Captivating: Unveiling the Mystery of a Woman's Soul, by John and Stasi Eldredge
by sandra snider
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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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I believe Sandra did an awesome job in writing this article. It is well organized and her points have been presented well. She hooked her readers by appealing to one of the world's most sought-after desires "Romance." I also believe the world has taught us that we must be perfect and beautiful to be accepted and romanced. This is not true, but it has been ingrained in us through television, media and even the environment around us. But we must not get caught up in the world; rather we need to be focused on Jesus and the Word of God given to us. Scripture tells us we were created in the image of God, and that God created us for His pleasure. He created us to be adopted sons and His special people. (Ephesians, chapter 2, 1 Peter, chapter 2). God also tells that we are a holy people, a royal priesthood, to offer up sacrifices to God, acceptable through Christ Jesus. (1 Peter 2). God has also created us to be in personal relationship with Him, and to live--rule and reign--with Him in heaven. Yet, our focus should be on God, not us. God created Adam and Eve for relationship with Him and with each other. Each one was given unique roles to fulfill on earth. Neither male or female was to be the center of all things. This is God's place. 2. The world has twisted the meaning of love, making it self-seeking rather than seeking the best for the other person. By sending Jesus, God sacrificed His only Son for us. He did it to demonstrate His love for us, to atone for our sins, and to make a way that we can become adopted sons and spend eternity with Him. Throughout the Bible God has called us "sons". He loves us like a Father, and what father hasn't spent special moments with his special girl? Yet, in these moments, the motive is most important. God does not love women in a manner that is motivated by fleshly desires. God loves us with a pure heart, like a father should love his child, or a husband should love his wife. We are also called the "Bride" of Christ. Jesus Christ is a person in the Godhead. This is a great mystery, and I believe we won't know the answer until Christ comes back for us. But we must be careful not to let our imaginations and dreams make something out it that is not pure. 3. I do not believe that beauty, as the world thinks of it, is a high priority, and the lack of it will not keep a woman from being attractive. True beauty comes from the inside, which God is transforming into the image of Christ. True beauty is not based on outward appearance. True beauty is inner, spiritual beauty which comes with relationship with God. True beauty consists of spiritual things like holiness, purity, faithfulness, gentleness and love. 4. As an author, I use quotes spoken by others in my writing. I confess that I don't always know the person I'm quoting. I use the quotes because they seem to precisely express the point I'm trying to make. I am not trying to promote the person who said that quote. Yet, as a Christian author, I have the responsibility to see that the quoted words line up with scripture, and that the scriptures in my works are not pulled out of context. I also have to be careful not to give opinions and advice that is contrary to scripture. My main focus is to glorify God with my writing--not people. Therefore, I need to make sure that my writing doesn't give people more of a priority than God, turning readers' attention away from God and to another person. Each author must decide for themselves where the balance comes in when using quotes. Being a woman who has been abused by men and persecuted for my faith, I can see how "Captivating" would appeal to this woman's heart. But we must keep balance here as well. Women are not the only ones that have been ravaged by Satan and sin. Men have also been abused and persecuted--ravaged by sin. We must remember that this comes from sin--not the gender factor. Both genders, especially Christians, have gone through much! We all need encouragement, and like the authors of this book, I believe many of us desire to encourage and lift up those that have been trampled on by Satan and sin. I think we need to look at the motive of the hearts of the authors, which I believe to be compassion and a desire to heal others. We must be careful not to judge but to leave that place for God. But in scripture, Jesus says that the letter of the law kills but the heart of the law is love and mercy. In their legalism, many of the Pharisees missed the point of Christ's coming. They did not recognize the love; nor did they have mercy toward their fellow men. We must be careful of this trap! We don't want to strain out the gnats but swallow the camels! Sarah spoke many valid points in her article that are worth examining. We need to focus on God, love Him first, and love others. We also need to correctly divide the word of God and make sure we turn people to God--not to other people. Overall I think Sarah did a good job on this piece!
I suppose all of us are entitled to feel anyway we wish about books and what we glean from them but I believe it behooves us to learn the spirt(s) of the writers... Captivating in my opinion is quite the opposite of anything negative. I believe it presents the heart of God is such a tender way that it is impossible to not be blessed by it ... but again ...that is my opinion --- Other than that, your book review is indeed a well written piece.
I really appreciate your article because it has caused me to second guess a book I had taken a lot out of. I think part of the reason we disagree is because when I read Captivating it was more for the whole message so to speak, whereas your critique seems to be much more particular than how I looked at it. Like I said in the last comment, God speaks in unique ways to each of us and He had a reason for revealing Himself to me through Captivating, and to you through The God I Love. I'll be honest I don't know a whole lot about strict theology. I looked back at Captivating and a few of the passages they used, though, and these are my thoughts regarding your 1st, 2nd, and 3rd points. 1) I don't have a concordance but I checked out "incarnate" in the dictionary and the way the Eldredges used the word makes sense from that definition and from how I've heard it used in speech and other modern writing. Yes, it only applies to Jesus from what is written in the Bible, but given the various language translations and evolution of language over time I don't see how the word was used wrongly in the context of today's language. To me, sloppy theology sounds like an accusation that I don't feel is substantiated in their word usage. "Bringing life into the world" and "giving life to the world" [in the form of a child] say the same thing in different ways. I see the reason for your uneasiness since you probably know more about theology than I do, but at the same time, it feels unnecessary to me. God will get His message across no matter how it is worded. 2) Please correct me if i misunderstood, but this one made me think you were saying the authors never mentioned the reciprocation of our love to God, but they do. Just glancing through, a couple pages I found where they say we are to love God as He loves us are 28-29, and 41. 3) What Peter says is like the first step to recognizing true beauty, "Don't focus on your outer beauty." Psalm 45 says that the princess of the lord wears beautiful clothing and is praised by the people because he caused her to be worthy of that praise. The authors say on page 130 that "Beauty is first a soulful beauty. And yes, as we live it out, own it, inhabit our beauty, we do become more lovely... But it flows from the inside out." They are talking about the kind of beauty that people see because our hearts are at rest in the love of Jesus. So that is how I feel about the issues you brought up and again, thank-you for making me think about them! I'm young and I'm pretty new at questioning the things I'm taught and haven't had much experience defending what I see as right... so please take everything at face value:)
I reference back to the concerns stated in numbers 1, 2, and 3 in the article. My concern with the book's content is with its sloppy theology, which contradicts scripture, which contradicts the truth found in Jesus Christ. Readers who support the book's content never answer the concerns raised in #1, 2 and 3.
When someone has personally felt moved by a book, movie, album, painting, etc. it can be very hard to not be offended by a negative critique of it. It can sound like an attack on you personally because your heart was spoken to by this form of expression. I think especially in Christian writing, since God speaks to each of us in a very specific way, the categories of "good" or "bad" cannot be defined unless something blatantly contradicts the Truth of Jesus. I read Captivating a couple years ago, as an 18 yr old and God certainly used many concepts the Eldredges described to open my heart. I sometimes reread certain parts that still speak to me like they did then. I have recommended the book to people I know, and maybe God will use it as a way to open their heart as well, maybe not. It's not up to me, it's not up to the authors. All a Christian author can do is express their understanding of God and how His Word applies to our lives. If they see an aspect of His truth that you don't see, then big whoop, God meant for you to see His truth a different way. Honestly the quotes from celebrities didn't bother me because I was focused on what was said rather than who was saying it, but I understand your point about that. I think the movie references may have had more to do with the target audience concept. Not every book is going to be applicable to every Christian simply based on vast differences in culture and how specific most books get. I'm just kind of throwing my thoughts out here, but the last one I can think of right now is that no, they didn't quote a whole lot of scripture, but they did derive their points from scripture. Sometimes we don't fully understand scripture when we read it, so there is no harm in taking the Bible's lessons and wording them in a way that is more understandable to our present culture. Captivating is not my bible, my Bible is my bible. Christian non-fiction is all supplemental and subject to our own interpretation because of the very personal ways God chooses to speak to us.
Also, this review at http://www.bethanycentral.org/resources/answers/details.asp?id=83 The authors express identical concerns about the content of this book.
message left in private messenger on 04/24/08: I've just finished a very quick scan read of Captivating by John and Stasi Eldredge and was left with a feeling of unease. On searching the net for some critiques of this book I came across your article and just wanted to thank you for it. You have obviously taken the time to read the book in a more thoughtful way than I have managed to do so far and you have put your finger right on the things that were bothering me. The book was highly recommended (and indeed given) to me by two friends of mine and I was starting to worry that maybe it was my hardness of heart that was stopping me from being blown away by this book in the way they were. Thank you, and thank the Lord for you, that you have helped reassure me. Bless you.
message left in private messenger on 05/11/08: Thank you!!! I whole heartedly agree. The counselor at my church thinks there is something seriously wrong with me because I cannot get past the first three goofy chapters of that book. I find the references to romance-novel type stuff over scripture misleading and distasteful. I will stick to the universal Word of the Lord for my entertainment!
Sept. 21, 2007: this was sent to me in my private messenger box: Once again I have had to gently explain to a small group leader why I think this book is not a good idea. And I appreciate SOOO much having an article like yours to point them towards for doing their own critique. It is nice to have someone else say the same thing!!! I ain't no princess other than being God's adopted daughter so don't build me a tower. I have things to do that don't necessarily require a sword or an army. Most likely, they involve cultivate the fruit of the Spirit and loving my neighbor. Wait. That's not very romantic. That's probably why the Eldridges didn't include that in their book! :)
Here are comments left in my personal messenger that I have cut and pasted. I said I would put all comments, both negative and positive, here for readers to read: I am so incredibly blessed right now, having stumbled across your article. I appreciate the depth of insight you have articulated as you have analyzed this book. Ever since captivating came out, and took my poor fellow churchgoers by surprise, I have been in the often awkward place of having to admit, much to many peoples dismay, that I am NOT a Captivating young woman of God. Alas! How shocking it seems to be :) My roommate and I joke about being "de-captivating"...If that's what being a captivating woman of God is-- we don't want it! (tho you have successfully argued against their obviously unbiblical stance) It's true what you say about marketing the book... Often, these kind of books usually have a picture of a lone girl standing on the water's edge at a beach, gazing into the distance, waiting for her "knight" to come and sweep her away??? Well, we take great pleasure in jumping our way into the waves when we hit the beach, laughing hysterically at how decaptivating we must be, while enjoying each others company. We figure our behaviour as such falls a bit more into line with what God has for us as single women..... To be filled overflowing with peace and joy and the Holy Spirit... To worship Him with our fellowship... Beyond that, I just have to say, I don't dig the movie thing either. I am blessed to know you exist somewhere out there and that you feel so much like I do in this area. Be blessed. (name deleted for privacy) ps. Re: that last comment you posted: gotta love the people who judge you and call you broken and wounded just because you have an opinion and can articulate it. Good intentions are not the same as truth.... People that profess good intentions in the name of truth need to calm down a little bit and climb out of the box of religiousity in which they hide.
Here is more feedback. This reader of my review strongly disagrees with my take on this book: I am sad for you, my dear. In the midst of your critiquing, you have failed to see what this book does offer for us. This book offers life for women. Isn't the church brow-beaten enough, being yelled at from the pulpit every sunday that we are not doing enough and bad? This book speaks genuinely to soothe a woman's hurts. It exposes the woundedness of women in order to find life through the healing. Who cares that they quote movies that, regardless of the holy stance religious legalism has led Christian leaders to take, DOES do something for Christian women. Based on your strong opinion, I cannot help but believe you, too, are wounded. When we live out of our wounds, we are not being healed. This book had not only helped me let my guard down enough to admit my woundedness, but be vulnerable enough to have the Lord cleanse those wounds. Oh, I think I've said the religious cuss word...vulnerable. Yes, my dear friend, vulnerability as discussed in this book and not as the world sees it, does lead to healing. When we as women are no longer living from our wounds, we have words of life and hope to offer. And spiritual warfare... I am incredibly suprised that you, who have clearly read the Bible enough to throw it around at people, would not admit the deep gravity of the reality of Spiritual Warfare. In fact, if you would do more research into the Bible to discover that YOU are in the midst of the battle, I believe more of what Stasi said would come alive for you. I think what makes me most sad for you is that you have bought in to what the church is feeding you instead of really challenging the system to find the greater truths for yourself. Are you not tired of doing? Are you not tired of brow-beating yourself to feel like God will then be pleased with your performance? Put those things down, my friend, and dwell with the Lord for a while. Strip down what others say and hear what Christ says. Often, the church speaks louder death to Christians than the world. There is beauty in this book, and a vulnerable spirit will recognize it all the more clearly.
The following 3 comments I have cut and pasted from my personal messenger. In all fairness, I did receive one negative critique and deleted it before I thought of posting other people's comments here. In that negative critique, she basically said I totally missed the point of the book and pointed out that she knows of women who have been ministered to by the book. In the future, I will cut and paste all comments left on my personal messenger, and let you, the reader, determine which side you come down on in regard to this book: Sandra, I appreciate and agree with most of your criticism of Captivating, a book I read while my husband was at a Wild at Heart "boot camp" last summer. I am a happily married mother of three young children, and I could not have been more insulted by a book than I was by this awful one by the Eldredges. Yuk! I am most definitely NOT a beauty longing to be rescued nor am I yearning to be "lovely". I am a strong independent Christian woman who does not particularly enjoy movies, so you can imagine how both Wild at Heart and Captivating were lost on me. Thanks for your insight!
here's another comment made by a reader: hi - thanks for your critique, i feel exactly the same about the authors but didn't know how to put it into words i have got friends who spend less time with me because i am not into john eldridge - they no longer quote scripture - just the eldridges i also was worried about the fact that you couldn't apply these books to third world christians, stuggling to survive each day etc...
and another comment: Your review of CAPTIVATING, UNVEILING THE MYSTERY OF A WOMAN'S SOUL was very refreshing to me. I enjoyed it very much. Have you ever considered doing a review on Amazon.com? I'm sure I would give it a very positive vote.
Excellent book review! I disagree with your point that "If a Christian book can’t speak to all Christians at all times in all cultures and in all circumstances, then it’s suspect." But I do agree that Christian authors shouldn't set up celebrities of questionable morality as worthwhile examples. And I love your point about sloppy wording! I'm curious to read the book now, and I appreciate your respectable caveats. Thank you!