Epic, by John Eldredge - A Review

Editor’s Note: This book review was originally published in the Summer 2006 issue of the International Journal of Frontier Missions.

From the author of Wild At Heart comes this Epic: The Story God is Telling, a small book, which, like Brian McLaren’s [The Secret Message of Jesus], is very logically structured. In addition to the important Prologue and Epilogue it tells the story, the epic, of the entire universe in four “Acts.”

In the 16-page Prologue he insists that we must see the overall story, “the larger story,” if we want to understand the sub-plots.

Act One is where all is good and beautiful.

Act Two is the entrance of evil in the form of fallen angels. (Which, my guess is, at the moment in history when predatory life first appeared in the Cambrian era.)

Something happened before our moment on the stage. Before mankind came the angels. . . . This universe is inhabited by other beings . . . Most people do not live as though the Story has a Villain, and that makes life very confusing . . . I am staggered by the level of naiveté that most people live with regarding evil. (pp. 30, 39)

He now quotes a famous passage from C. S. Lewis,

One of the things that surprised me when I first read the New Testament seriously was that it talked so much about a Dark Power in the universe—a mighty evil spirit who was held to be the Power behind death, disease, and sin . . . Christianity thinks this Dark Power was created by God, and was good when he was created, and went wrong. Christianity agrees . . . this is a universe at war. (p. 40)

Act Three is where, he says, the Biblical story begins in Genesis 1:1, after angelic powers went wrong.

This act begins in “darkness . . . is still under way, and we are caught up in it. A love story, set in the midst of a life-and- death battle.” (p. 72)

Act Four gestures toward the final future in a brilliant, eloquent, imaginative flight of fancy which frowns on all human guesses of the grandeur of the future. He says playfully:

I’ve heard innumerable times that “we shall worship God forever.” That “we shall sing one glorious hymn after another, forever and ever, amen” It sounds like hell to me. (p. 80)

The Epilogue is a significant part of the book. He says,

First, things are not what they seem. . . . the unseen world (the rest of reality) is more weighty and more real and more dangerous than the part of reality we can see.

Second, we are at war. . . . We must take this battle seriously. This is no child’s game. This is war . . . a battle for the human heart.

Third, you have a crucial role to play. . . . We must find our courage and rise up to recover our hearts and fight for the hearts of others. (p. 102)

Here we see talk of war. But, strangely, it does not speak of a war against a Dark Power and his works, but a rescue operation for human hearts. That is certainly a basic part of it, but to liberate the French from the Nazi yoke the dark evil of Hitler had to be eliminated first.

“Most people don’t live as though the Story has a Villain, and that makes life very confusing.”

Here is a thought: theoretically if every soul on earth were finally born again we would still face a ravaged creation, riddled with violence (in nature) and disease. And God would continue to be blamed for all this evil—unless Christians were finally identifying it with Satan. However, that is precisely why this “thought” is purely theoretical: we CAN’T win everyone without destroying the works of the Devil in that very process. As long as hundreds of millions of mission-field Christians have eyes running with pus and incipient blindness, as long as such horrors are blamed on God (for the lack of a Satan), WE ARE NOT GOING TO WIN MANY MORE PEOPLE. And, all those hundreds of millions of rural people and uneducated people we have recently won are eventually going to lose their faith just as they have in Europe and much of America. We are not winning very many educated people.

We must, it seems to me, accept it as our true mission to fight these horrors in the name of Christ. That is essential if we are to glorify God in all the earth, and that glorification is the basis on which we invite people to accept God as their Father in Heaven—and recruit them to help fight this war.

Both of these two books [Epic and The Secret Message of Jesus] brilliantly describe the restless pew. One of them actually speaks of war, not so much against evil as a rescue operation of humanity.

Thousands of writers and pastors are puzzling over the essential question of what a believer does as a Christian besides being religious and decent and active in (small) good deeds.

Is there something wrong with the DNA of American Evangelical congregations? Many leaders today are suggesting that we need new church pioneers with ideas so different that the very word “church” may not be ideal.

Both authors here are discontent with “normal” church life in America and in one way or another are groping toward something vitally different.

These two book writers, plus myself, plus a whole host of other restless, relentlessly inquiring Christian leaders today are aware that Evangelicals have never in any country of the world grown as prominent in national affairs, have never more closely approximated the culture of those outside of the church, and have never generated in reaction such a profound phobia of religious people taking over the country (witness the avid attention given to the Da Vinci Code book and movie which so skillfully throws doubt on the validity of the entire Christian tradition).

Here we see an outcry for something more, something different, something more serious. I believe what is lacking is a clearer idea of evil and what to do about it.