The following is a review of the book “Captivating: Unveiling the Mystery of a Woman’s Soul” published in 2007 and written by John & Stasi Eldredge. There has since been a revised and updated edition (2011) which this review does not address. For an in-depth look at John Eldredge’s book “Wild at Heart,” go here.
As I began reading Captivating, I was anticipating reading about the gospel. I read the entire book and I never read the gospel message – not in its fullness. I did read a few true things, but those truths were quickly encapsulated by many false statements, confusing anyone who is trying to gain wisdom and knowledge. Truth mixed with error is not absolute truth. Before I attempt to show you specifically how the book twists biblical truths which in return creates a mythical story, let me first give you an overview of the book and its authors.
Back Cover: “The message of Captivating is this: Your heart matters more than anything else in all creation. The desires you had as a little girl and the longings you still feel as a woman – they are telling you of the life God created you to live. He offers to come now as the Hero of your story, to rescue your heart and release you to live as a fully alive and feminine woman. A woman who is truly captivating.”
A little about the authors: Stasi Eldredge, along with her husband John who wrote “Wild at Heart” for men, wrote this book for women in hopes they will join in and “take a journey of discovery and healing.” The Eldredge’s say that they pray this book will be used in women’s lives to bring healing, restoration, joy, and life; and to draw women closer to God’s heart – and their own hearts.
Main goal of the book: To describe the longings of a woman and what she should do with those desires; to define the role of a woman and how to be feminine referencing a relationship with “God”; to answer “Your One Question: Am I captivating?”; to reveal that beauty is the essence of a woman; to disclose a woman’s true beauty which has been hidden and suppressed because of her wounds caused by others.
Main concern about the book: It exalts women: her heart, her wounds, her beauty, her longings for romance, her relationships, her capability to give life, and her need for adventure. The author falsely equates woman with the God who created her. (This will be further explained later). The word “feminine” (or a form of it) appears 11 times just on the back cover and the introduction. Feminine means “pertaining to a woman; having qualities traditionally ascribed to women”. This clearly illustrates who is in the spotlight. Not Jesus Christ, but women.
There is mention of “God” and “Jesus” throughout the book, but they are used subjectively for women, for her own story. Hence the quotation marks. There is no accurate biblical definition of the “God” that the Eldredges are referring to, which makes me conjecture that it is not the God of the Bible. Neither is there mention of the fact that women are sinful and in need of a Savior which is Jesus Christ because of His completed work on the cross. The book completely ignores the transformation that should take place in a woman’s life if she has been reconciled to God by Christ’s blood.
It says in Galatians 5:22-23 “But the fruit of the Spirit is love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness, and self-control…” These are the characteristics that should define someone, anyone, indwelt by the Holy Spirit. Women are no exception. We were created by God “…male and female He created them…”Gen 1:27. Women are not in and of themselves beautiful, glorious, nor an incarnation of the one true God. We are, however, sinners “All have sinned…” Romans 3:23
Now let’s address some of the actual content of the book and how it misrepresents God’s Word.
True Statement: “Most women define themselves in terms of their relationships, and the quality they deem those relationships to have.”
Followed by a false statement: “…This is not a weakness in women-it is a glory. A glory that reflects the heart of God.”
Why is that false? If we say that our hearts reflect the heart of God, we have put ourselves on the same level as Almighty God as if we know what God feels and thinks. Romans 3:10-11 says “As it is written: There is none righteous, not even one; there is no one who understands, no one who seeks God. All have turned away, they have together become worthless; there is no one who does good, not even one.” Women are sinful, not glorious, and as new creatures in Christ we must put that sinful nature to death.
True: “…our God is a tenderhearted God who yearns for relationship with us.”
False: “…We see him as strong and powerful, but not as needing us, vulnerable to us, yearning to be desired.”
Why False? God is not vulnerable to anyone or anything. I John 3:19-20 says, “This then is how we know that we belong to the truth, and how we set our hearts at rest in his presence whenever our hearts condemn us. For God is greater than our hearts, and he knows everything.” Further, Colossians 1:15-17 says, “He has rescued us from the dominion of darkness and brought us into the kingdom of the Son he loves…He (Christ) is the image of the invisible God…He is before all things and in Him all things hold together…” God is the one who holds everything together. He does not rely on women for anything.
True: “…God is your only hope.”
False: “…God calls us to a life involving frequent risks and many dangers….That longing in the heart of a woman to share life together as a great adventure – that comes straight from the heart of God, who also longs for this.”
True: “God is essential. He wants us to need him-desperately.”
False: “Eve is essential. She has an irreplaceable role to play. And so you’ll see that women are endowed with fierce devotion, an ability to suffer great hardships, a vision to make the world a better place.”
Why False? Matt 16:24 “Then Jesus said to his disciples, If anyone should come after me, He must deny himself and take up his cross and follow me.” Nowhere in Scripture does it say that women are to live a risky and dangerous life. We are to live a life that is in Christ, worthy of the Lord, and fear God. David says in Psalms 34:3, “Glorify the Lord with me; let us exalt his name together.” We are called to glorify the Lord, not live dangerously.
True: “…Beauty is the essence of God. The whole world is full of his glory.”
False: “Beauty is the essence of a woman. We want to be clear that we mean both a physical beauty and a soulful/spiritual beauty. The one depends upon and flows out of the other.”
Why False? Spiritual beauty, according to Proverbs 31, has nothing to do with physical beauty, but everything to do with fearing God, gaining wisdom, and modeling godly characteristics. “Charm is deceitful, and beauty is vain, but a woman who fears the LORD is to be praised.” Proverbs 31:30
True: “Even when relationships are good, it’s never enough.”
False: “Eve was given to the world as the incarnation of a beautiful, captivating God – a life-offering, life-saving lover, a relational specialist, full of tender mercy and hope. Yes, she brought a strength to the world, but not a striving, a sharp-edged strength. She was inviting, alluring, captivating. Is that how you experience the women you know? Is that how people experience you?”
Why False? Genesis 2:18 “The Lord God said, “It is not good for man to be alone. I will make a helper suitable for him.” Eve was created to be Adam’s “helper” meaning she was “fit for him”. She was not the incarnation of God, for there is only one God. Isaiah 37:16 “O LORD Almighty, God of Israel, enthroned between the cherubim, you alone are God over all the kingdoms of the earth. You have made heaven and earth.”
True: “He (Satan) wanted the attention, the adoration for himself….Your heart became proud on account of your beauty, and you corrupted your wisdom because of your splendor.” Ezek 28:17
False: “Satan fell because of his beauty. Now his heart for revenge is to assault beauty.”
Why False? Satan fell because of his heart, not because of his beauty. His heart was proud. He wanted to exalt himself to be like God.
False: “He knows what takes your breath away, knows what makes your heart beat faster…It may not come the way we thought, or perhaps even thought we desired it to.” She goes on to describe how her husband John was at the beach on a business trip and a whale came up on shore and he immediately knew it was a gift from God. She wanted a whale too. She wanted to experience God’s love for her, personally.
Why False? Stasi is equating God’s love for her based on experiential circumstances, not on Christ’s death. “This is how we know what love is: Jesus Christ laid down His life for us.” I John 3:16
False: “The essence of a woman is Beauty. She is meant to be the incarnation – our experience in human form – of a Captivating God. A God who invites us.”
Why False? Again, women are not the incarnation of God: Exodus 8:10 “…there is no one like the LORD our God.” And, beauty is not the essence of a woman. I Peter 3:3 says, “Your beauty should not come from outward adornment, such as braided hair and the wearing of gold jewelry and fine clothes. Instead, it should be that of your inner self, the unfading beauty of a gentle and quiet spirit, which is of great worth in God’s sight.”
Stasi’s mom had found a list of drugs she was taking.
False: “I was shamed by her discovery. But I did not repent. No. Not yet. Instead, I became even better at hiding. I was sexually promiscuous during my college years…searching for the elusive feeling of being wanted, of being thought beautiful…By the grace and to the glory of God, I became a Christian my last year in college. Jesus quite literally saved me.”
Why False? You might be thinking, “That’s great! Stasi became a Christian. What could possibly be wrong or false about that? You can’t possibly believe you can see her heart condition before God – do you?” Based on everything we have seen from the book thus far, Stasi’s definition of a “Christian” woman has been inaccurate. She has equated women, the created, with God, the Creator. She does not give any further explanation here as to what it meant for her to “become a Christian.” She does not say why Jesus saved her (that she is a sinner). She does not say how Jesus saved her (that He had to give His life for her). She does not say that she has been crucified with Christ (how her life has changed because of knowing Christ). Do you get my point? She vaguely mentions Jesus, but just what Jesus is she talking about because there is so much she leaves out!
False: “Now, often the hardest person to fight for is…yourself. But you must. You heart is needed. You must be present and engaged in order to love well and fight on behalf of others. Without you, much will be lost.”
Why False? “The heart is deceitful above all things and desperately sick; who can understand it?” Jeremiah 17:9
False: “…the invitations of Jesus come to us in many ways…You will find that as God restores your heart and sets you free, you will recover long-lost passions, long-forsaken dreams. You’ll find yourself drawn to some vision for making the world a better place. Those emerging desires are invitations-not to rush out and attempt them immediately. That also is naïve. They are invitations to bring your heart to your Lover and ask him to clarify, to deepen, to speak to you about how and when and with whom.”
Why False? The correct phrase would read: “The invitation (singular) to come to the Father was given to us through Jesus and by Jesus.” For John 14:6 says, “Jesus answered, ‘I am the way, the truth, and the life. No ones comes to the Father except through me.'”
False: “God really does want you to know who you are…So, may we take a moment and remind you who you truly are? You are a woman. An image bearer of God. The Crown of Creation. You were chosen before time and space, and you are wholly and dearly loved. You are sought after, pursued, romanced, the passionate desire of your Fiance, Jesus. You are dangerous in your beauty and your life-giving power. And you are needed.”
Why False? We already know who we are as women based on Scripture. It’s clear. We were created in the image of God and we are sinners. We “…were dead in your trespasses and sins…” (Continue reading Ephesians 2:1-9). We do not have any special life-giving power. That power is reserved for Christ. For “God was pleased to have all His fullness dwell in Him (Christ), and through him to reconcile to Himself all things, whether on earth or in heaven, by making peace through His blood shed on the cross.” Colossians 1:19-20 If you believe that Christ died for your sins and rose again, you become alive with Christ by putting off the sinful nature.
To conclude, it is imperative that we always keep in mind passages such as 2 Timothy 4:3-4 “For the time is coming when people will not endure sound teaching, but having itching ears they will accumulate for themselves teachers to suit their own passions, and will turn away from listening to the truth and wander off into myths.” Also, Isaiah 8:20 says, “To the law and to the testimony! If they do not speak according to this word, it is because they have no dawn.” What should those of us who have been redeemed by the blood of the Lamb do with teachings and books like Captivating? We should shun evil and guard the truth.