Among women’s books in the Christian market over the last ten years, Captivating: Unveiling the Mystery of a Woman’s Soul by John and Stasi Eldredge, is one of the most popular. Its release in 2005 has led to the publication of journals, Bible studies, gift books, and an updated edition, and its influence is far reaching. Ideas put forth in this book have found their way into a lot of Christian women’s books, even from authors who have a reputation for being biblical and orthodox.
This is not a comprehensive review. I found many things in this book that are unbiblical, but I’m not going to pull it apart point by point. I am going to focus on two things: what makes the book insightful (and therefore popular), and the book’s most glaring error (which in many ways leads to all its other errors).
What it Got Right
There’s a reason why this book is so popular, and there’s a reason why so many women find it helpful. The authors have a good handle on what makes women tick. Women are relational. In fact, we obsess over our relationships in ways men often don’t understand. This goes back to the curse found in Genesis 3:16. Just as men tend to find their worth and identity in their work (Genesis 3:17-19), women tend to find their worth and identity in relationships. But since we live in a world marred by sin, these things don’t bring the peace that we think they should.
According to the Eldredges, when a woman has been hurt in relationships, she tends to respond in two different ways. She either becomes controlling or desolate. These titles are self-explanatory, and we all know women who fall in these categories. The controlling woman strives to take matters into her own hands, while the desolate woman continues to put herself at the mercy of people who treat her badly.
This is one of the more insightful explanations of the connection between the Fall and women’s behavior that I’ve read. Since understanding why we do what we do is enlightening (especially for women who are well-grounded in Scripture otherwise), I understand why so many women find this book helpful.
Now, even with that, there are problems with this portion of the book. They put a lot of blame for a woman’s troubles on things that happened in her childhood. I’m not saying a woman (or anyone) should be made to feel that abuse is her fault, so please don’t misunderstand me on that. But although they devote plenty of space to the ways others sin against us, they rarely mention how we sin against God.
They also state that Satan has a special hatred for women and attacks her more forcefully. I don’t know of any place in Scripture that confirms this. Yes, Satan is our enemy and accuser, but we sin when we give way to our own evil desires (James 1:14).
The Most Glaring Error
Out of all the errors of the book, the most glaring one is its insufficient view of God. God is portrayed throughout the book as “yearning for us,” and several places state that we as women can “minister to God.” In one section, they even claim that there is “in God’s heart a place that you alone can fill.” (Location 1323, Kindle edition)
This is a direct contradiction to the Scriptural teaching of God’s self-sufficiency (or, as Arthur Pink says in his book The Attributes of God, God’s Solitariness. This is not some obscure, hidden attribute, but something taught plainly in Scripture.
The God who made the world and everything in it, being Lord of heaven and earth, does not live in temples made by man, nor is he served by human hands, as though he needed anything, since he himself gives to all mankind life and breath and everything. (Acts 17:24-25)
Oh, the depth of the riches and wisdom and knowledge of God!
How unsearchable are his judgments and how inscrutable his ways!
“For who has known the mind of the Lord, or who has been his counselor?”
Or who has given a gift to him that he might be repaid?”
For from him and through him and to him are all things. To him be glory forever. Amen. (Romans 11:33-36)
To quote Pink:
God was under no constraint, no obligation, no necessity to create. That he chose to do so was purely a sovereign act on his part, caused by nothing outside himself, determined by nothing but his own mere good pleasure; for he “worketh all things after the counsel of his own will” (Ephesians 1:11). That he did create was simply for his manifestative glory.
I’m not being nitpicky by objecting to this. With such a low view of God, they cannot point women to a higher love and devotion. If there is something in us that can “minister to” or “fill” God, that would mean that God is somehow lacking and therefore not perfect. Only a perfect God deserves our trust and worship. All of God’s divine attributes hang together; if we lose one, we lose them all.
Women’s desire for love and beauty is part of what makes us God’s image bearers. (The Eldredges refer to this as our desire to be romanced, to take part in a grand adventure, and to uncover beauty.) Like all good things, though, the human tendency is to turn them into ultimate things. For many women, the good desire for love and beauty is an idol. Instead of showing us how these earthly desires are often a poor reflection of what we can only find in our relationship with Christ, they instead bring Jesus down to the level of some ideal, earthly boyfriend.
Like I said earlier, many women claim this book has helped them. I’m sure some of them have managed to discard the errors and draw help from the insights. But I fear that many women have been soothed into thinking their idolatrous earthly longings are holy. As heartbreaking as it is when people reject the true God, it’s perhaps a greater tragedy when they unwittingly put their trust in a false one.
*This review is based on the Kindle version of the original 2005 edition.