Before I confess to being a bad feminist, I do watch feminist-approved shows as well. I’m a big Handmaid’s Tale fan, I watched Unorthodox early on in quarantine, and I’ve been watching Mrs. America on Wednesdays since that began.
But I can’t help how effective a ridiculous Hallmark movie can be at helping me unwind after a busy shift at work. I watch Hallmark Christmas movies year round.
And why wouldn’t I watch a show that repeatedly, time after time, manages to produce “the most dramatic season ever”? My husband will not watch The Bachelor with me. He is a better person than I am. In my experience, The Bachelor is people-watching at it’s most fascinating, a train-wreck that I just can’t look away from.
Has my feminist card been revoked yet?
It would seem, with my terrible taste in entertainment, that I would enjoy the Christian equivalent in written romance. Right? I thought so. But I thought wrong.
Last week, I woke up one day with my introvert battery completely toasted. So I picked up a novel, Francine River’s immensely popular Redeeming Love that had been handed down to me a few years ago; I neglected my housework and children (honestly, they’re old enough to feed and bathe themselves so I’m almost obsolete) and spent the entire day reading.
Aside from successfully recharging my introvert battery, I didn’t finish this book feeling good. It gnawed at me for the next several days. I kept mulling over and over how terrible the book actually was. As much as I can overlook in secular garbage TV, I could not forgive Francine Rivers for Redeeming Love.
I finally figured it out. Redeeming Love is supposed to be a metaphor for God’s love for us, by telling a “love” story about Christian patriarchy, presenting abusive coercion and control as godly male headship.
God’s love is so much better than the love described in Redeeming Love.
I won’t summarize the plot, as I found that Samantha Fields did an excellent review series already, analyzing River’s disappointing writing chapter by chapter. I encourage you to read her reviews, especially if you have already read Redeeming Love.
I will simply say, the main characters, Michael and Angel’s relationship dynamic resembles Power & Control rather than Equality, and it makes me so upset that Christians confuse abusive behavior with “spiritual headship”:
I was reminded this past week of another book, A God I’d Like to Meet: Separating the Love of God from Harmful Traditional Beliefs, by Bob Edwards. In his first chapter, Edwards introduces himself and why he’s writing this book:
I’ve been a Social Worker and Psychotherapist for nearly twenty years now. During this time, I’ve provided individual, family and group counseling for thousands of people. Many of them have told me that they have difficulty believing in God. Most of them have experienced horrific forms of abuse: physical, sexual, psychological, emotional and spiritual. Many of them were told, at one time or another–often by well-meaning Christians, that the terrible things done to them or to their loved ones were either allowed or caused by the “Sovereign Will of God.”
I understand the human tendency to want to come to grips with or understand life’s tragedies. This particular explanation for horror and suffering, however, evokes a crisis of faith for many. If God is good, why would he cause or allow such terrible things to happen to good people? One common answer to this question only serves to compound the problem. Some are told that God isn’t really allowing “bad” things to happen to “good” people, because deep down we are all truly “bad,” by nature.
Another common answer to the question of evil is also problematic. We’re told that God predetermines that people will do bad things to one another so that his good purposes can be accomplished on earth. At best, this second explanation is a classic case of thinking that the end justifies the means. As mentioned earlier, some of those “means” can be truly horrific (e.g. rape, child-abuse, ethnic cleansing). (pgs. 6-8)
This is exactly how Angel’s horrifying childhood abuse and trauma is treated in Redeeming Love, and Rivers over and over again describes Angel’s trauma-informed behavior as weakness, selfishness, and pride.
Bob Edwards’ book explains how Christian theologians, specifically Calvinists, have been influenced by ancient Greet philosophy, which has warped the way they view God. You probably could not find a Christian who would disagree with the statement that “God is love” (1 John 4:8), but how many Christians live as though they are a bug under the thumb of God?
Dualism, a hierarchy of spirit over body, denial of the free will of humanity and the doctrine of self-mortification; these are some of the philosophical principals that eventually led to formulation of the Gnostic heresy. Shockingly, they are also some of the alleged “principle matters of Christian philosophy” through which John Calvin encouraged all believers to make sense of the Bible. He derived them from Augustine, and Augustine derived them from the “books of the Platonists.” Rather than being a benchmark for Christian orthodoxy, St. Augustine’s theology appears more like a “union of Christian and pagan doctrines.” (Edwards, pgs. 108-109)
Seen through the lenses of Platonic philosophy, the God of the Bible can appear to be an all-controlling entity that frowns on emotion and insists that men must exercise control over women. The implications of this theological perspective are significant. Evil, including human sin, is portrayed as “the will of God.” Salvation is irresistibly extended to a select few, while the majority of the human race is abandoned to inevitable damnation. Human emotion is confused with sin and must be “put to death.” Women, viewed as stimulating sinful feelings, must be strictly controlled by men. (pgs. 96-97).
This controlling, abusive, and sexist portrait of God reviles rather than attracts people to him. I would encourage you, if you’ve been taught a Calvinist theology, to examine your understanding of God.
All my life, I have known that God is love, and I have loved God deeply. Unlike Angel, I experienced very little trauma or abuse as a child. But I absorbed this Calvinistic portrait of God anyway, through doctrine. When I was thirty, I was going through a very painful time with a church split, parents divorcing, and husband unemployed, and in my brokenness, I was grasping to understand the problem of evil and the suffering of this world. I happened upon Brennan Manning’s sermons on YouTube, and wept as I learned of God’s UNCONDITIONAL, no-strings attached love for me.
I learned that I am Beloved, just as I am, and not as I should be, because nobody is as they should be. It sparked a faith shift that gave me the courage to unpack everything I had grown up believing about God and the Bible, and then to start reconstructing a faith that is informed by Jesus’ love, sacrifice, and grace.
As Manning says, “You will trust God to the degree that you know you are loved by him.” Knowing I was loved unconditionally gave me the freedom to ask God the “big questions,” to walk away from traditions that were harmful, and to embrace Egalitarian theology that placed women in their rightful place alongside their brothers in the Kingdom.
It is my constant prayer that Calvinists will come to know the unconditional, incomparable love of God, who sees each one of us in our brokenness and mess and calls us “Beloved.”
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Ruth, I have never like Christian romance, too unreal for me but then I drip with realism most of the time. If I am going to read a novel I go for a John Grishson book. I really don’t do secular romance either. I am not a chic flix watcher, give me a good war picture or any movie that is from a real event. I loved the latest one on Jesus, on Netflix. I enjoyed your post, will be back for more.
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As a Calvinist, I sincerely think that Edwards’ misunderstands our viewpoint. From the reviews I’ve read regarding Redeeming Love, I’d say it certainly does not align with how we see God’s love. In fact, it sounds like a disgusting book, haha. Thanks for reviewing it!