3 Misunderstandings about my ‘Redeeming Love’ Article

I have good news and bad news. The good news is that much of the pushback I received on my critique of the film Redeeming Love is based on statements I didn’t actually make and positions I don’t actually hold. As such, much of the disagreement publicly shared is unfounded.

The bad news, of course, is that such a high level of reader misinterpretation happened in the first place. A lot of digital ink has been spilt arguing with rhetorical phantoms.

While I am saddened that so many people walked away from my piece unnecessarily confused, I am also glad to clear the air and clarify my intentions. Toward that end, I wish to address several misconceptions.

One key factor is the title of the article itself. In the beginning, my working title was Redeeming Love’s Unfortunate Exploitation. By using the word “unfortunate,” I hoped to communicate a sympathetic posture toward the film and its intentions.

Of course, the final title is different from my initial suggestion: ‘Redeeming Love’ Irredeemably Exploits Actors and Viewers. This, it appears, left readers with a couple misguided assumptions: first, that the focus of the article was the film in its entirety (which it wasn’t); and second, that I would examine audience susceptibility to sexual temptation (which I didn’t).

With those clarifications in place, let me share three things I did not say in the article.

1. “This is a movie review.”

I would not presume to write a “review” of something I haven’t viewed myself. Such a stance would be uninformed and uncharitable. As such, and in order to avoid giving the impression I had seen Redeeming Love, I specifically stated that I hadn’t.

My aim was to focus on only one small (albeit, important) aspect of the film: the sexual exploitation of the film’s two stars, Abigail Cowen and Tom Lewis—more specifically, the sex acts they share onscreen (libidinous kissing, the fondling of private parts, sexual moans, faux orgasms, etc.). That is something I can legitimately critique from a distance. As I have written elsewhere,

Blind condemnation [of a movie] is dangerous and unhelpful. When it comes to pornographic content, however, we move away from the debatable and ambiguous elements of artistic merit, and toward more solid distinctions between right and wrong. Hypersexualized storytelling methods are an aspect worth criticizing. A Christian can—and should—condemn pornographic material without having to engage each instance on a case-by-case basis. Thus, I am comfortable and confident to condemn pornographic techniques used in any mainstream film, whether I’ve seen that film or not.

Again, that doesn’t mean Redeeming Love is nothing but a pile of junk. As someone else has stated, “Certainly, with some editing of the sex scenes—that I agree were not necessary—the movie could, in fact, be watchable for a broader audience.” Which leads to my next clarification.

2. “There is nothing wholesome about the movie.”

Many readers believed me to condemn the film wholesale, as if dealing with numerous sexual topics in a film is inherently inappropriate, or even ungodly. To them, my problem with the film was the sheer amount of sexual themes and content included in it, as if I think it’s inherently immoral for an actor to play the role of a prostitute, or an adulterer, or a rapist, or a pedophile.

However, the entire opening of the article and the penultimate paragraph were designed to dispel that very myth. As illustrated in the first five paragraphs specifically, I show how Redeeming Love has a lot going for it. I even quote some reviews that point to redeeming aspects of the story.

My position is that the world needs more films like what Redeeming Love aspires to be—an unflinching portrait of human depravity, with an unflinching portrayal of the gospel solution. “Cleanliness” in our fiction isn’t inherently next to godliness. In a fallen world, life is messy and ugly and sinful, and if Christian stories remain “safe” and “clean,” we run the risk of trivializing both humanity’s problem and the glories of Christ’s redemptive work. It seems clear that author Francine Rivers crafted Redeeming Love (both the book and the screenplay) with the best of intentions.

3. “Some people and situations are irredeemable.”

Many readers heard me saying that there are actually some things beyond the reach of God’s redeeming and sanctifying grace. That was not the message of the article—nor is it the message of Scripture itself. “Behold, the LORD’S hand is not shortened, that it cannot save; nor His ear heavy, that it cannot hear” (Isaiah 59:1). “There is nothing too hard for You” (Jeremiah 32:17). “He is also able to save to the uttermost those who come to God through Him” (Hebrews 7:25).

I used the term “irredeemable” to communicate the reality that no sin (in this case, on-camera sexual immorality) can be turned into righteousness, even if the sin is employed with a desire to achieve a worthy goal. In other words, intrinsically sinful actions cannot magically become holy actions. Both Abigail Cowen and Tom Lewis were required by Christian filmmakers to commit sexual acts with each other on camera—acts that should only be reserved for marriage. Those actions, captured for posterity and shared with a global audience, cannot be undone.

This is especially tragic seeing as how one of the functional purposes of Redeeming Love is to provide awareness and financial support for victims of sex trafficking. It is inherently contradictory to sexually exploit your actors to advocate for the victims of sexual exploitation. That kind of double standard is what I called “irredeemable.”

Be careful, little eyes, what you buy

I do plan on eventually watching Redeeming Love. Some have advocated using VidAngel (when that option becomes available), but that would still necessitate contributing money toward the project’s inherent sexual exploitation. I am choosing to wait until I can pick up a used copy so as to avoid financially supporting the project in any way.

For several years now, my belief has been that sexually exploiting actors is a practice Christians should protest, not patronize. And as a friend of mine put it, using a filtering service to eliminate sex scenes is “nice for end-viewers and all, but by that point, the actresses [and actors] have already had to go through exploitation. If we’re going to take a stand, that should happen farther up-stream.”

There is, I am sure, much more that can and should be said about the film Redeeming Love. I focused on actor exploitation for one simple reason: it’s a problem long ignored within our culture. It is also a component of consumer culture that we as the church must acknowledge and address.