It was November of 2019 and I was in Colorado Springs for an event John Eldredge called “Homecoming”. He had a new book on the way and Homecoming was an early-access event. I’ve been following John Eldredge for many years now. Wild at Heart quite literally and dramatically changed my life and if I’m honest he’s been a kind of spiritual father to me ever since. When Homecoming was announced I, my wife, and three other Portland, OR couples decided to make it a trip.
Do you remember the winter of 2019?
I certainly do. Nobody had heard of COVID-19, a global lockdown was literally unthinkable, and my best friend was still alive. In some ways it feels like a time far more distant than it is. It seems like a world, and a state of mind, made nearly unrecognizable by the time between. And in another way, it feels like nothing more than a moment, just the turn of a page since we sat in that room with a few hundred of John’s “closest friends” and received a manuscript of his new book.
Eldredge has a history in theater and he’s always leaning into a dramatic flair. So I wasn’t surprised when he shared his impression that something was coming into the world, and soon, that would seriously test our faith. He said he was pressing to get his new book, Get Your Life Back, into our hands now because we would need it.
Writing this review in 2022, after more than two years of a world filled with The Rona, Russian tanks, and economic upheaval, I see that Eldredge was right, prophetic even, and in fact the practices I learned that weekend turned out to be a profound rescue for my heart and soul these last many months. In fact, the book is even more valuable now than it was back then.
As the summer of 2022 rolls in, John has a new book, Resilient, that is a kind of sequel to the first. The two are best understood as a single thought, so I’ll be reviewing both books together in that spirit.
John starts Get Your Life Back with a challenge:
“There’s a madness to our moment, and we need to name it for the lunacy it is. Because it’s taking our lives hostage.” He continues to point out pinpricks of a modern lifestyle, one that carries a series of unspoken expectations and commitments that, taken together, drive our souls into retreat. Most of these pressures are not technological in nature but they are mediated through the technology we bring intro our lives with little thought for how they might affect us. “Email felt so efficient when it replaced the letter; texting seemed like rocket fuel when it came along. But it didn’t make our lives more spacious; we simply had to keep up. Now we’re living at the speed of the swipe and the ‘like,’ moving so fast through our days that typing a single sentence feels cumbersome.”
I recently reviewed Andy Crouch’s The Life We’re Looking For in which Andy connects the price of modern technology to the diminishing of our personhood. Eldredge makes the same connection stating, “…what was happening to me as a person? I found myself flinching when a friend texted and asked for some time. I didn’t want to open email for fear of the demands I’d find there.” As his soul contracted, so too did God diminish. Not that The Father was moving away, but Eldredge was, pulled slowly out to sea by the riptide of text alerts, notifications, and the unending drip-drip-drip of modern life’s demands for attention.
Like the Desert Fathers who saw the world as a shipwreck from which they must retreat, Eldredge sees the pace of modern life to be corrosive to the spiritual life believers claim to want. It’s not that an intimate life with God is incompatible with technology but rather, the corrosion is in the ways our society is currently using technology in a never-ending quest for dubious productivity, illusionary connections, and a glut of information bereft of meaning.
Both books are worthy additions to any library of spiritual practices especially for those believers seeking the depth of heart and experience offered by the likes of Peter Kreeft, Richard Foster, or Dallas Willard. And at their core, the books are not against technology at all. But they do make observations about the ways in which the lives we’re leading, enabled by our devices, takes a toll on us all. We have invited the whole wide world with all its pressures and demands into our dining rooms, our bedrooms, and into our secret places, all delivered like a drug by our ubiquitously glowing screens.
All that said, there’s another thread in these books, in fact in all Eldredge’s recent writings, which warrants more than a casual mention. For several years, Eldredge has been making an assertion that is hard to miss and harder to ignore.
These aren’t just normal times, with normal challenges, complicated by advancing technology. The story of the Kingdom of God is going somewhere, and the climax feels nearby.
He’s understandably reluctant to say exactly what that climax is but it’s clear that there’s a through-line in his thinking that pulls his writing in certain ways. Back at Homecoming there was a sort of off-the-record session in which he described a recurring dream of an enormous wave building off the shore of some unknown coast. Its tsunami-like proportions suggested imminent and unimaginable destruction and yet, in his heart, he felt only joy and anticipation. The dream has recurred often over the years, and in the last few years it comes more and more often.
By temperament Eldridge is more of a monk than a mystic and he can get a bit shy delving into a tangle of prophetic matters, and yet this is clearly on his mind. When I interviewed him for this article, I mentioned the wave dream and its possible meanings. That naturally led us to discuss the end of the world. There’s that enigmatic verse in 2 Thessalonians 2 about “The Great Apostasy” or “The Falling Away.” To me this verse has always brought up pictures of the popular 1990’s book series Left Behind: Dragons and demons emerging from pits, and all the other mysteries we see in the Book of Revelation. But Eldredge points out that the ways in which our modern life draws our souls away from each other, and away from God, are indeed easily understood as a deep, if unintentional, ‘falling away.’ We are not suffering through a great rejection of Jesus so much as a profound and prolonged neglect. All the text messages, and video games, and doom scrolling leave no room for God or His still, silent voice.
As I mentioned at the beginning, Get Your Life Back proved to be both practical and life-giving over the last two years. Resilient adds even more depth and color to an already rich experience. A remarkable feature of the books is just how simple the various “graces” are to understand, and yet shockingly difficult to practice. Challenged only to sit still and be silent for 60 seconds sounded comically easy and yet I found it embarrassingly difficult.
Still, for all that I glean from the books I find myself wondering, is this truly the great struggle of our day? Simply to make the time to pay attention, to forsake banal distractions just long enough to catch our breath. If John is right, and we are indeed falling away en masse, then the faith might die. Not with rebellious zeal, as the alternate translation of 2 Thessalonians 2 suggests . . .
but with a shrug,
And a swipe,
And a ‘meh.’