I achieved today what might be considered a milestone for an aspirant to the blogosphere: my first real piece of hate mail (or a “flame,” for those who like the internet parlance). In some ways I’m flattered: there’s a picture in my parents’ home--one that was there through my childhood and beyond–of my Great Uncle Herb, who was a covenant minister. Underneath the picture was a quotation from him that read “If my sermon fails to win one to the Lord or to make someone mad, I have failed.” By ol’ Uncle Herb’s standards, I’m at least halfway to success.
Obviously, this sort of thing is to be expected in a public forum such as a blog. And I have it comparatively easier than some fellow bloggers whom I respect, like Rachel Held Evans, who, no matter how respectful and reasonable she may be, seems to attract more trolls than a secluded bridge. I won’t repeat the indivdual’s comments verbatim here, but the gist of the comment was that he seemed offended that I would critique a respected figure like Eldredge, who, indeed, heads a ministry that has arguably helped a lot of people. What I intended as a piece of scholarly analysis of the content of a text was taken, as far as I could tell, as a personal insult to its writer.
So, I thought it worth mentioning that I do, indeed, respect John Eldredge and what he’s trying to do. I am not categorically opposed to Eldredge’s entire argument, nor do I regard Eldredge himself as having anything but the best of intentions. I like Wild at Heart in many ways. Its unquestionable popularity suggests that the book has struck a chord with many. Eldredge is undoubtedly on to something. Like many in the book’s audience, I have felt “out of place” in the church, and limited by the “nice guy” expectations that often seem placed on men in evangelical culture. There really is a need, I think, to acknowledge more fully within that culture the necessity of taking risks, of having a genuine sense of purpose, and of pushing beyond the merely acceptable in order to become more genuine–all aspects of what Eldredge has to say that I affirm. At the same time, I think many other aspects of the argument he makes in Wild at Heart really are deeply mistaken and problematic–and I’m sure Eldredge himself would be the first to invite and encourage vigorous debate and dialogue about his ideas. One does not, after all–especially if one wants to be “Wild at Heart”–publish a book to the world and then become offended by anyone who doesn’t obsequiously agree with everything in it.
I intend the argument in this series as anything but a personal attack. Rather, I’m interested in employing my own critical faculties and particular area of scholarly training (medieval literature) to try to further the discussion Eldredge begins in Wild at Heart. One thing I’m attempting to do, here, is push past what I believe is one way in which Eldredge’s argument, in its genuine search for authenticity, doesn’t dig deep enough to find its way out of the illusory masculinity it attempts to overcome. In trying to find greater authenticity, as I hope to show in the rest of the argument, the book only finds another manufactured fantasy. I see the argument here, then, as at least as much a continuation of the project of Wild at Heart as it is a critique.