John Eldredge's EPIC, a gift-sized, 104-page hardback, presents the story of the gospel in four acts: Act 1, Eternal Love; Act 2, The Entrance of Evil; Act 3, The Battle for the Heart; and Act 4, The Kingdom Is Restored. As you might suspect --- this being an Eldredge book and all --- there's nothing ordinary about the retelling. The prolific author places his personal stamp on the story by encouraging readers to imagine their roles in the unfolding drama.
Spiritual storytelling is Eldredge's trademark, and in EPIC, he tells the story of redemption in such a wonderfully nonreligious way that the book is likely to become a standard, non-threatening resource for explaining the gospel to postmodern readers. It's essentially a condensed rewriting and restructuring of his first book, THE SACRED ROMANCE, co-written with the late Brent Curtis. But nothing about the book feels recycled; the storytelling is always fresh and alive and beautiful.
As he often does, Eldredge draws on popular and classic movies and literature to illustrate his overarching question and challenge: "What if all the great stories that have ever moved you…are telling you something about the true story into which you were born, the Epic into which you have been cast?" he writes. "We won't begin to understand our lives, or what this so-called gospel is that Christianity speaks of, until we understand the Story in which we have found ourselves." And Eldredge is the perfect person to help us grasp the meaning of that story --- and its implications.
I love where Eldredge begins. Genesis 1? No. That's way too predictable. He begins at the real beginning --- John 1: "In the beginning was the Word..." In reaching back before time and Genesis, he helps us get an inkling of events that occurred before time, before the start of human history. People don't even enter the picture until Act 3. Relationship, fellowship, companionship all existed long before Adam and Eve. The difficult-to-comprehend Godhead, the Trinity, enjoyed their own relationship along with the friendship of the angels in Act 1, and two-thirds of the angels banded together to fight the fallen angel, Satan, and his minions in Act 2. Enter humanity, and God as a human, in Act 3, the entirety of human history to date. We're still in Act 3, Eldredge emphasizes, and will be until the kingdom is restored and we live happily ever after in Act 4.
My only minor quibble is with some of the examples Eldredge uses --- not with regard to their appropriateness but with regard to their familiarity. Names of people and places from The Lord of the Rings and Titanic are fairly well-known, but Nathaniel and Cora, for example, who are mentioned apart from the book/movie title, might give some readers pause. I tested that one on several groups of twentysomethings, and they didn't connect the names with The Last of the Mohicans.
An epilogue reminds readers that they are a vital part of the larger story of the gospel and encourages them to identify their roles in that story. "Something has been calling to you all the days of your life," Eldredge writes. "You've heard it on the wind and in the music you love, in laughter and in tears, and most especially in the stories that have captured your heart." Those stories --- the ones that speak directly to you --- provide clues to your specific role, but only the Author of the larger story can tell you what your part is: "To find our lives, we must turn to Jesus."
EPIC is classic John Eldredge and a book that is likely to become a familiar sight under Christmas trees come the holiday season. It's a dramatic and creative retelling of the story of our lives authored by God.
Reviewed by Marcia Ford on September 15, 2004