Books come in all shades of propriety. At one extreme are dark, sexualized novels counting many Christian women as readers.

One Shade of Purity

Many Christians today feel an evil shadow spreading across the Church. A believing friend stumbles; a pastor falls. Something is desperately wrong. If that’s how you feel, consider this: Even Christian women are mistaking grey as the new white.

Black & White Make Grey

Once upon a time there was a baby girl born to a family of slaves. As was the tradition, she was taken from her mother on the night of her birth and sent to a care center. There she had toys, wholesome food and the freedom to do as she pleased. On her seventh birthday—the age of understanding—her caretaker revealed her heritage. She was a slave, and her fate had been settled generations before her first breath.

On that day, instead of breakfast on a sunny porch, she was taken to a dimly lit room. A man dressed in black with grimy, muscular hands placed iron bands on her slim wrists and boney ankles. Outside, she joined her grandmother and grandfather, mother and father, brother and sister. She was shackled to the end of their line.

Each day the family carried buckets of asphalt, thick as molasses, from an open tar pit to hot cauldrons bubbling over wood fires. The stench of unwashed people mixed with hot fumes caused her to vomit. Raw sores on her wrists oozed blood and infection from beneath the painful bands.

There was no mercy. When one body failed from fatigue, the evil master’s whip struck without hesitation, forcing them back to work. The sweet freedom she had tasted as a child played over and over in her mind, but the thoughts only made bondage more punishing.

One day, a man dressed in white linen came to the pit. No one could hear what he said, but the evil master cowered in fear before him. Suddenly their chains fell to the ground and the evil master vanished into thin air.

The family rushed to thank the man in white. They asked if they were now his servants. He told them they were free. He smiled and gave them clean water to drink and kissed their blackened foreheads. He cared for them until they were strong and he taught them many things. Before he left to return home he gave them a gift. He called it the “Book of Life.” Inside, he said, was the secret to eternal freedom—a sword of truth and righteousness that they could use to defeat the evil master, if ever he returned.

The family read the book faithfully and lived peaceful lives. They prospered and moved to a modern city in a new country.

Many years later, the girl moved into her own house. She stopped reading the book. It wasn’t relevant in her new world. Friends encouraged her to evolve and see that the book was outdated and divisive. Modern people didn't believe in evil.

One evening while she was having dinner in a restaurant, a handsome, well-dressed man came to her table. Though he did not look the same, it was the evil master. He had moved to the new country and had transformed into a new man. She recognized him, but she could see that he had changed. He was charming, witty and strikingly good-looking, with an athletic body. His teeth were straight and white and he had hauntingly beautiful eyes. She asked him to join her for dinner.

He said he remembered her and was sorry for his behavior. He explained that he’d had a bad childhood and had taken it out on her and others because he was misunderstood. He declared his great passion for her, and she drank his delicious words like sweet wine. She went to bed drunk but woke up thirstier still. She didn’t believe in evil anymore.

The knock at the door came earlier than she’d expected. It was him! Tonight was going to be a special night. She had on a new dress and expensive shoes. He was just outside and she was anxious to let him in.

He stepped through the door and she rushed to his embrace. Then from the pocket of his dark gray jacket he pulled out two thick, golden bracelets, each encrusted with fine jewels. They were all the rage in the new country—designed to look like vintage handcuffs. These were especially fine—the diamonds and gems sparkled so brightly they lit up the room. She smiled as she held her wrists out to try them on. He locked the first on and then the second, but they were too tight and the insides were jagged. Her wrists started to bleed causing tears to trickle down her cheeks. And he smiled.

Evil or Harmless Pleasure?

It’s popular today, even among some Christians, to deny the existence of evil. But the Bible warns that Satan is in our midst, smudging the pure white of redemption with the blackness of sin, so the world becomes grey. The enemy whispers, “Read this,” offering women erotic “love” stories like Fifty Shades of Grey. The words will stir you, blurring the line between right and wrong and throwing doubt on the very existence of evil. Are wildly popular erotic books, pornographic movies and lewd websites simply harmless escapes? Or are they traps? In the following passages, a Christian blogger looks at the effects of erotica, co-authors ask Christian women some tough questions and we offer wisdom from the Bible about the words and images you allow into your life.

Reading Between the Lines

Written by Natalie Snapp

I’m a self-proclaimed book junkie. Any free time I have will inevitably be spent buried in a good book. With the advent of Kindle and other e-readers, I wasn’t sure if I would ever forgo real books. Yet as I learned more about the advantages of digital books—I caved. I fell in love with my e-reader because I could buy books instantly from home. There was also the privacy of the device—only I know what I buy and read.

When I heard about the book Fifty Shades of Grey‚ I didn’t fully understand the story line, but I downloaded it to see what all the buzz was about. Five minutes in, I was troubled yet also curious: Why was this horrible sexual relationship between two unmarried people intriguing me so?

Many people are now reading this type of erotica. In fact‚ Christian women read as many sex stories as non-Christian women‚ according to the Barna Group‚ faith and culture research experts. Nine percent of practicing Christians—the same percentage as those in the study not identifying themselves as Christian—admit to having read Fifty Shades of Grey. Among all American adults who read the book‚ one in five are Christians.

Clearly‚ being a follower of Jesus doesn’t always factor into the decisions of Christian women to read erotic novels.

While some may argue erotica is not pornography, biology tells us otherwise‚ according to authors Dannah Gresh and Dr. Juli Slattery, a clinical psychologist. In their book Pulling Back the Shades: Erotica‚ Intimacy‚ and the Longings of a Woman’s Heart (Moody Publishers‚ 2014)‚ they discuss physiological‚ psychological and biological responses to erotica.

“Porn and erotica can lead to addiction—an addiction with an internal neurochemical high. [These] highs create desensitization so after awhile‚ you need something higher and harder to get that same rush. This is dangerous territory for someone who is married or desires to ever be married‚” says Dannah. In addition‚ erotica often includes physical and verbal aggression—much like pornography‚ she says.

Reading erotica and fantasy romance can set our husbands up for failure and leave us feeling unsatisfied. Suddenly our husbands just aren’t as romantic as we want them to be.

In response to a blog posting on Fifty Shades‚ one woman wrote‚ “I’m divorced. Erotica and extramarital relations played a role in that divorce. To move beyond finding satisfaction in what God designed with intended intimacy is very harmful and distracts us from what should be very beautiful. It cheapens and weakens the relationship by planting seeds of doubt and division.”

In the early 1980s‚ Dr. Dolf Zillmann and Dr. Jennings Bryant conducted an experiment described in the book Your Brain on Porn by Luke Gilkerson. They discovered that those in the experimental group exposed to massive amounts of pornography were “less satisfied with their intimate partners: they were less likely to be pleased with their partner’s physical appearance‚ affection and sexual performance.”

While porn activates a man’s desire for visual pleasure‚ erotica activates a woman’s desire for relational pleasure. “Some of the most liberal media sources are reporting rapid rises in extramarital affairs and affair-seeking websites are gaining in popularity. It’s impacting us. It’s harming us‚” Dannah says.

Satan is “the one deceiving the whole world‚” according to Revelation 12:9. Not only does he aim to steal, kill and destroy, but he is also a master of deception. He has deceived us into believing erotica is harmless. He’s made us think it will simply “spice up” our sexual relationships with our husbands and perhaps make us believe those who oppose erotica are simply just too conservative.

“I believe the woman Jesus spoke to at the well would likely read erotica, if she were alive in our culture today,” Dannah says. “She left her water jar beside the well and ran back to the village to tell everyone about Jesus. Leaving her water jar behind was significant because it shows she was leaving her old ways behind—at the well. If we want to stop reading erotica or romance or anything else that has become an addiction or is influencing us negatively‚ we have to leave our water jar at the well and be committed to a life of purity.”

Read more from Natalie Snapp at her blog, Embracing Life Just South of Perfect. You’ll find it at nataliesnapp.com.

A vase of white flowers is the background for the Bible verse Romans 12:2

Triumph over Evil

Many Christians have gained insight into spiritual warfare from the Book of Nehemiah in the Old Testament. The story unfolds at a time when most Israelites have been held captive by enemies in Babylon for many years. Nehemiah is one of these captives, though he has risen to the position of cupbearer to the king.

News reaches him that the remnant of Jews still in Jerusalem have lost faith and are under threat. The walls of the city have fallen. Heartbroken, Nehemiah determines to return to his homeland to help. The book is an account of how he leads the people to rebuild the protective walls and turn back to God in repentance.

It’s a story of revival individually and as a community—much like what is needed now in the Church. It’s filled with advice for Christians struggling with temptation that would take them captive. In their book, authors Dannah Gresh and Dr. Juli Slattery makes the following points about using some of Nehemiah‘s strategies when confronted with spiritual challenges in your life.

  1. When bad news arises, let it pierce your heart.
    Erotica and other sexual immorality may not be a problem in your home, but recognize that it is destroying your brothers and sisters. Do what you can to keep it from rotting away the integrity of God’s people from the inside out.
  2. Correction starts with personal repentance.
    As soon as Nehemiah hears of trouble at home, he falls on his face, confesses his own sins and repents before God. Personal repentance paves the way for God to work.
  3. Be God’s instrument for change.
    Stand boldly for revival. It may cost your reputation, a job, money, your health or your comfort. Are you ready?
  4. Half the work is fighting the opposition.
    When enemies threaten to halt renewal, God calls us to action. As a wise Bible teacher once observed, “Whenever the saints say, ‘Let us arise and build,’ the enemy says, ‘Let us arise and oppose.’” Nehemiah and his team had to get the job done by dividing their tasks—half of the men worked on the wall while the other half defended against intruders.
  5. Return to the truth of God’s Word.
    The apostle Paul tells us in Ephesians 6:11–17 to put on the full armor of God when battling against evil. He mentions only one offensive weapon: the Word of God, calling the Bible the “Sword of the Spirit.” Since our assignment is to reclaim territory from the enemy, none of us can go into the battle without this vital tool!

Excerpts from Pulling Back the Shades

Written by Dannah Gresh and Dr. Juli Slattery

This is about the spiritual battle for the hearts and souls of women. Our prayer is not just that you throw out the junk that enslaves you to the world’s thinking but that you join a call for revival among God’s women.

The problem is not erotica—the problem is that we want to read it. Our world is always going to offer us salacious temptation. We should expect it. But something is terribly wrong when Christian women embrace it.

If marriage is a picture of God’s love for the church‚ sex matters very much. It’s time to stop just playing defense, assuming that the best we can do is hold our ground. We serve and worship a God who is able to not just hold back the tide of evil but to usher in a reign of righteousness and holiness. Now is the time to beg God to equip us to kick the enemy out and to take back what he has stolen.

God designed sex as a powerful symbol and celebration of covenant love. It is a physical and emotional expression of the deepest commitment two people can make to each other. But sex is more than that. It represents the ultimate covenant love—God’s love for His people.

We’re supposed to be making different choices [as Christian women] and living a different kind of life than the rest of the world. While you certainly can and should celebrate your sexuality, there is also discretion required of the Christian woman who seeks to have her sex life be what God designed it to be: a picture of His passionate love for His people! God’s Word clearly calls us to live our lives as He designed them to be lived in all areas, including sex. This demands that we choose a different path than the world’s way. He calls us to holiness.

Excerpts from “Pulling Back the Shades.” ©2014 by Dannah Gresh and Juli Slattery, authors. Used by permission, all rights reserved.

Rules of Romance

Written by Elaine Marie Cooper

Award-winning author Julie Lessman’s goal is to reach mainstream Christians with a God-centered message of romance. “Many women want compelling novels with strong romantic tension and often turn to the secular market to satisfy this need.” Her novels are about real people with real emotions, desires and temptations, doing their best to deal with them according to God’s precepts.

“The problem is, our amoral society wants to reach these women, too, drawing them in with stories of illicit passion. You would be shocked at the number of Christian women I know who have read Fifty Shades of Grey,” said Lessman.

In response, some Christian authors have become more realistic in how scenes of attraction and affection are written. Under the old rules—which many authors still follow—Christian romance novels are strictly G-rated. But newer books may have scenes rated PG or even PG-13, though there is not the explicitness or exploitation that’s found in books like Fifty Shades of Grey.

Lessman says, “I try to write books that I feel more closely reflect the temptation young women face.” She says her goal is not to incite sin in her readers, but to help them understand that sexual desire, within God’s guidelines of marriage, is a precious gift.

Linda Glaz, literary agent with Hartline Literary Agency, recognizes changes in Christian fiction in general, not just romance.

“I think change is inevitable, but that doesn’t have to mean more crassness or graphic scenes,” said Glaz, an agent for three years and a writer for over 20. “I love to read very powerful works that tackle intense topics, but they can be done in such a way that we don’t have to wade through muck to get to the shore.

“I believe that when you become a Christian, your desires don’t necessarily change, but your desire to please Christ should be more important. If we only fed our bodies garbage—hot fudge sundaes daily—it would still fill us up, but it would only feed our most base needs. It wouldn’t fill our spirits or even our bodies in a healthful way.”

The Bible has much to say about where we put our priorities in matters of reading, viewing and living.

Guidance from The Word

The Bible has much to say about where we put our priorities in matters of reading, viewing and living. All Scripture below is from the New International Version.

“… we take captive every thought to make it obedient to Christ.“ 2 Corinthians 10:5

“But each person is tempted when they are dragged away by their own evil desire and enticed. Then, after desire has conceived, it gives birth to sin; and sin, when it is full-grown, gives birth to death.“ James 1:14–15

“Set your minds on things above, not on earthly things … Put to death, therefore, whatever belongs to your earthly nature: sexual immorality, impurity, lust, evil desires and greed, which is idolatry.“ Colossians 3:2, 5

“I urge you, brothers and sisters, in view of God’s mercy, to offer your bodies as a living sacrifice, holy and pleasing to God—this is your true and proper worship. Do not conform to the pattern of this world, but be transformed by the renewing of your mind.“ Romans 12:1-2

“I have the right to do anything, you say—but not everything is beneficial. I have the right to do anything—but I will not be mastered by anything. You say, food for the stomach and the stomach for food, and God will destroy them both. The body, however, is not meant for sexual immorality but for the Lord, and the Lord for the body.” 1 Corinthians 6:12–13

“Blessed are the pure in heart, for they will see God.“ Matthew 5:8