It's one thing to lose the car keys. John Eldredge has a graver concern. The best-selling Christian author fears believers have lost the gospel.

"Bottom line: I'm after a new reformation," Eldredge said. "I want to restore the drama and the supernatural reality to our cynical, post-modern, post-enlightenment world." The task might seem like a little much for one person to undertake. But so far, things seem to be going well for the Martin Luther wannabe.

It's not the first time Eldredge has sought to turn conventional Christianity on its head. Two years ago, the Colorado counselor up-ended the evangelical men's movement by encouraging men to fulfill their dreams, an idea seemingly antithetical to the obligation-minded Promise Keepers movement.

In late August, sales of Eldredge's "Wild at Heart: Discovering the Secrets of a Man's Soul" reached 1 million copies.

"Nationally, he's real strong," said Ken Summerlin, owner of The Good Book in Fairhope, Ala. "He does paint this vision of a passionate God that makes you want to have that relationship with him."

The emphasis on expressing unbounded compassion for one's family, one's God and oneself is one that Eldredge explores further in his latest book, "Waking the Dead: The Glory of a Heart Fully Alive." Released in July, 175,000 copies of the book already have been sold.

In the space of 244 pages, Eldredge beckons readers to examine their lives from a new perspective – one that casts them as characters in a battle of good vs. evil that would make J.R.R. Tolkein and J.K. Rowling proud.

"In the U.S., most people say they don't believe in a spiritual world," said Eldredge, 43. "That's why we want to downplay 'Star Wars', 'Harry Potter.' ... Those stories are captivating to children and adults because they open up the possibility again that the world is more than we thought it was. ... That's the worldview the Bible has been trying to give you."

If believers dare to pursue their dreams and adopt such a mindset, they're often invigorated by the perspective, according to Eldredge. Still, such a step is scary for many, he said.

"We don't want to risk hoping that there really is that good of a God and he really does come through that dramatically. We've made the Bible a book of exceptions – 'Oh well, Moses. Oh well, David. Oh well, Queen Esther. Oh well, Deborah ... That's the exception.'

"It really is our refusal to risk hoping in a God like that. It is our refusal to take evil seriously. We don't want to fight for our life and we don't want to trust in God that deeply. We live a very cautious life and we go to church, we do our deal ... but we don't really hope for much."

Too often, Eldredge said, people believe that their hearts are wicked, and that bad things happen because they're inadequate and lack faith. Such sentiments began to take root during the Enlightenment, Eldredge said, and have since done much to drown out Christianity's good news.

"The Enlightenment really exalted the mind," Eldredge said. "It tried to place the mind at the center of human experience. ... People have been trying to live that and it's absolutely killing them. We know more, but we're not necessarily leading better lives." Ultimately, he said, "we end up not really living from the heart." Eldredge contends human beings can't carry on that way for long.

Like the prodigal son Jesus spoke of in the Gospel of Luke, Eldredge said, the men and women of the 21st century reach a point at which they don't like their lives anymore.

"We don't understand why life is so hard. Really, that's the biggie," Eldredge said. "The Scriptures tell us that life is hard because it is war. We don't understand that our journey is through a battlefield and a war primarily against our heart. If we would just begin there, it begins to interpret an awful lot."

Eventually, he said, many Christians decide "enough is enough," he said, and say to themselves, "`I want whatever it was that God was offering, and I am going to go after that.'"

Robert Brenner, vice president of retail sales for Integrity Music and a member of Christ Anglican Church in Mobile, Ala., has heard Eldredge speak several times and traveled to one of his "boot camps" last fall. "I just came away changed," Brenner said. "I came away so excited about the difference I could make here in Mobile."

While Eldredge is best known for his ministry to men, his latest book addresses the challenges faced by both men and women of faith. So far, he said, women seem to be responding to the message – battlefield analogies and all – as eagerly as men.

"Women don't want to be bit players," he said. "I had a woman tell me recently, 'I feel like a household appliance. I'm useful. I'm helpful.' A woman wants to be an irreplaceable part of a great story, not an afterthought, not something helpful to have around."

It's not that Eldredge has something against people being helpful to one another. He just reminds readers that they ought to help and care for themselves as well.

"Caring for our own hearts isn't selfishness; it's how we begin to love," Eldredge writes in "Waking the Dead." "When it comes to the whole subject of loving others, you must know this: how you handle your own heart is how you will handle theirs."


© 2003 Religion News Service