i don’t want to be a hero

If Christian men are going to change from a pitiful, wimpy bunch of “really nice guys” to men who are made in the image of God, they must reexamine their preconceptions about who God is and recover their true “wild” hearts, writes bestselling author John Eldredge in Wild at Heart: Discovering a Life of Passion, Freedom, and Adventure. [From the amazon.com description of Wild at Heart]

Anyone remember this one? Think circa seven years ago. I think I was in the seating area of Maria’s Muffins at Tyndale when I heard some people talking about it, how it was a must read for men and women alike. I confess, I bought it, read it, and recently dumped it off for some spare change at a local used book store.

God designed men to be dangerous. Simply look at the dreams and desires written in the heart of every boy: To be a hero, to be a warrior, to live a life of adventure and risk. Sadly, most men abandon those dreams and desires-aided by a Christianity that feels like nothing more than pressure to be a “nice guy.” It is no wonder that many men avoid church, and those who go are often passive and bored to death.

I read a compelling essay the other day from the Blackwell Companion to Christian Ethics entitled Naming the Risen Lord: Embodied Discipleship and Masculinity by Amy Laura Hall. In it, Hall seeks to challenge some of our foundational assumptions regarding the feminine and masculine. She points out that now, more than ever, neither men nor women in the upper middle class are prepared to do any ‘dirty work’; we outsource it to those ‘below’ us. Both men and women are intent on making a name for themselves in the world, to have it all so that we don’t really have to do anything. Furthermore, she says that the image of masculinity presented by our culture is one that places an unrealistic expectation on contemporary men – an expectation shaped by books such as Wild at Heart or by Hollywood [ie: characters like William Wallace and Aragorn]. Whereas Eldridge shifts that motivation from worldy success to spiritual conquest, Hall argues that rather than than trying to be a hero, we are meant to be first and foremost disciples of Christ.

This is developed in us largely by putting the self aside learning what it means to love our neighbour. It is through worship of the living Christ that we learn who we are and how we are to respond in the world as his disciples. And it is through our interactions with others during the ordinary times of life that our discipleship takes its form, not through the egocentric strivings of heroism and adventure. Hall argues that men must be able and willing to get their hands dirty and accept the tasks that a) traditionally have been taken on by women in the Church and that b) take us out of the spotlight and serve to glorify and honor the risen Lord.

Some may argue that to be a follower of Christ is heroic and dangerous precisely because it goes against everything that our culture tells us that we need to be; certainly there is some level of risk and adventure that comes with being a Christian in today’s world. And I can see that. However, it becomes problematic when we become so focused on being a a hero for Christ that we forget that it is he who deserves all the honor and glory, and that to follow him means to be the embodiment of his love in the most ordinary aspects of life which will never be noticed by anyone other than him.

Men and women alike must be prepared to shun strivings for success and personal gain for the sake of Christ. That’s what a true disciple looks like.

    • James
    • January 30th, 2008

    Great post, Ian. I’ve heard of the book, but never read it, and didn’t know much about it. Sounds like there may be more Dr Phil in that book than real biblical content. But like I said, I haven’t read it.

    The quote about “the dreams and desires written in the heart of every boy” is interesting…since when are the desires in our hearts a source of divine revelation? I thought we were born depraved sinners, in which case, I shouldn’t look to my own desires (even so-called “innocent” desires of childhood) as normative. I just read something somewhere else from an evangelical group about “releasing our dreams” or something like that. I thouht it was pretty weird. Why should my dreams be the standard for the church? Where are we getting this idea?

    Does this have something to do with our culture’s obsession with celebrity? I’m pretty sure most boys growing up also wanted to be NHL stars, and later in life, most of us probably wanted to be rock stars too! The next book could be, “Be a Rock Star for Jesus.” I wonder if the “hero” thing is partly about the recognition? If that’s the case…what did Jesus say about practicing your piety before others?

    I agree with you, there is some ‘heroic’ dimension to discipleship, but it’s pretty minimal. If we make it the primary way of understanding our walk, we are putting a pretty self-centred spin on discipleship.

    There’s also a big difference between looking up to someone else as a ‘hero,’ say Luther or Wesley, etc., (though I’m not sure we should even use the word for them), and pursuing the title of “hero” for yourself!

  1. James,

    Don’t bother reading it. Seriously.

    The church is indeed obsessed with celebrity, not just looking at sports or movie stars but so called ‘stars’ in our own sphere. Just go to a United ‘worship’ concert and tell me that something is not a bit off.

    This essay talked about true discipleship being about being all about the ‘holy tedium’ of life, and aligning ourselves with those who we try to distance ourselves from by chasing recognition and success. I don’t see that as heroic, but living life the way it is meant to be lived – uncomfortable and exposed as we are formed more into who we are in Christ.

    Always great to hear from you, JP.

  2. Sounds interesting Ian…maybe I’ll give it a read myself…I was having a conversation recently with a friend who told me that she was absolutely convinced that, by design, men are like this: dangerous, risky, desiring to be heroic and ready to sweep the damsel in distress away into the sunset…

    When I told her that I don’t really feel this sense of overt ‘manly-ness’ she tried to convince me that I was like that even if I didn’t feel that way and even proceeded to try and show me examples of times when I fulfilled the stereo-type…a very odd interaction indeed! BUT – it did make me laugh!

    Blessings man,

    • Sara
    • February 1st, 2008

    Pardon the lack of sophistication of this comment but…

    John Eldridge sucks.

    If a man’s identity and fulfillment in life depends on being a hero (and according to Eldridge, with the main task of “rescuing a beauty”) then where does that leave a Christian guy who never gets married but serves God and follows him wholeheartedly. I guess that man wouldn’t be a true hero and would never experience fulfillment and satisfaction in his life with Christ?

    If a woman’s identity and fulfillment is in being “rescued” from her life of singleness (*gag*)then that means that her fulfillment comes not from a life of obedience to Christ but instead is completely dependent on a man.
    And… where does that leave a woman (I would argue, such as myself) who doesn’t need rescuing since that’s already be done (incidentally, by the greatest man who EVER lived). What about those women who are strong, confident, independent and quite capable and desire not to be rescued by a man but just to share their life with one?

    I’m pretty sure the Bible says something about Jesus being the one to rescue all of us, men and women alike.
    To quote Hillsong Kids: “Jesus, you’re my superhero”. Haha.

    But seriously… the temptation to be a hero isn’t just for men. I think there’s an innate human desire to be great, do great things and be recognized for that. I think men and women are very much alike in that way.

    And Ian, I’m with you… the real challenge is to “shun strivings for success and personal gain for the sake of Christ.”

    Let’s all get together and write a book in response to Wild at Heart. That would be fun.

  3. A Locke tag team. I love it.

    Jay – It’s interesting how these ideas catch on so fast and people cling to them as truth. It really makes me think about all the trendy books out there these days that are so hyped up but fade out pretty quick.

    Sara – Thanks for offering another perspective. There are a lot of issues there in terms of male / female, husband / wife dynamics, and you are totally right in saying that when it comes down to it, we ALL find our identity in Christ and we are all dependent on him. Sadly, even in Christian circles, ideas of self-sufficiency fulfillment are taking over.

    Thanks for the comments, Lockes. Hope you both are doing well.

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