In Beautiful Outlaw author John Eldredge wants us to know the beauty of Jesus Christ as fully man; real, true, and available to us if we would choose to have him. 223 pages and 17 chapters describe this knowable, have-able Christ as a man with personality: playful, fierce, extravagantly generous, honest, cunning, humble, true, and beautiful.
Chapter 7, Disruptive Honesty is the most winsome and persuasive chapter in the book, with many examples of the clear prose that Eldredge is known for:
“Let’s be honest—why aren’t we more honest with each other? Because it will cost us. Socrates didn’t exactly get a warm reception for telling the truth. John the Baptist got his head handed to him on a platter for telling it like it is. Kill the messenger. We don’t want to pay that bill. If we speak as honestly as Jesus does, if we even venture into the hallowed sanctuary of someone else’s precious sin, it is going to make the relationship messy to say the least” (70).
Chapter 7 is an oasis from the bitter diatribe against The Church that pervades the rest of the book. The bitterness against what Eldredge perceives as the religious fog that draws potential believers away from Christ steals the reader away from the beauty that truly is Christ and that Eldredge describes very well:
“Alas, if Jesus’ followers shared his personality. That one shift alone would correct so many of the ridiculous and horrifying things that pass for popular Christianity” (17);
“Laughter is from God. This one quality alone might save us from the religious veil that forever tries to come in and cloud our perception of Jesus” (22);
“This is—yet again—one more cunning ploy of the religious to keep us from the kind of intimacy with Jesus that will heal our lives…. It is a fact that people most devoted to the work of the Lord actually spend the least amount of time with him” (148-9).
The major disappointment with the work is that compelling narrative such as the paragraph below, a magnificent statement of our culture’s distortion of masculinity as God designed men to be:
“This [Christ as fierce and intentional] is a breathtaking quality—especially when compared to our present age where doubt masquerades as humility, passivity cloaks as rest, and emasculated indecision poses as laid-back enlightenment” (37),
is destroyed by what follows.
Eldredge goes on to quote John 11:17, 32-33, and claims that the word ‘troubled’ in “…he was deeply moved in spirit and troubled” isn’t to his liking. He claims its Greek root means ‘to snort in anger, like a warhorse.’ It does not. (Look up Strong’s Concordance G5015.) Then he goes on to quote Peterson’s translation from The Message as “a deep anger welled up within him.” That is more to his liking, and while I appreciate the image of Jesus as deeply angry, the Greek word means troubled, deeply saddened. If Jesus were angry, He’d be angry with the Father for allowing Lazarus to die. This would be uncharacteristic of Christ in his humanity. “I hate death” says Eldredge, “and Jesus has mighty strong feelings about it, too” (38). OK, this is true, and it does not apply to this situation as the original Scripture describes it. Then, Eldredge blames what he sees as a weak translation on the deviance of The Church that does not want to translate properly because then we would come to know Christ in all his humanity. The Church translated the original Greek, and because it is The Church’s translation, it must not be trusted.
There are legitimate criticisms of the Christian church, and some of the criticism Eldredge lays upon the Church is true. Unfortunately, the bitter diatribe against The Church overshadows Eldredge’s attempt to show us Christ, the Beautiful Outlaw, fully man and fully God.