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Captivating by John and Stasi Eldredge (Review by Elaine Pratt)

June 27, 2007

More Reviews on John Eldredge

Recently a cake was cooling in the pan on my kitchen counter when one of my children knocked it off, leaving it face-down in the pan on the floor. Since my floor is far from "eat off me" clean, I was left with two choices. I could discard it (the safe option) or scrape it carefully off my floor, removing dog hair, dirt, and other unidentifiable items that might be attached. I must admit the second option was appealing for several reasons: I had spent time and resources in making the cake; I had plans for my family's enjoyment of that cake; and most strongly, the fragrance of melded pumpkin, spices, and cinnamon wafted so invitingly to my nose. How could I throw the whole thing away when just a "small" part of the surface had been compromised? It was mostly good and oh-so wonderfully inviting to the senses. But if I saved and served it to my family, wouldn't most of our enjoyment of the dessert be tainted by bitefuls of moist cake interwoven with dirt, hair, and other unknown contaminants?

Captivating: Unveiling the Mystery of a Woman's Soul, written by a husband/wife team (John and Stasi Eldredge) to women, parallels the dilemma of this baking experience. Like the cake mentioned above, portions of its text are sound. But throughout its pages, beginning with the stated premise, a myriad of distorted truth, misapplied truth, and unsound biblical teaching is intertwined. The result is a mishmash of ingredients, impossible to easily discern the contaminants from the good, seriously bringing into question its value or the wisdom of "saving and serving it" at all.

The premise is very appealing as demonstrated by its popularity in the marketplace. Since its release in April 2005, Captivating has been a bestseller in Christian bookstores.  In November 2005, it was ranked no. 1 on the CBA (Christian Booksellers Association) website.  Indeed, the back cover of the book invitingly reads like an epic tale of victory and romance as it tells of a God who "offers to come to you now as the Hero of your story; to rescue your heart and release you to live as a fully alive and feminine woman. A woman who is truly captivating."   But is this faithful to Scripture?  Or could this be just a case where a little poetic license should be granted as we allow a metaphor to illustrate truth?

 Analyzing the book's Biblical support as well as investigating how far and/or appropriately the metaphor is used will help a careful reader answer this question. An exhaustive discussion of every problem area will not be possible in the confinements of this book review, but I will highlight several key elements of concern.

Biblical Support and Application

An initial and overarching element of conflict with the Bible is the self-focus from which the book operates. The man-  (woman-) centered context upon which the book springboards (e.g., her purpose, her status) as well as the continuing elements of discussion throughout (e.g., her woundedness, her need for romance) begin with man. In contrast, the Bible details man's actions and interaction with God, but clearly originates with "In the beginning, God . . . ."  His glory, his purposes, his design is the utmost, foremost, and only true context of mankind's existence and needs to be the foundation upon which we determine our responses in life.

Secondly, women are given inaccurate status both in relationship to God's creative and redemptive work as well as in relationship to Satan's plan. Women are upheld not only as a crown of creation, but also as the "crescendo, the final, astonishing work of God." The author instructs the reader to say, "The whole, vast world is incomplete without me. Creation has reached its zenith in me (25)." The book also states that, "Women have been essential to every great movement of God (204)." And "The salvation of mankind rested on the courage of a woman, a teenage girl. What if she had said no? What if any of them had said no? (204)" Potentially, this imbalance in understanding our importance to God is harmful on a practical level and damning on a theological one.

Satan is described as having a unique, increased vengeance toward Eve and women in general because of their beauty and because women give life.  The book states, "Satan's bitter heart cannot bear it. He assaults her with a special hatred. You are hated because of your beauty and power (84-85)."  Although we see clearly in Scripture that Satan is a "roaring lion, seeking whom he may devour" (1 Pet 5:8), there is no support for a special vengeful agenda against any subgroup of mankind.

Lastly in this area of weak or inaccurate biblical support, I mention briefly the following: (1) The interpretation of suggested scandal in the relationship between Boaz and Ruth (156-157); (2) The suggestion that "there is also in God's heart a place that you alone can fill (120);" (3) The statement that "she (woman) is meant to be the incarnation of a Captivating God (italics mine) (130);" and (4) The very (personally) offensive "bait and switch" tactic related to the sexual relationship in marriage (162).

Poetic License or Overextended Metaphor?

How appealing and "romantic" at first read the invitation sounds! "The great Love story the Scriptures are telling us about reveals a Lover who longs for you. The story of your life is also the story of the long and passionate pursuit of your heart by One who knows you best and loves you most (115)." But is it too far to stretch the metaphor to include, "He loves me as a Lover loves (112)" or to suggest that we ask, "Jesus, how are you romancing me now (118)?"

Out-of-context references in Scripture (Hosea 2:14, Song of Solomon 4:9) coupled with colloquial descriptions ("deep, fiery passionate love;" 113) to describe God's love to us, and the bold statement that "the root of all holiness is Romance" (113) mislead and cheapen the divine holiness of God and his love for us. The metaphor clearly loses its appropriateness here as the parallel breaks down and actually errs in its comparison. The result is not merely literary license but borderline blasphemy.

In my introductory illustration, the cake could have been salvaged with most of it edible and delicious; in fact, I did carefully slip it from the floor onto a pan, cut off the (rather thick) top portion of contaminated cake, and serve the remainder to my family. (They didn't mind the extra thick layer of frosting on the top.) But such makeshift attempts would not be wise in relation to this book. For no amount of scraping could separate the error from truth. Intellectual "dog hair, dirt, and unidentifiable items" are arguably more unhealthy and unpalatable to the mind than even the worst contaminated cake would be to the stomach. The wisest course of action in this case: Discard it.

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