Rather than ask what you should do to become a better man, ask what makes you come alive, John Eldredge said.
The author of Wild At Heart: Discovering the Secret of a Man's Soul said in an interview this week that the modern world - church included - is stripping men of their souls and turning them into productive, well-behaved, empty-hearted machines.
His best-selling book urges men to recognize three deep-seated, God-given desires: to fight a battle, to live an adventure, and to rescue a beauty.
Only when men listen to their hearts can they become fully alive, Mr. Eldredge said, a promise that Jesus offers in John 10:10: “I have come that they may have life, and have it to the full.”
While he is not advising modern man to live in a cave and hunt for food, he believes that the 300-year-old Age of Enlightenment, with its emphasis on rationalism and intellectual power, has proved to be “a big disappointment” because it neglected the riches of the heart.
The yearning for emotional depth has been recognized by Hollywood, which finds box-office treasure in stories offering adventures, fierce battles, and lovers riding to the rescue, from fantasies such as Star Wars and James Bond to historical tales such as Braveheart and Legends of the Fall.
“We have been ravaged by rationalism,” Mr. Eldredge said from Colorado Springs. “Friendship, laughter, courage, beauty, sacrifice - all those things flow from the heart.”
Men should pursue whatever their passion is and follow their childhood dreams, whether it's climbing mountains, canoeing, fly fishing (his favorites), camping, sailing, horseback riding, playing ball, gardening, tinkering in a wood shop - any hands-on, real-world activity.
“It's those things that reconnect us to the natural world and its rhythms and lessons, and it's essential to a soulful life,” he said. “You have to unplug from e-mail and Starbucks and all of that and get away.”
The modern era's comforts and conveniences have widened the gap between humans and the pace of life that God intended, he said.
“We live in a totally artificial world. We go from office cubicle to traffic on the Interstate to a microwave dinner to two hours of television and fall into bed. Something's lost. You really have lost touch with the world that your soul was created to live in.”
Today's pace of life is almost frantic, Mr. Eldredge said. “Anytime you call anybody: `How are you?' `Oh, I'm so busy!' Or you get voice mail. You don't even get real people anymore.”
Separation from the natural world creates a void in people's hearts and prompts them to question their reason for being.
“It's very hard to break loose,” he said. “That's why I love [author G.K.] Chesterton's phrase `divine discontent.' I think you reach a point where you say, `I'm sick of this. It's not working. I can't live this life anymore.'
“That would be my story,” said the author, 43, and father of three boys. “I woke up in Washington, D.C., working in the realm of politics. I realized: `I hate my life. I hate politics. What am I even doing here? This wasn't my dream as a boy. How did I wind up in this job?'
“I just looked at my life and said, `Wow, I am unhappy.' And I think it's a very good thing because it drives you to change, or at least it awakens the possibilities in life.”
Wild at Heart got off to a good start when it was released in April, 2001, selling more than 250,000 copies the first year and earning several awards in the Christian publishing field.
But in the last 12 months, its popularity has soared, surpassing sales of 1 million and spawning a grassroots movement of men forming “bands of brothers” to pursue their dreams and reclaim their masculinity.
Even before the book's release, Mr. Eldredge, a former actor, theater director, and counselor, had formed Ransomed Heart Ministries, a teaching ministry that holds outdoor retreats in Colorado.
He said he was confident that the concepts espoused in Wild at Heart could help men get in touch with their souls, having seen what it did for himself and his friends. But he still was “stunned” by the extent of the book's success.
“It's being used in Colombian drug prisons, with small groups of hard-core murderers. It's been translated into more than a dozen languages. Obviously it taps into a universality in the masculine soul that is not unique to America.”
Although Wild at Heart is written primarily for men, women also need to be “freed to live from their hearts,” Mr. Eldredge said. The author counters allegations of sexism by saying he writes about “innate” and “crucial” differences between men and women that society readily acknowledges.
His latest project is Waking the Dead: The Glory of a Heart Fully Alive (Thomas Nelson, $21.99).
“It's not really a sequel,” he said. “It was just the next thing on my heart.”
The theme of the book is restoration, he said.
“I just can't stand what's happened to modern Christianity,” Mr. Eldredge said. “I feel like what people think is Christianity, what they're living with, is just this tiny scrap of what the real offer is. Most notably, I think most people perceive Christianity as an offer of forgiveness - which it is. It is forgiveness. But I believe that the offer also includes life, and primarily restoration.”
He said Jesus' miracles are perfect examples.
“While different, they're all actually illustrating one thing,” he said. “Whether it's the blind receiving their sight, the lame walking, or the dead literally raised, it's all restoration. Whatever is broken is restored.
“And I think Christ is saying, `Look, this is what I really want to do for you. If there is something broken in your life, I want to restore it.'”