Walking with God Non-Fiction Review : 2008/07/14
Walking with God: Talk to Him. Hear from Him. Really.
by John Eldredge
Nashville: Thomas Nelson, 2008, 218 pp., hardcover.
Reading any John Eldredge book is a frustrating exercise. He comes across as a genuinely sincere nice guy who is looking for God in a lot of strange ways. Every time I start agreeing with him, he goes off on some utterly bizarre tangent that leaves me shaking my head, more in puzzlement than disgust. For example, Eldredge writes of a friend who doesn't believe that God really speaks conversationally to us:
And so, when he found himself assaulted and undermined by all that had unfolded in his life, he had no source of guidance or explanation (7). (emphasis mine)
That stunned me. This is from a man who also says,
I am not minimizing in any way the authority of the Scripture or the fact that God speaks to us through the Bible (13).
That is consistent with what I think is the best passage in the book:
There is no substitute for the written Word of God. No matter how precious a personal word may be to us, no matter how cool some insight may be, it doesn't compare to the written Word. I've seen too many immature Christians chase after "revelation" and go wacky because they are not rooted and grounded in Scripture (42).
So which is it? Does God speak to us in His Word, or did Eldredge's friend really have no source of guidance? Unfortunately, this type of sloppy inconsistency mars most Christian books these days. Eldredge refutes Eldredge, all within one 35-page stretch of Walking With God
Originally I intended to write a detailed review of Walking with God
, but then I realized that those who would be impressed by Eldredge's approach are from such a different world from me that they'd never be persuaded by any appeals I'd make to Scripture or logic. Personal experience would impress them much more, and that's what Eldredge offers up by the truckload.
Suffice it to say that this book is very similar to his others. It spends a lot of time on the unbiblical practice of confronting foul spirits by name, blaming them for almost everything that goes wrong. According to Eldredge, they can hitchhike into your house by leaping from one person to another--that sort of reminds me of the demon sitting on someone's head in church in a prior Eldredge book. The Eldredge family spends a lot of time binding the demons associated with their friends and acquaintances from jumping into their house. People, inanimate objects--everything is a conduit to foul spirits that will deprive their family of sleep and joy. While I certainly believe in spiritual forces, I think an obsession with the dark side is more harmful than helpful.
Eldredge seems to believe that Christians are not to use their renewed minds, but to ask God for every detail of life, like what color to paint the bathroom or where to ride your horse. Eldredge has more free time and toys than I do, so I don't have as many questions, like when he mentioned on his website
that they asked God about vacation, and God told them to spend two weeks in Kauai, Hawaii. Must be nice. According to Eldredge, we must take vacations away from relatives. By that definition, I've probably had about two weeks of total vacation time in the last 20 years. Maybe if I had more conversations with God, He'd show me how to make enough money to take time for Kauai...
The danger in asking God about every little thing is that anything that goes wrong can be blamed on something you failed to do, leaving God as an exacting taskmaster who plays by the ultimate legalistic rules. This God is a far cry from what Eldredge would directly promote, but he doesn't seem to see the implications of his "ask God about everything or run into trouble" mentality. For example, the Eldredge family had an ordeal getting a Christmas tree because they didn't go into the mountains to get it on the day that God told them to go (5). Well, what if God wanted them to learn from the ordeal? Biblically, we typically learn more from trials. At one point, Eldredge recounts a nasty horse spill in which he broke a nose and a wrist, apparently because he asked God if he should ride his horse (yes) but forgot to ask God where they should ride (81). When I read New Testament prayers, I fail to find this extreme focus on details, resulting in dire consequences if you miss a single point: "Okay, God, I ride my black horse on the southern trail starting at 11:48 AM, but what kind of meat should we pack for the picnic sandwiches?" Skip the last detail, and you'll get food poisoning or something.
Another issue that really bothers me is Eldredge's obsession with agreements. He seems to believe that one simple moment of holding a negative thought can bind you for decades. For example, he once woke up at 4:30 in the morning during a storm, but made the mistake of making an agreement--"I can't go back to sleep" (146). He had to pray and reject that agreement to get a little more sleep, but in the morning he started making an agreement that part of getting older was waking up early. He had to respond strongly:
Geez, friggin' Louise. These guys just don't quit. If I begin to make that agreement, guess what's going to happen--I am going to start to wake up at 4:30 consistently (147).
"These guys" are apparently the demons of sleep loss. I fail to see the Biblical support for any of this--blaming demons for sleep loss, weird binding agreements with evil forces that seem to trump the sovereignty of God and so on. It's almost like Eldredge teaches an esoteric gnostic view that secret knowledge is required for spiritual success. Maybe that's why he's sold eight million books. Apparently everyone wants in on the secret of chatting with God about interior decorating while rebuking the demons of shag carpet.
The Eldredges like to travel on vacation, but they also like to time-travel. In a prior book
, Stasi went back and healed part of her teen self. In this one, John goes back to high school in his head, this time with a big bad diesel pickup truck to impress the babes (161). This turns out to be very healing for him. I had some bad experiences in high school (didn't we all?), but I certainly don't feel any need to revisit that time in great detail. I prefer Paul's advice in Philippians 3:13, which says, "Brothers, I do not consider that I have made it my own. But one thing I do: forgetting what lies behind and straining forward to what lies ahead."
As for the conversational intimacy with God, the oddest thing was that often you have to work hard to tell what God wants; even seasoned experts like the Eldredges have to try really hard, do some guessing, go on hunches, ask lots of questions, and once they're convinced they've heard directly from God, sometimes they still get it totally wrong, as with the story of the Eldredge's son's nonexistent healing from a heart problem that they admitted in Waking The Dead
. That story doesn't come up here, perhaps because it wouldn't fit the thesis too well. However, there's plenty of strange stuff here, like God saying He loves John through a hawk staring at him, John hearing his dead golden retriever Scout barking in heaven while Scout plays ball with Jesus, and so on. If you believe in that, you'll love John Eldredge. Otherwise, you'll join me in scratching your head and wondering why his ministry is so popular.
Note: Thanks to my friend John Matthews for loaning me the book.
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