A trinitarian critique of "Walking with God" by John Eldredge

John Eldredge (pictured right) of Ransomed Heart Ministries, is a popular evangelical Christian author of such books at "Sacred Romance" and "Wild at Heart." A reader of this blog offers in this post a critique of Eldredge's book "Walking With God." Though this critique is not intended to discount the positive benefits some have derived from Eldredge's books, it does object to some of the premises of "Walking with God" that seem in conflict with a trinitarian/incarnational understanding of the gospel. See what you think. And feel free to send to The Surprising God critiques (positive and negative) of this or other books as we reason together in the light of Jesus.

-Ted Johnston
moderator, The Surprising God

It seems to me that "Walking with God" [WWG] espouses a form of magical thinking by implying that God can be manipulated by human activity. Through a highly individualistic approach to Scripture (where every verse is construed to be about "me"), Eldredge seems to ignore what I believe is the primary thrust of Holy Scripture - the revealing of the Son of God, and his in-breaking into all of creation through his incarnation, life, death, resurrection and ascension.

Eldredge's stated purpose for WWG is to show that God knows us intimately and desires with each of us a conversational intimacy in which one has an ongoing "conversation" with God. To show how such conversational intimacy is attained, Eldredge offers his own experience, which was gained during a year in his life when he asked God questions and sought to hear God's answers.

Before I take exception to many of Eldredge's conclusions, I should point out that he does offer words of caution. On p. 49 he notes that sometimes he is not able to hear from God. He also notes that on important matters, we should always seek confirmation from others as to whether we have or have not heard God correctly. He also notes that God will never tell us to do what is contrary to Scripture or against God's own nature. These are good words of caution, but Eldredge seems to throw caution to the wind in making some rather bold and sweeping claims.

Eldredge's claims are largely based on his survey of nearly every Old Testament character that Scripture says God spoke with personally (Adam, Noah, Abraham, Jacob, Moses, David, Elijah etc.). Eldredge concludes that we can (and, indeed, should) expect the same kind of personal communication with God if we will only do certain things in order to bring about such communication.

The primary flaw I see in Eldredge's argument is that he makes no mention of the Living Word of God talking and otherwise working with these OT servants in order to further the miraculous breaking into history of the Great-I-Am Creator within his creation to affect the entirety of history and prepare for the coming of the "Word made flesh," which means the renewal of all of creation.

Instead, Eldredge's focus is on hearing from God in his "still small voice" (as in I Kings). To help us get started, he cautions that listening to God in this way takes some getting used to - thus we should start with some practice - doing so by asking God "yes or no" questions, or asking about small things that don't matter too much (things that we are not emotionally wrapped up in, or are secretly or desperately wanting to hear about). For example, we might begin by asking God, "What do you want for me this weekend: should I go to the ranch (a vacation spot) or stay home?" He says he then repeats such questions quietly in his heart, and then pauses to listen for God's answer. Then he repeats the question, and listens again. He says that all during this asking and listening, it's vital to stay "surrendered" and thus open, and perhaps to say to God, "Lord - I will accept whatever it is you want to say to me" (pp. 30-31).

Eldredge's advice then continues: "If I don't seem to be able to hear God's voice in that moment, sometimes I will 'try on' one answer and then the other. Still in a posture of quiet surrender, I ask the Lord, 'Is it yes, you want me to go?' Pause. In my heart I am trying it on, letting it be as though this is God's answer. 'Is it yes?' Pause and listen. Or is it 'no, you want me to stay home?' Pause and let this be the answer. 'I should stay home?' Pause and listen again" (page 32).

It seems to me that this approach does not fit well with the concept of the mediation of Christ from above and below. In fact, I think Eldredge's "yes or no" approach sounds like using a heavenly Ouija Board - asking a question and waiting to see which way the pointer goes. In short, I see this as magical thinking.

Eldredge repeatedly references the 10th chapter of John, in which Jesus talks about the gatekeeper, and the Good Shepherd whose sheep know his voice, and the others that do not. In WWG this passage is used to show that Jesus wants to hear from us, and that we will learn to hear from him in answer to our prayers about all the details of our lives if only we open the gates of our heart and mind and listen for his voice, ignoring all other competing voices.

But Eldredge makes no mention in his exegesis of this chapter of the prophets (the gatekeepers) having already opened the way for Jesus (the Good Shepherd). He fails to note that the context of the passage is Israel's rejection of the prophets and now their Messiah. This rejection is principally the responsibility of Israel's spiritually blind religious leaders (such as the Pharisees). These false leaders failed to protect the sheep. And now comes Jesus, the true Shepherd, to lay down his life for the sheep and then take it up again (in his death, resurrection and ascension). He does this on behalf of all humanity (Jew and Gentile), making Jesus the Shepherd of all nations - one flock that the Father has entrusted to Jesus' care.

To me, this exegesis is a far more significant reading of John 10 than the one Eldredge offers. Moreover, this exegesis does not support Eldredge's use of the text to bolster his idea that God promises to speak with us on a minute-by-minute basis concerning every detail of our daily lives.

Several thoughts come to mind at this point. Certainly every believer desires a stronger relationship with God (and, indeed, trinitarian theology is about this relational life). And, no doubt, each of us can point to multiple times when God "spoke" to us in one way or another. But doesn't the notion of attempting to hear from God about every little detail of life tend to discount the need for living in faith - the need for faith in the perfect faith of Christ? And don't our lives often contain things that bring doubt and fear? Don't we sometimes face unresolved issues? And yet are we not reassured by Jesus' enduring promise to never leave or forsake us (even if it might "feel" that he has)? In this regard, I appreciate Christian Kettler's book, "The God Who Believes: Faith, Doubt, and the Vicarious Humanity of Christ."

I have seen some of the unintended consequences that come from a reliance on the approach advocated in WWG. It tends to create two groups of people - one claiming to hear regularly from God, and another that feels somewhat inadequate (even guilty) because they can't seem to hear from God in the same way as the other group.

I conclude by noting that there are no perfect books that contain perfect teaching, but I have significant reservations about WWG and thus do not recommend it. Any comments and insights readers of this blog might have would be appreciated.