or, "I know your house was destroyed because you're a professing Christian, but didn't you sigh at the end of Jerry Maguire, when he runs through the airport and races across town to get back to his wife?" Or, "I know you're been beaten for your faith, but let's go back for a moment to the movies that you love. Think of one of the most romantic scenes you can remember, scenes that made you sigh. Jack with Rose on the bow of the Titanic, his arms around her waist, their first kiss. Wallace speaking in French to Murron, then in Italian. Aragorn, standing with Arwen in the moonlight on the bridge in Rivendell, declaring his love for her. Edward returning for Elinor in Sense and Sensibility, and Professor Behr returning for Jo at the end of Little Women.")

I don't mean to be heavy-handed here, but I'll ask again. Could a third world Christian, struggling to survive each day, relate to the message found in Captivating? I think probably not. Captivating, to my way of thinking, is another in a long wearisome line of Christian books written for western Christians who feed non-stop at the table of popular culture. There are over 150 women mentioned and illustrated in Scripture. Surely, if the Eldredge's could dig a bit more in scripture rather than in popular movies and music of the day the resulting book could have been far meatier spiritually. I think of Ecclesiastes 12:12. "But my son, be warned: there is no end of opinions ready to be expressed. Studying them can go on forever, and become very exhausting!" (The Living Bible) I could add, "There is no end of movies to be seen!"

I also have a few other grievances with this book:

1) "A man is meant to be the incarnation---our experience in human form---of our Warrior God." And, "Eve was given to the world as the incarnation of a beautiful, captivating God" "Eve incarnates the Beauty of God and she gives life to the world." I guess I'm a purist (there, I said it: don't mess with God's Word) but I think this sort of writing borders on sloppy theology. I think I know what the authors are attempting to convey, but according to my concordance the word incarnation applies only to Christ. Rather, Genesis 1:26 speaks of us being created in God's image, according to His likeness. I get uneasy with the way the Eldredge's choose to word things. Women bring human life into the world, not life to the world.

2) "We are created to be the object of desire and affection of one who is totally and completely in love with us." Where is mention of God being the object of our desire and affection? The first commandment comes to mind. Again, man-centered theology here.

3) "Beauty is the most essential of all the feminine qualities." If that statement is true, then it opposes what 1 Peter 3:3-4 flatly declares.

4) Perhaps the most annoying thing for me is the fact that the book is peppered with quotes from singers, songwriters, poets, playwrights and celebrities. On the surface, the quotes are pretty generic (Sheryl Crow: "Are you strong enough to be my man?") but some of the people highlighted in Captivating represent, to me, anyway, thoughts and ideas not associated with historical Christianity. Why have these people earned the right to make cameo appearances? Crow is an abortion supporter. Rocker Bruce Springsteen's CD has been banned from being sold in Starbucks because of sleazy and salacious lyrics. Paulo Coelho is an alchemist (think mysticism, occultism, astrology and religion all mixed together) who has practiced black magic. Literary figure Anais Nin was a promiscuous feminist, as well as a bigamist. Singer songwriter Van Morrison's rock lyrics contain tainted truth.

What does the presence of these people (and their quotes, ideas, and lyrics) on the pages of this book contribute, except to litter it? Why even give ink to these people? Why are Christian authors even including them in a book? Why should I care what they say or think?

Tell you what. Do what I did and read "The God I Love," by wheelchair bound Joni Earickson Tada and then tell me which book really feeds your soul. And be sure to note that Tada's book is not titled "The God Who Loves Me," although God does most certainly love Tada (and us). But in Tada's book the focus is squarely on God. God is the great Beauty in His own story, God plays the irreplaceable role, and that is what makes Tada's book so wonderfully refreshing. And truly captivating.

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