Essay / Misc.

Babylonian Captivit-ating

The redoubtable Dustin Steeve linked recently to a Christianity Today review of the book Captivating: Unveiling the Mystery of a Woman’s Soul, by John and Stasi Eldredge. The reviewer, Agnieszka Tennant, doesn’t recognize herself in the descriptions of woman offered by this book, decked out in “pop psychology, sentimentality, eisegesis, and clichés borrowed from Harlequin paperbacks.”

As off-putting and weird as the Eldredge’s portrait of The True Woman may be, I think there’s something even wilder at the heart of this Eldredge book. From what I’ve read of Captivating, the real driving force of the book is explicitly theological: it is a doctrine of God, and a methodology for how to arrive at that doctrine of God.

The keenest theologically-informed review of this book that I’ve seen is by Torrey Honors Institute’s own Dr. Donna Thoennes, whose analysis of Captivating grabs ahold of it by the theological handle and gives it a good worrying. Thoennes quotes this line from the book: “After years of hearing the heart-cry of women, I am convinced beyond a doubt of this: God wants to be loved.”, and adds this comment:

One would expect the sentence to say that after counseling women, the authors are convinced that women want to be loved. Somehow the needs of women become the needs of God in their worldview. The authors have flipped the process of understanding who God is and who we are. Because women are made in God’s image, they are like him and represent him. Therefore, they can look to God to infer things about themselves, but they should not assume that conclusions can be drawn in the opposite direction. Just because we have certain tendencies or desires does not necessitate that God shares those. God is high and lifted up; he is transcendent as well as immanent. In Ps 50:21 God corrects man with a strong accusation, “You thought that I was one like yourself, but now I rebuke you and lay the charge before you.” We must look to God to learn who we are, not the other way around.

I especially appreciate the way Thoennes situates her (really quite stinging) critique inside of a gracious and inviting —biblical— doctrine of God:

Our God is relational: the Bible says he has emotions and he responds to our moral status. Certainly his relational nature is evident in Jesus. But he does not need us! The Eldredges seem to assume that if God does not need us, he does not really love us. But God’s love is more secure and provides more hope and stirs more obedience when it grows from his eternal, unchanging, loving character.

Read it all here.

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