Two years ago I discussed on Instagram how Christian romance, but specifically the popular book Redeeming Love, have acted as a “gateway drug” to pornography and erotica in the lives of many young women. Testimonies flooded in from women who were recommend this book by older mentors, aunts, friends, and pastor’s wives. Now that the movie is coming out January 21st, I have moved the content of that Instagram talk to a podcast episode and blog post.
I do not like to “pick on” specific materials or act as if I enjoy pointing out flaws with well-intentioned work. But I feel a responsibility to share the theological, spiritual, and sexual implications RL has had on many young women’s lives, since it appears most people are not aware of it. Please, please, read or listen with an open heart and mind. This is not about your personal enjoyment of the book or your freedom to watch it. It’s about your sister, and walking with her in a way that honors who God made her to be.
Well, hi friends, and welcome back to Verity podcast or maybe you are welcoming me back because we are returning from a break after completing the Honest Marriage series on this podcast. And we are now starting our next series or restarting a series of Ask Anything Theology. I’m so excited to be back in the throes of theology with all of you, and that is the theme for 2022. We’re going to stick with our Ask Anything Theology series, with short breaks every quarter. And we’re starting this series with a theological analysis of Redeeming Love.
This movie is actually coming out January 21st. Normally, I would actually leave a specific episode like this for later in the series, but because the movie is coming out, I wanted to put this episode out sooner rather than later, so that people can listen to it before the movie is available to watch.
You probably know that the movie is based on the famous book, Redeeming Love, written by Francine Rivers. It’s actually an older book, it’s been around for almost 20 years or maybe more than 20 years. We’re going to talk about a lot of the themes in that book and how they play out in the movie, and the theological analysis I want to share with you about this. But before we get into that, I want to give you a little background because I know not everyone who’s listening to this episode has listened through the 60 plus episodes of Verity so far and maybe doesn’t even know who I am or what I do. I want to give you a little bit of background on who I am and why I am particularly qualified to speak to this issue and some of the warnings and cautions that I would give you, regarding both, Redeeming Love, the movie and Redeeming Love, the book.
First of all, I grew up in a wonderful Christian home. I had great parents who intentionally discipled me and this was really before the internet was in everybody’s phones. I grew up before we had the internet on a cell phone, if you can imagine a day when that was the case. As a child, I was exposed very early on, around 12 years old, to erotic novels. These are like Harlequin romance novels. These are books that basically have a pretty loose plotline and throughout the novel, there are sexual scenes written into the content. They’re basically pornography, but marketed to women. They’re not so much visual as they are story driven, which allows a woman to get absorbed into the story but then utilize these erotic scenes for fantasizing. In my case and in the case of many women, it leads to addiction. It’s often accompanied with other sexual addictions like masturbation. It was a problem for me into my early 20s when I finally found freedom from that addiction and from that sin.
When I share this part of my story, I also have to share the aspect that because of my experience with erotica and my experience struggling with erotica in purity culture, I was very passionate about freeing people to find God’s design for sexuality. When I started my blog, I actually mostly wrote about God’s freeing design for sexuality and shed a light on the fact that women struggle with pornography and sexual addiction. I wanted to show the way God had showed me to be free from that shame. I share this because when you’re talking about something as popular as Redeeming Love, and when you’re bringing up issues that you want people to consider, I think it can be really easy – if you loved the book, or you’re really looking forward to loving the movie, or even if someone you trusted recommended these things – it can be easy to get defensive against the person who’s bringing up those issues. I’m sharing my personal background and my passion for healthy, vibrant, confident female sexuality, because I am not a prude. [chuckles] I’ve been writing about this for years and I’m very open online of both about my story and about positive female confidence and sexuality and I believe that that’s God’s heart, and He’s a healing God and a redeeming God and His love is a Redeeming Love, but I do have some very significant concerns with Redeeming Love the book and the movie.
I’ve shared my concerns about the book online before. They are on a highlight on my Instagram. I decided to do this podcast episode about it to move the content from the Instagram highlight to this episode due to popular request. When I initially talked about this on my Instagram, I received so many responses from young women who had similar experiences to me with erotica and one of the gateway drugs to erotica for them was Redeeming Love. My concerns that I’m going to be sharing with you, is not meant to make you defensive, but I think it will bring some awareness to some of the issues that are involved in both Redeeming Love the book, and now in the screen version, which is rated PG-13 for sexual content and nudity. A lot of Christians either don’t recognize that or see the problem with that, or are painting over that because they believe the story justifies the content that is going to be portrayed on the screen.
I’m just going to walk this through biblically. I’m going to share some of the things that I shared in the highlight on Instagram. And then I’m going to share the messages I received from my community online regarding their experiences with this book, and I hope that you will prayerfully listen and consider and understand that I’m coming to this with as much grace and truth as possible. Even if you were really blessed by this book, that maybe it will open your eyes to the fact that there are so many other young women out there who have really faced an uphill battle because of the content in this book, and potentially in this movie. I hope it will just give you some more grace and thoughtfulness for that portion of the church and that portion of female audiences and help you to maybe walk alongside them and help them heal in ways that maybe they haven’t been able to heal before. Without further ado, let’s get started.
I want to begin with a theme verse for us. The verse I want to read is 2 Corinthians 7:1, which says, “Therefore, since we have the promises of God, dear friends, let us purify ourselves from everything that contaminates body and spirit, perfecting holiness, out of reverence for God.”
What Paul is writing here to the Corinthian Christians who live in a very sexualized culture, is a truth that we desperately need today. We desperately need to consider how we can purify ourselves from the things that contaminate either our bodies, or our spirits and choose to perfect holiness out of reverence for God. Sometimes the things that we believe are reverent of God or Christian freedom, actually aren’t leading us towards purity, or aren’t leading us towards holiness. They’re actually leading us the opposite direction, even though maybe they have some good things in them or some truths in them, they’re actually opening a door that isn’t a healthy door for us mentally or spiritually or relationally. We have to be discerning enough to recognize that.
As we are talking through this, I want to keep this verse in mind that it is a reverence for God and it is love for God, which is a response to his deep Redeeming Love towards us, that causes us to pursue holiness and to pursue purity. We often think of purity, it’s so overused now, we think of it almost as this prudish word, but what it means is holiness. It means the absence of darkness or sin, and that’s what we’re after, when we are walking with Jesus, is we’re supposed to become more like Him. That’s our goal and that’s the focus I want to keep here.
Let’s stop with that verse, and now let’s focus on what Redeeming Love is, because if maybe you just heard about this movie, and everybody’s talking about it, and you have never read the book, I mentioned it at the beginning of the episode, but this is a book that is written by Francine Rivers who used to be an erotic novel writer before she was a Christian, according to my research. And then after becoming a believer, she began writing books that reflected her faith. This book was a massive hit. It’s a bestseller. It has been a bestseller I think, gosh, for all the years that it’s been around, the 20 years it’s been around and it’s frequently recommended to young women in particular. By older women in the church, it’s recommended frequently in Facebook groups that I see, it’s been recommended to me in many of the churches I was in growing up.
What the book is about is – it’s supposed to be basically an analogy, or as the book said, it’s based on the Book of Hosea in Scripture. In the Book of Hosea, the prophet Hosea marries a woman named Gomer, who becomes a prostitute and cheats on him as a reflection or an analogy of Israel’s unfaithfulness to God. Hosea’s relationship with Gomer is a parallel to God’s relationship to Israel, and how God would redeem and restore Israel, the way Hosea was doing for Gomer. Francine Rivers used this book of the Bible as her inspiration, and created a fictional plotline to echo that story.
Now, obviously, when you take the Book of Hosea, and you set it in 1850 in the Gold Rush in the United States, you’re losing a lot of the context, like all of the context actually. There are significant changes to the story and additions to make it a novel for obvious reasons. You’re making a biblical story into a novel, there’s a lot that’s going to be lost in that process. And so, Redeeming Love is loosely, loosely, loosely based on Hosea. It doesn’t really follow the actual story of Hosea at all, but it will typically be advertised as “based on Hosea”. The main characters are Angel, who would be Gomer, the prostitute, and Michael Hosea, who represents Hosea, the prophet. The book follows Angel’s story and how Michael Hosea basically loves her to restoration by marrying her even though she was a prostitute.
I’m not going to get into any more of the actual plotline. It’s a long book. I did not read it during the height of my struggle with erotica, because I knew that it would not be healthy. There were years where I went without reading fiction at all, or even going to the movie theater because I could not handle being in front of that kind of sexual content or being surprised by sexual content. I was that sensitive to it. There were years that I went without consuming that kind of content. But then about two or three years ago, I recognized that I was mature enough and discerning enough to read through Redeeming Love. I did read through it. I was sadly very alarmed that older Christian women were recommending the book to young Christian women with no caveats and that’s important, okay, it’s important to this conversation, because I really believe that there are some people who’ve been genuinely touched and healed in some ways by this book. I don’t doubt at all that that has happened and that’s why I want to be gentle and careful in how I talk about this.
However, when we recommend material like this with no caveat or context, we are potentially setting an enormous stumbling block in front of young women who are struggling with pornography, which is what erotica is. In Redeeming Love, there is soft pornographic content. Soft pornography is basically just when we draw the curtain at a point that would be considered hard pornography, that would be much more graphic like you might see in a Harlequin novel. While there’s a lot less in Redeeming Love than then you would see in a Harlequin novel, there’s still enough content to be concerned and in the movie which is rated PG-13 for this exact kind of content, we have to be cautious and discerning. We have to consider what Scripture says about this kind of sexual content and whether it justifies the story that’s being consumed. I have a couple of passages here. The first is 1 Corinthians 6:18. Again, a letter from Paul to the Corinthian church, he was living in an extremely sexualized culture where sexualization was normal and even a part of worship.
The Biblical Call to Sexual Holiness
He says to them, “Flee from sexual immorality.” Flee from observing it, flee from being a part of it, flee from using your body to participate in it. Often Christians today will say, of course, I should not be using my body in that way. I should not be having sex with my boyfriend or I should not be cheating on my husband. We know that’s wrong. But we sit and watch it on TV, and we sit and read it in our books, and we say I’m strong enough to handle it. It’s totally fine. I’m not going to fantasize. But then we recommend those books and movies to other people without knowing where they are at in their walk. We’re going to talk about the connection between this kind of recommendation and these boundaries. The connection between sexuality and alcohol in a moment.
1 Thessalonians 4:3 says, “For this as a will of God, your sanctification, that you abstain from sexual immorality.” Here, we see a connection between your sanctification, your becoming in the image of Christ, and your sexuality. Your sexuality, we see this in marriage books on sex, secular and Christian. Your sexuality really begins in your mind, what you’re thinking about, what you’re consuming, what you are dwelling on shapes, how you view yourself in your own body and sexuality, and also how you view your partners if you’re married. And if you’re single, how you’re viewing other people, potential partners and their sexuality. We have to be very careful to remember God’s will is our sanctification. Am I operating in a way where that’s being made possible? Or am I resisting God’s sanctification?
Hebrews 13:4 says, “Let marriage be held in honor among all.” We often say, “Okay, well, this means don’t cheat on your spouse. Let the marriage bed be undefiled because God will judge the sexually immoral and the adulterous.” That’s the full verse. But let’s start with this first phrase, are we holding marriage in honor when we consume sexual content, online and in books, and on TV? Are we honoring marriage that way?
Psalm 119:37 says, “Turn my eyes from looking at worthless things and give me life in your ways.” Worthless things are things that don’t honor God, that don’t give life in God’s ways. Lastly, Matthew 5:28, this is Jesus talking. He says, “I say to you that everyone who looks at a woman with lustful intent has already committed adultery with her in his heart.” For women who are struggling with lust and pornography, whether it’s in a written erotica novel form, or whether it’s on TV, or in a movie, the lust process, the process of visual adultery if you will, is different. It’s not exactly the same as how it works for men. Where men maybe see an image and they’re aroused by the image itself. A lot of women tend to put themselves into the story. They put themselves into the character of the women and want to be desired the way she is desired.
She is the image, but they’re not actually lusting after her body per se. They’re lusting after the desirability of that woman and that’s why I believe erotic novels are such a draw. In fact, in the research for my last book on marriage, The Flirtation Experiment, I discovered that over 40% of all romance novel readers are in a relationship. I believe it’s 40% to 60%, are in a relationship, romantic relationship already and yet they consume these novels at an extremely high rate. Sometimes as many as one a week or more. It makes you ask, “Why are these women who are in a relationship drawn to these stories?” I think oftentimes it’s because we put ourselves into that character’s shoes, and we want to be desired the way she is desired, we want to be desirable like her. It makes me think of the Garden of Eden and Eve – how, when she saw the fruit, she saw that it was desirable to make her wise. It was beautiful to the eyes. I think, wow, that’s so interesting, she wanted what was beautiful, and she wanted to be wise and it’s that concept of the desirability becoming an idol and that’s what happens a lot of times with women.
Three Cautions in Redeeming Love
I want to talk about three primary cautions or theological problems with Redeeming Love. The first is spiritualizing soft pornography. There’s no question that the sexual content in the novel qualifies as soft pornography. If it were put on screen, which it now has been put on screen, it would still qualify as soft pornography. As a woman, whether or not you personally struggle with erotica or with the scenes, it still matters objectively, if as a Christian, you should be watching those. Something I often encourage women when I talk to them about this, something to think about, is if this scene were filmed, and it were taken out of the context of the story, and you found it on your husband’s laptop or your boyfriend’s laptop, how would you feel? Would you still justify it? Would it be okay? These are questions that we have to ask. One of my cautions with Redeeming Love and books like it, because there are quite a few books in that kind of genre is the spiritualization of soft pornography. We’ve already talked about the verses of why this is a big deal. So, I’m not going to revisit that, but it’s something that we need to be aware of, and need to be conscious of when consuming this material.
The second caution or problem that I see with this book and others like it, is the romanticizing trauma. In the book, there’s an element introduced that’s not in the Book of Hosea. It’s the fact that, Angel, the main character was abused sexually as a child. This is a major trigger warning as well. I would add this small caveat too. When older Christian women or spiritually older Christian women are recommending this book to younger Christian women, it’s really important to be aware of their abuse history before you do, because this book can be extremely triggering to victims of child sexual abuse. And that’s something that you’re going to hear when I read the submissions regarding the book at the end of this episode.
In a world, that’s driven by aesthetics, and it’s ridden with anxiety and depression caused by childhood neglect and abuse, there’s a new trend that has emerged, typically on TikTok, it’s called Traumacore. Now, Redeeming Love predates this by about two decades, but the launch of the movie is actually very well timed or worse timed depending on how you view it, with the launch or the advent of Traumacore. Traumacore is an artistic form of processing for victims of childhood trauma, but it’s followed by many people who have not experienced extensive trauma for the aesthetic or the relatability of it. It’s very dark, I don’t recommend looking it up. But there are some objective articles out there, you can read that I will include one in the show notes that I thought was a little bit safer to read, that kind of show what Traumacore is.
Well, Redeeming Love would not classify as true Traumacore, and I’m not saying that it is. For people exposed to Traumacore, or who are operating in that mental space, Redeeming Love’s narrative fits very well, because Angel experiences childhood rape and then is turned into a prostitute and struggles with hopelessness. There’s this element of that darkness that is also present and very prevalent in Traumacore, which is followed by many, many people, especially in Gen Z.
Angel then meets this man, Michael Hosea, who thinks she’s beautiful just the way she is. And there’s a heavy emphasis in the book and in the movie on Angel’s beauty, physical beauty, this is also going to be a player, and another thing we have to talk about a little further on. While the analogy is supposed to be reflective of God, many people really will struggle to create this connection without additional damage to their understanding of trauma, sexuality, sin, redemption, and theology. In fact, some women have come away from the book with the super idealistic idea of a physical man who will rescue and love them the way Michael Hosea does. Instead of translating the idea just to God, it’s instead translated to a human man and hoping for a man to rescue them from their trauma history. When that does not happen, there is a lot of disappointment and hurt compounded by consuming this material.
Romanticizing trauma or using trauma to further a fictional plotline, this is common in all books today, I would say, a lot of popular fiction books today. But in a Christian book that’s saying this is based on Scripture, this is reflecting a true view of God, that’s a really dangerous game to play.
The third problem and caution I have is that books like Redeeming Love can cause us to avoid true biblical literacy. We would rather form our idea of God from a fictional plotline than from the actual book of Hosea. My encouragement would be if you’ve read the book and have not read the Book of Hosea, to take the time, take a month to actually study the Book of Hosea itself. Do not get your idea of God from a fictional book. You have to check that book against Scripture.
Remember, even though Ms. Rivers intention was undoubtedly good, the book itself is many degrees removed from Scripture. It’s not Scripture. It’s one person’s interpretation and idea of how Scripture might have looked in another context. In the movie is now three degrees removed from that, created by a secular studio and a secular director and writer with Ms. Rivers. But still, we’re now three and four and five degrees removed away from the original truth. Don’t let a good movie or a good book cause you to avoid true biblical literacy. Form your idea of God from Scripture and then use that as the plumb line to measure the things you’re consuming.
Theological Problems with Redeeming Love
I’m going to shift to the second part of this podcast. The third part will be some of the questions I want you to ask before watching the movie, and then we’ll read some of the testimonials from the women who wrote to me. This second part is about the theological analysis of the God who is presented and represented in Redeeming Love. The first theological concept that I want to introduce may be a little bit of a shocker for many of you. But many scholars believe that Hosea was actually married to the wife of his youth. So, he met Gomer, married her, not as a prostitute, but just as a sweet young woman that he loved and she became a prostitute after they were married.
This matches the narrative of Israel’s covenant on faithfulness to God, which is the parallel being drawn, but it negates the premise of Redeeming Love. If you look at the Book of Hosea, you’ll see in Chapter 1, where it says that the Lord told Hosea to marry a woman of promiscuity. What scholars believe is that that section actually was in Chapter 2 and was moved to Chapter 1. Remember, the Bible wasn’t in chapters, and it isn’t in chapters, really, today in Judaism, the Old Testament. It wasn’t in chapters at the time that it was written, it was just written as a total book and then we divided it up later. And so that particular section has moved to Hosea one, so we assume that he went out and found a prostitute and married her. But many scholars actually believe that he married a woman, and she became a prostitute after marriage, like she was cheating on him with other men, and left the home and became a prostitute, and he went and redeemed her. Obviously, this creates a problem with the story of Redeeming Love because that’s the entire premise that Michael Hosea goes and marries a prostitute. But again, many people believe that Hosea did just marry a prostitute. So, it’s a little bit of a nuanced issue there.
The second theological problem with how God is represented here, is that Michael is drawn to Angel because of our physical beauty. This is mentioned repeatedly throughout the book. But this creates this idea that God loved Israel or loved us because of how we appear or because of how beautiful we are. There’s this tension in the book of Michael Hosea being really frustrated by Angel’s continual return to her old life, but he’s also just in awe of how gorgeous she is and how beautiful she is and how attracted he is to her. This is a really strong theme. You’ll see it recurring if you’ve ever read the book. This was problematic for me when I was reading it because it creates the strange understanding of God and a difficult separation of the human, Michael Hosea from your concept of God. Is God just head over heels enamored with my physical attributes or with me as a person?
The reality is that God does not need humans. He’s not looking at us and going, “Oh, my gosh, I’m so just fallen in love with you,” the way we use those terms in romance novels. Instead, God is saying, “I created you. I love you, because I made you for relationship with me.” He’s not using language of, “I fell in love,” or “I’m in love,” “I’m bound up in your beauty.” That’s not the language that Scripture presents. Scripture presents a choosing love. A love in spite of what we’ve done, which is a theme in Redeeming Love. But it’s so bound up in the physical beauty of Angel that it introduces some difficulties theologically and it also introduces some difficulties for women who read it and who struggle with body image and body shame.
The third theological issue and I mentioned this little earlier is that because Michael is an allegory of an allegory, the parallels that are being attributed to God out of Redeeming Love are increasingly blurred, while also being romanticized in ways the Bible does not state. This can actually create unhealthy views of God that aren’t consistent with Scripture. If you’re giving this book to someone who doesn’t know the Bible at all, or isn’t involved in church isn’t being discipled. It can be perhaps a gateway to that but there are much better gateways than introducing a book with this kind of sexual content and this kind of a confusing theological presentation. There are other ways to introduce someone to the truths of Scripture without introducing such potential confusion and blurring of lines theologically.
The fourth point I want to point out is that all erotica across the board presents nuanced prosperity gospel messages. There’s a very strange tension here. In some of them, if you get discontent or desperate or depressed enough, then a man will come and save you. In others, if you pray enough or clean yourself up or are sexy and confident enough, then the man will come and save you. That’s a big part of this narrative. In Christian romance novels, in particular, this gets even more confusing and unspoken.
We see this message in purity culture as a whole. I have to tell you it is so intriguing to me that the rise of Christian romance novels and soft pornographic content in such novels was coinciding with the reign of purity culture, in which we didn’t talk about sex and we didn’t have a healthy view of sex, and we didn’t even have a healthy view of our bodies for the most part. Yet these two things coincided. And I think that is not a coincidence at all. I think that the fact that we were not addressing real sexual desires and identity and body image and prosperity gospel in the purity movement, we were allowing it to these unhealthy, undealt with issues to sneak in underground through romantic fiction.
The prosperity gospel message in these romantic novels is, if I do this work, if I am pretty enough, or in desperate need enough, if I’m discontent enough, if I’m content enough, if I’m busy enough, then God will bless me. In Job 4:9, we see the reality of this lie that while we certainly experience blessings by following God, and God does bless obedience, and he gives consequences for disobedience. We aren’t guaranteed an easy life or an ideal timeline by following Christ.
On the flipside, erotica can also present a message of hedonism, I can do whatever I want, and God will still bless me because he loves me. This rejects the call to holiness that we see in 2 Corinthians 7. Neither message is biblical, but both can be unconsciously picked up and taken away from Christian romantic fiction.
The fifth thing I want to point out is that by connecting Angel’s victimization shame from her childhood, with her prostitution shame. Some readers may fail to discern between the two kinds of shame, because there are two kinds of shame in Scripture. One shame comes from the outside and is not the victim’s responsibility. This is victimization. The other form is shame from personal sin, which is our responsibility when we choose sexual fornication, pornography. When we choose these things, we are choosing sin and we have to repent and shame actually drives us to repentance, where we can be restored and have our shame removed. But the book can tend to actually combine and weave together these two kinds of shame to where victims of abuse may be confused over what is their responsibility and what is not. We have to be very sensitive to this.
Scripture makes a distinction between these kinds of shame, but the lines are blurred in the book, and it can lead to not just fetishizing Angel’s trauma, but making her abuse a sin issue, instead of just willful sin, the issue. Again, none of that is included in the Hosea narrative because we don’t have a narrative about childhood sexual abuse for Gomer.
Here’s my biggest point on this section. Books and movies like this, when they are endorsed and recommended with no caveat, nuance or discipleship can be a major stumbling block for Christians of all maturity levels. I’m going to read you Romans 14:1-23.
“Except the one whose faith is weak without quarreling over disputable matters. One person’s faith allows them to eat anything, but another whose faith is weak, eats only vegetables. The one who eats everything must not treat with contempt, the one who does not. And the one who does not eat everything, let’s not judge the one who does, for God has accepted them. Who are you to judge someone else’s servant to the your own master, servant, stand or fall, and they will stand for the Lord is able to make them stand. One person considers one day more sacred than another, another considers every day alike. Each of them, to be fully convinced in their own mind. Whoever regards one day is special, does so to the Lord. Whoever eats meat, does so to the Lord, for they give thanks to God, and whoever abstains does so to the Lord and gives thanks to God. For none of us lives for ourselves alone, and none of us dies for ourselves alone. If we live, we live for the Lord. And if we die, we die for the Lord. So whether we live or die, we belong to the Lord. For this very reason Christ died and returned to life, so that He might be the Lord of both the dead and living. You then, why do you judge your brother or sister? Or why do you treat them with contempt? For we will all stand before God’s judgment seat. It is written as surely as I live, says the Lord, every knee will bow before me every time we’ll acknowledge God. So then, each of us will give an account of ourselves to God. Therefore, let us stop passing judgment on one another. Instead, make up your mind not to put any stumbling block or obstacle in the way of a brother or sister.”
“I am convinced being fully persuaded in the Lord Jesus, that nothing is unclean in itself. But if anyone regard something as unclean, then for that person it is unclean. If your brother or sister is distressed because of what you eat, you are no longer acting in love. Do not by your eating destroy someone for whom Christ died. Therefore, do not let what you know is good be spoken of as evil. For the kingdom of God is not a matter of eating and drinking, but of righteousness, peace and joy in the Holy Spirit, because anyone who serves Christ in this way, is pleasing to God, and receives human approval. Let us therefore make every effort to do what leads to peace and mutual edification. Do not destroy the work of God for the sake of food. All food is clean, but it is wrong for a person to eat anything that causes someone else to stumble. It is better not to eat meat or drink wine or to do anything else that will cause your brother or sister to fall. So, whatever you believe about these things, keep between yourself and God. Blessed is the one who does not condemn himself by what he approves. But whoever has doubts is condemned if they eat because they’re eating is not from faith. Everything that does not come from faith is sin.”
This is the entire chapter of Romans 14. I don’t want to get into a full exegesis of this passage, but there are a couple important verses here. What Paul is discussing here is Christian freedom and conviction and how people who are new in the faith or who are growing in their faith, or as he says, those whose faith is weak may still be at a stage where they aren’t as free to participate in certain things because it’s against their conviction. For some, they may get to a point where they feel more free to in this situation as he’s describing, eat meat instead of be vegetarian. Whereas others may continue with that conviction for the rest of their life. He uses the example here of food and alcohol, actually wine and also certain days of the week. Celebrating the Sabbath on a Saturday versus maybe a first day of the week gathering on Sunday.
The point of this passage is to say, you are free to participate in many things. You’re free to read fiction books, you’re even free to read romantic fiction books. They aren’t necessarily sinful in and of themselves, but can they contain content that leads to sin? Yes. And if that’s the case, it is the responsibility of a Christian person to consider the weakness of their brothers and sisters before recommending or encouraging that kind of content for them.
It also points out in verse 10, that you are not to judge your brother or sister or consider them prudish or immature because they have a high standard for the kind of content that they consume. We have to be willing to sacrifice our own freedom for the sake of our brothers and sisters. He says here in verse 15, if your brother or sister is distressed by what you eat, in this case, what you read or watch or have recommended to them, you are no longer acting in love. I think there are a lot of Christian women who have recommended Redeeming Love thinking it was a loving thing to do and going to bless people. And instead, it placed a major stumbling block in the path of these young women, because those who are recommending it did not recognize the weight of the sexual content that they had overlooked. It’s a very serious thing. And it’s why in the rest of the verse, verse 15, he says, “Do not by your eating, destroy someone for whom Christ died. Do not lead them down a path of sin. Do not lead them against their conviction.” He also goes on to say, “To make every effort to do what leads to peace and mutual edification.”
In today’s culture, we’re often more interested in our own edification. We take it very personally if something we love isn’t celebrated or well liked. The reality is that with something like this, we have to be willing to choose what leads to peace and the edification of others, and not just what we like and what we think is okay. This applies to all media it doesn’t just apply to Redeeming Love or Christian fiction. It applies to all media. We are at a point now, where sexual content is everywhere. Soft pornography is literally woven into family TV shows or family movies. And we have to be discerning and aware of what is happening. I think verse 22 is a great message as we move into the next section here.
It says, “Blessed is the one who does not condemn herself by what she approves.” We have to ask ourselves, “Am I condemning myself by what I approve? Or am I walking in sanctification and holiness?” In the third section of this episode, I want to give you some questions to ask before you watch this movie, recommend it, or the book.
Questions to Ask Before Watching or Recommending Redeeming Love
Number one, am I or the person I’m recommending this to strong believers in Christ with a consistent stable walk with Jesus? Two, do I or the person I’m recommending this to understand the Book of Hosea and its true meaning? Number three, do I or the person I’m recommending this to struggle with porn, fantasy, erotica, or relational discontentment? Number four, have I acknowledged that recommending this material could create a stumbling block in the life of my sister in Christ? Number five, “Do I recognize that consuming this material and books like it can change how women view their marriages, singleness, contentment, spiritual walk, and even God Himself? Number six, would I be okay with my husband or boyfriend watching the sexual scenes in this book or movie privately apart from the story? Number seven, does this produce mutual upbuilding for my sister or brother or whoever I’m recommending it to?
At this time, I’m going to move to our next section, as we continue to wrap up this episode to read some of the testimonies from young women who messaged me about Redeeming Love when I talked about it on Instagram, and share some of their testimonies of what the book did and how it impacted them. Again, this is not to shame anyone who has enjoyed the book. It’s just to show you that I’m not alone voice who’s speaking about this, or about how this book and others like it have opened a door and a stumbling block to young women in the church.
“Thank you for talking about Redeeming Love. I read it when I was in college during the season where I was struggling with loneliness. And that book came at a time where I was tempted to give into erotica, something I had never struggled with before. Thankfully, by God’s grace and God’s grace alone, when I finished that book, He convicted me to read Hosea again and opened my eyes to how wrong the parallel was. He also convicted me to be faithful in my sexual life and I was able to walk away from the temptation, all His grace. But I found out later that many of my friends who suggested the book to me actually seriously struggled with erotica and felt so much shame and guilt. So many Christian girls think that romance novels are fine if they’re Christian, but it’s a dangerous path to walk down.”
And this one:
“Thank you so much for talking about Redeeming Love. The book was recommended to me by very strong Christian women who I look up to, when my husband and I were in a very low and desperate point in our marriage. As I was reading it, I was very unsettled with the way things are being portrayed and was very confused why these women thought it was appropriate for our situation. For one, I had been deeply studying Hosea at the time and found Redeeming Love to portray it pretty inaccurately. Also, I was very disturbed at the romanticism involved seemed to undo all the work I was putting in to understand and work through my own sexual sin. I ended up not finishing the book because it was certainly more disruptive than encouraging. I can easily see how many women can get trapped into believing it’s a good book. And if I hadn’t been actively working on that specific sin in my life, I would have fallen head over heels for the message portrayed in it.”
“Redeeming Love brought up my struggle with masturbation after a long period of freedom. And the fact that others didn’t seem to have a problem with it was just that much more isolating. Even now, I’ve mentioned that it’s not my favorite because of the sexual content. And I get very defensive, not understanding responses from godly people who love the book. Thank you for saying something, it should not be recommended to young women.”
“Thank you for your notes on Redeeming Love. Ironically, a question of book recommendations came up in my church’s Facebook group for women’s ministry. Several women recommended this book and I considered it as I’m challenging myself to read more. I popped over to your Instagram and you had a story on the book. I’ve struggled with sexual sin and addiction since I was a young teenager and so I run from sexual content like Joseph ran from Potiphar’s wife. This would likely be a really dangerous book for me to read and I honestly don’t know if I would have the self-control to put it down what’s coming across those moments in the book and what I would potentially go looking for outside of it. If that is at all relevant, you’re welcome to share my thoughts.”
And this one:
“I just wanted to say I’m so thankful for your stories on Redeeming Love. I have struggled with that book and so many other Francine Rivers’ books. It was highly recommended to me by so many Christian friends and when I opened it, I was absolutely shocked. I was not comfortable with the content of the book, but I continued to read it because mature Christians had recommended it. I rationalized reading it in my mind, I continued to make excuses for things that I shouldn’t have. I’ve often wondered when I see people talk about it, if it’s just something wrong with me. I wondered why I could not say that I thoroughly enjoyed this book and would recommend it to others. But hearing you say these things is so encouraging. Christian fiction is a huge problem and more women need to speak up about these things.”
“Thank you for your story on Redeeming Love. I was sexually abused as a child and by the age of seven was a chronic masturbator. I was given Redeeming Love at a women’s conference by a mentor when I was 13 and a half. Half of me was irked at the romanticization of trauma as a sexual abuse survivor and was actually comparing my story to this fictional story that wrapped up pain and abuse with curvy figures, cleavage I didn’t have, and a hot man who would eventually rescue and heal that I didn’t have. I actually started struggling even more with depression from my abuse because I didn’t feel sexy enough on my healing journey, sounds really silly, I know. This book also caused me to sin sexually and struggle with fantasy even more. Her book Bridge to Haven is even more triggering to me, both with trauma and chronic fantasy masturbation. I too was addicted to erotica in high school and sadly these two books are erotica, just with a Christian label thrown on.
What was even more confusing to me as a team, as my mentor was counseling me through my sexual sin, but then gave me these books thinking it would help me in my healing journey. It has taken me years to heal from that impact. In high school and college, I struggled with reading sexually explicit romance novels. I took a lot of drastic steps to break free. Since then, I’ve stayed away from even Christian romance novels. When I read Redeeming Love a year ago, I was definitely not drawn closer to God. It was like feeding an old desire. But in my mind, the seams didn’t go far enough, which caused a lot of temptation to seek out my old habit. Thank God, I didn’t, but it was a struggle. Thanks for addressing this issue, as someone who has struggled, this is a much needed word.”
It’s heavy and hard for me to read those messages to you. There are many more that I have saved in the highlight on my Instagram. I know that if you’ve loved and enjoyed this book, and you’re looking forward to the movie, it may be really shocking and eye opening to hear these messages from real young women. You can see the screenshots of their messages on my Instagram highlight. So, you know that I’m not just making these up. My encouragement to you is, if you choose to go see this movie, please do so with discernment and wisdom. Please take the time to read the Book of Hosea and study it for yourself. Please consider the young women to whom you are recommending this movie and these books, and books like it. And most of all, if you struggle with sexual sin and fantasy, I can promise you that there truly is freedom and there is a way out. I am a testimony to God’s healing journey, His truly Redeeming Love, that can take even the darkest and most secret addiction and make it something that allows you to free others and lead them toward his heart.
I hope that you see that in doing this episode, I am not trying to bash a book that many people have enjoyed, but I am trying to shed a light on how it has opened a door to bondage, and instead of experiencing God’s “redeeming love”, many women have actually been ushered down a road of shame and further addiction. Please consider the questions I’ve suggested before you encourage seeing the movie or encourage reading this book. I’m going to pray for those of you who are listening and those of you who are struggling as we close.
Father, I thank you so much for all the women who are listening to this episode. I hope that my heart has come through and the burden that I carry for women who struggle with addiction, who struggle with erotica, fantasy and sexual sin, I desperately want them to experience your freedom. And I know that books like this promise that freedom in some ways, and that some people even experience a glimpse of you through them. But I just ask that for those who are weak, you would protect them, and that those who are strong, would consider those who are struggling and be willing to sacrifice their freedom in order to walk side by side with them into sanctification. Thank you for loving us and for truly redeeming us. Amen.