The Myth of the Good Heart: Theology A

July 21, 2009 — Leave a comment

[This post is part of the Idolatry series]

In researching and writing the last post, it was at times very perplexing, like trying to untangle a gordian knot of philosophical ideas embedded deeply into a text. I go back and forth trying to decipher how explicitly John Eldredge has absorbed the conglomeration of ideas that are present in any given book he writes. I kept grasping for a good visual to describe how I felt and then on the long drive to Dallas while listening to Mark Driscoll preach through 2 Peter, it came to me.

In trying to read a John Eldredge book intelligently and look at the roots of his though, it felt very much like rummaging about in someone’s day old vomit trying to figure what they had eaten at their last meal.

False Teaching

Hopefully you find the thought of that rather repulsive. The imagery comes from Proverbs 26:11 and is echoed in 2 Peter 2:22, and while it may seem a bit extreme, it is nonetheless an accurate depiction of false teaching. I’m not sure I would go as far as to call John Eldredge a heretic for his views (to see helpful criteria, go here), I would definitely label much of what he presents in Waking the Dead (WTD) as false teaching. I would rather leave Eldredge himself out of classification and let you the reader draw your own conclusion. I will say though that it is hard to determine whether Eldredge teaches his views knowing that they contradict Scripture or whether he is just a well meaning but poorly trained and generally ignorant theologian.

My guess is the latter.

By ignorant I just mean he doesn’t know enough about theology to be writing a book on the topic, not that he is dumb or unintelligent. In addition to the philosophies that Eldredge has either knowingly or unknowingly dined on and then regurgitated in print form for you the reader, here then is a theological examination of just a couple of overacrching  themes in the book. In the next post, one particularly serious mis-step in Biblical interpretation that generates his main, underlying false teaching that undergirds much of what he tries to promote in his book as something to counteract “the fog of poison gas from the pit of hell…(pg. 72-73)” that is otherwise known as total depravity. So without further delay, let’s look at a couple of theological problems as a warmup for the next post.

The Theme of the Bible

Eldredge starts the book with a call to arms. What he gets right is that there is a spiritual battle going on. What he gets wrong is the meaning behind the battle, which as the rest of the book unfolds, turns out to be devastating.

In perusing a few passages of Scripture, after spring boarding off a quote from Irenaus, Eldredge concludes that the central offer of the Bible is life. This much is true, however he leaves “life” rather undefined and assumes “life” means “happiness and freedom from pain and suffering.” This is brought out implicitly on pg. 10-12 with the link on pg. 12.

A few pages later, Eldredge says that “even a quick read of the Old Testament would be enough to convince you that war is a central theme of God’s activity,” (pg.14, emphasis original) and then later “War is not just one among many themes in the Bible, It is the backdrop for the whole Story, the context for everything else,”(pg.16, emphasis original). Additionally he concludes by noting that what God is fighting for is our freedom and restoration.

I think what he meant was that “only a quick read of the Old Testament would be enough to convince you….” War is a theme of the Bible for sure, but only a less thoughtful reading would conclude war is the backdrop of the story. God’s glory is the backdrop of the story and it is what He is fighting for. The backdrop of the whole Exodus story and God’s war is His holiness,

“But I acted for the sake of my name,that it should not be profaned in the sight of the nations among whom they lived, in whose sight I made myself known to them in bringing them out of the land of Egypt.” (Ezekiel 20:9, see also Ps. 106:8).

Notice, God’s bottom line motivation is not our freedom, restoration, or happiness. Throughout the Old Testament (as in, more than a quick casual reading would reveal), God is at war for His name sake, or rather for His glory and His glory alone. In the NT we see God bringing us to faith for the sake of His name (Rom 1:5, 1 John 2:12). The point of the story is first and foremost God’s name being glorified, war is just a means to that end. But within Eldredge’s construal this doesn’t quite work. For John Eldredge, there is quite a different story going on in the Bible.

Glory Story

What is most dangerous theologically in WTD, which even the most discerning reader should catch, is that it presents a theology of glory, as Martin Luther would call it, rather than a theology of the cross. The cross is even downplayed in favor of the Resurrection, which is the epitome of a false dichotomy if there ever was one (see pgs 64-67). His points about the Resurrection are not necessarily wrong, it is just a wrongheaded way to approached the issue of the nature of the cross and the Resurrection.

This theology of glory could be summed up in the idea that we came from glory and are bound for glory though we’ve been derailed somewhere along the way. Our problem then is that we’ve lost our glory and we need a savior to help us regain that glory and put us back on the glory road that he always meant for us to travel (for further critique see Horton, Christless Christianity, 164-65).

With an entire chapter entitled, “The Glory Hidden in Your Heart,” it is not too hard to see how Eldredge subscribes to the idea and even worse has misconstrued the Imago Dei to mean an impartation of glory. This glory story is our natural religion, woven throughout the world’s religions, philosophies, spiritualities, and moralities (Horton, 165). Eldredge has clearly subscribed to this and to his credit, accurately see this permeating pop culture in movies like Braveheart and The Matrix and Lord of the Rings. He just doesn’t realize it is a byproduct of total depravity.

Like most people trained in psychology, Eldredge is good at spotting trends and problems with people in general, but he consistently fails in offering solutions (again like most good psychologists do who are not properly trained in the Scriptures). His consistent, overarching use of a media hermeneutic to interpret the Bible demonstrates his thinking on the topic that the recurring themes in media are there because that’s how God wired us, as opposed to the Biblical assumption which would be that the themes that permeate the culture and its stories (i.e. the world) need to read in light of Scripture and corrected on account of their contamination by man’s depravity.

Finally, and the real conclusion we are driving at, Eldredge makes a drastic mis-step in assuming that the heart is good after Christ redeems us. This is probably the most repeated phrase in the book: “Your heart is good, your heart matters to God.” The first half of the statement is woefully wrong, the last half is correct, but not with the interpretive layer that Eldredge adds.

But for that, you’ll have to wait just a bit for the next part of this theological examination and find out whether or not the idea of having a good heart post-conversion is able to actually be supported within the text of Scripture as Eldredge hopes it does…


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I'm an avid reader, musician, and high school Bible teacher living in central Florida. I have many paperback books and our house smells of rich glade air freshners. If you want to know more, then let's connect!

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