Stuff Christian Culture Likes

Stuff Christian Culture Likes


#202 Elisabeth Elliot

posted by Stephanie Drury

Elisabeth Elliot is an exalted figure amongst evangelicals. They regard her with similar reverence which with Catholics regard the Virgin Mary. She is most widely known as the widow of Jim Elliot, the missionary who gave what he could not keep to gain what he could not lose. Her book Passion and Purity recounts their chastely tormented five-year courtship and became the de facto dating manual for Christian culture in the ’80s and ’90s. Subtitled “Learning to bring your love life under Christ’s control,” it is responsible for countless Christian breakups and no-kissing vows after its readers became “convicted” about dating.

pp1.jpgPassion and Purity decries impatience, praises “biblical” gender roles, and displays Jim’s love letters to Elisabeth which should be in a collection of their own, so raw and throaty is Jim’s eloquent agony for Elisabeth, or at least for his idea of Elisabeth. Jim tells her he is waiting on God for the word to marry her, and she shares her own beautiful diary entries of the time which say she was “clogged with wishes” and “oozing ache.” The table of contents is scandalous to the youth group mentality but it was somehow given a pass by her Christian editor, the chapters titled things like “Four Bare Legs In A Bed” and “Little Deaths” (which seems an unwitting and ironic allusion to le petit mort). Separated by school and the mission field, Jim wrote to her “I have you now unravished” and “Thunder of great Heaven! What gaping bliss that would be tonight!” which made yet-unravished teenage girls swoon, then vow to stay pure if it meant someday a man would write them letters like that.

An exigent theme of the book is Elisabeth’s assertion that kissing is superfluous and kind of stupid, and that she “deplore(d)” seeing couples parking (this was in the 1950s). The youth group demographic ate this up, and it may have single-handedly ignited the “Waiting until the altar to kiss” phenomenon that we’ve been discussing with morbid fascination.

Elisabeth has said many times that the theme of the book is to bring all you do “under Christ’s control.” But Christian culture is looking for steps to follow in all scenarios, so frightened they are of their own humanity that they cannot see how their humanity and spirituality could co-mingle to God’s satisfaction. And so taking steps is in order. Elisabeth’s example is simple and clear-cut and Christian culture took after it in earnest. They love agreeable bits of information served up on small plates.

Passion and Purity was also largely responsible for Christian culture’s next de facto relationship manual I Kissed Dating Goodbye, which was written by a guy this time (a preacher’s kid! represent) and is a most agreeable blueprint that explicitly defines “defective dating” and decries the worldly notion that love and romance are to be enjoyed “solely for recreation.” This book became the new manual for evangelical dating and even reintroduced the courtship model as allegedly biblical and a deterrent to heartbreak. The increasingly popular courtship model as Christian culture’s answer to dating will be discussed in a future post, and with great enthusiasm, I might add.



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Steve

posted November 18, 2010 at 4:36 pm


Oh, yeah. Her book, “A Slow and Certain Light,” was required reading in my IV group in the 70s, where, indeed, she was regarded as the evangelical equivalent of the BVM. I never read this other book, but it does sound hilarious. It makes me so glad I left evangelical Christianity 30 years ago and never looked back. It is just so stifled, so obsessed with the idea that what I want is automatically wrong or sinful, and that I must seek a perfect divine will to tell me what to do or think, and that there is a perfect will of God for my life. No wonder I wound up in counseling for several years.



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Matt Green

posted November 18, 2010 at 5:12 pm


The whole “purity” idea really puts a lot of stress on people in dating among Christians. At what point, exactly, is it impure, besides the obvious? And what is the other person looking for? What are their boundaries? I’ve known a few nice Christian women who do the whole “rah rah God is in control!” bit, then 180 to “OMG I’M GONNA GET SOME!!!!” crazies and they begin to reek of sexual frustration.
Where’s the balance?



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Chrissy

posted November 18, 2010 at 5:33 pm


Yes!!! So glad you brought this up! I had a crush on a guy who wanted to be a pastor (hence, the crush) and a friend at the time stressed me out so bad over the fact that I texted him one day before he had texted me. I believe something like “How would you feel if you got married knowing that you were the one who pursued him?” was asked. At the time I assumed I’d feel awful if that happened, so I felt guilty and anxious for the rest of the night thinking that God was displeased with me. Reality is that the guy contacted me daily. Even though I had a crush on him, we were friends, so I didn’t think twice about texting him until my friend brought Elisabeth Eliot’s whole “the man has to pursue you or it isn’t God’s will” thing into it. What a crock. We didn’t get married, or even close to it, so my night of self loathing was a waste. A single text did not alter my future as Passion and Purity convinced me would happen.
Passion is overrated. Purity is also overrated. The union of the two made for an unsavory sandwich of dogma in which christians become the meat. (insert impure joke about threesomes here) (insert joke about impure inserting here)



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Betsi

posted November 18, 2010 at 6:01 pm


I read it when I was younger, and I appreciated (and still do) the idea of making sure your priorities are right, and being willing to sacrifice your very life for love. I wish I were more like Elisabeth and Jim Elliot in that way.
That being said, I believe the problem lies in the notion that you can sin without knowing you are sinning. If you believe that, you will try to close your mind to so many things that “might lead you into sin.” That includes art, literature, movies, ideas, that might drag your mind down the slippery slope into hell. They might also give unparalleled insight into a greater truth, but that’s a small price to pay for your soul.
I don’t think God is as easily offended as that. I think you really have to try to sin. And all truth is God’s truth, no matter how it is presented. And it is rarely “little bits of information served up on small plates.”



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Robert

posted November 18, 2010 at 6:02 pm


For years I’ve wondered how it is that she has been able to gain such a following in Fundamentalists circles when women are clearly supposed to keep silent in those realms.



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Valerie

posted November 18, 2010 at 8:39 pm


I read P&P in high school and was so into it that I bought copies of it for all my friends (male and female) and hounded them until they read it. Goes without saying though…I didn’t have many friends in high school. A year or so after this, I Kissed Dating Goodbye came out and I carried it conspicuously around school reading in the hallway, at my desk, at lunch, etc. Of course, I had never had a date before, but that didn’t stop me from kissing it goodbye. Well, until I finally got asked out on a date* the next year.
Chrissy: “The union of the two made for an unsavory sandwich of dogma in which christians become the meat.” OMGLOL.
*Said first date occured when I was 19 years old. We were engaged two weeks later. Oh yeah, it was his first date too.



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Jingles

posted November 18, 2010 at 8:43 pm


I wonder, how do Evangelicals cope with the fact that God created their bodies to think and feel the way we do? Do they really believe God is enough of a douchebag to design their bodies in such a way as to constantly “tempt” them, and will cast them into Hell should they step over the line of impurity? The body is intended to respond in certain (unexpected ways), and even a certain nameless female body part has no other function than to bring sexual pleasure. An anatomy lesson alone would bring some comfort, I’d think.
Honestly, I am counting down the days until someone thinks female circumcision is the answer to their purity problems.



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Gaypet

posted November 18, 2010 at 8:45 pm


For some reason this brings to mind the Campus Crusaders who had a guest speaking gig at my youth group when I was in late H.S. May even have been early college. The woman (a couple was speaking about marriage and dating) was saying that us gals should just set a date to marry and then make it happen. But without actually pursuing a man. God would provide. But set the date, already!
I asked her what those of us who never wanted to marry should do. She got very upset with me and called me a “fool”. She realized her mistake even before I could bring up Matthew 5:22 but I sure did enjoy watching her squirm as I quoted it.
It’s all so ridiculous!



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Jingles

posted November 18, 2010 at 8:47 pm


@Valerie: I guess the “temptation to sin” was pretty bad if you rushed that quickly into engagement?



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Valerie

posted November 18, 2010 at 9:00 pm


@Jingles: Exactly. Of course, we were then engaged for 18 months, during which time I rethought my whole obsession over Passion and Purity. :-)



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Rob

posted November 18, 2010 at 9:03 pm


This is one of the most stomach-turning parts of modern christian culture. I wish the church authorities would make you feel equally as guilty for not helping the poor and homeless as they do for having sex before marriage. My wife and I were both raised in christian culture and we had sex before marriage and it was the greatest decision we have made. We removed it from its pedestal and were able to focus on more important things. I really think this stigma against “impurity” is why 50% of christians end up getting divorced (which also has a stigma attached to it but people don’t seem to mind this one as much)
P.S. Joshua Harris could probably use his Jedi-Pastor tricks to bag any of the multitude of gullible christian girls that read his trash!



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Steve240

posted November 18, 2010 at 9:25 pm


You might enjoy my blog where I also critique Josh Harris’s book:
http://www.ikdg.wordpress.com
“I Kissed Dating Goodbye: Wisdom or Foolishness?”
Unfortunately Josh Harris is quick to point out the defects of dating but won’t admit the problems and defects with his approach. Even at his own church he acknowledged a number of problems but doesn’t share them on his website.



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Jay

posted November 18, 2010 at 9:32 pm


The Eliots were such huge idols in the Christian groups I was around during the “friendship with a purpose” and “courtship” time with my wife. It is refreshing to see an alternate interpretation of this part of Christian culture. You captured and critiqued this part of Christian culture wonderfully. And I loved all the “scare quotes” around the more lusty phrases you mined from her book.
captcha: saved febity
Maybe “febity” is something like purity?



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Clearly Crazy Mike

posted November 18, 2010 at 10:27 pm


Thanks for this post! This book spread like a virus through the women of my college campus during my senior year. All of a sudden there were these passion- and purity-related expectations I had to meet, and I didn’t know why. (Sigh). I know, poor me.
Good thing we have all these extremely specific universal guidebooks, or we would have no idea what the Bible says.



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AK

posted November 18, 2010 at 11:05 pm


I was in Bible College when Elisabeth Elliot came to speak and of course she was the session everyone had to sit in on. The most striking impression that I was left with was the fact that she has made this book and this story about her time with this one man her life’s work. Case in point: she has had two husbands since Jim. Her current husband (so no. 3) was with her at this speaking engagement and I was just struck by the face that HIS WIFE toured the country talking about passion with a man she had been married to years and years ago. This man was taking a back seat to his own marriage pandering to a woman who went on and on about her first marriage, which has given her much to talk about for the last 50 years. It kind of made me sad.



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Bill

posted November 18, 2010 at 11:14 pm


Thank you for putting “convicted” in quotation marks. Brilliant post, Stephy. (And brilliant comments, the rest of you. Excellent use of exclamation points. And the word “inserting”.)



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Lynn

posted November 18, 2010 at 11:48 pm


I read this in high school, not long before reading Joshua Harris’s books. At the time I got really into the courtship idea (which faded pretty quickly over time), but Passion and Purity made me uncomfortable. Even though I wouldn’t admit it to myself, I felt pressure to be something I didn’t know if I could do. She always stressed not awakening love before the Lord decided it was your time. The idea of leading a love-less, completely non-sensual life until some day that might not even happen was scary to me.



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Steve

posted November 19, 2010 at 8:21 am


@ AK: And it sounds just a little creepy, too, not just sad.
And hubby #3, according to Wikipedia, was a seminary student who was boarding in her house. One of those things that makes you go “Hmmmm.”
All these comments just make me think how full of s*** she is, along with the rest of evangelical Christianity. It’s obvious how many of us got seriously messed up by these teachings.
The best thing I ever heard about the “will of God” was from a Benedictine monk by the name of John Main, who defined the “will of God” as love, nothing more, nothing less. Not some inscrutable plan with which we have to wrestle, but simply love.



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guy

posted November 19, 2010 at 3:04 pm


The early church was born into a culture in which for Greeks and Romans, girls were likely married off in their early teens if not even slightly earlier. (And many times they were married off to men a couple decades older than them.) The Jews also married very early. In fact, you can read quotes from Jewish men bragging about how early they got married–they consider that a mark of righteousness, like they had thwarted Satan by marrying so early. The issue was that they had married prior to being of an age to fantasize sexually. So as soon as they were biologically compelled, they already had a spouse. And of course, very few of these marriages (Greek or Jewish) had anything to do with love or romance.
Interestingly enough, none of the NT authors give commentary on their approval or disapproval of these cultural practices, nor do they spell out an alternative model.
i wonder then if contemporary Christian culture would accept these practices as godly or pure or wise. My guess is not. In fact, my guess is that Elliot or Harris or their followers would on the whole find them fairly disturbing.
–guy



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Steve

posted November 19, 2010 at 4:22 pm


One more comment, this one on the notion that one finds in Elliot and other evangelicals about letting God “control” our lives–an idea that I find very creepy and stomach-turning. The way some people present it–that they want God or Christ to control what they do and say–almost sounds like some sort of demon possession. I don’t think that’s what Elliot, et al., intend, and I’m sure they would give me a big argument about this.
But in my many years of spiritual experience I simply cannot believe God wants to turn us into robots or sock puppets, or to use a Star Trek analogy, a Christian version of the Borg. Rather, I believe God wants to live in union with us, in freedom and love, and gives us the freedom to express that love in creative ways. He does not want to control us. He does not have a perfect plan for our lives. To believe this is to set out on the path to some very serious spiritual and psychological problems, such as I experienced. I just want to scream and shake some people when I hear them talk about how they now let God take control of their lives.
The idea that we need God to control what we say, think, and do reflects a very pessimistic view of humanity–the idea that apart from God we can do nothing good, a most unfortunate idea that comes through Lutheran and Reformed theology, and which can be traced back through Augustine to Paul–though I wonder if Paul would agree with this idea. Certainly Jesus taught none of this.



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stephanie drury

posted November 19, 2010 at 4:31 pm


Totally, Steve. My 8-yr-old has been asking why God allows people to not believe in him and I say it’s because he doesn’t want a bunch of robots, he values our free will and delights in it the way I delight in my kids’ free will and things they create.



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GingerSam

posted November 20, 2010 at 3:21 am


Thanks for bringing up this subject. A friend lent me Passion and Purity when I first became an evangelical, but I don’t think I ever got through it because it creeped me out. It’s so good to hear that other people see it the same way I do.
I recently attended a series of talks on canonized Saints and every speaker in the series brought up the same point: all the men and women who are canonized Saints became more fully themselves, more individuals and less like robots, as they sought to follow God. Totally the opposite of what so many evangelicals think it means to follow God (as Steve brought up). What a relief to my soul it has been to have examples of how to follow God.



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Charles Cosimano

posted November 20, 2010 at 11:50 am


Perhaps a better name for this blog would be “Why Evangelicals Are Just Plain Nuts.”
Seriously, how could any young person be so weak willed as to pay any attention to such things?



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Lynn

posted November 20, 2010 at 3:37 pm


It’s comforting for me to read some of the comments on this post about love and freedom. In my more evangelical years, I always had this impression that I had to “find God’s will for my life,” like there was this one magical road I was supposed to be on, and if I didn’t figure it out….well I’m not sure what that would mean. That I wasn’t trying hard enough? That I was going down the wrong path? Who knows, but it was pressure.
And my problem with the idea of letting God control our lives was how most Christians around me implemented the idea. They stopped thinking, stopped making choices, stopped being proactive in their lives. They believed everything that was supposed to happen would just happen. It’s like taking the gifts God gave us of thought and free will and handing it back to him saying, “I don’t want it–you use it for me.”
The more I think about God, the more I begin to agree with what Steve was quoting about the will of God being simply love. I used to let the legalities of Christian living overshadow that message, and I’ve often felt that Evangelicals see the “simply love” message as dangerous because it downplays the importance of righteous living (they don’t want anyone to get the wrong idea!). But most of the lessons I read in the Bible seem to affirm that love trumps everything, and that it is the most important thing in every area of our lives.



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Rubyfruit

posted November 20, 2010 at 4:13 pm


I think I lucked out by being too young to remember this specific book and author. However, I went to youth group when Joshua Harris was a huge thing, so…yeah. I think that stuff like this gets recycled and comes in and out of vogue every so often, considering that, while this is the first time I’ve heard of Elisabeth Elliot, this isn’t the first time I’ve heard about relationship manuals with similar themes.



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Doug

posted November 20, 2010 at 8:15 pm


I heard Elizabeth Elliot speak once when I was in college, forty years ago. The topic, as I recall, wasn’t sex and chastity; it was discipleship. I can’t remember what she said, but I vividly remember her demeanor, and I remember thinking, “This woman scares me.” She came across as angry, as though she had some underlying issue or issues in her life — a bee in her bonnet, as it were — that she hadn’t dealt with. I found her very abrasive and off-putting, and I wasn’t the only one in the audience who did. Her then-husband, on the other hand, a Presbyterian theologian, was a guy I got to know fairly well and was one of the nicest people I met during my college days. I wonder in hindsight who the dominant one was in their relationship.



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Steve

posted November 20, 2010 at 10:23 pm


@ Doug:
I wonder if the bee in her bonnet was that everyone wasn’t like her, that she saw everyone else as spiritual slackers, not living by the same standards she was trying to live up to. She sees only one way to do discipleship, or relationships, and that is in this utter submission under God’s control. She can’t deal with ideas of freedom. I’m sure there were underlying issues–I’d be willing to bet some deep insecurities and doubts that she was afraid to express openly, because then she would not be projecting the image of God’s complete woman, completely submitted, that all these campus Christian speakers try to project. I can’t ever remember a speaker in my IV group expressing or admitting any kind of doubts or weakness. Everything was expressed in certainties.



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AlaskAnna

posted November 21, 2010 at 12:07 am


I’ve decided to never give my heart to anyone, except maybe Jesus. That way it won’t get broken, and I’ll never get hurt!
*snark button off*
‘Life is pain. Anyone who says otherwise is selling something.’
-“The Princess Bride”



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elfdream

posted November 21, 2010 at 9:31 am


Interestingly enough some evangelicals have disowned her because she came out in support of her brother Thomas who is now a Catholic convert.



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Susan

posted November 21, 2010 at 1:35 pm


The Elliott’s romance always struck me as strange. He seemed like a great-looking Christian alpha male. She seemed like a bookish, plain, quiet woman. Yes, they had faith and missions in common. But it’s hard for me to imagine such a pairing happening today, especially because even for his time, Jim was quite commitment-phobic.



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MM

posted November 22, 2010 at 6:58 pm


Never read this book, but I remember that Joshua Harris became big when I was in middle/high school. At some point I asked my mom, who’s pretty liberal for an evangelical, what she though about the whole courtship movement. She just rolled her eyes and said she thought courtship took all the fun out of love. And also, beginning a relationship with the expectation that this person is going to marry you creates an awful lot of stress and pressure.
To this day that is the smartest thing I’ve ever heard an evangelical say about relationships.



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Mary

posted November 23, 2010 at 3:38 am


@ Steve-is “IV” independent variable? I’m not so familiar with the jive anymore.
My friends and I were all about Elisabeth Elliot when we were too young and impressionable-I tried to look through one of her books a few years back and was amazed at how restrictive and awful it was-esp. in regard to gender roles.
I’m actually from the same part of Maryland of Joshua Harris’ church and know several people who attended-big, scary culty church. I know way to many members who married young in “Church arranged relationships” and either divorced after a few years or were/are so miserable. Some people can marry at 19/20 and it’s awesome-not for everyone as many of us did not know ourselves when we were so young.
Here I believe that there is a God and I escaped it all.



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Sean

posted November 23, 2010 at 4:12 am


Pretty sure the IV he is referring to is InterVarsity, a college campus ministry organization…



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Sean

posted November 23, 2010 at 4:18 am


…as opposed to CCC (Campus Crusade for Christ), FCA (Fellowship of Christian Athletes), YL (Young Life) and YWAM (Youth With A Mission), which are/were also college campus ministry organizations. ;)



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stephanie drury

posted November 23, 2010 at 1:53 pm


And let’s not forget The Navigators.



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Stephen Charles

posted November 23, 2010 at 3:16 pm


The idea that we need God to control what we say, think, and do reflects a very pessimistic view of humanity–the idea that apart from God we can do nothing good, a most unfortunate idea that comes through Lutheran and Reformed theology, and which can be traced back through Augustine to Paul–though I wonder if Paul would agree with this idea. Certainly Jesus taught none of this.
Steve, I wonder if what you’re trying to describe has more to do with odd human notions of determinism. The Augustinian-Calvinism I confess knows nothing of God-as-puppeteer, which is actually a caricature of Reformed theology. But old school Reformed find just as odd the theology, piety and practice of broad evangelicalism. Prancing about claiming to be “sold out for Jesus” or “under his complete control” is actually something that has more in common with a theology that rejects classical Augustinian-Calvinism.
One tell-tale sign that it is not something that flows from Calvinism is that it gets really upset when a Calvinist tells them human beings are actually natural enemies of God and are more in rebellion than submission. This throws water on their sunny piety which is designed to spiritually brag about themselves and bring others under a sense of judgment for not being super-spititual. So, I’d disagree, they have a very optimistic view of humanity (not a low view like Calvinism) and its ability to get right with God, etc.
Also, you ask if Paul would agree with Calvinism’s low view of humanity. Well, in Romans he quotes Scripture thus:
There is no one righteous, not even one;
there is no one who understands;
there is no one who seeks God.
All have turned away,
they have together become worthless;
there is no one who does good,
not even one.
Their throats are open graves;
their tongues practice deceit.
The poison of vipers is on their lips.
Their mouths are full of cursing and bitterness.
Their feet are swift to shed blood;
ruin and misery mark their ways,
and the way of peace they do not know.
There is no fear of God before their eyes.
Yeow. If that’s an optimistic view of human nature and ability, I’d hate to see a low one.
You also ask if Jesus agrees. Well, it’s hard to imagine a man being murdered for telling people, amongst so many other provocations, that God thinks they’re basically good.



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K

posted November 24, 2010 at 1:05 pm


The “seminal” work for my generation (70s) was “At Least We Were Married”: http://www.amazon.com/At-Least-We-Were-Married/dp/0310369320
That was the model courtship for us: no sex before marriage, then the glory of the wedding night, and then the fatal car accident. Kinda like the girls who would pray that the rapture would take place soon, but not before they got to have sex!
captcha: judges surecuts



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K

posted November 24, 2010 at 1:08 pm


I meant to note the common theme: someone always ends up dead early on, before the realities of human relationships could spoil the “purity” of the model courtship/marriage.



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Beth

posted November 29, 2010 at 12:58 pm


It’s funny, this isn’t at all the impression I got from her book, although it’s been awhile since I read it. My impression from the book was that her intention was never to write a dating manifesto and that she actually disliked how people wrote her constantly asking how to date properly, saying that she could not dictate a set of rules that could apply for all “pure” relationships. What I got out of the book was that God convicted both Jim and her to maintain a whole lot of discipline in their lives, pursuing closer relationships with God that eventually sustained them (or at least sustained Elisabeth) when they went to Ecuador as missionaries and when Jim was killed trying to reach the Waodani tribe.
So what I took from the book was that I needed to stop obsessing over having the perfect Christian relationship and instead focus on God first. (Dating idolatry, anyone?) Honestly, I think that the thesis of her book Passion & Purity was more on the idea that the American church needs to exercise a little discipline–in all areas–more than to write a book to address the dating needs of its young people.



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Barb

posted December 8, 2010 at 10:20 am


I’m not sure what you’re making fun of here and why. The Bible is clear that pre-marital sex is against God’s law. Shouldn’t our goal as followers of Jesus Christ be that of pleasing him and obeying his law. I show love to my husband and my children by doing those things I know please them. How much more would I want to do that for the God who sacrificed his son for my sake.
I’m against traditionalism and there is much of that in the Church today. But God does want our obedience. Have become so Americanized that we’ve forgotten that life is about pleasing him, serving him and those he places in our paths?



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Manveri

posted December 20, 2010 at 2:17 pm


I was also loaned P&P by a friend who just ate her up. What really put me off was her view of gender roles, particularly when her argument dismissing feminists was to point out that some of them went so far as to argue for women’s right to combat roles in the military. Her counterargument to this was that “she preferred not to enter the ring with those types.” Way to go, Elliot, that was _really_ convincing.
My mom (who was discipled through college by the Navigators) says that she was pretty impressed by Elliot in her early days when she was still fresh off the mission field, but that she thinks her years as a speaker in American evangelical circles has dragged her away from her original open-mindedness. So maybe Elliot is as much a symptom as a cause of the problem.
I think Beth is right in that she originally set out to try to break away from the “just tell me what to do,” guidebook mentality of Christian culture–but I think she just created a new mold in the process. I see this a _lot_ in popular Christian books. _Captivating_ is another one.



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