Friday, June 23, 2006

Book Review: Emotional Purity

It has been said that whenever possible Christians should learn by discernment rather than through experience. The application of the wise advice given in Emotional Purity (Heather Arnel Paulsen, Winepress Publishing) has potential to save young people many painful experiences.

I have no qualifications or accomplishments to write a book on the subject of dating relationships, but if I did, this would be the book I would write. I have never written or posted on the subject before, and I probably will not again, but this book is worth noting.

Heather's main argument is that the Christian culture has often emphasized the value of physical purity to such an extent that the pitfalls of emotional intimacy often go unnoticed. "Above all guard your heart for it is the wellspring of life." Heather paints familiar pictures of close friendships between young men and women that have involved incredible amounts of time and emotional energy only to end in disappointment and painful separation. "The way I see it," Heather writes, "when we have emotionally intimate male-female relationships without commitment what we end up with is emotional fornication."

Although the phrase emotional abstinence may sound stifling, the picture that Heather paints is in fact quite freeing. Commiting to emotional abstinence offers the freedom of protection. Emotional abstinence prior to marriage provides room for treasured emotional intimacy within marriage.

Her advice? Heather encourages her reader to build relationships of trust within the family. She especially emphasizes the importance of the relationship between a father and a daughter. She encourages young women to be under authority and to allow the total involvement of the family in the process toward marriage. Heather advocates that women avoid emotional intimacy with a man until the man has been questioned and approved by the girl's father. The vulnerability on the part of the man to initiate his relationship with a girl by going to her father is a sign of the sacrificial leadership needed within marriage.

I suppose, though, that I will end by remembering that there is a proper time at which love must make itself vulnerable to suffering. C.S. Lewis wrote in The Four Loves: We shall draw nearer to God, not by trying to avoid the sufferings inherent in all loves, but by accepting them and offering them to Him; throwing away all defensive armour. If our hearts need to be broken, and if He chooses this as a way in which they should break, so be it.

The rewards of obedience are experienced only by those who obey. This book is countercultural, to say the least. Wisdom is known by her children.

(As another reviewer of this book has said, "Paulsen`s style is not always polished [or well-edited] and her examples are not perfectly written, but her love for God and His Word is obvious, and that love clearly comes forth in her first book.")

Addendum:

As I am continuing to think of the words set forth in this post, I am reminded of the importance of maintaining an emphasis on the overarching work of redemption whenever discussion is given as to purity. It is grace, and grace only, that purifies the heart. By grace, God works through our pain and appears as Restorer. Times of pain bring grace, discipline and growth. I remain quite grateful for these times.

Even though God works through pain, my hope is that I will not choose to encounter a potentially painful and distracting experience when a different path, that I have seen to preserve peace and righteousness, exists. While pain and hurt allow us to grow and experience grace, living in obedience to the discerned voice of the Holy Spirit also teaches us these things in a way that allows us to live outside of ourselves in service to the Kingdom purposes in this world.

Regarding this path of obedience in the area of relationships between men and women, I do not propose that the Scriptures explicitly favor a time where daughters must no longer obey/honor parents or a formula for forming pre-marriage relationships. The formulae would be too legalistic. I believe that the Scriptures set forth a standard of righteousness that is far greater than any formula could ever be. " Unless your righteousness exceeds that of the scribes and Pharisees, you will not enter the Kingdom of Heaven." The glorious new righteousness is to bear the image and mark of the Lord Jesus himself and to love God with all of the heart, soul, strength and mind. At this point in my life, I have seen that allowing my family and especially my father, to speak into my life regarding many things, but especially those related to a very emotionally vulnerable issue, is a training for the flesh that allows the heart and soul to focus on that Perfecter and Finisher of the faith. I do not believe this is the only model for relationships; I do know that there has been a newfound freedom, rest and trust in my life as I have embraced the authority and protection that my father has offered me and my hope is that others would find the same freedom. I think of the words of Amy Carmichael of India, "It is not that we think that ours is the only way of living, but we are sure that it is the way meant for us."