Discerning Reader Editorial Review
Reviewed 03/18/2006 by Tim Challies.
Not Recommended. An examination of Christianity cheapened by comparisons to pop culture.
John Eldredge’s books have become wildly popular among Christians. The Sacred Romance and Wild at Heart have sold millions of copies and have firmly established Eldredge as one of the most-read Christian authors. Wild at Heart has been studied in men’s groups across the world, giving Eldredge a wide reach and his teachings great acceptance. In Epic he changes his emphasis from a Christian audience to an unbelieving audience, as this book is clearly primarily targeted at those who are not Christians.
Conservative Christians have long been suspicious of Eldredge’s writing, and with good cause, for he does not appear to understand human depravity. In previous books he has taught that the human heart, after it is regenerated by God, becomes intrinsically good. He says that the words of Jeremiah which teach us that “the heart is deceitful and desperately wicked” no longer apply to Christians. With such a vast misunderstanding of the human condition, it is no wonder that his teachings often stray. Many of his teachings are also nearly indistinguishable from those who teach Open Theism, though he denies that he holds to this theology. I give this information as background since it is relevant to our examination of his newest book, Epic: The Story God Is Telling And The Role That Is Yours To Play.
Epic tells us that life is a story which unfolds like a grand drama. It seems that humans have an obsession with stories. From the time we are tiny children we love to hear stories about heroes and villains, good guys and bad. The reason we love story so much, Eldredge writes, is that there is something in the human heart that tells us there is an epic going around us, where God is the central character, but where we also play an important role. We love stories about the conquering hero who arrives at the last possible moment to save his lover, because that is exactly what Jesus has done for us.
The book, then, revolves around stories. The author supports his claims with example after example from popular movies. A few of the movies he references are Apollo 13, Lord of the Rings, The Matrix, Saving Private Ryan, Pinocchio, Finding Nemo, Titanic, Braveheart, Gladiator (no surprise if you have read Wild at Heart and Star Wars. He relies heavily on quotes from other writers such as G.K. Chesterton, C.S. Lewis, Phillip Yancey, Gerald May, Soren Kierkegaard, George MacDonald and William Shakespeare. The book also contains plenty of Bible verses, most taken from solid translations.
And herein lies the greatest problem with the book. Because Eldredge misunderstands the human condition, he believes that some sort of goodness inherent in the human heart causes us to seek after stories the way we should seek after God. The stories we all know and love are an expression of the human heart that tells us that we are all really part of a great, cosmic epic. While we may not consciously realize this, the heart somehow does. When Jack Dawson sacrifices his life for Rose in the movie Titanic, that is an expression of the human heart’s desire to be saved by Jesus.
Despite that problem, I will reluctantly admit that this book was not as bad as I was expecting it to be. I realize I should begin reading each book with an open mind, but having disliked his previous books so much I just couldn’t do it. While there is some poor theology in Epic, there is not nearly as much as in Eldredge’s previous books (though perhaps that has to do with the fact that this book is a mere 104 pages long). There are, however, a few problems. For example, he uses the standard argument that God gave humans absolute free will since only with free will could we truly love Him. He provides no Scriptural support for this, relying instead on a lengthy quote from Phillip Yancey. Also, many of the unbiblical teachings of his previous books find their way into this one, as we continually come across the language he uses in The Sacred Romance and Wild at Heart.Epic, then, seems to be an effort from John Eldredge to take his message to unbelievers. It is geared as a tool for evangelism. I see little reason to believe that it will succeed in that, for there is no clear presentation of the gospel. Furthermore, he cheapens the gospel story by equating it with the message of movies such as Titanic and The Matrix. At the same time, the book is well-written and can easily be read and digested in a mere couple of hours, so I have little doubt that many will read and enjoy it. I do not recommend this book or any other of Eldredge’s writings.