***This article originally published on The Gospel Coalition***
Glennon Doyle’s Untamed has captured the hearts and minds of American women, hovering around the #1 spot on The New York Times bestseller list since its release. From her roots as a Christian mommy blogger to her rise to fame as a successful author, speaker, and activist, Doyle made headlines in 2016 when she announced she was leaving her husband of 14 years for soccer star Abby Wambauch. The book opens: “Four years ago, married to the father of my three children, I fell in love with a woman.” From there, the memoir documents what Doyle believes was her own untaming—the process of unlearning everything she was taught about family, gender, sex, love, motherhood, God, and Christianity—and forging her own path to find happiness.
Untamed begins with a family trip to the zoo to see the main event, the Cheetah Run. Doyle’s clan watches a trained cheetah chase a stuffed pink bunny attached to the back of a jeep. As the carnivore is rewarded with a piece of meat, the crowd applauds, but Doyle becomes queasy. The taming of the cheetah feels familiar. She realizes that she has lived her entire life like a caged animal, settling for store-bought steaks and the approval of strangers.
This is the metaphor that drives the book. Women: You. Are. A. Cheetah.You are wild. You’re a bit scary. You need to break free from the conventions, expectations, and cultural conditioning of your environment and become . . . untamed.
In a culture that often conflates womanhood with a wallflower-y and opinion-less existence, it’s easy to grasp why this book has struck a chord. For women in empty marriages or who feel dissatisfied with motherhood and their careers, it can feel exciting and freeing to be told to embrace your inner cheetah.
There are some moments of depth and wisdom to ponder. For example, Doyle teaches that we shouldn’t shield our kids from suffering. She encourages women that “we can do hard things,” and advises that porn is bad for boys. Although she rightly identifies some common problems women encounter, many of Doyle’s solutions will only lead them into deeper bondage. By accepting half-truths and falsehoods about reality, many women may free themselves from one cage only to be trapped inside another.
Reversing the Biblical Narrative
A consistent theme throughout Untamed is that women should put themselves and their desires first. Doyle asserts that to be good mothers, we must do whatever it takes to make ourselves happy. She quotes Swiss psychologist Carl Jung: “There is no greater burden on a child than the unlived life of a parent.” This realization was the nudge she needed to leave her husband.
Doyle brings the Adam and Eve narrative into focus and blames the Bible for helping construct a culture built on the control of women. She writes, “When a woman wants more . . . she destroys the world.” Later, she boldly states that women shouldn’t think of Eve’s appetite as wrong. She suggests, “Maybe Eve was never meant to be our warning. Maybe she was meant to be our model. Own your wanting. Eat the apple.”
By reversing the biblical narrative, she turns the Christian worldview on its head. Sin is no longer what’s wrong with the world, but unrealized ambitions. Like placing a band-aid on a gunshot wound, this idea will no doubt send many women on a lifelong journey to find happiness in temporary fixes and impotent solutions.
This is where the beauty of the Christian story shines. Although Jesus promised trials, suffering, and persecution in this world, he also said, “My kingdom is not of this world.” The Christian has a deep and settled peace amid unfulfilled longing because she knows that every tear will one day be wiped away. She doesn’t put her hope in the things of this world but considers that “the sufferings of this present time are not worth comparing with the glory that is going to be revealed to us” (Rom. 8:18).
God of the Morally Relative Self
Doyle quotes Psalm 46:10: “Be still and know.” She credits this verse with inspiring her to take 10 minutes a day to meditate. She “drops lower” with each session, finally finding a new level inside herself she identifies as “a Knowing.” Doyle converses with and consults the “Knowing” whenever she has to make a decision. She then explains:
If what I’ve found in the deep is just my self—if what I’ve learned is not how to commune with
God but how to commune with myself—if who I have learned to trust is not God but myself--
and if, for the rest of my life, no matter how lost I get, I know exactly where and how to find
myself again—well, then. That is certainly enough of a miracle for me.
Doyle writes, “I now take orders only from my own Knowing.” Alluding to Exodus 3, she references God identifying himself as “I am.” She turns the question on herself, asking, “What are you, Glennon?” After a series of queries, she finally answers: “I am. I am. I am.” She regularly conflates the self with God.
Doyle contends that right and wrong, good and bad, and should and shouldn’t are not real concepts, but culturally constructed cages. She instructs women to ignore their minds—which are clouded by indoctrination—and obey their inner voices and deepest desires.
Aside from the obvious anti-intellectual bias, one can’t miss the irony of casting off categories of right and wrong in a book that is basically 300 pages of breathtakingly specific instructions about what women shouldand shouldn’t do regarding everything from sexuality to religion to social activism.
As tempting as it may be to obey our desires, the Bible describes the human heart as “deceitful” and “desperately sick” (Jer. 17:9; cf. Heb. 3:13). It tells us not to lean on our own understanding (Prov. 3:4). Jesus taught that out of the heart come “evil thoughts—murder, adultery, sexual immorality, theft, false testimony, slander” (Mark 7:21). The Christian understands that following Jesus means denying herself, not discovering the god inside. Not untaming her sinful nature but being conformed to Christ’s image. She knows that obedience to Jesus is far better than the temporary high of a better job or a movie-worthy romance because in his presence—not her own—there is fullness of joy (Ps. 16:11).
You’re Not a Cheetah
The thesis of Doyle’s book correctly identifies a problem: Many women live in metaphorical cages because they don’t understand who and what they really are.
Doyle’s analogy of the cheetah contains some truth. The domesticated feline thinks that running after plushie toys for a superstore ribeye is what life is about because she has never tasted the freedom of her natural habitat. She stalks the perimeter of her enclosure with discontent because she knows she was made for more—she just doesn’t know what.
The problem with Doyle’s argument, however, is that women aren’t cheetahs. If women view themselves as untamed animals, they’ll be chasing an ideal that’ll never bring satisfaction. They will end up on their own type of “Cheetah Run” that left the wild beast pacing in her cage with unrealized longings in the first place. Of this longing, Doyle writes: “I felt an electric restlessness buzzing inside me. It was like constant thunder rolling right there beneath my skin—a thunder made of joy and pain and rage and longing and love too deep, scalding, and tender for this world.”
I feel that, too. We all do. It reminds me of C. S. Lewis’s famous observation: “If I find in myself a desire which no experience in this world can satisfy, the most probable explanation is that I was made for another world.” In this, Lewis touches on a much better solution. Instead of comparing ourselves to animals in captivity, the answer to the deep, unrealized yearning we all feel is to recognize that we were created in the image of a holy God with a purpose—to glorify him. Our natural habitat is a kingdom that is here—but not yet. Until all things are made new, we will live in that tension. Obeying our desires might temporarily distract with flashes of transitory happiness and plastic joy, but it won’t deliver freedom.
Doyle offers a counterfeit freedom that emancipates readers from right and wrong, objective truth, the Bible, and Christianity. But it’ll only enslave them to another master—sin. For the Christian, true freedom isn’t apprehended by relying on your inner voice which can misguide you or change on a dime. It’s found by looking deep inside yourself, dying to the sinner you meet there, and turning to Christ. Freedom means trusting in the saving work of Jesus on the cross. It doesn’t justify you to indulge in sin, but liberates you from its power. You realize that to be freed from slavery to sin is to become a slave of God. One master leads to death; the other to eternal life (Rom. 6).
True Christianity Truly Frees Women
Despite her allusions to Jesus, faith, and the Bible, Doyle’s central message cannot be reconciled with Christianity. In fact, it’s the exact opposite.
With the saccharine promise of discovering your best life now, Untamed is recycled New Age dogma—a prosperity gospel for desperate housewives. But for a woman to find true contentment, she must resist the cultural trend toward living for the here and now. Real bravery means trading your cage for a cross. That’s the only way to cast off the prison bars of self-worship and become . . . not untamed . . . but truly free.
6/9/2020 07:48:45 am
Well said--written! Keep it up! It is refreshing to see solid writing, logic, style with a balanced biblical basis. Your voice is needed in the Church and in the world.
6/10/2020 03:42:00 pm
How does she have any credibility? She has completely succumbed to the Zeitgeist.
6/10/2020 06:48:26 pm
I appreciate your articulate review so very much. Thank you.
6/11/2020 09:54:43 am
Bravo! Your voice is refreshing in a world blinded by lies. Thank you.
6/12/2020 12:32:10 am
Yes, and amen! Well written, thank you.
6/12/2020 06:37:32 am
Thank you for this post Alisa. My husband and I recently left the WOF/Prosperity/Name & Claim movement and by God's grace we have been led to sound biblical teachers and ministries. I learned about you when I watched American Gospel 2 this week. As a woman, living in a small remote northern community in Canada, I am searching for others who trust God's inerrant Word and fashion their lives according to His plans for us. This is the first post I've read of yours and I look forward to reading others. Blessings to you and your family.
6/19/2020 10:08:40 pm
Nicole, praise God for showing you truth in his word. I pray you will find some like-minded believers in your area so you can encourage & support each other.
6/28/2020 04:16:21 pm
So true. And so sad that the beauty & nourishment that can come from family can be cast in such a way & believed by so many? Somehow, knowing that we aren’t the end all is the most liberating & rewarding process by which to live, but missed by so many these days.
6/14/2020 02:55:47 pm
Thank you for your truthful review!
6/19/2020 10:32:20 am
Excellent and thoughtful review. Thanks for your well-supported Biblical explanations.
Hi from Scotland. The "progressive" cancer has danced across the pond to Britain. There is "good" freedom and there is "bad" freedom. "Good" freedom brings life, is eternal and powerful. "Bad" freedom seems great until it kills you. Unfortunately can be eternal also. There needs to be teaching on how to access the grace of God by belief, and what Kingdom living looks like. We enter the kingdom by suffering though...hence the dichotomy of Christianity...suffering brings life. Doyle's ignorance (see Ephesians 4:18) will alientate her from the very thing she seeks; life!
6/19/2020 10:41:09 am
How is it "resisting the cultural trend" to be a white American evangelical Protestant Christian? In a country where the Secretary of State, the Secretary of Education, the Secretary of Housing and Urban Development, the Vice President, etc, etc, all have floppy evangelical Bibles on their desks? To be sure, your folks are a minority group. But a minority group that controls the country. I am a devout Christian who gets it that my religion has historically oppressed a lot of people, including LGBTQI folks who need to be liberated from fundamentalist culture. Today we have science that tells us that same-sex orientation is largely innate. You could say it is God-given. Why would a loving God create a human being to have same-sex attraction, and then tell her or him they cannot have sex with the person they love? That really would be child abuse. Early Christians didn't know what we know now about sexuality. Of course they can be forgiven for that. But it makes no sense for Christians today to be locked into the first century on this subject. Christianity has been evolving since day one. Let's let it evolve some more. If God is love, then we'll follow where love leads, beyond the confines of ancient texts.
6/19/2020 02:34:59 pm
Jim, you state “Today we have science that tells us that same-sex orientation is largely innate.” Could you please share that science for my educational benefit? Thank you in advance.
6/19/2020 03:26:12 pm
So how did science measure love?
2/15/2021 06:31:30 pm
Exactly, science does not measure love. Love is something that is genuine, inherit and comes natural. You would not make the claim that you chose to be straight right! and I would agree, the fact that being straight though is the common mainstream does not make it the only acceptable way to be. It just makes it the most common way. Kind of like being left handed, it is not nearly as common as being right handed but you would not fault someone for being left handed now would you!
6/20/2020 03:42:46 am
The word says that God is the same yesterday, today and forever more. The word is not supposed to conform to the world and all of its changing views. We are to relinquish ourselves to the word. "Because that, when they knew God, they glorified him not as God, neither were thankful; but became vain in their imaginations, and their foolish heart was darkened.Professing themselves to be wise, they became fools,
7/2/2020 09:53:25 am
"Why would a loving God create a human being to have same-sex attraction, and then tell her or him they cannot have sex with the person they love?"
10/24/2020 08:17:19 pm
When you say "we have science that tells us...", I am afraid you fail to identify that science of itself has no voice but is subject to interpretation by scientist. And when scientist who are inclined to look at the world with a materialist approach, they will certainly interpret it as you have stated but make no mistake. This is definitely not what science says therefore we should carefully take heed to 2 tim 4:3's warning (these scientist give you what you want to hear). Be that as it may, it now depends on whose authority you hold to be superior whether God's or scientists (in the name of science).
2/15/2021 05:52:04 pm
Oh great, now they are going to call you a progressive christian cause you are inclusive of the LGBT community. Here is the thing, it is sad that people nowadays from any angle see each others through a lense and not through a big picture and I believe that that is a fair point. For example, neither historical christians nor progressive ones hold full monopoly on the truth but it would be nice if these people can find common grounds and by the way, the traditionalists do not mind being selective when it suits their purpose. For example, feminism is ok, LGBT not. It is the same old crap if you ask me and with all due respect but no matter how gentle and tolerant people of traditional christianity are, as long as they are exclusive towards certain groups, it is not transparent cause the mere fact that anyone take a stand against anyone else who does something that they have not walked through their shoes is a waste of time. So they give all these fancy intros and disclosures about tolerance but at the end, with all due respect to Alisa Childers, they should just cut through the chase and admit that people who are either LGBT or and atheists are not good to them the way they are, there always a call for reform, it is never no, we love you just the way they are, it is like always a different ball park for where we stand and where they stand. So much for equality. I look for Alisa response on that anyways.
6/19/2020 11:13:23 am
Great article Alisa. Perhaps the book would be more aptly titled "The Way of The Carnal Christian - The Heart Wants What It Wants!" It would be more honest to admit she has left the faith rather than misappropriating scripture to justify her sin. Just my opinion.
6/19/2020 11:36:39 am
Buckle up for the storm of flak you'll get for speaking the Truth! But keep speaking it anyway! You're a breath of fresh air!❤
6/19/2020 12:51:59 pm
Excellent review; I am continually amazed at the journey of some "christians" who lose their way yet remain so unaware. I would love to learn more about her personal walk before her emancipation from Christ. She could not have possibly know the Jesus that I do. I am reminded that King Saul lost the Holy Spirit without knowing it. The fact that this can happens terrifies me. This is the fear spoken of in Prov. 9:10 "The fear of the Lord is the beginning of wisdom, and knowledge of the Holy One is understanding."
6/19/2020 01:38:12 pm
7/10/2020 10:37:46 pm
Rae, I’m with you! And I completely relate to what you’re saying. I went through ED recovery and inpatient treatment twenty years ago, and it has honestly been an on and off struggle since then. In my opinion, the Church tends to see and treat eating, weight, and food with a worldly lens steeped in diet culture mentality. I recently found this blog and appreciated Kylie’s (the author’s) addressing of some of these issues from a faith-based perspective. I hope it might be helpful to you. Blessings in your recovery.
4/14/2022 12:55:44 pm
Hi! I agree. I read a book that talks about that by Jess Connolly called "Breaking free from body shame". She is a committed Christian and the book has a lot of food for thought, repentance and freedom. The author knows the church isn't addressing the relationship with the body as it should, but we are the church and we can learn a more biblical perspective and live it and influence others with our lives. I hope it helps you too!
6/19/2020 02:31:53 pm
Yes! Thank you for writing this. I posted a video on this book months ago but I only have like 10 subscribers so I’m not sure anyone saw it.😁
6/19/2020 09:35:05 pm
So well written! Thank you Alisa for speaking truth.
6/22/2020 01:47:46 am
6/23/2020 10:54:00 am
I find it disconcerting that you quote C.S. Lewis, one of the main heroes of Progressive Christianity. He had a lowered view of the Bible, emphasized feelings over facts, and was not orthodox in his doctrine (see Kevin DeYoung on that point). When Lewis suggested that Christ made an "error" in his end-time prophecy (from The World's Last Night), his prominent position in Christendom should be immediately removed. The last thing the Church needs right now is someone who in many ways valued the romance of pagan fantasy and myth over the Bible as God's inerrant word. Progressive Christianity is just Mere Christianity updated with the additional social justice angle to make it more relevant.
7/8/2020 12:15:45 pm
It breaks my heart to think about the women who will read that book and not have the discernment to see the lies. BUT, I also too easily count out the work of the Holy Spirit. It is wonderful to know that while we cant be in every home helping women to see the truth, He can :) Thank you for your article and ministry, Alisa! I am so encouraged and motivated thru your podcast/blog. Hope you find your way back to Alaska some point soon!
7/14/2020 09:30:36 am
Thank you for this! There are a handful of women like Doyle I have followed on Social Media and its get be rather confusing for me personally. My heart wants to accept and agree with what they say, but my head disagrees. Its hard fighting with fleeting emotions.
5/4/2021 06:38:53 pm
It’s as if someone is whispering lies into her ears as she types out her messages. Lies that people want to hear and embrace. You can be like God.. “eat that fruit.. I am... consult your Knowing.. obey your deepest desires.” The EXACT OPPOSITE message of Jesus. Compare each one of these phrases to the life of Christ.. deny yourself, take up your cross, die to yourself daily, lay down your life, wash feet, give all.
6/3/2021 01:32:21 pm
This ideology is tearing my marriage and family apart. Thank you for speaking truth. It's amazing how many Christian(?) women are taken captive by this when the lies are so plain to be seen.
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