Why does all the wild stuff happen while I’m away at youth camp?
I’ve written before on navigating the fall of our Christian heroes. Frankly, it leaves us feeling a little adrift. It’s a sign of just how tangled our relationship with God can become with human intermediaries, and how threatened it all feels when the tent of cards comes down. (I remember some missionary friends moving Stateside after years abroad, hearing how the church they’d left behind started losing members immediately. They’d loved the leaders rather than God.)
Well, it’s happened again. This time it’s Joshua Harris, of I Kissed Dating Goodbye fame/notoriety. He renounced Christ publicly on Friday.
On top of that, he announced separation from his wife. Joshua Harris. Of all people.
Harris was one of the seminal generators of what we call “purity culture”. Boiled down (heavily), it theorizes that undertaking the journey of sexual purity and brotherly love that God commands, largely by avoiding dating, will lead to the destination of an amazing, God-ordained marriage.
Yeah, I know.
I’ve never been one to pile on. Though I disagree with much of what he wrote, I also have the objectivity to spot that many of his teachings were distorted and amplified beyond their purview by others. I’ve also seen my own criticisms echoed by Harris himself the last few years. Frankly, I think a guy deserves credit for being able to so humbly and accurately renounce his central life’s work. (Have you ever been in that position?)
But I’ve also stayed moderate because I think much criticism of purity culture actually misses the point.
Much criticism of purity culture quibbles with the journey. It tells us that we’ve selected the wrong highway, that its rules on physical boundaries and dating are stifling, counterproductive, inductive of shame, and don’t guarantee good marriage anyway.
There’s definitely some truth there. Shame is no good. And as Harris said, prohibition of dating simply isn’t in the Bible.
On the other hand, I value boundaries. My first girlfriend and I barely touched, relatively speaking. I have to imagine it made the breakup easier. And if my next one wants to save her first kiss until the altar, she’ll gets what she wants, ‘cuz I’ll want to honor her. I‘d much rather our relationship be founded on words, food, Bible reading, shared experiences, food…that sort of thing. The moment you start making out, all that stuff takes a backseat to thinking about the next time you’ll get her in the backseat. Food.
My objection is with the supposed destination.
But among you there must not be even a hint of sexual immorality, or of any kind of impurity, or of greed, because these are improper for God’s holy people. (Eph. 5:3)
Flee from sexual immorality. All other sins a person commits are outside the body, but whoever sins sexually, sins against their own body. Do you not know that your bodies are temples of the Holy Spirit, who is in you, whom you have received from God? You are not your own; you were bought at a price. Therefore honor God with your bodies. (1 Cor. 6:18-20)
Marriage should be honored by all and the marriage bed kept undefiled, for God will judge the sexually immoral and adulterers. (Heb. 13:4)
Notice something: in all three of these pivotal purity passages, do you see any direct mention of the future spouse? There’s none.
Yet vast swaths of evangelicalism motivate singles to purity using our future spouse – how disappointed and damaged they’ll be when you have “the talk” and find out you didn’t wait, how purity guarantees wonderful marriages and stratospheric sex, etc.
That motivator is consistently absent. Purity culture gets the destination wrong.
Instead, Scripture teaches that the destination of purity is the glory of God. It’s about pleasing him, preserving his reputation, honoring his ownership of you.
And honestly, ironically, I see very little of that in most criticisms of purity culture.
Yeah, yeah, it’s easier to get students to care about their future spouse than about God’s glory. But truth is still truth. I want our youth group’s students to have the highest aim; I want singles to have motivation for purity when marriage proves elusive.
Yes, I want to protect my future wife through my purity, and plan to do so. But God’s glory needs to be my primary goal, because God needs to be primary in my marriage. The moment either she or I become the center, its prospects drop. He is where the power lies; he is the point.
Motivations matter. Eventually, life sweeps over us all like a tide and tests our foundations. I suspect it will get to our purity motivations sooner or later. When that day comes, I’d rather be anchored by the Highest.
I’m glad you tuned in today. If you found this post to be of value, please feel free to share it on social media. Thanks a bunch!
NOTE: I’m out this week, but will respond to your comments when I return.