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John Eldredge
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John Eldredge Speaks on Ransoming Hearts

By Laura J. Bagby
Contributing Writer – The late, great spiritual heart attack -- it is a phenomenon infecting many of America's churches, causing Christians to lead lackluster lives as the 'nice guy' or the 'good girl' on Sunday morning rather than leading lives of daring abundance. How do we get back to being the men and women God created us to be and learn to view our lives as epic tales of God-ordained adventure?

A writer, a philosopher, a motivational speaker, an outdoorsman, but most of all, an intense and intent man who is unashamed to be called a Christian who is fiercely adventurous and an outside-of-the-box thinker, John Eldredge is still treading the tricky waters of recovering men's -- and women's -- souls from the wounds of the world and answer just those kinds of questions.

Since Wild at Heart: Discovering the Secret of a Man's Soul first hit the shelves in 2001, Eldredge has become a household name in much of Christendom. Eldredge has since penned Waking the Dead (Nelson Books, 2003), You Have What It Takes: What Every Father Needs to Heart (Nelson Books, May 2004) and his latest due out in September, Epic: The Story God is Telling and the Role That is Yours to Play. Add also to the docket a female 'Wild at Heart' that Eldredge is co-writing with wife Stasi called Captivating, due out in 2005.

I first learned about this incredibly insightful author while reading Wild at Heart. The book title came up in an office conversation between several male coworkers of mine. I was so curious about what this author had to say about men that I asked to borrow the book and thoroughly enjoyed the read. In fact, I periodically re-read sections of the book because it is that good. And just a note for all you women out there, Eldredge told me recently in our face-to-face interview, 'Lots and lots of women read it and got a lot out of it as women,' so go ahead and crack it open.

For those of you like me who are big fans of Eldredge, you are probalby wondering what he is like in person. Though casually dressed when I met him, he was certainly not casual about spiritual matters. On the contrary, I found him to be a man who strives for authenticity and would rather talk about the deep issues of the heart than the latest sports score or the weather. His intensity and passion for redeeming Christians through the joy-filled life Christ is evident from the outset.

Why did you call your ministry Ransomed Heart? What are we being ransomed from?

JOHN ELDREDGE: Maybe what is more important is what is being ransomed, and, thus, the heart. Jesus is our Ransom. God has transferred us from the kingdom of darkness into the kingdom of the Son He loves, Colossians 1. We are ransomed from all of those things, be it sin, be it the world, be it our wounds, our addictions, we are ransomed from all of those things that will destroy us in the end. What is being ransomed and restored is humanity - a man as a man, a woman as a woman. The offer of the gospel is restoration. It is not just forgiveness. It is restoration of that originally glorious creation in the garden - true masculinity and true femininity gets restored. That is the offer; we aren't just pardoned.

When you originally started with Wild at Heart, it seemed to be going toward men. Now with your Ransomed Femininity conferences, it sounds more like a heart issue.

JOHN ELDREDGE: We went after men first for a reason. I you can get the man, you can get the world, you can get his home, his family, his wife, his children. Men are crucial, and they are harder to win. They are harder to ransom, actually. It is the most difficult mission on earth.

Really? Why is that?

JOHN ELDREDGE: Because women are so much more connected to their hearts. They respond to the language of the heart much more quickly. They are much more aware. We went after guys first, knowing that we needed to get them, but it was never meant to be a men's movement. It really is meant to be a restoration of people, men or women, old or young. We just want to see people restored. That is our goal.

So when you came up with the idea that men want a battle to fight, and all these things that define a man, what were you going through? Obviously, you were going through something personally.

JOHN ELDREDGE: This is crucial. This is absolutely crucial. I don't write anything that I haven't lived. In terms of integrity, you have to write what you live. And if you write beyond what you live, it is theory. And theory is not helpful. It is just not. Wild at Heart simply came out of my journey as a man and then my work with men. I just know these things to be true. Now, Nelson comes along and asks, 'Where is the women's book?'

That was my question, too!

JOHN ELDREDGE: Initially, I said, 'I am sorry. I can't write it. I am not a woman.' What? Some guy is going to come along and tell a woman what it means to be an authentic woman? And then a beautiful story -- Last year my wife says, 'I would love to write a book for women.' I called Nelson back up and said, 'Hey, guess what?' So this summer we are writing it together. It is called Captivating. It comes out in March 2005.

You are still in the process of doing the female version, but maybe you could just go over what a true man is and what a true women is so we can get a picture of it.

JOHN ELDREDGE: First, you have to start with what they want. Men want a battle to fight, an adventure to live, and a beauty to rescue. That is what is written in their hearts. That is what little boys play at. That is what men's movies are about. You just see it. It is undeniable. A woman wants to be romanced, she wants to be an essential part of a great adventure, she wants a beauty to unveil. That is what little girls play at, and those are the movies women love and the stories that they love. They always have those three ingredients. An authentic man is, therefore, a man who is living with strength and courage and offering his strength on behalf of others. It is not about selfishness. An authentic woman is vulnerable and valiant. She, too, can be fierce and is meant to be - not like Rambo - but the courageous women of the Scripture are not 'church ladies.' They are not these very nice women who are very dutiful and who are just here to serve. Listen, they are in many ways scandalous. The woman who crashes the Pharisees' party to anoint Jesus, Mary, was scandalous and vulnerable, absolutely. Rahab commits treason to follow the Living God. There is something about her that is absolutely scandalous and God rewards her for it. They are women who defy convention to live courageously but to also offer vulnerability.

This seems to be a theme in both men and women that the 'nice guy' and the 'nice girl' are out. How did we come to the conclusion that we have to be 'nice'?

JOHN ELDREDGE: It is the Church. It is the Church culture. Look at it. It is absolutely suffocating, isn't it?

But why did we get there? Is it a control thing? Like, as long as they are nice, they won't do anything?

JOHN ELDREDGE: It is a control thing and it is a fear thing, too, and, at the core, it is a misunderstanding of the heart. The Church has taught us that the heart is desperately wicked. Don't even get near it. Don't touch it. Lock that thing away. It is going to get you into trouble. If you abandon the heart, which is passion, desire, living, what are you left with but behavior? If you can't live from the inside out, you have to live from the outside in. So then it is just, 'Tell me what to do?' A 'nice guy' and a 'good girl'. And so you just go through behavior. It is hardly life, and Jesus promises life.

Yes He does. I guess people misunderstand and reason that we have a sin nature, which is bad, so in one sense we sort of are bad. That is were it gets confusing. Ok, our sinful nature is bad; therefore, we must be bad; therefore, my desires can't be good. How do you re-teach people?

JOHN ELDREDGE: It is a new reformation. First, we have to recover the truth of the gospel. The gospel makes your heart new; it makes it good. It is not that you still have a wicked heart, but you have been forgiven. Jesus said, 'A new heart I will give you and a new spirit I will put within you. I will take away your heart of stone and I will give you a heart that is tender toward me, a heart of flesh.' He teaches in Luke 8 that the seed that fell on good soil stands for those with a noble and good heart. A noble and good heart? Where do you heart that? We teach people that your core has been changed, the truest women that you are, the truest man that you are has been ransomed by Christ and restored. You can live from that. You can trust your desires.

That is almost a scary thought, isn't it? That must have brought a lot of freedom to you.

JOHN ELDREDGE: Big time. Well, personally I thought and felt very guilty. I thought that I was supposed to be a missionary. I felt very guilty because I didn't want to be. I really didn't. Then I thought, 'Here is what God is going to do. He is going to send me to Africa because that is the noble thing to do and because I hate the idea, it is the spiritual thing. What a relief to discover Psalm 34:7, 'Delight yourself in the Lord and He will give you the desires of your heart.' The reason why I don't want to be a missionary is that it is not my calling. I support it. I believe in it. But it is not my calling. There is this great line in one of Gerard Manley Hopkins' poems. He says, 'What I do is me for this I came.' I can say that now, living from my heart. People would ask me, 'When you go into a bookstore, what section do you go to?' I go to anything on the heart. That is what I care about. That is where I go. When I sit down with someone, I don't chit-chat about the weather. 'How is your heart?' That is where I go. That is my calling.

With your new book, Epic, it is still about the heart. It sounds like the heart of God.

JOHN ELDREDGE: Epic is really about story and it is about the larger story that we live in. It is seeing life, first off, as story, because you won't interpret your life correctly until you understand it as a story within a larger story, that it is an epic, that we live in something no less than the Lord of the Rings, or the Matrix, or Gladiator, or Titanic. Most Christians don't see it that way. It is really the Four Spiritual Laws meets Hollywood. It is a re-presentation of the gospel using story, film, and the imagery that really speaks to our hearts.

Could this be a motion picture eventually?

JOHN ELDREDGE: It would be awesome, but I wrote the book primarily as an evangelistic piece to try and help people share the gospel in a way that is fresh, that is so unintimidating to a non-Christian. Because I go, 'I love those movies. I love all of those movies.' And you say, 'That is God calling to you. He is speaking to you through those films. Something is written on your heart that you can't deny.' There is a story written on every human heart. It is the same story - good and evil, love, romance, danger, sacrifice. It is all there. Jack dies in Titanic so that Rose may live. Wallace dies in Braveheart to set Scotland free. Maximus dies in Gladiator that the people might be free. See the themes? The Return of the King, it is all borrowing from the gospel. If we can give the gospel back to people in Technicolor, if we can give it back to them in its full beauty, that is what I want to do.

It is almost two-fold: evangelizing and setting them free.

JOHN ELDREDGE: Paul said, 'You shine as stars in the universe as you hold out the Word of Life.' Have you ever heard evangelism described like that? One, we don't know that it is OK to really shimmer, to really be who we are. We are inviting people to life, not just heaven forever, but life. Jesus said, 'I have come so that you might have life.'

I guess I am getting to the same question that you are getting at. How do you have that joy all of the time?

JOHN ELDREDGE: You have to start with where you lost heart. We don't live in the Garden. We live far from Eden. Every life is full of heartaches. Every life, frankly, is unspeakably sad. Where did you lose heart, especially in your youth? Your heart comes into this world expecting unconditional love, expecting adventure, expecting a special part, and then it is wounded. You have to take people back to where they lost heart because Jesus says, 'I have come to heal the brokenhearted and set the captive free.' Where are you brokenhearted and where is your heart captive? Are you captive to certain messages that you heard? Are you captive to certain fears? Are you captive to certain beliefs? You have to go there first. You can't just jump to the joy. You can't. So we go back there to invite Christ to do His healing work.

Has it been a struggle to personally implement manhood as you teach in Wild at Heart?

JOHN ELDREDGE: The reason that people don't live like this is that it is costly. The reason why people choose safety and death is because life involves risk and danger. To allow your heart to come alive again is to open yourself up to tremendous suffering. Jesus is called 'the man of sorrows' for a reason. He is the only person who has ever walked through this world without numbing Himself -- no addictions, no distractions, no false self, no masks, no charades. He was simply who He was, and it broke His heart. So being a man authentically is the greatest thing, and it is costly.

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