Don’t Overstate the Rewards of Sexual Faithfulness. Don’t Understate Them Either.

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The false promises of purity culture shouldn’t overshadow the true promises of God.

In his classic book Orthodoxy, G. K. Chesterton described the surprising, even subversive, nature of truth: “Whenever we feel there is something odd in Christian theology, we shall generally find that there is something odd in the truth.”

He gave the example of celibacy as an illustration: “It is true,” Chesterton wrote, “that the historic Church has at once emphasized celibacy and emphasized the family; has at once … been fiercely for having children and fiercely for not having children. It has kept them side by side like two strong colors, red and white. … [The Church] has always had a healthy hatred of pink.”

Chesterton’s words serve to frame the helpful approach of Rachel Joy Welcher in her recent book, Talking Back to Purity Culture: Rediscovering Faithful Christian Sexuality. Welcher registers substantial criticism against the evangelical movement that brought pledge cards, books, and rallies to sex-crazed American teenagers. But she does not deconstruct 2,000 years of orthodox teaching on Christian sexuality. Sexual purity matters, if not exactly in the way that purity culture defined it. “As with most earnest, human responses,” writes Welcher, “we didn’t get everything right.”

Good Intentions and Gross Errors

Welcher, a daughter of a pastor, was a high school student in 1997 when Joshua Harris’s book I Kissed Dating Goodbye “captured the attention of the evangelical world [and] inspired countless other books on dating and sexual purity,” she writes. She helpfully situates the movement in its context, reminding readers that purity culture grew up during a period of soaring rates of teenage pregnancy and STDs. Given …

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