In my previous post, I noted how I resonated quite a bit with Eldredge’s depiction of the wilderness and adventure as so incredibly therapeutic, but I struggled with the universalizing and ontological move that he makes in trying to make that exclusively masculine. Based on this conflict, I have really mixed feelings about the project he is laying it out.
His use of scripture, however, I have no mixed feelings about: it is viscerally painful to see him handling scripture in these first four pages of the book. If this is the way the rest of the book is going to go, it’s going to be a long read.
Let’s hit it in a play-by-play. I am not sure I’ll have the energy to keep this up, but since these are the key scriptures backing his thesis, they deserve special attention.
Eve was created within the lush beauty of Eden’s garden. But Adam, if you’ll remember, was created outside the Garden, in the wilderness. In the record of our beginnings, the second chapter of Genesis makes it clear: Man was born in the outback, from the untamed part of creation. Only afteward is he brought to Eden. And ever since the boys have never been at home indoors, and men have had an insatiable longing to explore. We long to return; it’s when most men come alive.
Actually, I didn’t remember, so I went and looked it up. It turns out that Eldredge is making a lot out of the phrase “and he put” (Hebrew: וַיָּשֶׂם) in Genesis 2:7–9.
Then the Lord God formed man from the dust of the ground, and breathed into his nostrils the breath of life; and the man became a living being. And the Lord God planted a garden in Eden, in the east; and there he put the man whom he had formed. Out of the ground the Lord God made to grow every tree that is pleasant to the sight and good for food, the tree of life also in the midst of the garden, and the tree of the knowledge of good and evil.
Now, this passage is clearly not chronological: after all, God plants the garden and only in the next phrase does he grow the trees. So just because the story mentions something later does not mean that something happened later. This means that the only thing that “makes it clear” is the term “put”, which—according to Eldredge—clearly means “placed into” and not “created within”. What’s more, Cain hardly seems excited to become to return to the wilderness in Genesis 4:
“You will be a fugitive and a wanderer on the earth.” Cain said to the Lord, “My punishment is greater than I can bear! Today you have driven me away from the soil, and I shall be hidden from your face; I shall be a fugitive and a wanderer on the earth, and anyone who meets me may kill me.”
But, y'know, maybe Cain was secretly a woman.
And while we’re on the topic of our progenitor’s gender identities: it’s not fair to call Adam “male”. After all, especially given complimentarian apologetics, the masculine is not complete without the feminine.1 Since the feminine had not been created yet, the categories of “masculine” and “feminine” don’t exist, and so Adam was neither masculine nor feminine. Adam was separated into masculine and feminine during the creation of Eve, and that is when Adam became male. So both man and woman were created in the garden: it is the shared progenitor of both genders, the one created in God’s image, that was created in the primal space of Creation.
Then there is the list of wilderness men.
Look at the heroes of the biblical text: Moses does not encounter God at the mall. […] The same is true of Jacob, who has his wrestling match with God not on the living room sofa but in a wady somewhere east of the Jabbok, in Mesopotamia. Where did the great prophet Elijah go to recover his strength? To the wild. As did John the Baptist, and his cousin, Jesus, who is led by the Spirit into the wilderness.
Moses wasn’t out beyond the wilderness in a spiritual retreat: he was on the clock, working for his adopted father-in-law. Further, he was only out in that place because he had killed a man and was a fugitive from the authorities. This makes Moses' wilderness very different from the wilderness that Eldredge is so fond of. The Jabbok—where Jacob wrestled God—has been populated and cultivated since the Bronze Age. When God sends Jacob back to that place (Genesis 35:1-7), it is identified as the city, Luz. So while it is true that Jacob was alone on his side of the river, it’s a reach to say that he was out in some far-distant wilderness. Elijah wasn’t “recovering his strength”: he was fleeing, in fear for his life from a king he pissed off.2 Jesus was “led up” to the wilderness specifically because that’s where the Devil was located (Matthew 4:1), which is hardly a rousing recommendation. John the Baptist is probably the best example, since the whole prophecy he was fulfilling had to do with wilderness, and (at least according to Luke) God came to John when John was in the wilderness, as well. So he’s got maybe one example out of the whole Bible.
Eldredge is having to make these reaches and wiggles is dealing with is the fact that the Bible has a very different concept of wildrness than he does. The wilderness, in the Bible, is a place of desparation and destitution. It’s not a place someone sane ever goes voluntarily, and it’s certainly not a place you opt to go to in order to test yourself. The only worse locale in the Bible is the sea, which represents outright chaos and annihilation (in Gen 1, the primordial void is even called “the deep”; c.f. Jonah 2). With that in mind, consider that the Spirit “led up” Jesus to the wilderness—that “led up” (ἀνήχθη) also means “put to sea”, which should give you an idea as to what was going on with Jesus. This is not a recommendation or a model to be followed. This is Jesus being sent into the heart of Godless territory.
Still not sold on this idea? Consider that Heaven is the New Jerusalem. At the very end of the Bible, it’s a city—not a wilderness, not a garden—where the faithful reside. The only people outside the city are “the dogs and sorcerers and fornicators and murderers and idolaters, and everyone who loves and practices falsehood.”3 (Rev 22:15) So, if the wilderness is such a vital part of masculinity’s essence, God is certainly doing a bad job of providing for it in Heaven. Perhaps that’s because adventure isn’t man’s purpose at all. Shortly after Eldredge’s man-made-in-the-outback passage, the Bible tells of God’s orignal purpose for Adam: to till and keep the garden. (Gen 2:15)
I simply don’t know anywhere in the Bible where the wilderness is portrayed as Eldredge wants to depict it. Men aren’t depicted as relating to the wilderness in the way that Eldredge wants to say is essentially masculine. You can perhaps shove it onto John the Baptist if you isolate the verse about John the Baptist’s call, but if you take the Bible as a whole or look at any other point, his depiction of the wilderness simply does not line up with the Biblical wintess. Despite being a Christian, Eldredge seems to be bringing in this external account and shoving it onto the Biblical witness.
This is a major red flag for this book. If you want to write a secular book, then you’re welcome to make up whatever story about the male soul you would like. If you want to write as a Christian, however, you need to subordinate your story to the Christian story. But it is looking like Eldredge is bringing this story from outside of Christianity and making Christianity conform to it, which is a major sign that he’s left the boundaries of the faith: in previous generations, people who taught like this were called heretics. Although I’m not interested in hunting heretics and enforcing the boundaries of faith, I do think that if what you are selling is foreign to Christianity, you should just own it and be honest about it.
Hence the “compliment” in “complimentarian”, instead of “masculine rules, feminine drools”-arian. ↩
Are you noticing a theme yet? There’s a reason why people go into the wilderness in the Bible, and it’s not to find themselves. It’s to avoid being found. ↩
I’ve got a theory as to why dogs are in that list, but I’ll save that for another post. ↩