The church of the first five centuries helped define women’s sense of self, integrating their understanding of sexuality and marriage with the redemptive work of Christ, thus encouraging them to contribute to the work of the church.
Welcome to high school youth group. Tonight’s message: modesty. The boys are escorted off to another room for this conversation—modesty is an issue for women. This captive audience of young women listens as their youth pastor outlines why and how a girl should be modest.
I have long deliberated the possible efficacy of another Wild at Heart critique.1 Although many excellent critiques arose in the years after the book’s initial release in 2001, it still sells unusually well, progressively working its way into churches, homes, and minds. The English language version has sold over 4.5 million copies, annual sales exceed 100,000, and it currently holds the #1 Best Seller spot in Christian Men’s Issues on Amazon. To date, the book has been translated into thirty languages. Beyond this, the ideologies of Wild at Heart find expression in subsequent books written by John and Stasi Eldredge, most notably Captivating, as well as numerous contemporary Christian works on sex and gender that display direct influence from the Eldredges’ teachings or promote similar ideas. Hardly a year passes without some popular Christian book on gender or parenting acknowledging the Eldredges and their teachings or listing Wild at Heart as recommended reading. Stephen Mansfield, for example, calls the book “masterful,” listing it first in “The Ten Essential Books for Manly Men,” because it provides men with “the tools for understanding and living out the essential passions of manhood.” For Eldredge himself, such steady reception confirms its timeless truth. It is somehow paradoxically “truer” than before, because “it rings eternal, and universal. God was in it then; he is in it still.”
The struggles of Christian women with sexuality, food, and their bodies reflect the Church’s historic ambivalence towards the body—particularly the female body. The embodiment of God in the Incarnation, Jesus’ embrace of lepers, prostitutes, and women, and Jesus’ bodily resurrection establish a radical foundation of body affirmation. Yet the history of the Church demonstrates a decidedly negative view of the body and sexuality.
With the publication of the Nashville Statement, the Council on Biblical Manhood and Womanhood sought to set out the Christian stance on human identity. This article offers an analysis to shine a brighter light on this controversial topic.