Purity culture: The fruit of our “lawish hearts”- A book review

A Culture Born from our “Of Works-ness”

I’m listening to Dane Ortlund’s audiobook version of Gentle and Lowly- The Heart of Christ for Sinners and Sufferers on my commute to and from work. Driving home the other day, the narrator read the title of the 20th chapter, “Our lawish hearts. His lavish heart.” And as I reflected on what I’d read in Rachel Welcher’s Talking Back to Purity Culture- Rediscovering Faithful Christian Sexuality, I realized our “lawish” hearts produced purity culture and it’s fallout.

So much of what I was read in Welcher’s book I am currently struggling with in raising my teen sons. Growing up, I didn’t read any of the books popular in the purity culture of the 1990’s. I was married for four years by the time I Kissed Dating Goodbye came out. But I did grow up in a church and youth group that taught the lessons those books promoted. And I bought Every Man’s Battle for my nephew when he graduated from high school without ever reading it myself. I was guilty of what Rachel pointed out, “…we need more… conversation. Instead of trying to find the perfect book, let’s keep talking about sexuality and purity out loud.”

So many of us have tended to reach for a book to give to a teen when we should have been reaching for a conversation over their favorite fast food. Years have past since those early adult days when I was fresh out of a church culture strong on women’s modesty, submission and avoiding dating, but the weeds from those days are still popping up. I look at my sons who have not grown up in a church culture like I did, who in fact have grown up in a mostly secular culture, both in our home and in their school, and I wonder how in the world I’ll ever reach them with the hope of the gospel. And I fear they’ll believe the culture and use people, sex and power for their own pleasure and give no thought to the way of Jesus in their sexuality, relationships and manhood.

Welcher’s book examines how Purity Culture is the fruit of our tendency to to make rules or laws a savior that only Christ can be.

Dane Ortlund said, “Our natural of-works-ness is a resistance to Christ’s heart.” The books and methods of a generation of parents and leaders in the church, trying to ward off the culture that we viewed as causing teen pregnancy, STD’s and a disregard for family values, is a result of being what Ortlund refers to as an “of-works” people.

It’s my natural bent to try to guard myself or my kids from what I fear will overtake them with rules, methods, pledges, programs and other works. Rachel’s book looks back on the effects of purity culture and demonstrates that our attempts to live for the heart of Christ through programs that prevent undesired behaviors may be well intended, but this posture of living has damaging effects that actually make it harder to see the gospel in all it’s scandalous beauty. As Ortlund wrote, “You can live for the heart of Christ or from the heart of Christ.” Which position we take makes all the difference.

The Damaging Fruit of Purity Culture

“It’s a dangerous thing when married sex becomes the ‘finish line’ for sexual purity.”

When I read those words from the first chapter of Welcher’s book I felt challenged and grieved. For me, married sex had been the finish line for purity, but I had disqualified myself from the race two years before I got married.

In my teens I attended youth group and went to a youth camp where the speaker sent a rose to be passed around to the members of the audience. We were instructed to each hold the rose, smell it, look at it and pass it to the next person. While we waited our turn to handle the rose the speaker preached the dangers of pre-marital sex and the permanent damage that would be done to us if we had sex before we were married. Afterwards, I pledged to stay pure until marriage. Then I went on a walk with my friend who shared she had already had sex and felt lost. I didn’t have an answer for her. I didn’t have the gospel. All I had was a stay-pure program in one hand and a friend who felt rejected in another.

At sixteen I wrote a list of requirements I wanted in a husband and gave them to my dad in the form of a contract, asking him to give me a promise ring. My dad wasn’t a big spender and certainly wasn’t going to buy me a ring, but he was a carpenter, so he made me a hope chest and I put our signed contract to keep me pure in it.

Gosh, just writing this gives me the creeps. But it was well intended. I thought I was doing something that demonstrated my new zeal for the Jesus I had just recently decided to follow. I was trying to live for God’s smile, as Ortlund put it, not from his smile.

Less than a year later I met a long-haired boy with a pink corduroy hat and ripped, bleached Levi’s from the big city. I loved the way he made me feel and by the time I was seventeen we had sex. I was torn. I hadn’t lived up to my contract with God and my dad. I reasoned in my mind that I could make up for what I’d done by getting married. And in the two years before our wedding day I vacillated between guilt, shame and wanting to run away. I was disillusioned and confused.

Three Areas to Look for Purity Culture Weeds

Rachel’s book examines landscapes of life where purity culture’s efforts produced noxious weeds that must be separated from the fruit of the gospel when it comes to virginity, being a man or a woman, marriage, sex, sexual abuse, and what we tell the next generation. Of these, three stood out to me as good places we can start looking for weeds of purity culture in our lives.

Women

According to Welcher, women are delivered a confusing message through purity culture. On one had we’re told we’re responsible for guarding sexual purity because we’re less lust-driven than men and therefore we’re the “morally superior” ones with the skills to keep sex out of the picture until marriage. On the other hand we’re told we’re dangerous. If our bra strap shows, or our clothes are deemed to make us look too sexy, then we’re causing the prey-drive of the men around us to kick in and therefore we’re responsible if they go too far.

Like that slithering serpent of old, purity culture deceives us into blaming, shaming and hiding. Scripture, and the gospel tell men and women they both bear God’s image and they both receive the gift of being heirs with Christ of the kingdom he’s promised us. Rachel calls we who’ve tried using purity culture’s tactics of modest dressing and careful distancing from men in an attempt to be pure in God’s eyes, to see that our purity doesn’t come from our clothes, but from Christ.

Men

For men, purity culture paints a picture of manhood devoid of Christlikeness and pumped full of lust-steroids. Rachel calls those who’ve used the tactics of purity culture to excuse ungodly aggressive behavior from men and employ stereotypes to cast an image of biblical masculinity that’s lacking, to give those up for a gospel-born vision of men.

“Instead of teaching men to avoid women, a proactive strategy for battling sexual lust urges men to see women as neighbors,” who we are command by God to love as we love ourselves.

Rachel draws men to remove their personal-purity blinders and take a broad view of the community God calls his people to live in. She calls those tainted by the lust-focused weeds of purity culture to look up at the character of Christ and the gift he has given them as they put their trust in him.

There is a high view from which men and women should see themselves, and it is not the view purity culture has tried to produce through its rhetoric. God said he made man and woman in his own image. And Christ has given us his own spirit, his promised faithful love and he will never stop making us more like him. Welcher encourages men to look to Christ, their hope of glory right alongside their sisters, mothers, wives, and friends.

What Will I Tell My Kids?

This is the question that has haunted me from before I began reading this book. What will I tell my kids about what to believe about sex, marriage, girls, women, lust, porn, and abuse?

Call it coincidence, but even as I write this my senior in high school son walked in the door. I stopped to ask him for a few minutes of his time. I asked him if he feels like Jesus impacts his everyday life and relationships. His answer was, “Mom, I get told all the time by so and so (he named names) that my relationships should be about marriage. But I don’t think so mom. Yeah, I think Jesus wants me to treat others with respect and dignity, but I don’t think I have to think about marriage just because I like a girl.”

I was gobsmacked. He had no idea I was reading this book or writing this review. Listening to him, I realized, there’s a lot of pressure in our culture, whether from purity culture’s children (in high school with my son), or from the current spirit of the age, to conform to that culture’s idea of what relationships should look like. And as a mom, I don’t need to give my son a book or program, I need to spend time with him, listening to him, asking him questions and helping him remember Jesus.

As Rachel points out in her book, the message we give our kids about sexuality, marriage, singleness and the gospel is important. I know my tendency as an “of works” person with a “lawish” heart naturally wants to hand my sons a manual or a class or commitment that will keep them from the pain of sexual sin and idolatry. But it won’t work. If I want to give my sons a message that will not spring up life-choking weeds and breed disillusionment and confusion, I’ll leave the books and extrabiblical practices to the side and point them to the beauty of what Jesus has done for them.

My son confessed today that he doesn’t think about Jesus very much. I told him, “Well he thinks about you. A lot! And he likes you! He wants you! He’ll never give up on you! And I love you too.”

Rachel’s book exposes that at the bottom of all of purity culture’s “relational leveraging, fear stuffing, nervousness, score-keeping, neurotic-controlling and anxiety-festering silliness” you find a “gospel deficit.” ( a phrase from Ortlund’s book)

We all need people in the church to help us see when we go down the path our fallen nature is bent toward, trying to achieve godliness with our own methods. Rachel does that. And her book loves the Church in doing so. I for one am thankful to have read it at this time in my life. I needed to be redirected back to the gospel as the only hope and power for me and my sons.

  • References and quotes from Ortlund are taken from Gentle and Lowly- The heart of Christ for sinners and sufferers by Dane Ortlund

Oh for Stick-to-itiveness and Courage

There’s a paragraph in A Long Obedience In The Same Direction by Eugene Peterson (which I have been away from for awhile, and came back to yesterday) where he talks about the not-so-fancy word: stick-to-it-iveness. He says his mom used to scold him for not possessing stick-to-itevness. He would leave various unfinished endeavors laying around and this drew his mother’s reproof.

He and I share the same flaw.  I lack stick-to-itveness.  I would rather do sprints any day than run long distances.  And I have lots of what I think are great ideas; some that get started with gusto but soon stumble to a snail’s pace or get abandoned altogether.  My blogs, artisan mayo, paleo meals, crocheting projects, jewelry making projects, exercise plans and many others are some such evidences of my lack of endurance and focus.  Spiritually, I fight with the power Christ supplies to stay on task and continue in my long obedience in the same direction by faith.  So when I press on in my marriage, in teaching my kids the gospel, in stretching to reach others, in saturating myself in the Word, in praying, in keeping my focus on Christ, in trusting in the unfailing promises of God, it’s purely by the grace of God!

I purchased some books I’m very excited about.  God’s Names by Sally Michael is one of them.  I started into it yesterday with the boys.  Tonight we did Elohim.  It brought a freshness to the discussion of God.  It provoked thought in them about the nature of God as our Creator.  I LOVE it!  Can’t wait to get into it more.

Another is the Proverbs Journible from the Journible 17:18 Series.  I think it will be what I’ll use to bring to fruition the idea I had for my other blog.  I’m really excited about it too… both for me and my boys.

I am not a risk taker.  I like safe.  I like stable.  I like security and comfort.  This is a problem for a Christian, and yet, even as I say that, it is the “not” that God calls “is”.

For consider your calling, brothers: not many of you were wise according to worldly standards, not many were powerful, not many were of noble birth.But God chose what is foolish in the world to shame the wise; God chose what is weak in the world to shame the strong;God chose what is low and despised in the world, even things that are not, to bring to nothing things that are,so that no human being might boast in the presence of God.- 1 Corinthians 1:26-29

Being a Christian, I mean a real, Christ-lives-in-me woman, is not safe, and then again it’s the most secure and safe of all.  It really depends on which eyes I look at my life with.  With my self-preserving, fallen eyes, being a Christian is dangerous and too risky.  With my fixed-on-Jesus-born-anew eyes, being a Christian is the most sure, guaranteed security and safety there is!

Oh that I would fix my eyes on Jesus, the Author and Finisher of my faith, and look straight past the opposition that will come, the suffering that is going to occur, the rejection that hurts, the questions I can’t answer, the name-calling that stabs, to the joy set before me!

Oh to stand in the same room with evil, and the missed-the-marked-ness that holds up its protesting sign and brazen face, and lies, and stand.  Calmly.  Confidently.  Humbly.  Lovingly.  Willing to suffer.  Shining light.  Bringing truth.  Looking up.  Giving grace.  Showing mercy.  I’m ashamed that I would rather hide from it all.  Oh let me stand in the room with the hard things that don’t like the answer the Savior gives and speak the truth in love with humility!  Give me grace to be courageous and bold and humble with happiness!

 Quieted,
Sheila

Just letting you know

Hey my fellow Found women!

I just wanted to let you know some things.

1. I fully intend to finish up a series I started on Matters of the Home. Not sure when I’ll get to sit down and post, but, Lord willing, soon.

2. Before I do that though I really want to finish the study through the Proverbs 31 woman I started into last year at Sunny’s blog, A Wife’s Biblical Submission.

3. I’ve been occupied giving my full attention to teaching my boys, prayer, loving my man, and wrestling through some things with the Lord.

4. I’m really excited about a new book I just got to read, review and giveaway by Jill SavageReal Moms… Real Jesus. She’s given me 3 copies to giveaway and I can’t wait to read it so I can do just that. I plan to do that giveaway in June. So look for it. Go over to Jill’s blog and check it out.

So that’s just some things brewing with me… Lots to share as the Lord leads.

I also want to thank you for your always encouraging comments and prayers. You are all such a blessing!

Have a worship-filled weekend!

He calls me what I am not as though I am

I’m re-reading “The Normal Christian Life” by Watchman Nee. HIGHLY recommend it!

Mr. Nee expounds on the foundations of our faith and how we live by faith in Christ.

It’s wonderful! Oh the depths and the riches of God’s gift to us in Christ… its more than we know or could ever fully live out, yet we go through this life to know Him more and to be transformed into His very image.

I ran into Mr. Nee’s reference to Romans 4:17 while reading and had to stop and just chew on it for awhile.

“…God, who gives life to the dead and calls those things which do not exist as though they did.” -Romans 4:17

This is the whole story of how we live by faith.

God, who gives life to the dead, who called Abraham a father while he was practically dead… this same God calls those things which do not exist as though they did. He calls me righteous, though I am not. He calls me spotless, though I am not. He calls me a woman of valor, though I am not. And He’s not just playing make-believe. What He calls us He MAKES US! He called nearly-dead Abraham a father while he had no children and in the right time Sarah and Abraham conceived Isaac.

It’s not pretending I am what I’m not as a Christian. It’s seeing that I am in Christ.

My sins are wiped away by His blood and my sin-producing factory (my flesh) died with Him at the cross. I died. I don’t live anymore. Whatever I may do in my flesh is just death. But even greater than this dead woman I am is the LIVE woman I am in Christ.

Christ rose from the dead and I rose with Him, cause I am in Him. My life is hidden in Christ in God. All that is in the risen Christ is mine. And all that is in Him is not unattainable for not only am I in Christ, but Christ is in me! He lives out His very life in my soon to perish body. He makes me righteous. He makes spotless. He makes me a woman of valor. He makes me love with agape. He makes me intercede boldly. He makes me speak the truth in humility. And on and on, just as with Abraham, IN HIS PERFECT TIME, He produces in me exactly what He calls me in Christ.

It is my hope and my joy that my God calls me to the impossible, and the very fact that HE is doing the calling makes it sure that HE will also do the producing of that new-impossible life in me. I am not anything He calls me to be apart from Him who makes it so!

So I wait. I worship. I thank Him for His promise. I repent and cry out for help in my unbelief. And then I carry on listening and worshipping and praying and praising and waiting and lo and behold I see Him producing fruit in my life I am unable to bear on my own!

What a mystery, what a wonder!

It’s not by sight dear ones. It’s not by working hard. It’s not by trying to make it happen. That only creates Ishmaels (I have a few of those). It’s by believing that though we are barren spiritually, and dead to the ability to be who God calls us to be, in Christ we are all of who He calls us to be. Just in believing that, in thinking on Christ, in praising Him, in prayer to Him, in searching the word for Him, in revelation of Him, we are transformed into what we are not!

Oh Father, make us to know increasingly who we are in Christ. We want to know Christ! We want to be conformed to His image. Help us to believe that You will do it!

Isaiah 51:3

Book finds

I have a couple of books I’ve been wanting to brag on for awhile.

First I found this book: Country Wisdom and Know-How, Everything You Need to Know to Live off the Land, at Sam’s Club the other day. I was so excited! I so want to live a “country wisdom know-how” life. I feel like I want to be a Little House on the Prairie wife but I find myself in a big city life (that rhymes…ooo, I feel a blog series or meme comin’ on). There’s great stuff for us un-educated-in-the-arts-and-sciences-of-homemaking-wives. For instance, I found a great tip on page 138 under “Breads” about how to get your bread to rise when you don’t have a “warm” place to do it that is between 80-85 degrees like your recipe says. The book says, “…place a pan of boiling water on the bottom rack…” of a cold electric oven. Yeah! Now when I try AGAIN to make bread it won’t be heavy and flat- I hope! 🙂 There’s a TON of other great stuff in this book to from how to make a bird-feeder to landscaping bulbs and sharpening hand tools. If you’re a wanna be Little House on the Prairie wife like me it’s a great resource. It only cost me 12 bucks too!

Next: The Great Divorce by C.S. Lewis. I’ve been wanting to read more. I wanted to read a book by Elisabeth Elliot and still have yet to get my hands on one but the other day while doing a search at my library, racking my brain to come up with authors of books I might want to read, I found The Great Divorce. I love C.S. Lewis’ Chronicles of Narnia series, which I must confess, I’ve only seen the movies and have a faint memory of seeing the books on my shelf when I was a kid but don’t remember reading them. I was hoping to find that series at the library, but, surprise surprise they were all checked out. So I got the Great Divorce. I hadn’t the faintest idea what it was going to be about and was a bit disappointed that I didn’t find what I wanted, so I was a bit taken back when I cracked the book open the other day and read this (which really captivated the reader/writer/should have studied literature in me):

You cannot take all luggage with you on all journeys; on one journey even your right hand and your right eye may be among the things you have to leave behind. We are not living in a world where all roads are radii of a circle and where all, if followed long enough, will therefore draw gradually nearer and finally meet at the centre: rather in a world where every road, after a few miles, forks into two, and each of those into two again, and at each fork you must make a decision. Even on the biological level life is not like a river but like a tree. It does not move towards unity but away from it and the creatures grow further apart as they increase in perfection. Good, as it ripens, becomes continually more different not only from evil but from other good. I do not think that all who choose wrong roads perish; but their rescue consists in being put back on the right road. A sum can be put right: but only by going back till you find the error and working it afresh from that point, never by simply going on. Evil can be undone, but it connot ‘develop’ into good. Time does not heal it. The spell must be unwound, bit by bit, ‘with backward mutters of dissevering power’- or else not. It is still ‘either-or’. If we insist on keeping Hell (or even Earth) we shall not see Heaven: if we accept Heaven we shall not be able to retain even the smallest and most intimate souvenirs of Hell…. (from pgs. VIII and IX)

Wow! I can’t wait to get into this book!!!!

And lastly, I found The Normal Christian Life by Watchman Nee. I purchased this “classic” as I’ve heard from many an honorable Christian that it’s a must have. I’ve only read a few pages and already am rejoicing and finding myself walking around worshipping the One who saved me with fresh rememberances of what the scripture tells He’s done for me!

What book finds have you found?