Captivating by John & Stasi Eldredge (Book Review) ~ BitterSweetLife

Saturday, December 08, 2007

Captivating by John & Stasi Eldredge (Book Review)

A guest post by Lindsay

I admit it, when I saw Captivating, by John and Stasi Eldredge, sitting on our bookshelf my high opinion of my husband’s book acquisition skills began to teeter. What was he doing bringing that book into our house? Doesn’t John Eldredge tend to lump men into huge, stereotyped categories? Isn’t he the guy who is a little too “in love” with God for my taste? Now he’s writing about women? Why in the world did my husband buy this book? Then I remembered: he gets a lot of books for free nowadays. Voila! Opinion restored.

However, my automatic reaction against the book fueled my curiosity. I casually picked it up and flipped through the pages…I’ll just glance at it, I thought to myself. An hour later I was still reading, a few days later I had finished it, and the next thing I knew I was recommending it to my husband. What did I think of Captivating? It was well, uh… captivating, I have to admit it.

So why did I have a hard time putting the book down? The writing style is very accessible and there is an abundant use of good quotes and stories which make the book easy to read. But that’s not the main thing that kept me turning the pages. The premise is essentially the same as Wild At Heart, so it wasn’t originality and creativity that hooked me.

The authors ask believing women to step away from insecurity and fear and ask God to show them how to best offer others their beauty with a heart of bravery and vulnerability.

What particularly captured my attention was the Eldredges’ claim that there are three desires that fuel the heart of a woman: to be romanced, to play an irreplaceable role in a great adventure, and to unveil her beauty. And though I wanted to shrug these off as over-generalizations, the more I read, the more I found myself resonating with the Eldredges’ observations. They contend that these desires are good and essential to the way God made women. The problem comes when women seek the fulfillment of these desires in something other than Christ.

Each of these three points is examined in individual chapters of the book. This section invites the reader to contemplate past wounds that crushed or frustrated these desires. I found as I read that the Holy Spirit was directing me to examine how my past wounds in these areas have effected the way I interact in relationships as well as how I view myself. This section also offers guidance in bringing healing to those areas of injury. Thankfully, this section is not merely focused on blaming others for our relationship problems. There is an emphasis on the ways women twist, misuse, and misdirect these longings of the heart as well.

The concluding chapter was another highlight of the book. There is a strong call for women to use their specific, God-given loveliness to bless the church and the world. The authors ask believing women to step away from insecurity and fear and ask God to show them how to best offer others their beauty with a heart of bravery and vulnerability. The Eldredges’ also call the Church to open its eyes to ways in which it has failed to affirm and encourage the God-given beauty (inside and out) of believing women and encourage women to aspire to be more than childcare providers and bake sale organizers. (Not to understate the need for these roles to be filled—I can’t imagine my husband organizing a bake sale, nor would I want him to!)

While there is much insight to be gained from reading Captivating, there are some cautions I should mention. The Eldredges tend to be overly person-centered. There are sections of the book that suggest God needs women in an almost dependent, boyfriendish fashion. There is also a tendency to overplay the incredible loveliness of the creation (in this case, women) and understate the loveliness of the Creator. I think their intent is to say the loveliness of women reflects God’s beauty, but the language throughout the book tends to subvert this.

Another weakness is the Eldredges’ less-than-biblical idea that God is somehow each woman’s individual lover or date partner. The Eldredges affirm varied “romantic encounters” with God that include having a date–type experience with God where women can sing “All I Ask of You” from Phantom of the Opera as an expression of worship (an illustration from the book) as they light a bunch of scented candles. Also, Captivating tends to over-simplify and overstate certain observations on womanhood that veer away from having a biblical foundation such as the idea that women are the prime enemy of the devil.

These weaknesses aside, I found myself crying at the end of the book. Why? God’s Spirit was at work as I read through Captivating. He used it to cleanse wrong desires, affirm progress He is making in my life, and ultimately, speak words of love to my heart. Yes, I, as well as all God’s daughters, am captivating to Him. And yes, as the book states, it is because I reflect the beauty and loveliness of God, but as His Spirit made clear to me (and not so much the book, explicitly), that loveliness is completely given me through the amazing redemption of Christ who has taken this stained and unlovely woman, washed her clean, placed a crown of beauty (instead of ashes) on her head, and joined her with all the other once-unlovely saints that He now calls His beautiful Bride, the Church.

After careful consideration, I give Captivating a strong B+ grade and a place on the Master Book List. Recommended.

[Lindsay is a 20-something, married, stay-at-home mom who loves to get two hours of sleep in a row and take showers more than once a week. Her writing has been influenced by her husband A.J. and Squeaky the Mouse from the Usborne Touchy-Feely Books.]

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Ariel said...

Nice job on the review, Babe. Here's to many more... :D

R. Sherman said...

Perhaps AJ can explain why it took so long to allow you post here. I look forward to more guest posts.


Amanda said...

Lindsay, I would be interested in hearing your opinion of "Knight in Shining Armor" by Bunny Wilson. I have not read "Captivating", but they sound very similar. Bunny is pretty fabulous at providing the practical steps to delving into your soul in order to move forward. As someone who is loved by Daniel (on my list of top 10 people I've met) I would value your opinion! Thanks for sharing your evaluation of "captivating"

Ashley said...

Thanks for posting. Your review is helpful and fabulous! Thank you, and even if the portion in brackets at the end was written by your husband, as a twenty-something mother of a two year old, I'm blessed by the "loves to get two hours of sleep in a row and take showers more than once a week." I can relate, even only having one child. God bless you and your family!

Andy said...

I don't know, Ariel, but I think you might have some serious competition related to writing chops in this household.

Were it not for the mere 2 hours sleep in a row, I would strongly encourage the development of a "Bittersweetlife - Part Deux" blog.

Will Robison said...

Not being a woman, but as part of my life long quest to begin to understand what makes them tick, I'm curious about this book. Is this idea of reflected God's beauty an actual thing, or a collective wish of women everywhere?

To state it another way, we tell our young males that they are strong - whether they are or not - as a way of bolstering their confidence. We reinforce this again and again and again with young boys. For girls, of course, we tell them that they are pretty. Now, which came first? Did we teach young boys to be strong and young girls to be pretty? Or are these the God-given characteristics that define the sexes?

From a male standpoint, then, I would expect the book to tell me that I am a reflection of God's strength in the world. And this would make me feel better about myself because I have been ingrained since youth to believe that I should be strong. Further, I would expect that in looking back on the problems I've had in life, they could all relate to me being weak at some point.

I don't mean this as a criticism of the book, I'm just curious if we are strong and beautiful because that is a fact, or are we strong and beautiful because that's what we really want to be because that's what we were taught to be?

Ariel said...

Perhaps AJ can explain why it took so long to allow you post here.

Don't even think about blaming me; I've been trying to get her to post for years!

Did we teach young boys to be strong and young girls to be pretty? Or are these the God-given characteristics that define the sexes?

Yes and yes. :) Am I right in thinking you don't have kids, Will? Aidan is all about throwing things, hitting things, and showing off--and that's just dinner. Boys are hard-wired for action. Give 'em a barbie and they'll use it for percussion...and I'm saying this while fully welcoming Aidan's thoughtful, sensitive side (he's both these things).

My $.02 on Captivating. First, some hang-ups. I think the Eldredges tend to blur the lines between agape and eros love (if I may dip into my vast Greek vocab here), which causes some weird sexual tension when we talk about God "longing for" and "romancing" us.

Related, I think it's a mistake to say that God "needs" us and is wistfully waiting for us to accept his overtures, as if he is a love-sick puppy. The reality is, we're on God's list of "wants," not his "needs." And this is because of his grace. How amazing it is that God invites us to know him and rejoices in us?!--not because he needs us for completion, but because he included us in his plan for universal redemption.

Final issue, I think the Eldredges' writing suffers from an over-realized understanding of sanctification--which is to say they think our hearts are better than they really are. Yes, God gives us "living hearts" when we receive Christ--but biblically, this means that we now have an alternative to knee-jerk sinning (and a glorious one)--our hearts are not yet perfect though. Implication: Let's not give the devil too much credit for the dirt we still deal with. A lot of it needs to still be chalked up to our fallen-but-being-perfected natures.

And now I've gone on and said more than I meant to. Now I need to clarify that the book has quite a bit to offer, and there are several chapters in particular that I think are worth the price of admission (Beauty to Unveil, Arousing Adam...). Yes, it's recommended.

JB said...

I agree with the comments about Captivating's weaknesses, but overall I thought it was insightful. It would be a great book for a group discussion.


Anonymous said...

As a Christian woman and Sociologist, I actually found this book quite disturbing. First, please let me say that I understand its intention and that I hope it empowers and allows many women to feel embraced in a world that has been nothing but cruel to us. My points of issue in this book surround a few key fundamental concepts. This is a book that was clearly written for American women. When the authors start talking about desires of the 'heart' (a term which is in an of itself is not universally accepted), I believe that it is important to recognize that we all (men and women) are born a blank slate, it is our culture and society that shapes our desires and our expressions of our innate qualities (such as being male and female). Men are therefore considered innately strong and women as innately relational. This is not necessary true in other cultures. As I was reading this book I wondered how many women in Europe, Africa, or Asia would identify or understand what is being presented here as a universal truth about the woman's soul. Second, the commentary that seemed to lump violence against women as a result of a fallen Eve and an attack on beauty I believe to be extremely harmful. Women who remain in these types of relationships are not weak, they are manipulated and threatened to remain in them. The blame for such behavior should not be placed on Eve or the devil, but rather the men who choose to abuse them. And yes, there is a reason that women feel alone, because men are not socialized in our society to respond to and value women, simply because she is one. It is a historical tradition since the dawn of time and not something that once again should be blamed on Eve or the devil. It is possible for both genders to have meaningful relationships with one another if we choose to understand the differences in our experience, choose to rectify these experiences, and stop placing the responsibility for inequality on God, his creation, or the fall of man. It provides everyone (especially men) with a wonderful excuse to remain silent on some of our most deepest concerns.

Anonymous said...

HI, anonymous!

Here is my comment.

Not everyone to whom an excuse is provided is going to MAKE that excuse, especially us God fearing, and woman loving men ;-) These very stimulating things you have said may BE the truth, but in addition, this book may provide a good way for us to observe how God plays a very active and most vital role in all womens' lives. I believe that was the intention of Stasi Eldredge and her Husband John, not to provide us with a sociology lesson, since, of course, their credentials are not in the way of sociology :-0 but in ministry, and counseling Christians. But I have valued your opinion enough to broaden my interests to include your observations listed here with others' as I pursue this book and study topic.

Thank you!


Lauren said...


I really appreciate the fact that this review is honest and unbiased. Why do so many Christians feel the need to take an either/or position, making personal attacks on the nature of the Eldredges' faith when discussing the more controversial aspects of the book? I do not ingest the full contents of this book whole-heartedly and without testing it against scripture, but isn't part of loving one another also fleshing this stuff out together, in a nonjudgemental way? I guess I am suprised at the number of Christians who have seemingly not been able to admit that Captivating, with all its flaws, does have something to offer women in western society. (I do not necessarily mind the fact that the book speaks conspicuously to western society, perhaps because to dismiss these things which are so obviously central to the way we, as westerners, think and behave seems foolish). Any thoughts??

Anonymous said...

I am reading this book and completing the study book on my own based on the recommendation of several Christian friends. I was unaware of the controversy surrounding this book and Wild at Heart until I started searching online for the Wild at Heart book, which I was hoping to purchase to gain some relational insight on my husband.

I agree with the original review on this book and find that overall, especially for Christian women coming from a broken past who try very hard to meet the Proverbs 31 expectations, this book has a postive message to which I could relate and I found that message driving me back to Him and to His Word.

I do not agree with every viewpoint of the author, but I think the overall message of our beauty as reflecting Christ and taking refuge in Him, rather than other broken wordly comforts, is refreshing. We can't all be the Proverbs 31 woman, but God still loves us and He knows our heart. We may not all be married to wonderful, romantic, man who is captivated by our beauty and interested in our thoughts, but we have a Father God that loves us and is intensely interested in a very personal relationship with each one of us. We may not have an adventure with our husband, but we can have an adventure with Christ as we further His kingdom for His glory.

The bottom line for women who are hurting because they feel unlovable or unworthy of love is that God loves us as we are (imperfect, broken) and we need to stop hiding our hurts in everything else (drugs, men, alcohol, work, fill in the blank) and run to Him for true acceptance, love, and healing.

Sadly, most of the books geared toward Christian women do seem to send the "try harder" message, which leads to guilt for many of us who never see ourselves as beautiful enough or "together" enough according to the Proverbs 31 standard. I would love to read more books with a similar message of hope to women as touched upon in Capitvating from perhaps a more Biblcally grounded standpoint. I agree with the busy mom that wrote this review and would recommend this to my friends with similar hurts in their past.

Anonymous said...

All I can say, is Amen to the above comment!

Anonymous said...

Lindsay and others,

Please read this review on Captivating:

This review points out crucial Biblical concerns with Captivating that were not mentioned in your review. I would definitely NOT recommend this book as there are so many statements and perspectives that are completely unbiblical and misleading- as this review will explain.

Sarah said...

Am I the only woman in the world who's just not connecting with this book at all? I don't think it's bad, I actually like the message and I think it's kind of sweet, but I'm reading it, and I'm reading "This is what women are like. This is how women think. This is how women feel and this is what women want." And I'm just like... "Really? We're like that? Then why don't I feel like that?"
It's like I'm reading a book that says "Ever since we're little girls, all a woman ever dreams about is having a koala bear of her very own, but then something bad happens to us that makes us think we're not good enough to have a koala bear... But we are good enough to have a koala bear, and we were designed to have a koala bear, and we deserve to have a koala bear!" And I'm just like, "... But what if a woman isn't obsessed with koala bears?" And the book just says, "Oh no, ALL women are obsessed with koala bears. Some women are just ashamed to admit it to themselves." So, I'm like... "Uhh... Okay... I guess I'd better go get a koala bear, 'cos I'm a woman and apparently this is what I want." >.>


Culture. Photos. Life's nagging questions. - BitterSweetLife