Book Review: Captivating, John & Staci Eldredge

Cannonball Read Count: 7

I read a lot and I tend to read books I know I will like, at least moderately. I’m willing to try new books outside my comfort zone, but only with good recommendations and reviews from friends. That is why I decided to read Captivating. A good friend recommended it to me on her blog, and several other people posted comments about how the book was amazing, how it’s the only book that’s ever made them cry, and so on. So I bought it on my newly-acquired nook Color. And then I proceeded to want to stab myself in the eyes at the thought of finishing it. (Sorry, Linds.) That’s right, I completely, utterly hated this book.

But first, I’m going to start with the (few) things I liked. Toward the end of the book there are a few pieces that really stood out to me. I feel like so much of this book was misdirected and not really Biblical enough, but in the notes section of my nook I literally wrote “Finally! Something they get right!” In their tenth chapter, one on mothers, daughters, and sisters (and the best chapter, in my opinion), the Eldredges write “A woman is not less of a woman because she is not a wife or has not physically born a child.” Wow. I think most people would agree with that. Unfortunately, that is not how the first two-thirds of the book make you feel, but at least they attempted to go there, however unsuccessfully. When talking about friendships women have with other women, they write “The friendships of women inhabit a terrain of great mystery. Movies like Beaches, or Fried Green Tomatoes, or Steel Magnolias try to capture this.” Okay, so maybe it’s the fact that they mentioned two of my three favorite movies (Beaches and Steel Magnolias) that I liked this, but I do think it’s true. The friendships I have with other women are incredibly complex. My closest friends and I have been through so much together. As teenagers, we fought tooth and nail sometimes over boys, clothes, and the one year I lived with two friends, over attention. We were mean to each other and yet we were friends. Today, we “auntie” each others’ kids, and we have long facebook email messages, and we fly to visit each other, and yet we’re still holding each other accountable, and there’s still that painful history of before. So my point is, the Eldredges get it right here — female relationships are pretty hard to explain simply.

One last point, and it kind of ties in to my first quote above: in a chapter that deals about women and men together (called “Arousing Adam,” which, seriously, don’t even get me started!), there’s a quote that I wish most women could embrace: “We say all this as a sort of prologue because we cannot talk about loving a man well — whoever he might be in your life — until we see that we cannot look to him for things he cannot give.” Okay, yes, absolutely. No man can or should give a woman her value. My perspective, and the perspective the authors try to hit but kind of miss, is that a woman’s value should come from God (and I’m aware that not everyone agrees, but that’s okay — I’m just trying to get to the heart of the book here) and God alone. The authors are well-meaning, well-intentioned, but by the time they write this they’ve written so many other things that seem contradictory to this single statement.

And now, the sheer badness that made me give this book one star on Goodreads (only because I couldn’t give it a zero or a half star). First of all, I have a really, really hard time with the fact that the book about unveiling a woman’s feminine soul is co-authored by a man. Sure the man is the female author’s husband, and he’s a noted author (he wrote the male “equivalent” of this book, called Wild At Heart). But still. I feel the same way about his co-authoring this book as I feel about seeing a male OB/GYN. Just not going to happen. There are several places where Stasi writes about how she didn’t feel like she could do this on her own, she was nervous to do this, and then bam, in swoops her hero and writes it with her. Thank you for entirely defeating your point that women don’t need men to find success in their lives.

Which brings me to something I felt sick reading: the Eldredge’s description as women. Basically, we are all screwed up and twisted thanks to our parents, who, in various forms, were all crappy. Either your parent was overtly horrible, by abusing you somehow, or they didn’t want you, or they were apathetic toward you. Sure, there are a lot of women I know who have dealt with struggles in their lives that trace directly back to parental woes. Take me: I rarely saw my father growing up. I’ve had problems with relationships with men because of that. My mother was an alcoholic and we moved so many times that I went to ten elementary schools. I struggle with my relationship with her and because of that, sometimes with the relationship I have with the person I call Mom. But I know a lot of women who have great relationships with their parents, and even those who’ve had hard ones — they’ve turned out okay. There are just too many absolutes in this book for it to be good — all women are, all women are, all women are.

Compounding this idea of absolutes is this line, one that brings great pain to my soul: “Women pretty much fall into one of three categories: Dominating Women, Desolate Women, or Arousing Women.” Oh. My. Word. When I read this, I almost fell out of my bed in shock. Arousing women are, of course, what we should desire to be. I honestly don’t think I need to explain my horror in this idea that women fall into three categories. How do you become an arousing woman? Why, you seduce a man, of course. But, dear reader, not in the sexual sense. The authors “mean it as a principle, a picture of how femininity can arouse masculinity in many, many ways.” In this book, there is supposed to be zero sexual connotation of the words “arousing” and “seduce.” Expect that the authors then proceed to give examples of… women literally sexually seducing their husbands. Whoops, their bad.

Because, duh, didn’t you know? “The beauty of a woman is what arouses the strength of a man. He wants to play the man when a woman acts like that [when she acts feminine]. You can’t hold him back. He wants to come through. And this desire is crucial.” So despite the fact that the authors told us that women don’t need men to give them what it is that they need, it’s a woman’s responsibility to use her femininity to arouse a man’s masculinity. So us single women pretty much have nothing to give because I’ve got no man to arouse. (Can I point out that this chapter begins with a quote from a Sheryl Crow song, which is so laughable for so many reasons — “Are you strong enough to be my man?”)

There are also a few examples of relationships that are clearly abusive and the wife stuck around in order to arouse her husband’s masculinity and fix their marriage. And I quote, “Rather than becoming hard and cynical, she remained soft. Rather than just giving up, she held on to her desire for something more with him.” Okay, that I can understand. You want to work on it. You go to counseling. You get help. But no, there’s no mention of these things; rather, there is this: “Even though she chose not to respond, she retained her feminine beauty and offered it as much as she could.” This is why there is hidden abuse in Christian homes. Ugh. It makes me sick thinking of it. No woman should be encouraged to use her femininity to “seduce” or “arouse” her abusive husband in hopes that it softens his heart and he quits abusing her. Absurd!

Also, at the end of this, I feel like this book was not grounded in the Bible. There were quotes from the Bible, but they were what my mom, who teaches high school English, likes to refer to as “cow plots quotes”: they were just there. Not integrated into the text, with little elaboration on how or why they fit with the particular section they were in. I also feel like this book would make any counselor, even a Christian one, have a seizure with its misrepresentation how how women function. I mean, what do I know, except for the fact that I have a master’s degree in counseling and guidance and was required to take just a few counseling classes.

This is pretty much the book. Women, beware. It’s quite a deceptive read, and I urge you to use caution if you’re looking for a good, Christian book.

Rating: 1/10 (As I mentioned at the beginning, there were a FEW good parts.)



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15 responses to “Book Review: Captivating, John & Staci Eldredge

  1. Steph

    I will have to read this one. You’re the first person I know who has given it a bad review. You seem a little fired up.

    • Krista

      I think its intentions are good but it ends up totally missing the mark. I get what it’s trying to say: That a woman’s value is in God, because God created her, and He created her beautifully. But you have to read around and through a whole bunch of other junk to get that message, the other junk because the message that women, and their femininity, are the ones responsible for arousing man’s masculinity. No way Jose. It’s totally not ANY woman’s job to make a man feel like a man, and if he thinks it is, then he needs to relearn another way of thinking.

    • Someone who cares

      Just a warning:

      I’ve attended several of the Captivating retreats held by Ransomed Heart. I do not recommend attending them whatsoever. They’re very nonsensical. Almost all of the retreat deals with the “heart”, but they purposefully tug at yours by playing movie clips at each speaker session. It’s all about creating that false sense of a heart “warmed” and “tenderized”.

      It looks and feels very manipulating. I almost felt as though it was slight on the church/power abuse spectrum.

      Most women though will lap this up because they’re thirsty for something. Just be careful you are drinking from the correct cup.

      • Krista

        Thanks for your comments. I will definitely not ever attend one of these conferences, which I think my review makes more than clear! I hated this book.

  2. Pingback: Krista’s CBR-III Review #7 – Captivating by John & Stasi Eldredge | Cannonball Read III

  3. Hillary

    Krista!! I totally agree. I tried reading this book in college when it came out & hated it!! I couldn’t even finish it. I second all the things you said. I think what I felt at the time when I tried to read it was that it assumed that as a female, I was automatically broken in some way and needing God to restore my self esteem and my self worth, and I didn’t like that assumption, because for me it wasn’t true. Bleh- thats what I’ve always thought of this book, I’m glad I am not the only one. And I also don’t think that it is very biblical. I’m glad we can agree on this one, since you hated Blue Like Jazz. 🙂 (Which on reflecting back on, I can see how it can come off as pretty post-modern and “emergent church,” but I think at the time when I read it, there was just certain parts of it that convicted and challenged me on a personal level & I didn’t read it from a theological standpoint.)

    • Krista

      YES! So glad I’m not alone. I seriously wanted to give up on this about halfway through but I just kept going a few pages at a time. I just keep thinking about it, wondering what it is that people LOVE about it. I’m truly curious to know. Maybe Lindsay will give me some feedback when she’s done with it. And I do see the parts of BLJ that can challenge people in a good way, that’s for sure, and I do think his writing style will call to a lot of people, which is a good way to open the door.

  4. lesha

    The funny thing, i stummbed upon, this in doing some research for the the book…. I hate to hear such negaive reviews, but we are entitled to our own opiions… the thing i love about this book is that yes, it is fairytale and defintily makes you see the femine heart, but as the book ends, it is not talking about princesses from the disney line, it is talking about a warrior princess, one who is intouch with who God has made them to be , one who is hear on earth to help seek and save the lost…. and i could go on… I ask you to consider going on a retreat, because i tell you if you ask God and he tells you , your life will never be the same…. I had never read te book, and never was going to, but got suckered into going to a retreat of theirs, and it changed my life and relationship with God, amazing… then i came home and other woman were wanting to know more, so a group of woman started to the the study and for the first time i read the book and have read it several times and learned so much, Its not even about the book, but the relationship that God desires from us as woman…. The remark about the woman sticking it out in a abusive home is a little harsh…. first have you ever been in such a situation, do even know what it is like , and i feel that you must ask God for freedom, bc this modern what ever you want to call it , is how Jesus himself walked the earth, to imagine if we as believers could start walking and listening to Gods prompting …….

  5. Krista

    I would never go on a retreat with the authors of this book because it lacks a sound Biblical basis and I’d hate to be influenced by something that doesn’t rest squarely on the Word of God. As you state, “Its [sic] not even about the book, but the relationship that God desires from us as woman [sic].” You’re right, and that is precisely why I do not need an unhealthy book to help me develop that relationship with God and in the future, my relationship with my spouse.

    As for your comment about abusive relationships: Yes, I have lived in a home as a child of a woman in an abusive relationship, and I have experience with an abusive boyfriend myself. Like I said, there is so much hidden abuse in Christian homes because people like the Eldredges do not counsel their readers appropriately enough to seek help. I understand what the Bible says about divorce and I’m not advocating that in this situation, but let me be clear: loving your husband even if he is abusive means loving your husband enough to have him get help. It is not the job of an abused woman to seduce her husband into loving her properly, without angry words and hands. Attitudes like the Eldredges’ make it seem like a woman being abused is being abused because of something that is inherently her fault. WRONG! No woman deserves abuse, and if a man is hurting his wife, his actions fall solely on him, not on her. My remark in my original post stands, and it stands regardless of whether or not I’ve been in an abusive situation.

    I have freedom in Christ and it’s a wonderful thing! I’m not sure I understand the last sentence you wrote because it’s constructed in a very confusing manner so feel free to rephrase it so I do understand. Thanks for your comment!

    Also, for further reflection, here are some other reviews that are critical of Captivating. Perhaps taking a look at them would be beneficial to your research. (Great article on Captivating‘s questionable theology)

  6. Wow. I just stumbled upon your review. My bible study group is trying to find a new book to study, and one of the members mentioned “Captivating.” I couldn’t remember why I hated the book so much, but perusing your post reminded me! Good points!

    I just had a memory of talking to one of my friend’s mothers about the book. She said “If your grandmother (also named Ruth) knew how they interpreted the biblical story of Ruth, she’d be rolling over in her grave right now!” My thoughts exactly.

    • Krista

      Thanks for your comment, Ruth. Glad to jog your memory. I think the authors are well-meaning, but they fail to miss the mark. Happy reading, whatever study you pick!

  7. dalenevs

    This is a while after you posted this review but I feel I would like to applaud it! One of my (Christian) friends highly recommended the book and told me that it changed her life! I haven’t finished it and have no intention of finishing it. After reading the first few chapters I felt like the authors were trying to say that if you are a Christian woman then by default you have to be feminine or exhibit feminine qualities. I disagree with that completely. I am studying engineering, love outdoors and sports and actually identified more with the first few chapters from “Wild at Heart”. I feel like the book is saying that it is wrong for Christian women to have what society would regard as ‘masculine interests’. This made me doubt myself and my faith a lot. Since then I have realised that the book is the authors’ opinions. God made me as I am and I am not going to change. I aim to be a strong, ambitious, independent and Christian.

    • Krista

      Thank you for your comment, dalenevs! I agree with you so much. What I think gets lost in this book is that women can have more “masculine” qualities and still be just as woman as a pink-loving, makeup-wearking, fancy-dressing girly-girl. Hang tight to your faith because God knows how He made you and will use those strengths to His advantage if you left Him! The only man who we need to rescue us is Jesus — in Him alone is our hope. 🙂

  8. michelle sherer

    I am impressed with your writing and insight and fearlessness regarding this book. I am surrounded by women who swoon at just the memory of having read the book, and yet I find it appalling. I am bolstered by your concise criticisms as I head to our book club meeting this week. thank you.

  9. Megan

    I am so happy I came across this review. I was given this book at my Christian college when I was a freshman. At first I really liked it and believe it. I tried to live up to the standards that was placed on all women in the book. Everyone that I knew at my school were completely obsessed with the book so I never really thought much about it. I grew up in a pretty strict Christian household with a lot of hidden spiritual abuse and was taught to see women, especially myself, in a very traditional and unhealthy way. Growing up the thoughts of men were place squarely on me. Was I dressing modestly enough? Not acting out? Meek enough? Being ladylike? And so fourth. As a girl I had to be obedient to my father no matter what because he was the spiritual head of the household. Not much changed when I went to college. No one in my world ever questioned this view of women. I was married recently and my husband (who is also a Christian but wasn’t raised in the church) started to realize that whenever something bad happened I would place the blame on myself. I believed that if I had been more godly or a better women this thing would not have happened. And he was getting really worried about me and didn’t understand why I felt this way. I have been going through a long and difficult struggle of self-acceptance and faith questioning. And I have been trying to understand why I’m so terrified to question anything. Anyway this review really helped me see the assumptions about God and womanhood that I have just accepted without question. Especially since before I got married I never really wanted to be the heroine in a “shared adventure” but was okay being single. But, of course, I felt guilty about feeling that way. I’m just so happy that this has helped me question what I’ve accepted as truth. After I read this I realized that this book wasn’t even grounded in scripture. I had just assumed that it was because certain Bible verses were sprinkled in there. I’m getting rid of the book ASAP. And I’m almost ashamed of myself for swallowing it whole without question. In the future I am going to question what I read. I’m sorry this comment is so long but thank you for helping me question what I let shape my faith!

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