In the comments on hunting, a similarity between the New Age Movement and the current Wild at Heart movement was drawn. For those involved in or familiar with the present group, this may well raise some eyebrowes. Yet for those who have seen both up close, it is absolutely clear that they are parallel in both ideas, and sadly IMO, in fundamental error.

Both posit, at the core, that to realize or actualize their masculinity, men must return to the wild. Also, implied directly or indirectly is that they are most comfortable there once they realize it and that they must do so in the sole company of other men. These manly things, and the realities held therein, are solely for men and available only to those who ‘realize’ the reality of it. Strong words, but when you cut to the core in the both groups, that is where you end up. The classic humorous anecdote of course is about men in loin clothes running through the forest to find themselves. We may chuckle at that extreme, but the reality is actually just a more ‘civilized’ version with the same belief set.

The current Christian reworking of this belief set is VERY close the previous interation, a fact not realized by most involved, and which would no doubt upset them.

The entire mindset is a boys’ getto, both then and now. Though it seeks to find an ephemeral freedom in human roots (which could yield another interesting around Christian subscription to an evolution base paradigm), it in fact creates a very narrow world view. To suppose that our Lord created man with such a narrow vision for his potential just seems silly, to be honest.

Admitedly this view has some seductive qualities, mostly based in freedom from fear in a limited world. But those in the end this limit the potential of a man, not expands it.

Now, does this mean that I am disregarding the fundamental differences in the roles and functional capabilities of men and women as created by our Lord? Does it mean that I do not feel that that there are fundamental difference between them? Not for a minute. I am, in fact, arguing that within what the Lord created and modelled, men (and women) are not required to return to the wild to find actualization of their potential in the world or in relationships with the opposite sex.

In the secular New Age groups (as I have seen them), these limiting views do not build enhanced relationships between men and women. They segreagate them. In the Christian life, the acting out of the biblical model layed down for men and women neither requires nor is enhanced by segregation of experience as a preequisite to becoming whole. The bible would seem to indicate precisely the opposite in the case of couple who are “one flesh”.

Let me state clearly, however, that I am not discrediting wildness experience as a wonderful one, nor the company and fellowship of the same sex as less than encouraging to growth. But these experience are most certainly NOT the magic bullet to self and relationship to God that they are oft subtly presented as.

I would challenge men (and women) to examine what these world views are really appealing to and form opinions based on that.

So what, you might ask, of the seeminlgly built-in propensity we see in many (particularly the youth) for risk taking and extreme experiences? That we will explore shortly…


11 thoughts on “Eldridge-ification

  1. cnaphan

    Except that, Eldridge’s main point was not that men need to spend time with men, but that they need to spend time alone, then with men, then with the community. That’s what Jesus and John the Baptist did, and, maybe I’m wrong but I think it’s something that is essential for men, not quite so important for women, who seem to draw their foundation from community life.

    The Imitation says “Do not be around others until you love to be alone; don’t speak until you love silence”. The author doesn’t mean that it’s bad to be involved in a community, but that it’s for “experts” so to speak. God tends to be quiet when we’re around others and distracting trivialities abound. Think of a manly, noble career. The hunter, the farmer, etc… individualism is the keystone of our self-images as men.

    I think the main reason that men either avoid church or are lukewarm about it, is that we’ve excised the stoicism and asceticism, which have always been a part of our tradition and have always been what draws men. St. Antony drew flocks of men and inspired all of Christendom for centuries. Think of modern evangelical leaders on TV: a nice suit, sitting on a nice couch with their well-coiffed wife. Good people, but they don’t really excite my imagination. They remind me of poodles.

    Why have we lost this? Perhaps modern psychology has trained us to be wary of any extremism, lest we develop neuroses or become guilt-wracked, Heaven forbid. Or perhaps because Protestantism, and Calvinism in particular, has never been totally comfortable with the theology of sanctification and personal holiness, because any great effort to be holy seems to an attempt to steal some of the merit of Christ’s death.

  2. kwilson

    I have to disagree. While I think that Eldridge was partially saying that, this work and his later ones are emmerced in wilderness-ism. There is no question for me that the overall feeling of the book is exclusivity. This has one of two effects on the Christian men that I know – they either buy it and are convinced that it is ‘the’ answer, or they reject it completely as silly and have no use for it. They seem about evenly spilt. As such, it is very divisive both in terms of the individual and especially in any ministry group taking that track.

    Most important of all, though, is that it is a complete copy of New Age Men’s philosophy from 25 years ago, with a few bible verses thrown in to muddy the issue. I didn’t buy it then, and seeing it rerun now is just more of the same. Sorry. It puts forth too simplistic a definition of men and as such places them in an experiecial getto exactly the same way that the feminist movement did to women. There is much more than that.

    Now to the issue of men requiring men, in that they are somehow wired differently universally. I don’t buy it. I think there is a small grain on truth there, but the rest is social conditioning. Actually, it wouldn’t matter and I would just shake my head and smile, but the result is that ministries are based on it. The directly results in alienation of a significant segment of Christian men. They Eldridge approach can all too easily result in casting the un-wild man as inferior or effeminate. This is not deliberate, but the approach tends to result in it. I base this on a number of men expressing these exact sentiments to me, based upon various men’s ministry experiences in numerous churches.

    Lastly, as one who has never been lukewarm on church and who sees Calvanism in a quite different light, I would just have to say that our experiences are very different unless I wanted to write a book here…

    Thanks for your comments.

  3. cnaphan

    I’ve only read his first book, so maybe he changed his views with successive books. And if ministries are based on his philosophy, then yes, it’s creeping into problem territory.

    From my memory, I don’t recall the focus on the wilderness. To me, the wilderness is itself a metaphor for the interior encounter of the individual and God, and the individual abandonment of all to seek God. The desert is typical because it lacks all comforts imaginable. The days are hot, the nights are cold, no food, no water, no shelter. If you haven’t God in the desert, you’ve nothing. Sometimes, the actual wilderness is useful for cultivating this interior life, but it’s not required by any means.

    I don’t see the prototypical Christian man as a wild-man at all, but a desert mystic. He has a certain indifference to worldly circumstance. He’ll congregate with other men, but for a purpose, never just to be around people. He’s got a confidence that if he were stripped of every comfort, he would be fine. Even immersed in a community where he is very comfortable, he never feels like he totally belongs, like he is more than traveller.

    So in the end, I probably agree with you in disagreeing with Eldridge. I agree with you that he’s onto something but it’s not the “Holy Grail” of men’s ministry. Spending time with men can be very beneficial, of course.

    And I did not mean to malign Calvinism. I’ll be the first to admit that I am ill-read in general and Calvinism in particular. I’ve read Calvin, Knox, Spurgeon, Piper and some others, and I’ve probably missed the more personal, reflective writings.

  4. kwilson Post author

    I like your interpretation. Unfortunately most that I have seen have interpreted and applied it much more in the sense that I was trying to expose. In that way, it ‘can’ be quite divisive.

  5. cnaphan

    I’m leary of any plan to make Christianity more “masculine”.

    One of the main purposes of the Nazi Volkskirche was to “masculinize” the church.

    The Church has always been seen as too feminine. St. Augustine was disgusted by his mother’s feminine faith. C.S. Lewis admitted that the pagan religions were wrong, but manly.

    The American talk radio personality Doug Giles is big into the “manly” church, and it’s very fake feeling. He describes the old church male as wimpy, limp-wristed, etc… It bugs me.

  6. kwilson Post author

    [quote post=”102″]I’m leary of any plan to make Christianity more “masculine”.[/quote]
    This one of the places I was approaching this from, although I think that it is limiting with a much wider scope. In this particular aspect, thought, I feel that it is fundamentally flawed. Yet more significant is the potential for it to be taken at face value and even inadvertently miss-used. IMO it speaks of a very limited and unsupportable view of both men and women. It is also not likely to increase overall fellowship within the body of believers.

  7. cnaphan

    You’re quite right.

    The world’s definition of masculinity will never be able to incorporate obedience and servanthood, thus can never be made a part of Christianity. The manliest verse in the Bible IMO is “Deny yourself, take up my cross and follow me”, which makes Biblical manliness forever at odds with the world’s definition. Ne’er the twain shall meet.

  8. Andrew

    I think that if you were to go back in time a couple hundred years or so and stop some people and ask people what defined a man as a man and a woman as a woman, they would look at you strange and say “What chew talkin’ ’bout, city boy?” Gender rolls were clearly defined.

    With the advent of technology and the associated societal changes roles have changed. While there are a growing number of women scientists, with lots of encouragement for any girls who want to go in that direction, there are still a lack of push for boys to go into nursing. With the feminist movement women have moved into many of the traditionally male-dominated roles. This has left men thinking “there must be more to being a man than standing whilst I pee.”

    Popular science offers little comfort. A lot of pop-psychology writing these days seems to imply that women are the evolutionary superior sex its only natural for men to wonder when their use will finished.

    Then along comes Eldridge. He gives an answer to the question. It may not be right, or correct, or even very good, but it _is_ an answer. And it’s an emotionally satisfying one.

    However, the way he does it is somewhat questionable. Primarily, he states a principal. Then does he back it up with scientific study? No. Instead he chooses one of two routes. The first route is with scripture. But he is no theologian. He says that God made Himself vulnerable, and that God took a risk. But that implies that He might not know the outcome, or that the outcome might turn out the way He didn’t want. (If that’s the case, then either God wanted Adam and Eve to sin and it all went according to plan. Or He didn’t and the plan went wrong.) I find this hard to reconcile with the Sovereignty of God.

    The second route he chooses is with movies. First of all, I didn’t know that movies, or any literature (other than Scripture) was authoritative, either on the human condition or social psychology. Secondly, to defeat one of his arguments all one has to do is find a movie which shows the opposite principal [to his] to be true. Thirdly, his method his manipulative and powerful. What he’s _really_ doing is saying “Remember how you felt when you saw such and such happen in this or that movie?” Then you recall your emotions, and associate those emotions with what you’re reading.

    I think I saw through him on three counts: 1) I’m no outdoorsman, 2) I hadn’t seen many movies he used as his proofs, and 3) in Wild At Heart he says “Man is a warrior! That is one of those things that make him male! Just look at Braveheart, The Galdiator, and Herculese (but don’t bother watching Sailor Moon, Xena or Supergirl).” Then in Captivating he says “Woman is warrior! This is one of those things that makes woman woman! Just look at Sailor Moon, Xena, and Sailor Moon!” Well John, which is it? Is man warrior or is woman warrior or are both? If both are then it’s not a condition of masculinity or femininity. It’s a condition of humanity.

    And I think the people that have seen those things, whether for those reasons (realized or unrealized) or others, have thrown Edridge aside with the rest of the pop-psychologists. Others that haven’t seem to think of him as something akin to a prophet. “Finally, someone with a Biblically-based answer!”

  9. kwilson Post author

    I think that you are largely correct. However, when I posted the orginal comments on the phenomenon I had in mind what I saw as the effects, rather than the causes. We have been discussing interpretations of the book(s) and have expanded a number of good ideas. But what concerns me is effect, and there, irrespective of how might see the ideas, I do not like what I see.

    For good or bad, whether people are acting reasonably or without apparent justification, what I have seen is the factionalization of Men’s ministry based upon an imposed vision. That yields divisions based upon views of how things ‘should’ be, rather than having a division of activities based upon acceptance of different interests or preferences OF EQUAL VALUE.

    The critical aspect here is the perception of the differences being in preference and thereby of equal value, rather then as a correct of incorrect view of masculinity.

    Now, am I calling this a type of male relativism. Absolutely not. That would only be true if Eldridge held the only valid view, support absolutely Scripture, which he does not.

    Put it this way… If you interpret Eldridge (irrespective of what he actually says – which is what ‘we’ have been discussing) to mean that the ‘wilderness way’ is the correct way, then others are clearly missguided, maybe even effeminate (yes, sadly, I have heard that term used in this context in church circles). True men’s ministry would then be Eldridge, wild experience based, and other venues would not be of equal validity for any Christian man. And that, subtly, is exactly what I have seen occuring in many venues.

    From that point of view, when many don’t participate in Men’s ministries, no-one can understand why, since the assumption is that there is only one way. It is a getto, plain and simple.

    The opposite view is that Eldridge-ification is just one path, expressing a preference of choice, character, whatever. Other approaches are just other preferences and theorectically of equal value. This is non-divisive in nature, but requires a different scope of view.

    Surely there are more important places for Men’s ministry to go (theology and discussion of Scripture to name just two), that go past these areas of difference. Just my admittedly biased opinion, of course.

  10. cnaphan

    I think the main problem is that the activities that the Eldridge movement has chosen as “typical male activities” are superficial. All men desire a battle to fight, yes, but scaling a cliff isn’t a battle. It’s a somewhat dangerous game. A game with morale-boosting and team-building possibilities, perhaps, but a game nonetheless.

    If men want a battle to win, go on a short term mission together, fix someone in the community’s house, etc… Do something that only a group of men can do. There are lots of “male” activities that everyone would agree to. (I admit some may not “enjoy” these activities, but at least, they would agree they are good works)

    A church’s men’s ministry ought to be based on 1) prayer 2) theology and Bible study 3) works of charity according to the strengths of the group 4) retreats/recreation according to the will of the group.

    I think there’s a temptation to say “Let’s put the recreational stuff first, which is more attractive to newcomers than prayer, theology and works, and then later, we’ll sneak in some of the rest.” It makes sense, though, because the recreational activities are good for new people. But it can’t be made foundational…

  11. kwilson Post author

    I may think of something more meaningful later, but all I can really say is yes, yes and yes! This is exactly where I am headed with all this. I think that fellowship is important, and I also think that men’s fellowship is also needed – though I do not think it is the ‘answer ‘ that some seem to.

    [quote post=”102″]A church’s men’s ministry ought to be based on 1) prayer 2) theology and Bible study 3) works of charity according to the strengths of the group 4) retreats/recreation according to the will of the group.[/quote]

    Exactly. When this is not the case, and if number 4 becomes the raison d’etre (whether stated as such or not), with the rest hopefully thrown in, the focus is not inclusive and, though Godly in execution, not directly on the Lord. To use a more direct example, I don’t remember reading of the Apostles seeking diversion in their fellowship and retreats.

    Why can a Bible Study not be exciting for men? Why does it often appear to be reserved for women? Brethren Assemblies have shown for decades that Bible Study is the quintessential male retreat focus. And it includes everyone!!! How about a men’s retreat challenging men to witness for Christ, not just in theory but in reality? The reality of that is a much greater risk for 99% of men than any adrenalin exercise.

    The reason for our fellowship is Christ and we desire to know the Word of God. The focus of our followship in Men’s ministry, therefor, can be the same I pray, without the need of wordly window dressing.

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