At first glance, the popular new book co-authored by John and Stasi Eldredge appears to have much to commend it. However, according to Donna Thoennes, Ph.D., the book presents pictures of God and woman that are out of step with Scripture.
At first glance, the popular new book co-authored by husband and wife team John and Stasi Eldredge appears to have much to commend it.
The book—Captivating: Unveiling the Mystery of a Woman’s Soul (Thomas Nelson, 2005), a female counterpart to John Eldredge’s bestseller Wild at Heart—is currently sitting firmly in the No. 1 position atop the list of best-selling books compiled by the Christian Booksellers Association.
It rightly emphasizes the fact that God is not only transcendent and wholly other, but is accessible and knowable. It also presents a biblical view of the unique creation that is woman—no hint of blurring the gender lines here. In fact, Captivating upholds the biblical necessity of distinguishing between gender, acknowledging the goodness in the truth that “God made them male and female.”
However, according to a review written for The Council on Biblical Manhood and Womanhood (CBMW) by Donna Thoennes, Ph.D., the book presents pictures of God and woman that are out of step with Scripture.
Thoennes serves as assistant professor in the Torrey Honors Institute at Biola University. She also ministers to women at Grace Evangelical Free Church in La Mirada, Calif., where her husband Erik, a CBMW council member, serves as pastor.
Thoennes points out that one of the book’s central tenets resides in its statement on page 28 that postulates, “This may be the most important thing we ever learn about God—that he yearns for relationship with us. . . . He yearns for us. He cares. He has a tender heart.”
The authors aim to remedy what they view as an incorrect doctrine of God by asserting the incorrectness of a view of God that sees him “as strong and powerful, but not as needing us, vulnerable to us, yearning to be desired,” Thoennes points out.
“It appears that rather than turning to Scripture or the synthetic work of theologians,” Thoennes writes, “the Eldredges want to begin with woman to understand the complexities of God’s nature.” This is particularly in view in the authors’ statement, “After years of hearing the heart-cry of women, I am convinced beyond a doubt of this: God wants to be loved.”
But the authors have reversed the truth about God, Thoennes says. As Calvin began his venerable work the Institutes of the Christian Religion by asserting that to truly know man one must know God, so Thoennes argues that Captivating has turned biblical ontology on its head.
“The authors have flipped the process of understanding who God is and who we are,” Thoennes writes. “Because women are made in God’s image, they are like him and represent him. Therefore, they can look to God to infer things about themselves, but they should not assume that conclusions can be drawn in the opposite direction.
“Just because we have certain tendencies or desires does not necessitate that God shares those. God is high and lifted up, he is transcendent as well as immanent. In Ps 50:21 God corrects man with a strong accusation ‘you thought that I was one like yourself, but now I rebuke you and lay the charge before you.’ We must look to God to learn who we are, not the other way around.”
The authors of Captivating also argue that a woman’s need to be romanced points to God’s desire to be romanced. Speaking of God’s heart, they write, “What would it be like to experience for yourself that the truest thing about his heart toward yours is not disappointment or disapproval but deep, fiery passionate love?”
In addition to a faulty view of God, Captivating offers an inflated view of women, Thoennes points out. The book offers women as the pinnacle of God’s creation, “the crescendo, the final, astonishing work of God.”
“It may be tempting to empathize with this attempt to build a woman’s self-esteem, but the sins of pride an self-centeredness are only encouraged with this declaration (of woman as the zenith of God’s creation),” Thoennes writes.
Thoennes’s full review of Captivating is available here: Who’s Captivating Whom?
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