Bart Hansen vividly remembers how the Wild at Heart ministry had barely gotten off the ground before it faced an existential tragedy. Fresh off the blockbuster success of their book The Sacred Romance: Drawing Closer to the Heart of God, founders John Eldredge and Brent Curtis set up a men’s retreat in the Rocky Mountains that would combine the lessons of the book with bonding through outdoor activities such as horseback riding, fly fishing, and rock climbing. On that first weekend in spring 1998, Curtis fell to his death in a rock-climbing accident, leaving Eldredge with the difficult decision of whether to go on.
“It just seemed like this whole thing was stopped and would not go any further,” recalls Hansen, who was leading a horseback riding excursion at the moment Curtis perished. “It just took John some time to really seek God, but he wrote this book called Journey of Desire, a pivotal book about the heart of God. Then Wild at Heart: Discovering the Secret of a Man’s Soul came out, and it’s a bestseller every year.”
Buoyed by the success of those three books, Wild at Heart not only survived but thrived, and today holds three conferences a year in which thousands of men apply for the 450–500 seats available. The core of the message, Hansen says, is rediscovering what the masculine heart is really all about, but doing so through the prism of the life of Jesus. “He’s a warrior, He’s fierce, but He’s also very compassionate,” Hansen explains. “He just manifests so much of what a man needs in the heart of God today, and I think a lot of postmodern Christianity has missed that. We’ve said that the Christian man needs to be ‘a nice guy,’ but that’s just not a large enough story for a man to live in.”
What aspects of masculinity will you be covering in your presentation?
I do the “broken” side of masculinity—“the Poser.” Every man poses, we put on the fig leaves that we then hide behind.
That concept of “posing” is something we hear frequently in discussions of men in crisis. By the time they get to middle age, they’ve invested so much time and effort in cultivating these façades that they don’t know how to break free of them.
We come to Christ and we have the whole act of salvation, which is not the issue, but then we sanctify the “broken man” and we never really get healing. What Wild at Heart has done is focus on the three works of Christ: the cross, the resurrection, and the ascension. I think western Christianity believes in all three of those works of Christ, but we just focus on the cross—get saved, go save your neighbor. So many men who come to our ministry, there’s no issue of their belief in Christ or their salvation, but they’re just these broken men who are like, “I can’t break out of this.” But that’s what the gospel offers. It offers us life, the chance to break out, and a ton of healing and restoration of the masculine soul in this lifetime.
What does restoration mean to you?
Restoration means I can come out from behind those fig leaves of the poser, trying to fake life and make myself really look good, and instead live an authentic life, a transparent life, where I’m not trying to hide, to pose, to make people think that I’m something that I’m not.
That’s the broken DNA that I think masculinity has inherited. God made Adam to come through, to be strong, but at that critical moment he did not do it. He just stood there and watched Eve make that decision. Really, the original sin was not Eve’s, but it was Adam’s passivity. He was in the garden long before Eve was there; he knew what was going on.
And just as Adam and Eve put on fig leaves to hide their nakedness, we put fig leaves on because we’re ashamed of who we really are.
It manifests in what we do for living, it manifests in our performance of athletics, it reaches into every part of our life. Our humanity is broken, but the offer of the gospel is that we can become something more. “You can give all that to Me, but let Me give you your identity back.”
You kind of have to walk a fine line talking about masculinity these days, because for a lot of men, exaggerated masculinity is “the pose”—this need to appear manly, macho, even intimidating.
Number one, “macho” is not masculinity. That is a pose. Intimidation, bullying, all that wasn’t Jesus. He was fierce against hypocrisy, He went and picked fights intentionally with the Pharisees in the temple. He did not make any bones about that. But He always went after people’s hearts authentically. In almost every encounter you see with Jesus, He’s doing that. He’s trying to surface the brokenness of people—the woman at the well, the Pharisees when they came to stone the harlot that they had discovered. I think when you look at what an authentic man is supposed to be, you look at Jesus. He was the consummate man.
So holding up Jesus as the example is a way of showing that compassion, bravery, and masculinity not mutually exclusive.
G.K. Chesterton said the fierceness of a warrior is not determined by the enemy of in front of him that he hates, but by what he loves that he is fighting for. So the fierceness of a warrior is determined more by love than by hate, and that really does describe the heart of Jesus. I think that really helps us define our masculinity not in the context of people saying “Well, you’re just trying to put on a macho thing”—it’s walking in strength, loving well, and picking up your sword against evil with the motive of love.
Demonstrating one’s masculinity not through hate or anger, but through the constructive good you’re trying to do in the world.
And in love you’re trying to protect what is good against what is evil. That, I think, really defines the warrior heart.