Passion and Purity

In Passion and Purity, Elisabeth Elliot uses her love story with her first husband Jim Elliot to illustrate the practical principles of the book’s subtitle: bringing your love life under Christ’s control. For five years she and Jim waited to pursue their relationship, because Jim knew he needed to be single for the missionary work he was undertaking at that time. During this period, Elisabeth kept detailed diaries recording her thoughts, prayers, and struggles with submitting to God’s will. It was not an easy road, but through Christ Jim and Elisabeth were able to offer their love to God and accept when His answer was “not yet.” It’s a profound lesson, and all the more when the blessing denied is such a wonderful one.

I was disappointed somewhat because I thought this book would be primarily about how to move toward purity, with some examples from Elisabeth’s life to illustrate her points. But instead it was the other way around — very autobiographical, with the principles of submission and holiness explored more incidentally. There’s nothing wrong with that, of course. I just found myself not quite so interested in the details of her relationships with God and Jim; I wanted more focus on Scripture and practical purity. More structure would have been helpful, too.

Another thing I found problematic were some of Jim’s letters that Elisabeth quotes. Several were extremely open and honest about his sexual desire for her. I’m not a prude and I think physical desire is a gift of God and absolutely has to be addressed in any book about purity, but the desire expressed in his letters was so intensely private and very suggestive… not sinful, but not to be placed before the public eye. Some of it was so explicit as to conjure ideas that I needed to instantly dismiss. I think this places a huge limitation on how we can use and recommend this book, especially with teens.

Elisabeth frequently quotes old hymns and poems, and I found this wearing after awhile. The spiritual principles represented are timeless, but not every hymn or poem is. I like many old hymns and enjoy archaic language in poetry, and I understand they were extremely meaningful to her as she worked through these issues. These elements are just overused to the point of near-tedium.

So that’s a lot of negativity about the book. The things I liked can best be explored by quoting Elisabeth’s own words:

I am convinced that the human heart hungers for constancy… There is dullness, monotony, sheer boredom in all of life when virginity and purity are no longer protected and prized. By trying to grab fulfillment everywhere, we find it nowhere. (21)

So long as our idea of surrender is limited to the renouncing of unlawful things, we have never grasped its full meaning… (Lilias Trotter, 37)

Waiting on God requires the willingness to bear uncertainty, to carry within oneself the unanswered question, lifting the heart to God about it whenever it intrudes upon one’s thoughts. (59)

Waiting silently is the hardest thing of all… But the things that we feel most deeply we ought to learn to be silent about, at least until we have talked them over thoroughly with God. (60)

God gives us material for sacrifice. Sometimes the sacrifice makes little sense to others, but when offered to Him it is always accepted. (64)

Our vision is so limited that we can hardly imagine a love that does not express itself in protection from suffering. (84)

It is the control of passion, not its eradication, that is needed. How would we learn to submit to the authority of Christ if we had nothing to submit? (90)

There are some good principles here and I did not dislike the book overall. But this is mainly an autobiographical work and those who want a structured, organized, practical approach to biblical purity should probably look elsewhere. (  )

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