Unveiling the Mystery of a Woman's Soul
review by Marcia Ford
by John Eldredge and Stasi Eldredge
Nelson Books, 2005
Any time I hear that another John Eldredge book is about to be released, my literary and spiritual senses perk up. Eldredge’s 1997 release, The Sacred Romance (co-written with Brent Curtis), so impacted my life that for years I recommended the book to anyone who would listen to me. I still do on occasion. But when I heard that he and his wife were working on a book for women, my skeptical sense went into high alert. Though I never thought Eldredge’s 2001 book for men, Wild at Heart, deserved the bitter criticism it received from some quarters, I did agree that his central premise was tough to buy into: that all men long for three pursuits in life—a battle to fight, an adventure to experience, and a beauty to rescue. Conveniently, Captivating reduces women’s longings to three nearly parallel desires: to be romanced, to have an irreplaceable role in a shared adventure, and to unveil their beauty.
I suspect most people find it difficult to continue reading if they disagree with a book’s central premise. And so it was for me with regard to Captivating. It was not only the three longings that failed to grab me but also the authors’ repeated insistence that all women (or young girls, in many of the examples they use) experience these longings. But I soldiered on—no doubt because I longed for a role in this adventure, as the authors might say—and discovered that as the Eldredges’ message became clearer, some of the points they made actually did resonate with me.
For starters, on the very first page of the introduction Stasi held out the hope that reading this book would not be a wasted effort: “As a new Christian, the first book I picked up to read on godly femininity I threw across the room…In the twenty-five years since, I have only read a few I could wholeheartedly recommend. The rest drive me crazy.” Amen to that! One of my own book-throwing incidents involved a Christian author’s suggestion that women sit at a pretty, feminine desk and write in a pretty, floral journal using a pretty, pastel pen. Oh please. Thankfully, Captivating is not one of those books.
But it is the concept of beauty, specifically feminine beauty, that requires the greatest explanation here and throughout the book. The other two premises, whether you agree with them or not, are at least straightforward—we understand what it means to be romanced and to be part of an adventure. But “unveiling beauty”? That one truly left me cold. Gradually, though, the authors unveil their own definition of beauty, which falls somewhere between the physical, outward appearance the media often emphasize and the overly spiritualized inner beauty Christians often focus on. Early on, the Eldredges liken a woman’s beauty to the mystery of the Trinity; it’s something to be explored, something that needs to be revealed. When I read that section, I felt as if we were getting somewhere.
But then I got lost again, with the authors’ continued references to “every” woman’s childhood experience of twirling around in a pretty outfit, seeking her father’s approval, and asking, “Am I lovely?” Shoot, when I twirled around in my Cinderella costume, I knew the whole image was beautiful, and I didn’t need to ask the question or have my father answer it. (Nor did I need anyone to confirm that I was indeed the best sharpshooter in the wilderness when I wore my Davy Crockett costume, but that’s a story for another time.)
As I continued to read on to the end—which features a four-page “daily” prayer that would indeed leave me numb—I had similar schizophrenic experiences, “amening” a lot of what the authors wrote and dismissing much of it as irrelevant to many women. Had the Eldredges not been so insistent that every woman’s heart cries out with those three basic longings, Captivating would likely appeal to a much broader audience. As it is, many women will give up on the book early on, if they bother to open it at all. (And it’s not just women who get the blanket assessments: “A man’s basic sin is his choice to offer strength only in those situations where he knows things will go well.” Oh really? That’s a man’s basic sin? Hmm.)
Captivating is clearly not for everyone (or “every” woman). But if you as a woman can identify with those three basic assumptions, you’ll no doubt find a deeper understanding of why you are the way you are—often expressed in the breathtaking images and terms so familiar to readers of John’s previous books. You also might want to share the book with the man in your life, especially if he is an Eldredge fan and can relate to John’s style of writing. Just be aware that not everyone will find this book as captivating as you may have.
©2005 Marcia Ford
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