A Beauty to Rescue or a Beauty that Rescues?

by | Jul 29, 2022 | For Women, Theology of Marriage and Sex | 70 comments

Captivating and a Beauty Who Rescues

Do women long to be rescued?

I may have done a Fixed-it-for-you-too-far last night on social media, critiquing John Eldredge for calling women’s souls “a bloody mess” in the book Captivating, that he co-authored with his wife Stasi.

While most people agreed with me, there were far more than normal speaking up and saying that the book was actually really good, and I was taking it out of context.

I do have some concerns about how the book handled issues of abuse and objectification, and I may write more about that in the future (I’m not promising anything!). But I understand that many women were ministered to by the idea that God is captivated by them, and that God loves and adores them. If that’s your story, I’m really glad.

I would like to explore one aspect of the Eldredge’s philosophy in their books today, though, and just ask if it’s actually in the Bible.

I would like to ask: Is it a feminine trait to want and need to be rescued?

This is a large part of what Wild at Heart and Captivating are based on–that part of what makes us “feminine”, and part of the feminine soul, is this desire to Be the Beauty that attracts and arouses an Adam who will rescue (even though we ourselves can be warriors). And men want to do that rescuing, and that is an essential part of maleness–to want to rescue women.

I’d like to explore this a bit.

First, do women long to be rescued, or do women long for safety?

I think that many women do long for safety and to be secure, because women live in a much more dangerous world than men do. Sexual violence affects us more than it does men, and is always at the back of our minds. Women walk through life with a rape prevention strategy, thinking about dark alleys when walking home, checking the back seat of the car, scanning for threats. Life is more dangerous for women.

For many of us, abandonment, abuse, and assault by men has been a real threat and the cause of real hurt, and many of us would just like it to stop.

That longing inside of us to be safe and protected from the evil that is out there–is that necessarily a feminine trait given by God? Or is it a natural result of the sin and danger in the world?

Were women created to be the ones who are rescued?

One can make a strong case that the biblical story of creation actually has Adam who needed to be rescued by Eve. God created Eve as an ezer kenegdo, or a helper suitable and comparable to him. There is no insinuation of subordination in the language used to describe Eve, but instead an insinuation of military strength.

The word “ezer” that is ascribed to Eve was also ascribed to God numerous times in the Psalms–and often with a military connotation, like “The Lord is my help in times of trouble.”, he is our help and our shield.

But the bigger question: What story does the Bible tell about women desiring to be rescued?

If it’s part of the essence of femininity to desire to attract Adam and to captivate him so that he can rescue us, then we should see this throughout Scripture. This should be the story that Scripture tells us about the genders.

If it’s part of the essence of masculinity to rescue the Beauty, then we should also see this throughout Scripture–that men are praised when they rescue.

But when we look at the actual stories in the Bible, that is not what we see. This won’t be a comprehensive survey, because I’m doing this off the top of my head at 7:15 am, but let’s take a look at women who rescued Israel (or large numbers of others); women who rescued their families; and women who rescued themselves.

Biblical Women who rescued Israel

  • Rahab rescued her family when she decided to help the Israelites, even though it put her in grave danger. She ended up helping the Israelites defeat the city of Jericho, and is included in the genealogy of Jesus.
  • Shifrah and Puah were the Egyptian midwives who refused to act on Pharaoh’s order to kill all the male babies who were born, at great risk to themselves. In fact, the opening chapters of Exodus have good men strangely absent. It’s entirely the story of women working to rescue Israel on their own–the midwives; Moses’ mother; Moses’ sister Miriam; Pharaoh’s daughter.
  • Esther approached the king at great danger to herself and made a case to save the people of Israel.
  • Deborah judged Israel and ruled Israel and oversaw a great military defeat of their enemies.
  • Jael tricked Sisera, the king of the enemy army, and killed him with a tent peg, freeing Israel.
  • Abigail stood up to David in order to protect her household and her servants, and save them from being killed because of the foolhardiness of her husband.
  • The wise woman of Sheba confronted Joab before he attacked the city, negotiated with him, and saved the city, while stopping from Joab from doing something awful and bringing guilt upon himself.
  • The widow of Zarephath shared her last meal with Elijah, and kept the prophet alive.
  • Naaman’s slave girl who told him about the prophet and how to be healed–and set in motion events that helped Israel.

And, as a commenter noted, Mary saved all of humanity by agreeing to bear Jesus, even when there was no guarantee Joseph would stand by her!

Biblical Women who rescued their husbands and families

  • Sarah lied for Abraham and protected him from being killed by foreign kings by saying that she was his sister, not his wife. She took the risk on herself to save her husband.
  • Zipporah stood up to Moses and circumcised him and their sons to prevent God’s wrath.
  • Rebecca understood God’s purposes for her family better than her husband, and so worked things out so that Jacob would be the one to get the blessing (though I don’t think this is a model of a good marriage, but her husband didn’t seem to hear from God).
  • Pontius Pilate’s wife tried to warn him about what he was doing with Jesus, but he ignored her.

Biblical Women who stood up for themselves and rescued themselves

  • Tamar deliberately tricked Judah into a compromising position so that he would do what was right by her. She stood up for what she was rightfully owed, and she was honoured by becoming in the lineage of Jesus.
  • Bathsheba stood up to her husband to insist that David do right by her son.
  • Ruth took initiative with Boaz to ensure her future and safety, as well as that of Naomi’s, and Naomi encouraged her to do so.
  • The five daughters of Zelophehad stood up in Israel and demanded inheritance laws be changed so that they could inherit land as well.
  • Vashti refused to strip and dance in front of multitudes of drunken, dangerous men, even at the cost of her status (and even life).
  • Mary of Bethany went against custom and sat at Jesus’ feet to learn, even when others felt she was overstepping her role as a woman.
  • The woman who was bleeding approached Jesus and touched him, though this wouldn’t have been acceptable.

Check Out Our Biblical Womanhood Merch!

In fact, when I think of biblical women, I can think of very few who are praised and remembered for doing typically feminine roles.

Rather, when I think of actual biblical women, I think of women who are praised over and over again for going against what are typical feminine roles. Actual women in the Bible are remembered for their strength and their bravery and their initiative. In fact, they are even punished for going along with their husbands when they shouldn’t have (like Sapphira). 

It was women who remained at the cross and who approached the tomb, and didn’t desert Jesus. It is women who, when Paul greets a whole host of people in Romans 16, are more likely to be mentioned because of their work for the kingdom. It is women who were appointed to be the first apostles–sent to tell the men that Jesus was risen. We remember Priscilla for teaching Apollos; Lydia for leading the first church in Europe; Mary for bravely accepting the Lord’s will for her, even though it meant public ostracism and abandonment.

This is one of the big reasons I have a problem with books that focus on gender essentialism and roles–that women do this and men do this, or God made women to be like this and men to be like that. We simply don’t see it in the characters of the Bible who are remembered for all time.

Yes, you can point to verses like 1 Peter 3:4 that praise a “gentle and quiet spirit” in women, but this is not unique to being feminine. Men are also told to be gentle (1 Peter 3:14-16, just a few verses after women are addressed; 1 Timothy 6:11-12; Ephesians 4:1-3). And men are told to be quiet and speak slowly as well! These are not uniquely feminine traits.

But often the verses that we pick out of the Bible to describe the “ideal woman” and “the essence of femininity” do not really match the women who appear on the Bible’s pages.

I believe that many women do long to be rescued–to be safe.

I’m one of those women. That is not a bad thing. To know that God sees me and wants to rescue me–that is inspiring.

But I don’t think this desire is the essence of femininity, and I don’t think that the Bible points to this. Authors may point to it, and it may resonate with many, and many may even find it helpful. But let’s be careful that we don’t make this into a bigger thing than it is. Let’s look at the women whom Scripture does praise, and see how they cover a huge range of roles, personalities, stations in life, actions, and more.

And let’s be careful that we don’t ascribe more to the “essence of femininity” than the Bible does.

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A Beauty Who Rescues--looking at Captivating by John Eldredge

Does that make sense? And can you help add to my list? What other biblical women rescued Israel? Rescued their families? Or stood up for themselves? Let’s talk in the comments!

Sheila Wray Gregoire

Author at Bare Marriage

Sheila is determined to help Christians find biblical, healthy, evidence-based help for their marriages. And in doing so, she's turning the evangelical world on its head, challenging many of the toxic teachings, especially in her newest book The Great Sex Rescue. She’s an award-winning author of 8 books and a sought-after speaker. With her humorous, no-nonsense approach, Sheila works with her husband Keith and daughter Rebecca to create podcasts and courses to help couples find true intimacy. Plus she knits. All the time. ENTJ, straight 8

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70 Comments

  1. Cathy

    Thank you for writing this. I’m still thinking through some things. Part of what you said resonates- “do women long to be rescued or do we long to be safe?” I honestly think it’s both. I know there are examples in the Bible of women doing the rescuing. And – as Stasi points out in her book- we are called to be fierce warriors as well, that whole Ezer Kinegdo thing. And. There have indeed been times in my life when I wanted and *needed to be rescued. Perhaps that’s why their message resonates with some of us. Not all of us had the privilege of growing up in safe homes. Or safe marriages. I think it is foolish to say that I have never been, nor will I ever be in a place where I need “rescue.” I most definitely grew up in a home where I needed it. And I wanted my dad to be the hero and save me from my mom, tho I didn’t have words for it at the time.
    As adults, don’t we need each other? Is that wrong? (I realize J & S use dramatic, theatrical language at times. Makes sense. They both came from theater training.) Yes. They use the language of guy being the hero and “rescuing” the girl. They also use similar language for the girl being the one “to come to aid when no one else can.” Ya know, like those stories in the Bible you mentioned. All of your work that you do- trying to change the culture on the church. Trying to get one more pastor to change his teaching that is harmful. How does it feel when even *one of them voices the idea on your comment thread that they have indeed changed their thinking? I’m not gonna say that you are desperate and in need of rescue. But, in grand story language, you are *hoping for the encouragement of seeing change, the rising up of men to become the protectors and men they were intended to be, right?

    Anyways. In order to keep my own sense of integrity, I’m going to go back & re-read their books. It’s been a while. And much of what i believe about a woman’s role in the church had changed in past 20 years. So, I have to admit that if there were problematic themes around how to handle abuse, I would have been blind to it.

    But much of what has been posted by others on FB and IG as “problems” (ie the diff kinds of women- controlling, weak, etc- also taken out of context- Because those are given as examples of *brokenness in women. Are we going to be so bold to say that we, as an entire gender, have zero brokenness? Stasi is calling us out of those things and into the Warrior role that is so needed. Sheila, I see you as one of those warriors, btw. Defending those hurt by abuses of power!), I don’t see as problems.

    Anyways. I’m gonna re-read. And hopefully the discussion can continue.

    Reply
    • Sheila Wray Gregoire

      Thanks for that thoughtful reply, Cathy! To me, the real issue is them stating so vehemently that this is the essence of femininity, or that is the essence of masculinity, and this is how you act like the feminine beauty.

      There is no psychological or biblical support for any of it. It’s more like a big epic story that they’re telling–which can be fun, and which can resonate, but we need to not make more of it than it is. I think when they start defining what it means to be feminine and masculine–that’s where we get into trouble.

      Reply
  2. Part of His Body

    If you are correct, then why in a book as thick as a Bible did you expend as much ink in one blog post as is used for most of those women in total in the Bible?

    The Lord is God. Jesus is God’s Son. They created everything. Made seas open up. Fire come down from Heaven. Rose the dead. He could make any and every choice He wanted and yet He didn’t pick a single woman for the twelve, He didn’t insist women be equals in authority in any of His teaching. When His friends mom is sick He doesn’t chastise the men for not getting into the kitchen, He heals her and she waits on them.

    I believe God holds women as dear to His heart as men. Men are no more valuable but they are the leaders, the star players. You can fight it all you want but all it does is make you miserable. Men accept our role, we go to work pounding nails, picking up the trash and selling a thingy. Most of us don’t spend our whole life wondering if God loves us just because He didn’t make us a CEO or president.

    We are all parts of the body and God tells us that often the parts considered lowly will be praised more.

    Your comments on women not being as safe in this world I would also refute. Almost every statistic outside of sexual violence tells you men are far more likely to be murdered, assaulted and with far less people or resources devoted to helping.

    Reply
    • Sheila Wray Gregoire

      This is all so tired that I’m not going to deal with most of it.

      But a few things. There are also no Gentiles among the twelve. In those days, women couldn’t lead. They can today. Different culture.

      In the New Testament, women taught men, ran house churches, prophesied, and exercised gifts of leadership, far more than they do in evangelical churches today.

      The reason men are at greater risk of murder and assault is because of OTHER MEN. It is not because of women. If men stopped being violent, men wouldn’t be at risk either. It’s bad form to argue that men are more vulnerable than women when it is men who are doing the assaulting.

      Jesus praised Mary for sitting at his feet and did not make her get up and help Martha.

      Women don’t want to be CEOs and in charge. We simply want to be equal and not be in an unequal power relationship, just as Jesus talks about in Matthew 20:25-28. I’m sorry, but you’ve lost the entire plot of the New Testament. Maybe you should go read Matthew 20:25-28 and Philippians 2 again?

      Reply
      • Sheila Wray Gregoire

        Oh, and one more thing: I was feeling like perhaps I overstepped by calling out the gender essentialism in Eldredge’s books. Thank you for proving that this is still a massive problem, and making me feel better and more confident in my choices.

        Reply
        • Lisa

          It’s funny, me and my fiancé were just today talking about why Jesus only had male disciples. My fiancé pointed out that most of the disciples were probably teenage boys who are dramatic enough by themselves (as we see in the gospels), and if there had been girls in the group it would have had the potential for even more drama. So maybe part of the reason why there were only men was that Jesus didn’t want his disciples more distracted by each other than necessary?

          Also, as I’m reading the gospels I’m struck more and more by the way Jesus treats both men and women simply like people. I’m thinking about the Gentile woman who asked Jesus to cast out the demons from her daughter. When Jesus told her that it wouldn’t be right to “take the bread from the children and give to the dogs” the woman didn’t “submit to his authority and obey” so to speak, but instead insisted again that Jesus heal her daughter. Jesus didn’t rebuke her at all, but commended her for her faith and did as she asked. I think that’s powerful and another example of a woman being a warrior!

          Reply
          • Sheila Wray Gregoire

            I was actually debating putting the SyroPhoenician woman in the list, and maybe I will based on your comment! Yes.

            I think the thing about travelling with the women is that there actually always were women who travelled with Jesus and the disciples. It really was always a co-ed enterprise!

          • Danita

            I had an interesting and idle thought about this a few days ago, and wonder if part of why there were no women in the twelve had anything to do with the reality of what they were called to do – travel (often alone) through large geographical areas into cultures and cities that were likely hostile to them. We repeatedly see the disciples imprisoned, beaten and tortured, throughout their ministry, and I can’t help but wonder if Jesus didn’t call women to be his disciples specifically because of the how much *more* all of these would have been risks for a female disciple.

            This isn’t to say that women can’t handle being in inherently dangerous situations like this, but culturally, if the message from a woman would have been less likely to be respected or heeded in a hostile culture and she would have been at a significantly increased risk of categorical harm (physical, psychological, emotional, sexual, etc.) maybe this just speaks to Jesus’s love of his daughters enough to not intentionally put them in harm’s way (possibly unnecessarily) when there was an
            alternative?

            I doubt there’s any explicit theological support for this, but I can’t help but wonder. Christ clearly values and esteems the women in his life, which can’t help but lend to the idea that there was a reason for their lack of presence in his inner circle that is entirely unrelated to the question of their competence.

      • Kat

        In those days it was also required to have at least 10 male disciples to be considered an official rabbi under Jewish law. Jesus was given that title and referred to as such by both his followers and enemies, because he met the requirements. It seems like this was more of a technicality rather than a grandiose statement on gender roles. Especially considering he had many female disciples who traveled with him, which I believe was unusual for the time.

        Reply
    • Jane Eyre

      What leadership have you personally done in your life? I’ve just noticed this fun thing wherein men who are not very good at math talk about how men overall are better at math (not really true, but that’s something for another day), men who are not good athletes talk about how much stronger men overall are, etc. Are you a non-leader who is puffing himself up by saying he’s part of the ONLY group who can lead?

      Reply
    • EOF

      Jesus also didn’t choose any non-Jews to be his disciples either. My guess is YOU wouldn’t be chosen. Does Jesus’s choosing mean that we are all below and inferior to the Jews? (As your answer insinuates women are inferior to women because of this — but still valuable! Don’t forget that! Equal in value, but inferior subordinates in role. Also, I’d love to see your Bible reference proving that men are the star players. I can’t recall THAT language in the sacred texts.)

      Or is there maybe a deeper spiritual reason for the followers Jesus chose? Something going back as far as Genesis? (Hint: that would involve actually studying the Bible’s history, context, language, etc. to find deeper meanings than simply going for a “plain reading” of our translated English Bibles, which were originally intended for an ancient culture, vastly different from the one we live and think in.)

      Something to think about.

      Reply
    • exwifeofasexaddict

      You spent a whole paragraph saying men are more important than women. And then said men aren’t more important than women. Women just have a different experience of the world than men do, and it’s men like you who make the world worse for us.

      Reply
    • Kya

      “If you are correct, then why in a book as thick as a Bible did you expend as much ink in one blog post as is used for most of those women in total in the Bible?”

      Anyone who actually believed that God thinks of women being just as valuable as men would never make a statement like this. Never even consider it.

      Reply
  3. Z

    “ That longing inside of us to be safe and protected from the evil that is out there–is that necessarily a feminine trait given by God? Or is it a natural result of the sin and danger in the world?”

    I love this question. It really hits at the heart of the issue. Women generally do want to be safe. We understand that physically we are not stronger than men, and that when we pregnant or have young children, we are much more vulnerable than we usually are. There are times when we are physically weaker than we usually would be. The Bible constantly speaks of providing support to those who are vulnerable. So yes, good men do and should fill the role of protector and provider during those times. But that’s not the same thing as ‘women need to be rescued’. Generally, no,
    we don’t. Unless we are completely inept and aren’t able to take care of ourselves in any way. Women are incredibly capable – we carry babies in our bellies and children in our hips (sometimes simultaneously) and historically we hauled heavy pots of water on our heads (our developing-country sisters still do) and spun wool and made leather and planted gardens and milked dairy animals and did our laundry by hand all while planning supper and prepping food for supper, next week and for provisions during the winter. We women are not a feeble folk. Often it’s us who keep going when the men are exhausted, because of our drive to nurture and care for our young gives us strength we didn’t know we had. There are times that we need the intense physical muscle power of a man. And there are times that a man needs the gritty physical and mental endurance of a woman, not least to continue his genetic line. I’ve heard it say ‘men provide for today, women provide for tomorrow’ and there’s definitely an element of that, although the converse can also be true.

    So is this idea that we need to be rescued as a God-given female attribute a fabricated one? I think largely yes, BUT due to sin and wickedness in the world, we women do need to be protected from certain dangers. Sin and wickedness in the world lead to the necessity of historical patriarchal societies, because someone needed to keep the household safe in order for the household to thrive, and the man’s physical strength and higher testosterone levels (and therefore drive and aggression) suited him to that role. But in a world free of sin and wickedness, it really would never be necessary.

    Let’s appreciate the aspects of our genders that make us each strong, and work to help our spouses in their areas of need and fulfill the marital team that God intended for man and woman.

    Reply
    • Sheila Wray Gregoire

      So true, Z! I think what many who say that it’s innate to women to want to be rescued may not realize is that, if it’s innate to want to be rescued, then men being predatory must also be innate. Because if it weren’t, we wouldn’t have anything to need to be rescued from (except perhaps wild animals!).

      Reply
  4. Nessie

    I think it is a human- male and female- trait to want to be rescued in a sense. I need God/Jesus to rescue me! This is a messed up world we inhabit. Hell is a horrific thing and I desperately want God to save me from that! I don’t need to be saved from being female though. I simply want to be treated as a worthwhile human being.

    When I need to make myself safer (in dark alley, etc.) I want women by my side because I trust them to not take advantage of the situation unlike some men about as equal to be my perpetrator as to be my “hero.” Sadly, I think decades of telling men they can’t control their “God-given desires” to want women has taken its toll and made enough of them believe it so much that they become the evil they so wanted to avoid. And that makes them dangerous, not heroic. Bluntly, I don’t want/desire/need to be rescued by a rapist. Doesn’t make sense to want a man to rescue me from… a man. It’s not that I want rescuing; it’s that I want to not be placed in a “rescue me” situation in the first place. I see similarities to Munchausen by Proxy Syndrome.

    It is nice to be sincerely wanted, but I far more desire to be treated as worthy of respect. Alternately, many resources dwell so heavily on how important it is that women prop up men’s fragile egos, that men need to feel wanted by their wives, etc… given that, who is really rescuing whom?

    Overall, I think women and men have very similar traits and desires, it’s just that they have been mishandled and misdirected in varying/opposite trajectories.

    Reply
    • exwifeofasexaddict

      “It’s not that I want rescuing; it’s that I want to not be placed in a “rescue me” situation in the first place.”

      This!

      Reply
  5. Lindsey

    This has got me thinking; is our desire for rescue, which is brought about by sin, in actuality a deep longing for salvation from God? Do not men also want to be rescued when they talk about needing a helper? Life is hard, even harder when spent alone, don’t we all want a partner to help us? … But ultimately isn’t it salvation from sin that we are all wanting? I can feel it deep in my being, that longing for rescue; rescue from my sin and from a sinful world! I think I will ponder this thought a bit more! Thank you!

    Reply
    • Sheila Wray Gregoire

      I think most definitely, yes! I think God as a rescuer is something which we all innately need. I don’t think it’s particularly feminine.

      I do think the need to be protected from danger is something that women feel more acutely–but again, this is because of sin, not because of inherent creation.

      Reply
  6. Jane Eyre

    Mary saved all of humanity by bearing a child (potentially our of wedlock, although Joseph was later convinced to stay with her).

    Reply
  7. Jane Eyre

    I’m going to go in a bit of a weird direction here, if that’s okay.

    If you look at sleep patterns, some percentage of people are night owls, some are morning birds, and some are nappers. It’s very obvious why we are made that way: it allows for more around-one-click coverage of guarding the cave, nursing infants, etc. Someone is always awake or close enough to awake that the group can function.

    Women aren’t a monolith. Some are great at math; some love to read; some are about vegging on the couch. Some want ten kids; others don’t want kids at all; most want two or three. Some are vanilla in bed; others are adventurous. This is about personality, talents, and preferences, not character. So why not embrace the diversity instead of stuffing us into these tiny boxes? We know in other contexts that God designs us differently for the good of His creation.

    Reply
    • Sheila Wray Gregoire

      Exactly, Jane! And as I’ve said before, there is greater difference BETWEEN women than between the average man and the average woman on most measures. Yet we women feel like we can understand each other fine.

      Reply
  8. Nathan

    Very quick responses to the above post
    > > Men are no more valuable but they are the leaders, the star players

    This is a rehash of “Yes, God loves us all… but he loves men a little bit more”. It just doesn’t make sense to me that God would create an entire race where one half has no purpose other than to be subordinate to the other half.

    I’ve known women who are very good leaders. I’ve known women (one, anyway) in construction who can “pound nails” with the best of them.

    From my experience, leadership is a trait that is equal across the gender spectrum. Good and bad leaders can be male and female. And believe me, I’ve known some ROTTEN male leaders.

    Reply
  9. Rhonda Hubbard

    Hi Sheila, was it possibly Nabal, rather than David where Abigail is mentioned?

    Reply
    • Sheila Wray Gregoire

      I’m not sure what you mean? Nabal was Abigail’s foolhardy husband, but Abigail saved her household and ultimately David himself from doing something foolhardy (which David acknowledged?)

      Reply
  10. Anna

    There’s so much wrong with John’s and Stasi’s book (and WHY is it John and Stasi’s book, and not just Stasi’s?) that it’s overwhelming to get into. I really encourage people to search for Samantha P. Field’s lengthy review of Captivating; it will confirm all the awful gut feelings many of us had reading it. It is especially insidious because they are smarter and more appealing in their language, but it is patriarchal crap nonetheless.

    The idea that women want to be rescued also completely ignores the fact that many, many of us long to be RESCUERS as well. Ask any doctor or ER nurse or first responder who is also female. It’s a huge motivator for many women in their lives. I know it has been for my sister-in-law, who spent many years doing cold water rescue work in Alaska. That’s a humanity thing, not a dude thing.

    Reply
    • Laura

      And what about the many women (men too) who become codependents in relationships? They want to rescue men who are in trouble. Of course, this is not healthy.

      Reply
      • EOF

        Yes! I grew up un-churched and most girls I knew were in this camp. They wanted to find a broken guy and fix him. They wanted to be the rescuer and not the rescuee.

        It make me wonder if this (so-called?) desire to be rescued is primarily a thing for women of faith? (If it’s a thing at all.) If it *is* a thing, then it would appear it comes from being taught and not from being an INTRINSIC part of femininity.

        So, if women of faith ARE damsels in distress, then it’s because the men have brainwashed them the start. Scripture sure doesn’t back it up. And we see how (some) men fight mightily against this idea. (Like the guy in the comments above. I wonder how he would feel if he knew a number of Jews believe that when God took Eve from Adam’s side, God was pulling the two apart from one flesh as total equals.)

        Reply
    • Sarah

      Yes! The ‘rescue’ impulse is strong in me (being an enneagram 9, middle sibling and self-designated protector of my younger siblings as a kid). My daydreams as a kid were mostly about being the one to save drowning people, tackle the terrorist, etc. Sometimes in non life-threatening situations as an adult, I’ve recognised the need to ‘save’ others as quite a self-centred thing- when the impulse to save is so strong that you think you know what is best for someone else – I now actively rein that in when it creeps up as other people are people, not dilemmas for me to solve. It helps that I’ve also had people try to fix/save me so I know first hand how patronising it is! Also, in life-threatening situations I’m normally out of my depth and need God’s help to help others (and me) out of it.

      Reply
      • Bonnie

        Very good article Sheila. While there are many things I appreciated about both books by the Eldridges’, “Captivating and Wild at Heart” I did take excepting to the notion of the fairy tale stereotype of princess. Wrong apication of the letter P. Rather, the word should be “Priests”. And this is NOT gender specific.

        I do keep in mind that it appears that John Edridge has likely been very good at ministering to people with deep wounds, sadly needed.

        Reply
  11. Angharad

    Urgh, I read that ‘Captivating’ book years back because a friend lent it to me and raved about it so much and it made me SO mad I threw it across the room!

    I think maybe it’s got more support than some of the other books you critique because it stereotypes women and so it will appeal to those women who match that stereotype. A bit like writing a book that says ‘all men love football’ and all the guys who love football think ‘hey, this is a great book’, but those who hate football won’t like it.

    If some women want to dream of being Disney princesses being rescued by a handsome prince, go for it. If you want to be a heroine in a fairy story, dream on. Just don’t tell me that ALL women want this, and there is something wrong with you if you don’t. There is nothing remotely ‘freeing’ about being pushed into a box that doesn’t fit you because a (fallible, human) author has decided that all women MUST fit this box. Sorry to break it to you Stasi, but you do not speak for every female on the planet – just because you feel a certain way about something does not mean that every other woman in existence has to feel the same way.

    And I think Sheila is spot on with her comment about women longing for safety rather than ‘rescuing’. Now that I’m married, I appreciate not having to worry about where is a safe place to park when I’m going out for an evening, or having to work out the safest route for my walk home. I can take a late night walk on an isolated beach without worrying about being harassed, assaulted or murdered, because I’m walking with my husband. But I would love to live in a world where I could do these things in total safety ON MY OWN!

    Reply
    • Laura

      I totally agree about the flaws in this book that you mentioned. I found it irritating how the authors made it sound like ALL women want to be a Disney princess who gets rescued by her Prince Charming. So sexist. When I tried reading this book years ago, that part just did not sit well with me. I liked the parts about God being our Rescuer and Lover. That’s Who we should look to to rescue us from our human flaws.
      As a long-time divorcee in her mid-40s, I am so done waiting to “be rescued” from some handsome prince. Several years ago after a broken engagement and disappointments in the romance department, I decided I’m just going to live my life to the fullest where I’m at. I don’t need a prince to complete me.

      Reply
      • Sheila Wray Gregoire

        You’re an inspiration, Laura! Seriously. I love that you’re here and part of our community, and your bravery and resilience is wonderful.

        Reply
        • Laura

          Thank you Sheila! I love being part of this community. I just wish I had discovered you years ago.

          Reply
      • exwifeofasexaddict

        same here. I’m divorced in my 40s, and I own a home. I just repaired my own fence. Guess what, dude up above, I used power tools to do that. By myself. I’d love to have a partner again in the future, but only if it’s going to be a true partnership. If he insists on fixing the fence because he has a penis, that’s going to be a no-go. If he’s good at, we can fix it together. And if that means I stay single forever, that’s ok.

        Reply
        • Mara R

          I keep thinking of this scene in “Young Victoria” as I read people’s comments.

          Your comment, XWoaSA :”If he’s good at, we can fix it together,” included.

          https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Vb0szOOUSsA

          Reply
      • Anon

        Laura, your comment reminds me of the movie “Ever After” with Drew Barrymore – it’s my absolute favorite take on the Cinderella story, where the Cinderella character is a strong, intelligent woman who rescues herself – and teaches a spoiled prince what it really means to be a good man! https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=sHsA_lVrrDc

        And, just because this scene tickles me: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=ZpkIPtYw01k

        Reply
  12. Mara R

    It’s funny, I was just thinking of “Wild at Heart” the other day.

    I never read “Captivating”. I got what I needed from the first book. And yes, it was something I needed. I needed freedom in my life and Eldredge preached that freedom. Granted, it was to men. But somehow my spirit latched onto the message and I was ministered to anyway. I was given permission to be wild at heart myself.

    Really glad that I didn’t read “Captivating”. I know I don’t need that message.

    http://frombitterwaterstosweet.blogspot.com/2011/04/yearning-for-freedom.html

    Reply
      • Mara R

        I was going to take advantage of Sheila’s graciousness and link a third post for my unholy trinity commentary on the Wild at Heart series. But the link in that post to a review on Amazon is broken. So instead, I’ll touch on what it said and how I saw this play out in my life.

        The review talks about the woman being upset because when her husband read “Wild at Heart”, instead of responding with being more godly and more Christian, he used it as an excuse to “go wild” and become an unfaithful a$$hole. She goes into some detail which is why I wish I could find that review.

        Anyway, this is what I was thinking about the other day when “Wild at Heart” came to mind.

        The book was so encouraging to me that I had my husband read it. I hoped it would inspire him like it did me. But, instead, he used it as an excuse to be a jerk, saying that he ‘was a man’ and as a man he was just going to do manly things. It’s been long enough now I can’t remember every detail. But long and short, it just seemed to fuel his narcissism even worse that what was already happening (though I didn’t know it was narcissism at the time).

        So, anyway, I look at this as an example of how the same book can have such different impacts on different people. And this is why authors have to be soooooo careful about what they write. Especially in marriage books. It would be a good Idea for a trauma trained counselor and a domestic abuse expert to read these books before they are sent to the publisher and out into the wide world.

        Reply
  13. Nikki Isom

    When I read that book I was in my abusive marriage. I wanted to be rescued. Thought my husband would do it. He didn’t. I rescued myself. I wanted to be safe. I know am. I now want to rescue. I want people to be safe! I want a truck sticker of Jael! That I can put on my back window.

    Reply
    • exwifeofasexaddict

      Sarah McDugal has some Jael merch.

      Reply
  14. Debi Schuhow

    I’ve been wrestling with God regarding this “submission” doctrine for years and I have listened intently for his whisper. As I listened and studied his whispers has become m louder.
    This…… is loud and clear. And jives with so much with what God intended in Genesis 1 and 2.

    Reply
  15. Chelsea

    Yes! This post is so interesting, I’ve been thinking along the same lines myself about women longing for safety and women often intervening (like Abigail) to stop prolonged war. Story I read this week about an old wise woman in Israel intervening when the nation was on the brink of civil war after Absalom’s death:
    2 Samuel 20:14-26

    Reply
  16. Sarah

    I commented this on your fixed-it on Facebook, but adding it here as well:

    My small group of twenties/thirties women, single and married, tried to read Captivating last year and abandoned it. It’s not based in the Bible or in research; as far as I can tell it’s based in the authors’ opinions and personal experiences which they then interpreted other women’s experiences through. There is scripture in it, and there is some truth in it, but they are not drawing from scripture for their conclusions, they are finding scripture to support their conclusions.

    As I said to my small group, their thesis, that God created all women with the desires to be romanced, to play a part in a grand adventure, and to unveil beauty (which could mean literally anything!), must apply to all women throughout all of history: Mongolian women on the steppes in the 1200s, women enslaved in the American South, Chinese women working in factories right now – and they give absolutely no evidence to prove that.

    All of their arguments are based in modern Western pop culture and their own experiences and anecdotes, with some Bible stories thrown in for good measure. For statements so sweeping about who women are as a gender, the supporting arguments and evidence are totally inadequate.

    Also the majority of the language and examples used around women’s “desire to be pursued” actually is about rescue (primarily from bad men!) – and it’s weird to me that God created us with the need to be “rescued” when we only need to be rescued because of sin! Wasn’t humanity created before sin came into the world? How can we have an innate need for something that didn’t exist until after we were created? And if this need is supposed to be about rescue from sin, it is literally a gender-neutral need.

    Same thing for the men’s needs from Wild at Heart, which they repeat in Captivating: Men apparently were created with the needs of a battle to fight, an adventure to live, and a beauty to rescue. But if it weren’t for sin, men wouldn’t have any battles to fight or beauties to rescue! (and there’s that rescue language again! who are they rescuing these beauties from? Other men?)

    The vast majority of this book is absolute nonsense, dressed up in modern Western romanticism of gender stereotypes and flowery poetic language. It only works if modern Western women feel that the female stereotype applies to them, and it’s certainly not based in the orthodox Christian faith.

    Reply
    • CMT

      This. It’s a fairy tale. Which would be fine if if were labeled as such. But no, it’s “biblical.”

      Reply
  17. Codec

    Their is a scene from a game that I think elucidates your point well.

    The flashback scene and subsequent rehabilitation of Cloud Strife in FF7.

    As children Cloud makes a big deal out of how he wants to join SOLDIER. Tifa then asks Cloud if he will rescue her if she is ever in danger. Cloud does do this, but Tifa also winds up saving Cloud both from external threats and from himself.

    I think we are supposed to rescue each other in a sense

    Reply
  18. Jen

    I feel all of the “Wild at Heart” stuff is greatly a result of cultural conditioning. If a woman feels she needs to be rescued, how much of that is because she’s been told all of her life that she should want a man to rescue her? (I’m looking at you, Disney princesses).

    When we train people in roles, and then write books that use the results of the training as proof that the roles exist, we are spinning in circles. Are men and women different? Of course. But we can’t push people into boxes and then say, “Look at them in those boxes! They fit perfectly!” That’s just confirmation bias.

    Reply
    • Angharad

      Definitely. And if you are constantly told that this is the way ‘normal’ women think, feel, act…it takes guts to stand against that.

      Reply
      • CMT

        Yes. It’s worse when people do this in faith circles, imo, because then it’s not just “normal” women, it’s “godly” or “spiritual”women. If I want to be weird out in the wider culture, I have a lot of latitude for that as long as I don’t care too much about what other people think. But if I’m a Christian it’s pretty tough to push back against “God’s plan.”

        Reply
  19. CMT

    Ugh, I feel so embarrassed about this book now… i actually gave my good friend a copy of it back in our late teens or early twenties because I thought it was so good *facepalm*

    Now I realize that the book appealed to me at that stage of my life because I was insecure and lonely. It seemed so insightful because it validated my deep but at that time unfulfilled desire to be in a relationship and be special to someone. Looking back I think I was afraid this desire wasn’t “holy,” so it felt good to have someone telling me otherwise.

    The problem for me was that I didn’t want to be rescued, or to be the supporting character in someone else’s “adventure.” Yet this book that validated me on the one hand was saying that this, too, was an essential part of my God-designed femininity. So apparently I was not properly feminine, which in the Eldridges’ take meant i was rebelling not merely against a cultural norm or a stereotype, but against God’s plan and my own nature. That’s a lot of guilt and pressure to put on yourself as an emerging adult! Not that the Eldredges were the only people pushing those ideas, but their book made gender essentialism seem somehow beautiful and exciting.

    Reply
  20. R

    I tried to read Captivating years ago when I was a teenager, but it didn’t really resonate with me.
    Even though I love “traditional” feminine things (you won’t find me out fixing the car haha), I’ve always been drawn to strong female characters. Like Jael and Judith – In fact I thought about naming one of my daughters Judith, but my husband didn’t like the name.
    I love stories of women showing courage and strength and always have. They are the stories that resonate with me.

    I was never looking for my “Prince Charming”, because I wasn’t looking for a man to rescue me, but for a man to build a life and raise a family with. My husband is not a “ride in and save the day” sort of person – he a calm, steady, hardworking, kind, caring person. He’s certainly not looking for adventure, he doesn’t like taking risks. So he’s not really “wild at heart” either!

    Reply
  21. RedeemedRecoveringSexAddict

    Man writing here. I have also read both captivating and wild at heart, both were translated to our language so the content may be little different than in originals.

    Couple points we came up in discussion with my wife.

    Don’t take these as insult.

    Every woman do not need to be princess in same way like others (the typical prince charming) instead we think it’s something like to be only woman to her husband and it’s something deeper. I mean, you can build log house with chainsaw and still be woman inside, you don’t have to be genderless.

    If you are in trouble and need help there is man beside you who will do everything to help you physically and mentally. (I think this applies to men also) the problem may be in books that they paint way too shallow view about feminity and masculinity.

    Women are not helpless with or without mens. We did saw none or very little problematic issues in these books, but it may be because of translation. (Ex. Womens soul’s are bloody mess. I didn’t found it anywhere)

    We are not defending these books but just to rise up conversation.

    Reply
  22. Helen

    Wanting to be rescued is also a common symptom of childhood trauma (and probably other things too). And yes more women are likely to have experienced childhood trauma than men, but that doesn’t mean that it has to be a gendered thing.

    My brother and I are both recovering from childhood trauma but he’s the one who has desires to be rescued and I don’t. That doesn’t mean that he’s any less of a man or I’m any less of a woman because of it.

    Seriously! I don’t get why everything has to be so gendered. It’s not like that in the bible so why do people feel they have to add things to the bible that aren’t there?! It means that men who have emotional wounds don’t seek the help they need. When I worked with domestic abuse victims the men always just downplayed what they were going through because it’s seen as less manly, but then they didn’t get the help they needed. I’m not surprised when people keep perpetuating these ridiculous stereotypes.

    Reply
    • EOF

      Such good points! I don’t know why Christian leaders and writers are so insistent on making everything about gender. Can’t we just be PEOPLE created in the image of God? Does everything have to be about making sure women/girls know their place?

      Reply
  23. Jennie Bacon

    Is it rescued or pursued? This is making me think! Thank you!

    Reply
    • Laura

      Very good question!
      Throughout my years as an adult Christian (I was unchurched most of my childhood), I have constantly been told that “as a woman, I WANT to be pursued by a man.” Usually, the men that have tried to “pursue” me just come off as stalker-types and very smothering, so I don’t know if that’s what I really want. I guess, I’m more of a meet me halfway or in the middle kind of woman. I also have been told that a man’s attraction is more valid than what I want. If a man is interested in me and trying to “pursue” me, then I need to accept a date with him. But, if I’m interested in a man, I cannot do anything because that would be considered aggressive. If he’s really interested in me, then he’d pursue me. What about shy guys? I think initiation needs to go both ways. Sometimes, a woman will notice a man first and that does not make it bad.

      Years ago, I read a book by Michelle McKinney Hammond (Christian author who has never been married but sure has a lot to say about how to find the right man) that said something along these lines: Because Adam was created first, the man has to be the pursuer and notice you first.

      I also think of another interesting story about Kay Warren (wife of Saddleback Church pastor Rick Warren). She mentioned that she was not attracted to Rick when he first proposed to her. She was open to God’s plan and believed God told her, “I will bring the feelings.” From some of the stuff I read about the Warrens’ marriage, it sounded like it had a rocky start and it would be years before there was stability. Maybe, marrying very young contributed to that.

      What I have learned about pursuing is this: Do NOT force yourself to date someone you just don’t feel it for. That’s not to say that something cannot develop over time. I was not physically attracted to my ex-fiance, but I felt that I should give him a chance because he showed interest in me. Even though we did not work out as a couple, we remain great friends to this day.

      Reply
      • Angharad

        Urgh! That whole ‘being pursued’ thing is just so creepy. The people who preach that the ‘Godly’ way for a couple to get together is for the man to pursue the woman seem to overlook the fact that you only need to pursue something/someone IF THEY ARE RUNNING AWAY. So it’s actively encouraging guys to stalk/hound women who aren’t interested in them. “She keeps trying to avoid you? Oh, you just need to pursue her a bit more.” And the poor girl meanwhile is wondering why he won’t get the message!

        My husband didn’t ‘pursue’ me. He told me he was interested in turning our friendship into something more serious, I said I was too, and there we were. Throughout our dating relationship, we kept checking in with each other regularly. He certainly made it clear that he was interested, and he was the first one who felt ready for marriage, but I never felt ‘pursued’ and to be honest, I’d have freaked out if I had! I wish churches would ditch this kind of predatory language in relationships.

        Reply
  24. Tim

    Sheila,

    Agree, life is typically never all or nothing and gender roles are no exception to that. In regards to John Eldridge, although I don’t know him personally, through listening to him and reading some of his books, I’ve found him to be a very thoughtful man and would not put his work on the same level as Love and Respect in terms of destructive theology (not accusing you of doing that either). How about having him on the podcast to discuss some of this stuff? I think we would all benefit from the back and forth, even if there isn’t 100% agreement at the end of the day.

    Reply
  25. Boone

    My wife did need rescuing the day we met. It was both of our first days at the big Baptist church in Maryville. She had moved up from MS a month earlier to take a job as assistant admin at the local hospital and didn’t know a soul outside of work. I was coming out of a really toxic relationship with a hometown girl that went to my home church.
    I walked into the singles small group and managed to get a seat on the back row. She came in a few minutes later and sat down in the last empty chair which happened to be beside me. We exchanged names and chatted while waiting for the group to start. We parted ways after class. After church as I was heading for my truck I heard my name called. She was stranded. Her Volvo was deader than a hammer. I popped the hood and it didn’t look anything like any vehicle that I had ever worked on. I told her that I had a friend that was the parts boss at the Volvo dealership in Knoxville. I could call him but he would be at church with his family and then at his mom’s for lunch. I offered to buy her lunch and then call him. She agreed and actually got in the truck with me as we drove to lunch. We spent two hours eating and talking.
    I called Virgil and he told me that he thought he knew what the problem was but he couldn’t fix it in a parking lot. He told us to have it towed to the dealership and he’d get on it Mon. morning. I called a client with a tow truck and had him meet us at the church. He towed the car but that left her stranded. I offered to take her home. She cautiously agreed. On the way to her condo I asked her how she was going to get to work in the morning. She looked perplexed and said she’d take a cab. I told her that I had court in town the next morning and offered to pick her up. She started the you’ve done too much lines and I told her that the courthouse was just down the street from the hospital. She agreed to let me get her. I did and the rest is history.
    I once asked her if she thought I was dangerous. She replied that I just dangerous enough to be interesting.

    Reply
  26. Sarah O

    Total speculation here, but I think my own interest in the “rescue” theme is a chiasm , or a redemption arc. It’s not about the outcome (safety), but a desire to see a good man be as passionate about a woman’s welfare as a bad man is about her harm.

    Men who harm women rarely do so casually. Stalking, assaulting, abusing, exploiting all take an enormous amount of energy and commitment. But the reverse rarely seems to be true. Men can qualify as “good” simply for not doing bad stuff. “Since I don’t hit, or abuse, or assult woman, that makes me a good guy.” Harmlessness seems to be the best we can hope for, when really it should be a bare minimum.

    Good is it’s own thing, it’ not just the absence of evil. Good is active and passionate. Good invests in the object of it’s affection. I really don’t care if the hero succeeds or fails, I just want to see him put up a dang fight. I want to see passion and strength being harnessed to build and protect and serve, not to harm and devour and ruin.

    I want to see the actual, total opposite of the villains.

    Reply
    • Sheila Wray Gregoire

      This is so good, Sarah O! Yes! I may post this on Facebook later today….

      Reply
  27. Carissa

    I remember reading his book as a 20-something and being completely discouraged when I hit that part of the book. Those are our only choices? Be the hero or the beauty? What if no one thinks you’re beautiful…then what?

    This book was so popular it was difficult for me to get past this in a time of being a single woman (until I was 36) and wondering where I fit in the church. The problem with John and Stasi’s take on this is that it leaves people out and Jesus doesn’t leave people out. I had to just ignore their take and move on with my life. They’re not the Bible after all and God created me the way he did.

    I came to the conclusion that if people like them and others had a theology that couldn’t include people who were trying to follow God’s will for their lives then maybe they weren’t 100% correct.

    Reply
    • Laura

      I was in my 30’s when I read Captivating and thought the same thing, “What if no one thinks I’m beautiful, then what?” Throughout my 30’s, hardly anyone was interested in me so I felt invisible. As a long-time divorcee in my mid-40’s, I have had more men interested in me, but I just don’t feel the same way about them. It’s nice that they think I’m attractive, but I need to feel the same way about them in order for there to be something.

      I could never finish Captivating because it just seemed so shallow to me. God thinks I’m beautiful. After all, He created me, so that is all that should matter.

      Reply
  28. Anon

    Totally love all the thoughts here, but don’t knock all of the Disney princesses. A lot of the later ones were strong, capable women. Belle has the distinction of being the first princess to rescue her prince (when she broke the spell on the Beast); Pocahontas also saved her prince (who wasn’t really a prince) and prevented two races from killing each other; Mulan saved her man AND her whole country; Tiana worked hard and busted her hump to get her own restaurant (and she taught her prince how to be a decent person); Rapunzel also saved her man (not a prince, but you get the idea). Also, Merida rejected an arranged marriage, and Elsa didn’t even need a man!

    Reply
  29. Julie Filter

    I’m reading a book called Womanly Dominion, and for me it calls out this exact kind of fortitude of heart, courage of soul, and embracing the uniqueness of womanhood in all of God’s strength contained within. My personally story is one exactly as you’ve written; embracing the strength of God through the Holy Spirit to follow after Him even when my husband didn’t lead or help, as well as being willing to sacrifice to ensure that my children have been diligently taught the Word and His goodness no matter how inconvenient it is at times. Too often women play the victim when their men are not leading, but scripture upholds women who do what needs to be done in those circumstances and obey God instead of man. Our headship is FIRST Christ, and then the husband if he isn’t leading outside of the Word (and I don’t just mean wayward or lacking character…but someone leading in sin). Before we can do anything of this magnitude, though, women need to be in the Word daily, studying it, and fortifying Truth, wisdom, and the foundation upon which the Holy Spirit can stand. Without each of us taking personal responsibility for our own walk we cannot see clearly to discern others. It is so essential.

    Reply

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