[This post is part of the Idolatry series]
This is the first of a fourt part look at John Eldredge’s Waking the Dead. His work was selected both for its popular acceptance, and for the fact that one of his central points in the book is that our heart is now good after being redeemed by Christ. I have seen first hand the effects of imbibing this kind of theology and in effort to confront it head on, as well move forward in our understanding of idolatry, this seemed to be the best example to show how theological misconceptions can run rampant and unnoticed, even by readers who otherwise feel they are discerning.
To introduce our discussion, we need to keep in mind we tend to not have the most accurate perceptions of ourselves. We need the mirror of the Word to show us how we really are. But in the meantime, several things stand in the way of us seeing ourselves truly and understanding our total dependence on our Savior in order to reveal our hearts to us. We need Him to continue to refine us in order to one day be able to present us alongside Himself before the Father as a pure and unblemished Bride, having no spot or wrinkle.
The main thing though that seems to stand in the way, is our misunderstanding of ourselves and our natural tendency towards narcissism. This is another way of saying that even post-conversion, our main tendency is toward self-worship. We see this evident from the beginning of time onward with Adam, (who is the referent as well in Ezekiel 28), and in a later post we will trace the root of all sin to idolatry and especially to idolatry of one’s self over and against God. Pre-conversion we have no work of the Spirit in our hearts to keep us from this rampant self worship, but post conversion, we now have the Spirit, and so are able to battle against the lusts of our flesh that lead us to put ourselves first, but total victory is not something that is possible in this life.
The problem is magnified by accepting ideas present in most pop theology books that really only cater to these lusts of the flesh and tickle the ears with captivating, yet empty, philosophies. As an example, we are going to use John Eldredge’s Waking the Dead since it heavily promotes the idea that one has a good heart after conversion and because his books and ideology have proven to be very influential, yet at their core they retain a toxicity that is lost on most people, even those who aspire to be discerning. Rather than retaining a sense of historic, orthodox, Biblical Christianity. With Eldredge, one tends to get syncretistic, semi-Pelagian, Gnostic Christianity, which is in effect to say, not Christianity at all.
There are several approaches one can take in examining the contents of Eldredge’s thought as presented in Waking the Dead (from here on WTD). We could either proceed systematically and look at the mis-steps Eldredge takes in every branch of systematic theology. We could proceed hermenuetically and show that he appears unable to decipher the meaning of a passage in context beyond just co-opting texts to support his pre-made conclusions. Or we could proceed analytically and look at the underlying philosophies presented in WTD and how what one gets from the book is more or less a hodge-podge of pagan philosophical ideas covered in the language of Christianity. We’ll opt for the latter and eventually see the ramifications in both of the former. But first things first.
One thing that throws many a reader of Eldredge, especially those who consider themselves advanced in their understanding of Christian theology, is the language he uses. One sees the language of traditional Christianity, but simultaneously, that language is being used to describe something conceptually that is not orthodox Christian teaching. This is typically not something one needs to split hairs over, that is unless you wish to actually understand the meaning of what an author is conveying.
All we are really attempting to do is actually examine the argument as it progresses and then stand back and look at the whole. One can use the language of sin and grace and Jesus and the cross and not actually touch on the reality of the Biblical teaching on the subject. In effect this is what Eldredge does, whether intentionally or unintentionally, throughout WTD. He uses Christian terms and phrases but in a way that runs counter to their generally understood meaning, at least from a Protestant perspective. If one is coming at his book from a Roman Catholic background, then the language and concept match up somewhat. The burden of his argument then is to support whether his re-creation of the meaning of some of these concepts is in keeping with orthodox Christianity, or whether it is a syncretistic blend of competing philosophies and non-Christian ideas. Which leads us to the next point, which will also be the next blog.
“ For there will be a time when people will not tolerate sound teaching. Instead, following their own desires, they will accumulate teachers for themselves, because they have an insatiable curiosity to hear new things. And they will turn away from hearing the truth, but on the other hand they will turn aside to myths.” – 2 Timothy 4:3-4
Keep these in mind as we proceed…