All’s Not Fair In Love & War
When I first learned that John and Stasi Eldredge had written Love & War, a book on marriage, my reaction was negative to say the least. Don’t get me wrong, I find the Eldredges’ desire to help people improve their marriages admirable. But having just finished re-reading large portions of Wild at Heart and Captivating, their books on men and women, respectively, I instinctively worried about the advice they would give. The Eldredges often argue that God created men and women as almost complete opposites, and as someone who strongly disagrees with that view, I wasn’t clamoring to see them apply it to marriage.
To my surprise, the book exceeded my expectations. At times, I found myself wanting to like it. But ultimately, the book’s negatives still outweighed the positives.
Focusing largely on their own experiences, the Eldredges begin by asserting that marriage is “fabulously hard” (p. 13). Indeed, they say it’s a “miracle of the first order” (p. 14) that any marriage makes it at all, given that (1) men and women are complete opposites, (2) we are all broken people, and (3) Satan hates marriage. Despite these difficulties, however, marriage plays a crucial role in God’s story. We live in a world at war, they write, and God gives us marriage to provide us with companionship, and as a picture of his love. Thus, although marriage is excruciatingly hard, God is on our side.
With all this in mind, the Eldredges proceed to discuss several important, marriage-related issues. From communication, to sex, to having a shared mission in one’s marriage, they offer input and advice, much of it helpful. For example, they explain how people’s brokenness contributes to problems with their spouse, and they encourage people to embrace the resulting conflict as a way of seeking transformation. In addition, their discussion of the need for both spouses to seek fulfillment in Christ, rather than each other, is commendable. Much of their advice even borders on being pro-egalitarian: they advise couples to make decisions together and encourage them to exercise authority together in matters of spiritual warfare.
Yet despite the book’s good points, I reluctantly found myself increasingly frustrated with the authors. Their extreme negativity about marriage was exhausting. A few of the choicest examples include comparing the exchanging of wedding vows to the special forces “vowing their lives to one another as they embark on a perilous mission in dark lands, the outcome of which remains quite uncertain,” (p. 4), and asserting that, “if you cannot admit the disappointment of your marriage, you have made an idol out of it,” (p. 67). They also resort to stereotypes, often attributing marital difficulties to irreconcilable differences between men and women. Sadly, by persuading women and men that they are complete opposites, and that marriage is almost impossible, the authors may well convince people that their marriage is irreparably broken—the exact problem the authors are trying to correct.
The authors also treat scripture carelessly, taking it out of context and providing incomplete quotations, without indicating they have done so. They use pop culture even more heavily than they use the Bible, reporting that human-made movies and stories prove how God intended the world to be. Throughout the book, the Eldredges often muffle their own meaning with indirect, unstructured, and hard to follow writing. They are overly repetitive both with unclear and weakly constructed analogies and by restating nearly all of Wild at Heart and Captivating.
Ultimately, Love & War’s fundamental flaw is its failure to appreciate the diversity of human experience. The book assumes that every man is like John, every woman is like Stasi, and therefore every marriage is as difficult as theirs. But the world isn’t so simple. To be sure, no marriage is perfect, and conflict between spouses is inevitable. But marriage can also be one of life’s greatest joys—especially for people who are willing to be open and vulnerable with each other.