In the introduction to Captivating, Stasi Eldredge writes, “As a new Christian, the first book I picked up to read on godly femininity I threw across the room. I never picked it up again.” Can you identify with her feelings? I certainly can. Over the years I’ve read dozens of worthless books aimed toward Christian women. Some appealed to emotion over reason. Others taught dangerous theology. And then there were the books that gave me the “secret” to victorious womanhood in a few simple steps—steps that never seemed to work for my family and my situation.
It was refreshing to see that Captivating deviates from the predictable “how-to” pattern of most Christian women’s literature. I agree wholeheartedly with the premise of the book—that we were created for a love relationship with God, and that the deepest longings of a Christian woman’s heart are to be loved by God, and to love God1. Sadly, the problems with the book outweigh this good message. Please let me explain.
Captivated with ourselves
To be the beauty, abducted by the bad guys, fought for and rescued
by a hero—some version of this had a place in all our dreams (pg. 9).
It should come as no surprise to any of us that we are the stars of our own daydreams. Like the Eldredges, I believe it’s a part of our nature that as children we imagine ourselves as heroines, as the center of attention, and as the princess. Even as adult women, we often tend to be overly captivated with ourselves. Deep down, some prideful part of us wishes that everyone else were captivated with us, too. Maybe that is why it was so appealing when Eldredge said:
Given the way creation unfolds, how it builds to ever and ever higher works of art, can there be any doubt that Eve is the crown of creation? . . . Look out across the Earth and say to yourselves, “The whole, vast world is incomplete without me. Creation reached its zenith in me” (pg. 25).
A flattering thought? Yes. But is it true? Is there any biblical reason to believe that Eve’s creation somehow excelled Adam’s because of the order of creation? Remember that Paul seemed to say just the opposite in 1 Timothy 2:12-13: “I do not permit a woman to teach or to exercise authority over a man; rather, she is to remain quiet. For Adam was formed first, then Eve” (emphasis mine).
It is as if the Eldredges are saying, “You are powerful, beautiful and strong. You are worthy to be loved.” But the Bible says you were dead in sin, dressed in filthy rags of unrighteousness (see Ephesians 2:1-3). If you are a believer—a child of God—He loves you because He is glorious, not because you are. Do you see the difference? To see just the opposite idea in Captivating, consider several quotes from the book:
He [the Son of God] came to restore the glorious creature that you are. And then set you free . . . to be yourself (pg. 95).
When you are with a woman, ask yourself, what is she telling me about God? It will open up wonders for you (pg. 26).
The essence of a woman is Beauty. She is meant to be the incarnation—our experience in human form—of a Captivating God (pg. 130).
No one is saved by a gospel of self-esteem. The handsome prince did not come to save the lovely, kind-hearted princess in the story of redemption. God reached down to us in our filth and poverty and transformed us, when nothing in us was worthy. Missing this point will cause you to see God as less gracious than He truly is. Don’t look for the incarnation of God in your own beauty or in that of another woman; look to God Himself, incarnate only in the person of Jesus Christ. God is glorious. God is captivating. It is true that we were created in the image of God, but in our fallen state, our nature terribly marred by sin, we represent only a dim reflection.
In Captivating, just as in Wild at Heart, the Eldredges’ writing reflects some highly questionable theology. For example, after describing Cinderella’s oppressed, miserable life as a stepchild and her response to the prince’s invitation to leave it all behind, they write:
The same holds true for Mary, the mother of Jesus—only it’s far, far more weighty. Her life also turned on an invitation. The angel came as the courier of the King. But still, she needed to say yes. [God] would not force the whole thing upon her. Her heart needed to be willing (pg. 203).
This view of the annunciation (announcement) hinges on interpreting Mary’s statement in Luke 1:38 (“May it be to me as you have said.”) in reverse—as if it were Mary’s acceptance of God’s offer and her command to the angel to go ahead with the plan. But nowhere in the passage do we find even the slightest indication that the angel is asking Mary if she will accept. On the contrary, he tells her that she will conceive (v. 31), she shall name Him Jesus (v. 31), the Holy Spirit will come upon her and the Most High will overshadow her (v. 35). This is no offer from God, but rather an announcement of certain, foreordained events involving Mary—a role for which she had been chosen.
Those who wish to elevate Mary to the role of co-redeemer with Christ propagate this view, as do many with a feminist agenda. There is also a hint here of Open Theism—as if God didn’t know what Mary would answer until she had made her decision. Of course, I don’t know if the Eldredges believe any of these false doctrines, but their writing comes dangerously close.
When I asked apologist Dr. James White to comment on this increasingly popular exaltation of the role of Mary, he said, “There is an odd, and highly unbiblical, desire on the part of those seeking to be ecumenical in their outlook to go beyond the Scriptural witness to Mary’s faithfulness and godliness and to see in her words far more than the original context could ever bear.”
The Eldredges continue on their unbiblical theme of exalting Mary to a role of being a sort of co-savior when they write:
And of course the salvation of mankind rested on the courage of a woman, a teenage girl. What if she had said no? (pg. 204).
What if Mary had said no? Would God’s plan for the redemption of mankind have been foiled? Even if her refusal were theoretically possible, it certainly wouldn’t have changed God’s eternal decree. Remember Jonah? God’s plans for the salvation of Nineveh were not contingent on that reluctant prophet’s immediate willingness to obey God’s command. Thankfully, God’s intervention in my life and yours doesn’t ultimately depend on our willingness either (see John 1:13; Romans 9:16; Ephesians 2:4-5; 2 Thessalonians 2:13; James 1:18; etc.).
The image of an impotent, needy God, dependent upon our decisions, appears several times in Captivating. What picture do you get of God from these statements?
How many of you see God as longing to be loved by you? We see Him as strong and powerful, but not as needing us, vulnerable to us, yearning to be desired (pp. 28-29).
From cover to cover, from beginning to end, the cry of God’s heart is, “Why won’t you choose me?” (pg. 29, which is a quote from John Eldredge’s book, Wild at Heart).
God longs to be desired. Just as a woman longs to be desired (pg. 29).
It might come as a surprise that Christ asks our permission to come in and heal, but He is kind, and the door is shut from the inside, and healing never comes against our will. In order to experience His healing, we must also give Him permission to come into the places we have so long shut to anyone (pg. 100).
Would the God described above be able to break down barriers we set up in order to keep our cherished sins? Could He do whatever is necessary in the process of transforming us into the likeness of His Son? Or are we in control, telling God, “Here’s exactly how much sanctification and healing I’d like today, please”?
We need to be careful here to strike a correct balance. As in so many areas of doctrine, we can fall into a ditch on either side of truth when we discuss God’s love and his longing for us. On the one hand, God is not sitting by the phone waiting for it to ring, like some forgotten prom date. On the other hand, neither is He cold and uninvolved—a God who leaves us alone in our sin.
In the path between those two ditches, we have a compassionate God who is not willing that any who are His should perish. He promises the complete sanctification of each of His children (see Romans 8:29). God both mourned and became angry over the sin and unfaithfulness of Israel in the Old Testament. He did not stop there, wringing His hands and pacing the floor, waiting for Israel to return to Him. Over and over He sovereignly moved Israel’s enemies to punish them, and in some cases He afflicted Israel directly (through famine, pestilence, etc.) in order to drive His chosen people back to Himself. God has never been thwarted by the reluctance of His elect.
Consider one more example of the Eldredge’s view of a God who needs us:
Reading George MacDonald several years ago, I came across an astounding thought. You’ve probably heard that there is in every human heart a place that God alone can fill. . . . But what the old poet was saying was that there is also in God’s heart a place that you alone can fill. “It follows that there is a chamber in God Himself, into which none can enter but one, the individual.” You. You are meant to fill a place in the heart of God no one and nothing else can fill. Whoa. He longs for you (pg. 120).
Is there emptiness in God that He needs me to fill? Granted, God has prepared a place for each believer in the body of Christ so that we may have the privilege of using our gifts and specific talents. But this was for our sake, not because of some deficit in God that we need to complete. If there were such a void, how could He have existed complete and blessed in eternity past? God needs nothing (see Acts 17:25).
In addition to the theological error of a weak, needy God, the Eldredges seem to have a confused theology of demons. In discussing a fairly typical marital misunderstanding, Stasi says this:
It was then that John and I realized that we were not alone in the room. We were being attacked by a spirit of accusation that had effectively worked between us for ten years, operating to isolate us from one another and ultimately destroy our marriage (pg. 194).
After commanding the spirit to leave in Jesus’ name, Stasi reports that she and John had a breakthrough in their relationship. I’m happy they cleared up this misunderstanding, but on what biblical basis can we say that there is such thing as a “spirit of accusation”? I find no mention of it in Scripture. In an earlier chapter, Stasi talks about the influence of Neil Anderson in John’s counseling practice and in her life. I won’t go into all the errors that Anderson teaches concerning demonology, but I do recommend “The Christian Research Journal” articles, volume 21, issues 1-4 for a comprehensive treatment of this subject.
There is a little in this book that I commend as valuable to women. The theme of loving God is laudable. Stasi’s openness in describing some deep hurts from her past may be valuable to women who have experienced something similar. Though I found the constant use of examples from the movies and popular songs to be a bit distracting (I was not familiar with many of the dozens of movies to which they referred), others may find those cultural references make the book easier to understand. It is also refreshing that the book does not describe just one kind of woman for all women to emulate. The Eldredges acknowledge that God created us with differences, and that not all of us are gifted to work in the nursery or the kitchen.
On the other hand, Captivating is much more woman-centered than God-centered. The theology taught in the book is full of error. Most of the biblical passages addressed directly to women are not discussed in the book. Jesus is presented as a suitor instead of as a sovereign. My conclusion is that Captivating is a slightly sanctified—though somewhat misleading—romance novel about God, with little biblical substance.
1The reader will note that this review does not deal verbatim with the three things the Eldredges say women long for in their “heart of hearts.” The first two, to be romanced and to play an irreplaceable role in a great adventure, I’ve summarized as “to be loved by God and to love God” since biblically loving God always involves taking part in His church, where every believer has a specifically-designed role to play according to his/her gifts. The third item, “to unveil beauty” seemed a rather nebulous concept to me and so I refrained from commenting on it directly.