At first read, you might think John Eldredge's unusual take on what makes a man would alienate many readers. But the opposite has proved true in certain circles.

His book, sort of a male Christian evangelical alternative to poet Robert Bly's men's movement, articulates Eldredge's vision for a renewed, authentic masculinity. It is an idea that has proved so popular among Christian evangelicals that it has been embraced by a variety of men, including football players and corporate CEOs.

Since its release last year, "Wild at Heart: Discovering the Secrets of a Man's Soul" (Thomas Nelson) has sold more than 400,000 copies. The companion volume, "The Wild at Heart Field Manual," has sold more than 27,000 copies.

For Eldredge, that means a packed speaking and workshop schedule and the spawning of what could become a new grass-roots men's movement. He talked about the book, its impact and his ideas about masculinity at a luncheon here recently.

Eldredge said the traditional image that men should be "nice guys," one propagated by most churches, is ineffective and "soul-killing." Men naturally feel called to be warriors, to know themselves and their God at a deep, intimate level, he said.

And, yes, he said, a man might really have to go into the wilderness to find himself.

"A man needs to get away from the world that coddles him and distracts him and emasculates him," Eldredge said. "He needs to get into a lonely place where he has to face his own soul -- and his God.

"I'm not part of the 'back to the woods' granola movement, but you've got to consider that every spiritual journey in the Bible takes a man into the wilderness. Jacob did it. So did Elijah, David, John the Baptist and Jesus. Moses didn't meet God at the mall."

His ideas resonate with men in the pew, in the boardroom and on the football field.

Mike Swider, head football coach at Wheaton College, an evangelical school in Illinois, chose the book for team devotionals during football season. " 'Wild at Heart' was extremely popular and was even used as a chant on the field and in the weight room," he said.

Bob Blizzard of Bel Air, Md., the CEO of Blizzard Management Group, sold one of his three companies. Then he handed over routine operations of the other two after reading the book. He now runs marathons and leads a men's group. "I learned from John Eldredge that life is about being free to be who you are," Blizzard said.

"Wild at Heart" is not without critics, including those who see the book as sexist. Some object to its traditional portrayal of men's and women's desires. The book says: "A man wants to be a hero to the beauty" while "every woman yearns to be fought for" and "wants to have a beauty to unveil."

"Don't those sexist charges sound kind of old and tired?" Eldredge asked in response. He said the culture is ready to acknowledge the difference between men and women and that his ministry team includes women "as equal players."

Four times a year, Eldredge, a family man with longish hair and a goatee, leads special workshops in the mountains of Colorado. He founded Ransomed Heart Ministries -- a teaching, counseling and disciplining fellowship -- because of the book's success. The workshops serve 350 men at a time and are held in a log cabin in Colorado. Demand is so high, Eldredge said, he has a waiting list of 1,000.

Eldredge, who lives in Colorado Springs with his wife, Stasi, and their three sons, was formerly a writer and speaker for Focus on the Family, the ministry founded by conservative author James Dobson.

John Eldredge has a vision of masculinity that runs counter to the "soul-killing" idea that men should be "nice guys," which he says is propagated by most churches.