The Redemption of Redemptive Love: A Film Review and Market History


Today’s guest post is by Emma Fenske. Emma is currently an M.A. and Ph.D. student in the Department of History at Baylor University. She studies conservative evangelical women, their thoughts and theology through Christian historical fiction romance novels during the rise of Billy Graham and the Christian Right. By analyzing this kind of evangelical print media consumption culture, she hopes to shed light on the ideas and theologies that answer the question “Who is an evangelical?” from the perspective of ordinary women whose voices are often left at home.

When I heard about the upcoming release of redemptive love movie, I was overjoyed. Over the past year, I have studied the thoughts and theologies of conservative neo-evangelical women through Christian historical fiction romance novels, and eagerly anticipated new market responses.

And let me tell you, the reviews don’t disappoint.

Christian romance novels have always baffled critics. With kitschy plots, overly intense themes, overly beautiful characters and happy endings, Christian romance novels have been relegated to the fringes of intellectual thought. But without fail, every time a new film adaptation comes out, critics are once again shocked by the popularity of the Christian fictional romance. The 2022 release of redemptive love, adapted from Francine River’s novel of the same name, is no exception. With incredibly high audience success (95% viewership on Rotten Tomatoes with over 500 reviews) and incredibly low critical response (12% Tomatometer on Rotten Tomato), there is a stark disparity in the perception of consumers and film reviews.

Honestly, if you’re having a bad day, read Redeeming Love’s reviews. Here are some personal favorites:

  • redemptive love is like the most expensive community theater production you’ve ever seen. The acting just isn’t there…” “A Hallmark movie with a major dose of God, I’m sure there’s an audience out there for redemptive love. After all, 3 million people who bought the book can’t be wrong (they can, it’s crap). Think little house on the prairie on Cialis. If you think this movie is right for you, ask your preacher if your heart is healthy enough for sex because, ma’am, this movie might raise your blood pressure. Side effects may include headaches, upset stomach, and fumes. (Austin Chronicle)
  • Critics react to a story they don’t understand. So let them rant and rave. Pay no attention to them. I am one of those fans. A college friend recommended the book to me and I was immediately hooked. This book turned my icy world-weary aura into an emotional mess. Any story that can do that has my full attention. That was sixteen years ago, and it’s still so deep in my heart that I could recognize the story in an instant when the trailer first dropped. (Hollywood Jesus)
  • If you or a loved one live in one of those parts of the United States where the wind chill is currently below zero – or even where COVID-19 cases are increasing – and you’ve ventured out to see the dismal Redeeming Love, you should be entitled to compensation. Or at least a free voucher for your next hopefully more enjoyable outing (Influx Magazine)
  • If I have the choice between watching pigs eat my legs and watching this movie again, I’ll pour barbecue sauce on my shoes myself. (Parent previews)
  • redemptive love captures the beautiful story of what unconditional love really looks like, especially when our sins may be too much for us to bear. Sadly, this poignant portrait of unconditional love also repeatedly strays into images so provocative that it might stumble some who struggle with pornography or sexual sin. (Plugged)
  • … Christians and non-Christians alike will flock to theaters to see redemptive loveIt will sell out in theaters and top box office chartsIt will win awards and become a classic favorite. (Sharon Wilharm)

With reviews ranging from an immediate classic and must-see film to a community theatrical production whose viewers are entitled to compensation, redemptive love baffled critics. The confusion does not fall on the gender line, or even in the separation between sacred and profane.

Rather, the clearest separation between positive and negative responses to the film lies in the insider’s understanding of the novel and its audience. Who raises the questions, who is the intended audience, and what themes confuse critics?

History of the Christian romance market

While Christian fiction romance novels are not a new phenomenon, today’s version of evangelical romance begins with the rise of neo-evangelicals in the 1960s and the rise of Billy Graham. Authors like Eugenia Price (1965) and Catherine Marshall navigated the rise of evangelical print media, establishing a place for women in public leadership through the marketplace. by Catherine Marshall Christy (1967) offered a profound history of faith and culture in Appalachia to its evangelical audience, and the book spent thirty-eight weeks on the New York Times list of bestsellers.

Although notable, a distinct Christian romance market did not really emerge until the 1980s, due to an increase in explicit sexuality in the romance novel market (Dell’s Ecstasy line of books, Harlequin’s Temptation, Silhouette’s Desire). Christian female readers revolted, writing letters to Christian publishers asking for Christian romance novels with less sexuality (Zondervan, Thomas Nelson, Bethany House, Multnomah). [8] A result of this cry was Janette Oke’s popular series Love comes slowly (1979) and Beverly Lewis avoidance (1997), both discovered by editor Carol Johnson (Bethany House).

It is within this market that redemptive love appears. Rivers originally published redemptive love in 1991 with Bantam Books as a secular historical fiction romance novel. Following a spiritual transformation in Rivers’ personal life, she pulled the book from the market, removed graphic language and sexuality, and added larger themes of Christ’s redemption. She published the “redeemed” book as a Christian romance novel in 1997 (Multnomah). Rivers later describes her spiritual transition from “mommy porn” to Christian romance in her article with The Christian woman today entitled “Confessions of a former author of eroticism”.

If the themes redemptive love seems a bit too sexual for the intended female evangelical audience, the market’s transition from secular to sacred may offer the answer. As the women transitioned from “mommy porn” to “life-changing fiction” alongside Rivers, the themes wouldn’t have come as a surprise. (Karen Kingsbury is one such woman who, inspired by Rivers, became the author of Christian Fiction.)

Exchange topics

What’s the story redemptive love tell a movie?

redemptive love (2022) opens with William Shakespeare’s line, “All that glitters isn’t gold,” and pans (pun intended) to a group of filthy prospectors searching for gold during of the California Gold Rush (1835-1855). This contrast between glitter and gold is a symbolic theme throughout the rest of the film, carefully adapted from Rivers’ novel. Based on the Book of Hosea, this film tells the story of Angel, a prostitute from Pair-a-Dice, who finds God’s redeeming love through Michael Hosea, a Christian farmer whom God told to marry Angel.

The film does not hesitate to tackle the difficult themes of the novel, nor to offer graphic visuals. Addressing abuse, prostitution, infidelity, rape, incest, pedophilia, grooming, murder, sex and abortion in film, redemptive love Incredibly deserving of its PG-13 rating.

But no one who has read the novel should be surprised.

In fact, Francine River’s novel is much more sexually explicit (the “redeemed” 1997 version, not to mention the original 1991 version). Michael Hosea became a much softer character in the film version: less likely to have tantrums or violence, to force Angel to follow his will, or to bring him into his home without his consent. (The scene where he takes Angel to see the sunrise is Michael forcibly snatching a frightened, naked Angel from the bed without her consent. Likewise, the chasing scenes when she leaves are not smooth, more frequent, and with fewer choices. to get back to Angel (part.) The sex scenes are also noticeably toned down and less frequent. (While Angel’s apparent orgasm may seem graphic in the film, in the book Michael forces Angel to call his name repeatedly during the first sexual encounter. When Angel refuses, he loses his temper.) Misery Angel’s superabundant is diminished in the film version, leaving out instances of Angel being abused by various people (including being abandoned by his nanny while the nanny goes off and has sex).

While Christianity is central to the film, as it’s based on the book of Hosea, this was also toned down in the film. Conversion experiences are replaced by religious symbols like crosses and churches, and redemptive salvation becomes the pursuit of belief.

What does that mean

Redemptive love should be shocking.

The graphic themes and sexuality reasonably offend critics who struggle to understand both the themes and the intended audience. But after looking at the long history of the Christian romance market, the high ratings shouldn’t come as a surprise either. As a toned down version of mommy-porn, redemptive love offers a “cleaner” version of beloved romance novels to its female audience.

But at the same time redemptive love addresses some difficult themes in women’s lives and offers hope for redemption to all, it sweeps some problematic behaviors under the rug. Its biblical connection can lead to problematic conclusions about abuse and consent that should not exist in understanding marriage, or, more importantly, in images of God’s redeeming love. Portraying Michael Hosea in a God-like role allows a man with sexual desires and a temper to be seen as the redeemer of a fallen woman: a broken man whose actions are beyond reproach or correction.

I’m not sure redemption saved redemptive love.


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