On Elisabeth Elliot’s Terrible Courtship–and Dating Men “Sold Out for Jesus”

by | Jul 26, 2021 | Bare Marriage | 144 comments

Merchandise is Here!

Elisabeth Elliot’s book Passion and Purity is NOT a love story.

These last few weeks I’ve been reading the big books marketed to young women in the evangelical world for research for our mother-daughter book, and one of those was Passion & Purity.

I read it first when I was 16, and I really hated it. I remember reading that you couldn’t date, couldn’t kiss before marriage, couldn’t talk to a boy before he talked to you. I remember reading that you must always, always let a boy lead. And that made me feel like, if I were to date, I would have to hide who I really was. I couldn’t be myself. And didn’t God want me to be myself? (for the record, it wasn’t that I wanted to lead. I just wanted to be able to be honest and say what I felt, and it was quite clear that this would somehow be wrong and too forward of me).

(Here’s a picture of me on a Teen Missions International Trip in the Philippines, where it was assigned reading):

Missions Trip with Teen Missions International

Me digging a hole. I think I was smiling because a guy was taking the picture.

When I read it this time, though, I wasn’t horrified for the advice that was given to me. I was horrified for how Elisabeth Elliot had been treated–and how she allowed herself to be treated.

For the life of me, I don’t know how Elisabeth and Jim Elliot’s story became something to emulate. It was toxic from the beginning.

For those who don’t know the history, Jim Elliot was one of five missionaries killed in Ecuador in 1956. The story made international news at the time, and it became the stuff of Christian legend when Elisabeth, Jim’s widow, and another of the widows (whose name escapes me now) forgave the tribe and went back and lived there and ministered to them anyway. You may have heard the story under the name “through gates of splendor” or “end of the spear.”

Anyway, later in her life Elisabeth became a prolific writer and quite the influencer, and she wrote, in 1984, the book Passion and Purity, to help Christian girls navigate dating. As she explains it, “It is, to be blunt, a book about virginity.” So it’s all about how to stay a virgin.

But what really shocks you is when you start to understand what their “courtship” was actually like.

Elisabeth noticed Jim around Wheaton College, where they both attended. But naturally she didn’t seek him out (because she’s the woman), and she had to wait for him to notice her. He finally does, and at the end of one school year they have a long talk during which he announces that he loves her, and that if he were to marry, it would be her, but he doesn’t think he’s going to marry. He’s going to become a missionary. And so they decide it’s best to not correspond.

So here’s this young woman whose been in love with this guy forever, he finally tells her he loves her back, and then he basically “ghosts” her.

A few months later they start corresponding, and over the next little while they see each other very sporadically. Their letters are filled with, “how can we make sure we don’t love each other more than God,” and about how they have to put any possibility of a relationship on the “altar” (alluding to when Abraham sacrificed Isaac). They would obsess over any physical contact they had shared and wondered if it was too much:

The physical contact Jim referred to was my taking his arm when we walked, our sitting with shoulders tightly pressed together, and on one occasion as we sat on a park bench his suddenly stretching out on his back with his head in my lap. My fingers entwined his hair.

Elisabeth Elliot

Passion & Purity

And yet, while they were separated for his senior year of Bible college, word got back to Elisabeth through several sources that Jim had been kissing and dating several girls. Her response?

“What more could I expect? Jim Elliot was a man. Men are sinners. That was the simple truth. He was my ideal, but I had to come to terms with the truth. He had disappointed me. Hadn’t I disappointed him many times?”

Elisabeth Elliot

Passion & Purity

I read that and I went, “WHOOAAAA.” How, exactly, had Elisabeth disappointed him? Occasionally she had ventured to write in her letters that she was having trouble because their relationship was so uncertain, and she wished she had something to hold on to, but she knew that it was in God’s hands, and she just needed to trust.

That was about it.

And him? After not kissing her (and making a big deal about it), after refusing to give her any sign that he would actually marry her, while continuing to toy with her, he goes and kisses several other girls.

That’s big. And she glosses right over it and forgives him.

Jim Elliot spends the next few  years avoiding her, while telling her that he would do differently if there was any possible way he could.

He writes letters talking about how miserable he is that they are apart and that they can’t marry, but that God hasn’t released him to it. And he never makes any effort at all to actually see her or to figure out if they could move on with their relationship.

He finally moves to Central America to start language studies, and she follows and joins the same mission. But he says he can’t marry her until she learns the language.

Even when they’re together they’re not really together. He goes down the river, inland, to minister, and he’s gone for months at a time. She desperately wants him back for Christmas, and he tells her that he’ll try. But he never comes. He just sends her letter after letter about how sad he is that he can’t be there, and she feels guilty that she is hurt by this.

He’s always sad that he’s not with her, but never sad enough to actually make her a priority.

And then, suddenly, they marry without a second thought when an opening in the mission organization comes, but only for a married couple.

The time from when he first declares his love and when they marry? Five years.

Five years of him leaving her in limbo, letters infrequent, sometimes declaring love, sometimes not, always talking about how tortured he is, never doing anything tangible to tell her that he’s important to her.

And the point that Elisabeth wants all women to learn while reading her book? That you need to put your trust in God and wait patiently, and never actually demand anything from a man.


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This leads me to a bigger point I want to make:

Just because a man serves Christ well does not mean that he would make a good husband or that he is honorable in romance.

I feel like, when Elisabeth looks back on her life with Jim, which was, after all, tragically short, she has to conclude that it was the model of what romance should look like because Jim was so good and godly in his missions. Because he was so sold out to Jesus, then whatever he did must therefore have been Jesus-filled. And therefore, if, in our flesh, we have problems with it, it must mean that we ourselves are not sold out enough for Jesus and we must reassess.

But what I have found is that men who seem “sold out for Jesus” often make the worst husbands, and are actually quite selfish and hurtful to those around them.

The guy I dated before I started dating Keith was “sold out for Jesus.” He was older than me, and he was the one that everyone in the Christian group at our university emulated, because he was so involved in outreach on multiple fronts. He led the prison ministry (the university town where we were hosted more prisons than any other place in Canada). He was preparing to self-fund a mission for a year around the world to serve with Mother Teresa, among others; he was going to medical school to become a medical missionary.

When he started dating me, he wouldn’t let me tell anybody because I was younger, and he didn’t want it to get out. He told me he cared about me, but when he left for his around the world trip, he made me no promises.

But how could I complain? After all, he loved Jesus so much.

I started dating Keith when he was gone and learned what it was like to actually be someone’s priority. 

I’ve often said that if I were ever to write novels (and I’d like to one day), I would write one about what would have happened had I married him instead of Keith (and I would have married him in a heartbeat at the time if he had asked). It would not have been pretty.

A.W. Tozer was another man who was totally sold out for Jesus but completely neglected his wife.

Sarah Bessey wrote an amazing essay about how he had always put ministry before family, and left his family broken in his wake. He died fairly young, and his widow remarried. When asked about her two husbands, she said this:

 

“Aiden loved Jesus. Leonard loves me.”

Sarah Bessey

The (Successful) Pursuit of God, Fathom Mag

As Sarah put it, that one observation was utterly devastating. 

I have had similar thoughts about Billy Graham being on the road so much and not really knowing his own children. Does God call people to abandon their kids? To ignore their spouses? Does ministry ever justify being absent from your family?

I don’t have a good answer, because obviously there are some jobs that do need to be done. But I think Paul answered it in 1 Corinthians 7: 

“I would like you to be free from concern. An unmarried man is concerned about the Lord’s affairs—how he can please the Lord. But a married man is concerned about the affairs of this world—how he can please his wife— and his interests are divided.”
1 Corinthians 7:32-34a

Paul didn’t write this to criticize married men for having divided loyalties (and he writes of women later in the same way), but rather to make an observation about the way things simply are and should be: When you’re married, you need to be concerned about your spouse. You can’t be as wholly dedicated to God as you were before.

So many “great Christian”  heroes of the faith have terrible marriages because they never learned this fact.

If you are married and your interests are NOT divided then you are not doing marriage well. And as a Christian husband, you are supposed to do marriage well.

We excuse a lot of terrible behavior in our heroes of the faith, and in those we know personally who are totally “sold out for Jesus.” But what I have witnessed is that being sold out for Jesus often means that you are very, very bad at relationships.

Maybe part of the reason some are sold out for Jesus is because they have vulnerability and intimacy issues and can’t get close to anyone else. And so it’s easy and natural to be “sold out for God.” Or maybe they’re healthy people, but they simply should never have gotten married. I don’t know.

But I do hope that we start judging the health of relationships on their own merits, rather than assuming that if one person is “sold out for Jesus,” that is evidence that the relationship must, de facto, be a healthy one.

I think that’s how Elisabeth Elliot must have justified all of this to herself. Because Jim was focused on Christ, he rose above earthly relationships. I’m sure many wives and girlfriends have done similar things.

But in reading Passion & Purity, I saw a shy, lonely woman being strung along and deceived, constantly feeling like if she could just please Jesus enough, he would fix this for her. And I was very, very sad for her.


I know there are other articles written about Jim & Elisabeth Elliot’s relationship, and I know some will inevitably mention them in the comments if I don’t link to them here!

So if you want to know more, you can read:

 

Elisabeth Elliot's Terrible Romance with Jim

What do you think? Have you ever read Passion & Purity? What was your takeaway? Or do you know guys who are “totally sold out for Jesus” but who neglect their relationships? Or women who do the same? Let’s talk in the comments!

Sheila Wray Gregoire

Sheila Wray Gregoire

Founder of To Love, Honor and Vacuum

Sheila is determined to help Christians find biblical, healthy, evidence-based help for their marriages. And in doing so, she's turning the evangelical world on its head, challenging many of the toxic teachings, especially in her newest book The Great Sex Rescue. She’s an award-winning author of 8 books and a sought-after speaker. With her humorous, no-nonsense approach, Sheila works with her husband Keith and daughter Rebecca to create podcasts and courses to help couples find true intimacy. Plus she knits. All the time. ENTJ, straight 8

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144 Comments

  1. Janalin

    Jim basically tells Elizabeth, “I want to marry you, but God has called me to not marry”. As a teen I found this fabulously romantic. I wanted someone just like Jim. I thought the Christian ideal was a romance of crazy deep feelings in conflict with each other. Now I look back at this obvious fact: If God is truly calling you to singleness, He’s probably also calling you to not tell a young woman you want to marry her.

    Reply
      • Debra

        is this going to be your new normal.. posts critiquing and being critical of other Christians.. women you’ve never met or spoken to? I was pleased that you dispelled some myths the church has taught and helped so much and so many with a woman’s sexuality in marriage but now it seems you are on a crusade just going after so many and assuming you know what their lives and marriages were like .. it’s disappointing that you have changed the direction of your ministry.. it seems now you are the avenging angel.. God gets to judge the husband of Elizabeth Elliot and the merits of Billy Graham.. Their wives also get to decide on the value of their marriages.. giving opinion on what they are teaching fine.. deciding they had awful marriages and crappy husbands is not.

        Reply
        • Sheila Wray Gregoire

          The issue, Debra, is that Elisabeth Elliot’s book launched the purity culture. It gave an example of what a Christian relationship was supposed to look like. Many, many women patterned their relationships after hers. As we’re looking at the historical advice that has been given to women about dating (in research for our next book), this book naturally came up. Anyone writing about purity culture is going to read Passion & Purity; it began purity culture.

          And it is simply not a description of an emotionally healthy relationship.

          If we want our kids to have emotionally healthy relationships, we have to start learning how to identify what those relationships look like–and what they don’t look like. The fact that one of our most recommended books about dating and pursuing relationships is emotionally unhealthy is highly concerning to me, and I hope that it would be to anyone who cares about helping singles make good marriage decisions.

          Reply
          • Sheila Wray Gregoire

            Oh, and seriously–if Christian publishers had done a better job of wedding this stuff out, and if pastors and women’s ministry leaders hadn’t promoted toxic stuff, then I would have no need of doing this now! Let’s start exercising some serious discernment so that we don’t repeat the mistakes of the last generation.

      • Margot

        I read Passion and Purity as a very young teen, and remember feeling like romance must be very complex, heart-breaking, and tumultuous. I didn’t think much more about it, except that I watched the film and documentary as a young adult, neither of which focused on the relationships. Recently, looking for spiritual encouragement, I read the new biography about Elisabeth entitled, “Becoming EE”. I began to see massive problems with the relationship that no one in my faith circle had ever alluded to. It’s like we were all completely blind to it. Why??? I’m including myself here, because I usually consider myself to be good at sniffing out bad apples. Sheila’s been very kind to Jim in her analysis. This was one unhealthy couple. It’s really important to talk about, because of the influence EE had through her speaking and writing and celebrity. She spawned so many unhealthy ideas from her own unhealthy relationship. Thank you, Sheila.

        Reply
      • Margot Jane

        I honestly think that the media storm surrounding the 5 deaths created a hero narrative that was very difficult for grieving widows to counter or avoid. Elisabeth had to make a living, and did so by spending large chunks of time writing, leaving her daughter with her parents. She wrote a biography of Jim’s life that sealed the hero story, and her later writings double down on that angle. But there was a middle period when she went through a lot of painful questioning and doubt. I’ve recently bought her controversial novel, “No Graven Image”, which apparently deals with doubt and nihilism, and had her temporarily cancelled in Christian bookstores (long before her P&P fame). Anyone read it?

        Reply
    • Mary Ackert

      Nailed it!

      Reply
      • Jes

        I understand where you’re coming from in this article. I have heard a young man advised not to pursue marriage with a woman he loved, because she brought up a concern that he was not spending any time with her, as he was always in ministry. The advice was if she was the right woman for him, she would support his ministries. I was just so surprised that there was no discussion about life balance, relationship to one’s spouse being ministry too, and marriage as a God-ordained safe space for rest needed due to challenges in ministry. This is what comes of not seeing all of life as gospel centered., and every relationship and job/ task we’re given as sacred ministry assigned to us by Jesus.

        Reply
    • NICOLE

      Thank you so much. This is just so important and well done.

      Reply
    • Rick Sacra

      Hi. It might be tempting to some reading your blog to think waiting on God is a waste, we should just follow our hearts and do what we want. Also wondering if you think married people shouldn’t try to, for instance, serve as cross cultural missionaries in hard places, because it might be hard on their marriage… I’m a married overseas missionary, and certainly I agree it’s not easy, but I think some things are worth it…

      Reply
  2. Anon

    People that are sold out for Jesus should remain single at all costs. I think they’re getting this scripture where Jesus says anyone who gives up father and mother, wife and children, etc. for my sake will receive a hundred fold in the kingdom. If these people who are sold out want to go on that route, fine. But do not get married. You won’t have the discipline to divide your interests Into what truly matters. Go on your church outings, mission trips, prison ministries, etc., but leave the marriage state for people who can actually devote themselves to The welfare of a spouse.

    Reply
    • Sheila Wray Gregoire

      I agree, Anon. If you cannot truly love a spouse and give a spouse attention, then don’t get married. And don’t toy with someone’s heart, either!

      Reply
    • AR

      Amen. Stay single if you are so sold out.

      Reply
    • Another Anon

      Obedience to one of God’s commands is never going to require disobedience to another of God’s commands. It is possible to be wholeheartedly devoted to God while still fulfilling the Biblical command to care for your spouse and children.

      The problem arises when either one partner is more committed than the other or when one partner uses being ‘sold out’ as an excuse to ditch God-given responsibilities that they find boring. My husband and I are involved in a Christian ministry that means we are very short on ‘spare time’, but a) it is something we BOTH believe wholeheartedly we are called to do and b) we both put a lot of effort into carving out time for each other, even when it’s really hard, because we know it’s the right thing to do – and what God wants us to do!

      Reply
      • Joy

        I’m copy/pasting your comment into my favorite quotes doc, Another Anon! Spot on!

        Reply
      • C

        Ugh, I read P&P and Let me be a Woman as a young woman. Plus we had a speaker named Bruxy Cavy (?) speak at our college and career about being friends until you decide you want to get married. Everyone was so confused! Date, don’t date, how do you get to know someone, it was awful. I very much took on the idea to stay pure for whomever the Lord would bring and that I should not be the one to initiate anything, that we shouldn’t kiss or say I love you until there was a ring on my finger (which didn’t quite happened as my, now husband, had not read the same books.) I think this way of thinking in these books is very old fashioned and romanticized. I wanted to be the perfect woman/wife. To be submissive to my godly husband, to defer to him as the head of our home and he would be the spiritual leader etc etc. That’s not my reality, unfortunately, it’s me who is the spiritual leader, the encourager but I digress. These books have ingrained something deep within me that has made me feel like sexuality is for men and for pornography not for a “good, pure girl.” I feel confused and more hindered now than I did 18 years ago when we got married! Reading Sheila’s stuff now is crashing headlong into the stuff I read well before I was married! It’s like reading one parenting book and then another, and another and the more information you read the more confused you become on what to do! Ah!

        Reply
        • Sheila Wray Gregoire

          Oh, C, I know the confusion can be so real! I’m sorry. I hope that the layers are slowly being peeled back and you’re finding some freedom. I understand about this idea of wanting to everything that one perfect way, and how there’s only one perfect way that things look, but everybody’s different. We need to give ourselves permission for our story to be our story, and celebrate that. And it is okay if he’s not the spiritual leader. God isn’t mad about that, really.

          Reply
  3. A2Bbethany

    The other “widow” was Nate saint’s sister Rachel, and I’ve always heard that they didn’t get along well at all. That’s why they separated fairly quickly.

    I personally never even considered that it was a how to for relationships. Rather a, this is the road God put me on to know this guy. (Because she likely was sentimental about those years)

    The argument Paul made as to why missions minded people should try to be single makes a lot of sense. William Carey did some good stuff in India, but he literally came within 1/4 inch of abandoning his sickly wife and 3(?) Children. And her destitute widowed sister. Oh and his partner in the 1st endeavor was HORRIBLE with money.

    I always thought of the book almost as a warning for young people called to missions, and how having relationships won’t be easy. That they need to be seeking God fanatically and not passively.

    I do think that very few people go out as single missionaries anymore. It’s far too Commonly expected to marry in the church community.

    Reply
    • Sheila Wray Gregoire

      Someone on Facebook mentioned William Carey in relation to this post, too. That sounds just horrible. Really and truly horrible. She didn’t want to go on the mission field; she kept miscarrying because of the bad conditions; she eventually died. And he was happy and married another woman more up to the task? Oh, dear. Oh, my word.

      Reply
      • A2bBethany

        Really he married her way too broke and the bad living conditions almost killed all of them. But his parents rescued them after their 1 toddler girl died from the poor diet.

        Reply
      • Anon

        To be fair to Carey, his wife’s ‘ill health’ was a mental breakdown following the death of their child, and it involved her making wild accusations against him and attacking him with a knife, to the point where she became so dangerous that she had to be physically restrained. Obviously, her treatment is appalling in the light of current knowledge of mental health issues, but considering the poor understanding of ‘insanity’ at the time, he probably did what he thought was best for her.

        Reply
    • A2bbethany

      Caveat: I grew up reading missionary bios and had read about Rachel and Nate saint long before reading any of Elizabeth Elliot’s auto biographical books. And I’ve also read the biography someone (maybe her?) Wrote about Jim. So I may have picked up a more contextual lense for the book. And in the context of everything, I had assumed that quote about him being a man, was primarily meant as a,” we’re all human after all.” Not a direct male gender thing.

      Reply
    • SR

      Rachel Saint was not married.

      I totally agree I want my marriage to be that of equals. If we are equals I as a woman will not have everything go my way. My husband will not have everything go his way. We have experienced all kinds of emotions in our marriage of 55 years. But just as I have no right to tell you how your relationship should be with God, I have no right to tell anyone they must carry out their marriage. I see no real difference in the attitude in this article than in Elizabeth’s books. We all present what we see for our own point of view. When we see only our point of view as correct we hurt people. Yes the purity standard hurt many women. The demand that I always get my way as a woman has damaged many marriages.

      Reply
      • Sheila Wray Gregoire

        I’m sorry, SR, I don’t see what your point is? No one is saying that women should always get their way. What we are saying is that treating women as if they don’t matter and don’t have the right to speak up for themselves has demonstrably harmed women and is more likely to result in abusive marriages.

        Reply
    • Michie

      My guess is she felt she disappointed Jim because she wouldn’t do anything physical with him. Which is why he did that with other girls.

      Reply
      • Noel

        Yeah, I wondered about that too.

        Reply
      • Anonymous305

        Except he was the one who refused physical contact with her.

        Reply
      • Sarah

        I appreciate your point that marriage and ministry need balance, but I think you might be looking for proof in the wrong place here. Elisabeth Elliot was clear that she was not citing her own story as an excellent example so much as trying to illustrate how she and Jim both sought to keep their passion under control by looking to God’s Word. She states outright, in P&P and elsewhere, that they didn’t do everything well; but the point is they did the best they could to follow God, and their depth of intensity in searching out His will is inspiring. Jim in particular deeply regretted the “kissing incidents”. Have you read Devotedly, or The Journals of Jim Elliot? The issue of ministry over marriage is exactly why Jim was so hesitant; what you claim he did was exactly what he was striving to avoid.

        Reply
    • Melanie

      Or how many wives did Adoniram Judson lose in the tropics?

      Reply
      • Anon

        He was widowed twice, but I think his circumstances were different. Both women were committed to missionary work themselves, so they were there by choice and actively involved in outreach work.

        Reply
  4. Laura

    As I’ve read through some of Amazon’s 1-star reviews on Elliot’s books (Let Me Be a Woman), I see the damage purity culture has done to the younger generation. I am appalled that Passion and Purity has been advertised as the “right” way to emulate godly relationships.

    In my last “almost” relationship, this man (who happens to be in his late 40’s) said almost the same thing to me that Jim said to Elisabeth, ” if [I] were to marry, it would be [someone like you], but [I don’t think I’m] going to marry.” This man’s issue was that he has serious health issues (which he does and is unable to work). He often told me that God is his first love (which I thought was just awesome) and like Jim, he seemed very immature and inadequate at making a commitment. That’s why I decided I was much better off alone. As a 40-something woman, I don’t have time to wait around like Elisabeth did.

    What woman wants to wait around as long as Elisabeth did? I know it was the 1950’s at the time she went through this, but come on, life is way too short to waste it waiting for a man (or woman) to reciprocate. Just because someone is “sold out for Jesus” does NOT mean they are marriage material. While I think it’s awesome to be sold out for Jesus, we must remember that God created human relationships so we all should care for others regardless of whether we marry or remain single.

    Reply
  5. Anita

    Ugh. My cousin (who is a year older than me and was and one of my best friends when I was a teenager) gave me this book when I was 14. I was absolutely mortified by the little bit I read, and could not force myself to finish it. Thank you again for tackling the harmful messages young girls are receiving.

    Reply
  6. Rachel

    Something about Elizabeth Elliot didn’t set well with me when I’d listen to her radio broadcast, so I eventually stopped listening. Thank God I couldn’t afford to buy all those books that were popular. Obviously it saved me more than money! Thank you for the good work you’re doing.

    Reply
    • Laura

      Rachel,

      Read the 1-star reviews on Amazon about Elliot’s books (https://www.amazon.com/product-reviews/0800723139/ref=acr_dp_hist_1?ie=UTF8&filterByStar=one_star&reviewerType=all_reviews#reviews-filter-bar). This is more confirmation why her books did not sit well with you. I think I tried to read Passion and Purity which I thought was just so old-fashioned and I could not consider it as the ideal for Christian dating or courtship (whatever we want to call it).

      When writing our love stories, God does not give us a “one-size-fits-all” or cookie cutter ideal. He created each and every one of us uniquely, so I expect this to be the case for our personal lives as well.

      What I find strange about the Elliot’s love story is that it was far from the ideal of the 1950’s. The majority of people who married during that time did not have long engagements or courtships. They often married within less than a year of knowing each other. Both my grandparents are one of many examples. My mother’s parents (who have been married since 1953) married within six months of dating. My dad’s parents (there was a 14-year age difference) married within months of dating, but they knew each other for years.

      Reply
      • Steve240

        The one size fits all was also a problem with kissing dating goodbye. It was claimed to apply to all ages when more something designed for teenagers.

        It taught singles more to avoid those with the opposite sex vs. learning how to relate.

        With both Josh Harris book and Elizabeth Elliott’s book shocking to assume what might have worked for one person was what all should do.

        Reply
      • Laura

        Steve240,

        That is so true about “I Kissed Dating Goodbye.” When I read this book 19 years ago, I was 26, recently divorced and living on my own . How could I apply Harris’ courtship rules to my life? I did not expect my parents (who lived in a different state) to evaluate any potential dates I would have. I got the impression that his advice was geared more toward teenagers and college-aged kids in their early 20’s who were still living under their parents’ guidance. Harris’ other book “Boy Meets Girl” expanded on “I Kissed Dating Goodbye” and frustrated me further when it came to dating. I thought if Christian dating/courtship is this complicated and full of too many do’s and don’ts, then why bother with dating anyway?

        I wished I did not carry that mindset with me throughout my 30’s. Now that I’m 45, I realize that I can accept a lunch date and it does not have to be equivalent to a marriage proposal.

        Reply
    • Laura

      Rachel,

      I agree. Elliot’s books did not sit well with me either. I think I tried reading Passion and Purity years ago (during my late 20’s or early 30’s) and thought their love story was just strange and unrealistic, especially during that time.

      The majority of people who married during the 1950’s did not date very long. My mom’s parents (who have been married since 1953) married within six months of dating.

      Reply
  7. Sam

    “But what I have found is that men who seem “sold out for Jesus” often make the worst husbands” – yikes…I’ve noticed the same thing, it just hits harder in writing.

    Reply
    • Sheila Wray Gregoire

      I really comes down to what Paul wrote in 1 Corinthians 7. If a man isn’t willing to invest in his relationships, but pictures his wife and kids as impediments to his own relationship with Christ and his own personal calling, there is absolutely no way that his family relationships can ever be healthy.

      Reply
  8. Kelly

    I was in a women’s bible study some years ago, and I remember one of the points was that women are more adaptable than men, so wives need to just keep adapting to everything in the marriage and family; they are the balance keepers, so to speak. I remember how irritated we all were by it but took the attitude of it being the role assigned to us. Now I wonder…. And I think this is the prevalent message to wives, but the dynamic that it sets up in a marriage and family can be very damaging because it leads men to operate in more of a sole capacity while their wives are constantly scrambling to be faithful to their role to adapt. One operates independently which leaves the other with a huge load to bear. Hope this makes sense. Seems to me things would be so much better if each spouse learned how to tune into the other and both adapted as needed.

    Reply
    • Sheila Wray Gregoire

      I think this is very much the dynamic that is going on. The husband can uproot the family, and the wife has to adapt. It’s tough.

      Reply
      • A

        Sometimes those guys who are sold out for Jesus can be very judgemental. I briefly dated a man who was very ministry oriented and was in seminary getting some sort of biblical degree. I was so enamored by him. But in our interactions and conversations I always felt like I was being watched and judged so closely. Like he was constantly listening for a slip up proving I wasn’t as godly as him or that I didn’t know enough about the bible or theology to be deemed worthy by him.

        Reply
      • Marie

        Yes! Yes! Yes!!
        And not only were the “sold out to Jesus” guys judgmental, their friends were worse when I ended the relationships. Like I was not following God because I didn’t want a relationship with these guys!!

        Never mind that the two absolutely most boundary-pushing guys in terms of what I was comfortable with physically were the “Jesus” guys. Away from the limelight and the church youth group stage (because of course they were on the worship team), very different actions from what they claimed to believe. The guys who treated me decently and with respect did not measure up to the judgmental standards of those folks. I was just rebellious enough to not care about what that church crowd thought. Thank God!

        Not only that, but I was expected to bankroll both because I had a job and they were not/less gainfully employed because of their passion projects. Both ended up marrying women who had to shoulder a good portion of the financial load for their families. I’m not stuck on traditional gender roles in terms of who is the primary income-earner. But in those two particular situations, my interactions with them made it clear that “following Jesus” was an excuse for not working too hard and finding a long-suffering wife to support you. I think that’s a gross insult to folks who are in ministry and raise their own support. I just can’t accept using God as an excuse for unhealthy relational behaviours.

        I knew it was backwards then, but didn’t have the courage to say it out loud. Wish I had. At least I had enough sense to run away fast and ignore the judgement!! It would have been horrible had I succumbed to church peer pressure!

        Reply
        • Sheila Wray Gregoire

          So glad you had that discernment when you were younger, too! I know too many women who did succumb to that kind of pressure. There are a LOT of very underperforming guys in church feeling that the are “doing it for Jesus” while simply not taking responsibility for themselves or their families. It’s actually quite sad.

          Reply
  9. Maria

    My dad was sold out for Jesus. That was just an excuse to torture us. We were mostly ignored for a “greater cause.” On the occasions when he would actually pay attention, he’d beat us, or find a reason to punish us. And only conversation we’d have was to inform us why we’d go to hell if it wasn’t for him and his prayers and sacrifice.
    He ended up getting a delusional psychosis diagnose when he was taken to the hospital by the police because my mom finally realized that him praying over her for God to take her life because she’s too sinful, and he’s just purified her with his prayers and sacrifice is not normal and she finally started fearing for her life. He was praying because it would be convenient for her to die at this moment because it would give her a ticket to heaven as she’d been forgiven. But staying alive would mean that she’s going to sin more because she’s weak and could only be saved through him.
    That happened after about 35 years of marriage.
    As a result I can’t stand men who claim to be religious in any way and have married an agnostic who is opened to allowing me raise our kids in faith of my choosing and has never said one single sentence that involves salvation, Jesus, heaven etc. I simply couldn’t take a chance with a believer because I don’t know a single believer who is actually nice to his family. I am 40 and looking back, I was so right. All men in my parents generation “sold out to Jesus” or openly and grandiose religious were either covering up that they were gay, or have some serious diagnosis.
    My every day pray is Jesus, save me from Jesus freaks.

    Reply
    • Sheila Wray Gregoire

      Oh, Maria, I’m so sorry that you went through that with your dad (and so sorry for your mom, but thank goodness she had the courage to stand up!). I understand your fear of openly religious men. I’m glad your husband honors your faith. I wish that more people had stood up and protected you and your family too.

      Reply
      • Maria

        Sheila, people have tried, but he had a Bible quote for everyone and everything.
        He’d hit me hard just passing by me and say that the hit was for something bad I’d done without him knowing and it’s best if he punished me and therefore purified me from said sin, than for that sin to stay on my books for the judgment day because his punishment is temporary but God’s punishment is eternal. I was about 5 the first time this had happened.

        Reply
    • Samantha

      Aw, I’m so sorry for your experiences 🙁 I think where the whole “obsessed with Jesus” thing can become dangerous is people use it as an excuse for crappy behavior and no one can criticize it underneath all the Christian-ese.

      Reply
      • Maria

        Samantha, yes, my father had a Bible quote for everyone who tried to critique his behavior. He memorized the Bible by heart just so he could attack people with it. Offense is the best defense type of thing.

        Reply
  10. AJ

    I remember reading “Shadow of the Almighty” as a teenager and feeling horrible that I did not think Jim was a good husband/partner. My church has just done a missions conference with the theme “brave hearted church”. He refuses to do “women’s work” including changing his children’s diapers and cleaning and says Elisabeth can’t do “man’s work” such as chopping wood. I was so irritated by that. This makes him sound even worse!

    Reply
  11. Melody

    My sister and I read a biography of Jim Elliot in high school. We had always had him and Elizabeth held up as heros, but reading about how he treated Elizabeth we were horrified and just unable to understand how this guy who risked his life for this tribe he didn’t know…. would treat a woman he was in love with SO badly.

    Reply
  12. Emi

    Yes! I read that book in university and remember feeling heartsick if this was how Christian romance was supposed to be. Thankfully I met and married a man who loves Jesus but also loves me and our children as well!

    We were also in a ministry where the norm was absent husbands and fathers because “serving Jesus” was more important (although funny how the men always had time for their hobbies but not their families). When the head pastor retired his wife was ecstatic because he now had time to talk to her after 30 years of marriage. She shared this with a women’s group like it was a reward for being a faithful wife but I came home and told my husband if he ever tried to pull something like that he wouldn’t have a wife anymore. Like I said he’s a great guy and wholeheartedly agrees. We actually left that ministry partly because of the weird workaholic attitude that we didn’t want to raise our kids around.

    Another pastor’s wife I know would tell everyone that before she married her husband he and “God” warned her that his ministry was “so important” that he would never be there for her or their children and she was signing up to be a single mom. She said this like it was something to be proud of but there was so much sadness in her eyes. Such a toxic mindset that to love your family well is somehow to love Jesus less when it is actually one of the best and most challenging ways to serve God!

    Reply
    • Sheila Wray Gregoire

      Very true, Emi! That’s just so sad about that pastor’s wife. How many couples have lived out that kind of life? And how many kids were messed up watching it?

      Reply
      • Lydia purple

        And how is that they have to have a Bible school degree but none of them ever learned 1.Tim 3, where it clearly states the requirements for anyone in church leader/ministry positions… all of which point to a healthy family life (leading his children well but also being gentle, not a bully etc…)
        Concluding in verse 5:
        but if a man does not know how to manage his own household, how will he take care of the church of God?

        If a husband in general is to love his wife as Christ loved the church, how much more a minister must do this. How can he claim to love and take care of the church (which is a bunch of imperfect people) when he can’t even properly love his wife (who is just one imperfect person)

        We are in ministry and my husband and all our leadership take this very seriously. Thank God!

        Funny, or actually strange and sad, how in church organizations the requirement for a minister are usually just some Bible college degree but no personal accountability on the biblical characteristics listed for people in leadership.

        Reply
  13. Anon

    This is utterly heartbreaking. And does such damage to kids too, have you read Barnabas Piper’s book about his experiences as a PK? My maternal grandfather was very like this, my mum has often talked about how hurtful it was to be told her dad loves Jesus more than her – and then for this to be reinforced by him travelling around to preach instead of spending any time with the family. It’s honestly a miracle she ended up a Christian, and a pastor’s wife too! (happy to report that my dad is wonderful and has always prioritised us)

    Reply
    • Sheila Wray Gregoire

      I haven’t read Barnabas Piper’s book, no, but I can just imagine what he says. That “I love Jesus more than you” message sounds holy, but it is very emotionally damaging to children. It makes them feel very unsafe, like no one is actually going to protect them.

      Reply
  14. andrea d

    I actually enjoy most of Elisabeth Elliot’s writings. That said, I’ve often shared your views on her courtship and wondered if Jim hadn’t been killed how different would her marriage story have been. My interest in her began because I was, and still am, very fascinated by missionary stories. In my own experience with her writings, I think I’ve been more drawn to how she writes about suffering and finding the peace that can only come from God in the midst of hard circumstances. As with any writing/teaching, it needs to be read discerningly.

    Reply
  15. Kathryn

    Wow, thank you so much for talking about this stuff!!
    As a teenager who was looking for someone to just love me and be committed to me when I was old enough to marry, this kinda teaching always saddened me so much even to the point of crying about it. But I always just figured that since a man was “doing God’s work” leaving his wife and kids for months on end, must be Godly and I as a woman would just have to accept it.
    Thankfully I didn’t marry a man like that, but it always makes me so sad that this kind of teaching is out there, priming girls to make bad choices just because a man seems sold out for Jesus.

    Reply
    • Sheila Wray Gregoire

      Yes, exactly! We are going to talk about this in our mother/daughter book.

      Reply
  16. Anon

    “When you’re married, you need to be concerned about your spouse. You can’t be as wholly dedicated to God as you were before.”

    I disagree with you on that one! Matthew 22 tells us we are to love the lord with ALL our heart & mind & soul. Our call to be 100% devoted to God is a call for life. That doesn’t change. But what DOES change is how we work out that call.

    The God who calls husbands to love their wives as Christ loved the church is not going to call a married man to act in a way that is unloving toward his wife. The God who calls parents to train up their children in the right way and not provoke them to anger is not going to call a mother or father to a ministry that will require them to neglect their children.

    The problem is not with married people being sold out for God when they shouldn’t be – it’s that many people use being ‘sold out for God’ as an excuse to do what they want. For example, supposing you enjoy travelling constantly to preach in different countries but your partner or child is sick and needs a lot of care – it sounds SO much better to say that you need to ‘sacrifice’ family life for the sake of the Gospel than to admit that you just don’t want to abandon your interesting life to become a stay-at-home carer!

    I’m sure that many of those who acted in this way truly believed they were honouring God, but considering the many Bible passages which command us to care for our families, I can’t help wondering if these men (and it is nearly always men) were simply doing what they wanted under the guise of ‘being sold out for Jesus’.

    I know one guy who used to preach all round the world, often away from home for many weeks at a time. When his wife developed a serious health condition, he cut his preaching engagements right back and concentrated on doing more writing, so that he could spend more time with her. He is still 100% sold out for Jesus – it’s just that he is now living that out through caring for his wife and serving locally, instead of being an international speaker.

    Reply
    • Sara

      Totally agree. Being 100%sold out to Jesus should increase our love for others, not look like leftovers of affection. “You will know you are my disciples by how you love one another”. I believe if you are called to ministry as a couple, you are called together, not 1 plus a reluctant partner. I really liked how Peter Scazzero put it in his book Emotionally Healthy Leader, that a healthy marriage is your loudest gospel message, and for singles, healthy relationships are your loudest gospel message.

      Reply
  17. Amy

    I was in college in late 1990’s, near start of the purity movement. I broke off my engagement with my college boyfriend the end of my senior year. My parents did not give me any real guidance on dating, so I turned to books like Passion & Purity and I Kissed Dating Goodbye to try to figure out what I did wrong in my relationship with my now ex-fiancee and, of course, how to find a new man “the right way.”

    Big mistake.

    Fast forward 20 years and I’m now a domestic violence survivor happily divorced from the abusive man I met while volunteering in children’s ministry at church.

    I soaked up all those Elisabeth Elliot books in my early 20’s like P&P, Let Me Be A Woman, etc. They are still on my bookshelf. Lately I’ve been thinking that it’s past time to let them go. Not to the used bookstore where they will harm others, but to the garbage, perhaps even to the burn barrel (which, incidentally, is where John Piper’s booklet on the differences between men and women went last summer).

    Reply
    • Sheila Wray Gregoire

      I’m glad you’re coming out of that, Amy, and finding health and wholeness! I’m sorry it took so long. I’m there with you!

      Reply
    • Laura

      Burn those books, Amy!

      I’m also a domestic violence survivor who got divorced 19 years ago at the age of 26. That’s when I started reading purity culture books like “I Kissed Dating Goodbye” and Joshua Harris’ other book “Boy Meets Girl.” These two books and I’m not sure what other “Christian” books out there taught me to simply “wait” because that’s what women are supposed to do. These books taught me not to date unless I thought that person could be a potential marriage partner. I cannot fully blame purity culture books for my choices. I used their advice as a cop-out to avoid getting my heart broken again and after an abusive marriage, the last thing I wanted to do was experience more heart break.

      Reply
  18. Nathan

    I wonder if some of this has to do with a bad interpretation of Jesus’s cautioning us about serving two masters. That is, if you REALLY love and serve to Lord, you can’t possibly marry and have children, or if you do, you should basically ignore them because you don’t have time for them.

    I don’t think that Jesus meant that God should be the one and only thing in your life. You can be a Godly person, yet still invest part of your life in family, friends, outside interests, etc.

    And I’ve also noticed that the people who yell the loudest about how much they love and serve God are often hiding other agendas underneath that.

    Reply
  19. Maria

    Is there an update from the tribe Jim saved? How are they living now? What exactly did he do to save them? How had this salvation bring them closer to God?
    Why are we still admiring people who went into the “jungle” and “brought Jesus to savages”?

    Is this still a thing?
    A lot of those tribes died from diseases introduced by missionaries. A lot of children were raped by pedophiles disgusted as Godly men.
    Tribes were forced to give up on their way of life to accommodate mad men’s illusion. Jesus wouldn’t have supported this.

    Just the way Jim manipulated and treated Elizabeth throughout their relationship tells me that there was something seriously wrong with him and that he should have never been left alone with unprotected children and adults for that matter.

    He was a sick man who tested Elizabeth’s devotion and used it for his own gain throughout their relationship. He married her only to get access to mision for married couples. I am shocked to read that there are still people who support what he’s done.

    Reply
    • Sheila Wray Gregoire

      There has been a lot of critique about that particular mission movement, but I haven’t read widely of it. I know there are critiques written of it, though.

      Reply
    • Anonymous305

      While I share your concerns about the harm that could be caused by misogynistic missionaries, life is too complicated to say this is all bad or all good. The tribe had such a high murder rate that turning to Christianity prevented their extinction. Relations with the outside world allowed medical supplies to come in. And polio, too. I’m not sure how they treat women, but if they have access to the New Testament, they at least have the option to see how Jesus treated women. They benefit from the real message of Christ, at the same time that it is legitimate to ask what missionaries need to change in their presentation.

      Reply
    • Elsie

      When I was in college 15 years ago, I studied abroad at an Ecuadorian university and took an anthropology class. We watched a video on how the tribes that were converted by the Elliots and their counterparts have now lost their traditional way of life and are dependent on canned food that is flown in by westerners. Up until that point, I’d only ever heard good things about the Elliots and missionaries in general so I was shocked to hear a negative perspective. In the years since, I’ve learned a lot more about the ways that mission work has harmed communities.

      I still believe that sharing Jesus with people around the world is important but we have to acknowledge the harms that have been done in the past and ensure missions is done in a way that doesn’t hurt communities.

      Don’t want to go too far down the rabbit hole from the original post, but I think your point is a good one. I spent two years working with a Christian organizing in Asia and have continued to be involved in global health work so I’ve spent a lot of time thinking about this topic.

      Reply
      • Joanna Sawatsky

        Elsie – this is totally off topic but you and I are very much kindred spirits professionally. (Though I spent time in Kenya, not Ecuador, haha). I’m so grateful for your presence here!

        Reply
      • Margot Jane

        Ellen Vaughn’s new biography details some of Elisabeth’s concerns about the way in which Rachel Saint was interacting with the tribe (Rachel was the first to begin living with them). Elisabeth was really concerned about creating dependency and spreading bad Western habits. I share all of Sheila’s concerns about Elisabeth’s relationship with Jim, but it’s worth noting that Elisabeth had some really insightful reflections on all these anthropological matters, especially given her times.

        Reply
    • A2bbethany

      Ok I don’t think Jim Elliott had anything to do with children being abused! The aucas we’re one of those tribes who had no clothing, and that definitely would have an impact on the sexualization. She worked on a translation of the new testament (?) And many of them got saved. Including most of the men/woman involved in the killing.
      While I don’t doubt evils from both primitive jungle and civilization meet to cause the harming of children, I don’t think it’s part of their story.
      I also haven’t heard an update on the auca’s in a while.

      Reply
    • Elissa

      Hate to say it but this comment reflects a lot of ignorant stereotypes about missionaries and the work they do. In the case of Jim and the four other victims, they didn’t “save” the tribe at all – in fact they were murdered on one of the first few occasions they actually made contact with any members of the tribe. But the fact that the other Christians did not pursue revenge for the deaths (as was common in that tribal culture) is what ultimately opened them up to hear the message that subsequent missionaries still wanted to share with them. And they certainly did not introduce disease or destroy the tribe’s way of life (at least in this case- I know those things have happened before, and that is heartbreaking). This tribe’s way of life was already being threatened by the presence of companies seeking oil, who ultimately did introduce diseases and destroy the jungle and their traditional way of living there. Today bible translators are actually some of the people doing the most to preserve endangered cultures by writing down and creating alphabets for languages that would otherwise go extinct due to industrialization.
      For most of the world’s remaining indigenous peoples their way of life most certainly is threatened – but by mining resources, wars, and prejudice against tribal people by the nation they live in, not by missionaries who come and spend years of their lives learning and adopting their language and culture and building relationships with them.
      I’m sorry if I come across as too strong, but I am personally friends with people who are spending their lives doing this, and who have seen tribes voluntarily give up child marriage, beating their wives, endless cycles of revenge killings, and other practices in response to the message of Jesus. So I am pretty passionate about seeing their work portrayed accurately.

      Reply
      • Maria

        Thanks for your insight, Elissa! I wave followed The Wild Brothers while they were in the mission and have loved their work. I have thought that they were a minority but am glad to hear that other missionaries are doing the same. Helping people meet Jesus while respecting their lifestyle (materials used for housing, foods they eat, their medicine etc) is important for their preservation.

        Unfortunately, a lot of early missions I have heard of were trying to whitewash the tribes and cancel their lifestyle.

        Reply
      • Anon

        I read the autobiography of a young Auca woman who became a Christian through hearing the Gospel from Elizabeth Elliot and Olive Saint. While their mission work was not perfect (no one’s is!) they did bring many people to the Lord.

        Reply
    • Missionary Kid

      In regards to the Auca tribe that killed the 5 missionaries, God did an amazing work in saving many of that tribe. Each of the Auca men that killed the missionaries became believers in Jesus Christ. There are amazing stories that demonstrate the hand of God in regards to the event and His work in the tribe afterwards. [My Dad was a pilot in Ecuador after the killings and was involved in finding the tribe after they disappeared into the jungle.]

      In regards to marriage, I don’t believe God designed marriage to make us happy. As Gary Thomas says “God designed marriage to make us holy”. That means there will be many ups and downs as we work through our differences. As someone else in the comment thread mentioned, God calls husbands to love their wives as Christ loves the church. That should be the ideal that we strive for and to work out what that means in our specific relationships.

      I’m sure someone could look at parts of my life and marriage and determine I’m a horrible husband, and others could look my marriage from a different perspective and come up with a different assessment.

      I’m fine with pointing out what are fallacies in teaching as presented in different books, but I find it dangerous to assume I know the whole story in regards to a relationship. So often there are many factors that are not known or revealed that change the entire understanding of the situation.

      Reply
      • Kristy

        Yes. This.

        Reply
  20. Emily

    Wow, this is eye-opening. I had this book handed to me (along with many other books that really missed the mark) when I was a teenager and I remember how venerated and oft-quoted it was in other popular purity books. I remember reading it and enjoying it and not seeing anything wrong with it at the time. I’ve definitely been more passive than I should have been at times in romantic relationships, simply because I’m a woman, and I should raised the bar for the treatment I received. It’s interesting to be reminded of one of the big sources of this harmful message.

    I look back now and am sad that my parents’ didn’t vet the books they let me read more carefully. On the other hand, I think my parents were in a stage of their faith where they didn’t even allow themselves to ask questions, use logic, and push back against popular messages that may or may not have rubbed them the wrong way. As a homeschooled high schooler, I was not taught to think critically, reason, or try to think of reasons that something might not be true. Thankfully, I learned all these things in college and my families’ faith has deepened and grown in big ways. I know now that God and His goodness can handle my critical thinking, reasoning, and questions. Parents! Read books WITH your teens and don’t be afraid to ask hard questions of different ideologies and theologies. God (and good theologies) can handle your questions.

    Reply
  21. Jessica Hermanny

    This Elliot story is a sobering reality check on the way many charismatic Christian leaders have spiritualized their contemptuous treatment of their (potential) wives.
    Growing up more in the liturgical and less in the evangelical tradition, I had heard of, but had not read, Elizabeth Elliot’s story. A congruent “love story,” in the more philosophical side of Christian thought, was the story of Soren Kierkegaard and Regine Olsen. It was mainly presented as a noble tale of a man giving up married happiness for the sake of his higher calling of writing for the sake of Christ and humanity, even being “cruel to be kind” to Regine in order to kill her love for him, when he realized he must give marriage to her up on the altar of his higher calling. However, I was disgusted when reading his account (book Either/Or) in college: Kierkegaard became smitten with Regine – she was a challenge to him. So he intellectually and psychologically love-bombed her and her family, stole her from her likely fiancé, got the conquest of her hand in marriage – then got bored with her and the bourgeois idea of marriage. So – he hired prostitutes openly, treated her with intentional callous cruelty for over a year, and so forced *her* to break off the engagement (although she was intuitive enough to see exactly the game he was playing). Purportedly for her own well-being, but it sure seemed it was… for his own writing content! She was just a tool to him.
    And this was seen as a tragic love story, in Christian philosophical circles.

    Reply
  22. Anonymous305

    First of all, it feels great to hear that I’m not the only one who was bothered by her books. I had an “icky feeling” about the relationship with Jim and how she preached submission with no exceptions for abuse, but at the time, I assumed I was being selfish and sinful because more sacrifices mean more pleasing to God (allegedly). Now, I am disturbed at how many people excuse it.

    I also don’t understand how a person can truly, actually love Jesus and ignore a spouse because I always believed that Jesus expects me to love my spouse. In fact, I didn’t even know why the Bible said there is a conflict between God and spouse because I assumed that loving your spouse is a way of serving God, not a barrier. Now, I think the conflict comes when there are conflicting ideas about what God wants with time, money, and activities, but that doesn’t mean less love for spouse.

    The closest I can come to understanding how someone could genuinely, actually love God and neglect spouse if the person thinks, “the people I’m ministering to are more needy than my spouse”, which is still wrong, but easier to understand than someone who doesn’t think about spouse at all.

    In such situations, women on the outside say, “you’re so lucky to have a godly husband who always helps the old ladies in the neighborhood” while the wife is thinking, “he does nothing at home and loves everyone except me, but they wouldn’t understand, so I won’t say anything, so I don’t have to hear them defend him.”

    Reply
  23. Adam

    Early in my marriage I was a lot like you describe. I wanted to save everyone I met and fix broken things in the world. This left me quite broken myself and my wife unattended.

    Today, our story is much different. I left my consuming job and am working now to rebuild what was broken. We have more time together now than ever before. I don’t really love God if I don’t love her well.

    “Forgive is our sins, as we forgive those who sin against us.”

    Jesus teaches us to pray: treat us how we treat others!

    That is a condemning thought, but now loving Jesus IS loving my wife well – and now my two kids.

    Reply
  24. Kacey

    For one example of a husband choosing his wife over “ministry,” there’s Robertson McQuilken. He stepped down from being president at Columbia University to care for his wife when she had dementia, and he cared for her until she died. He was able to still write some, and he did some more active ministry after she passed away, but he understood that God called him to love and serve his wife, not just people he could influence. I think in many ways, his example of loving and serving her is as powerful a ministry as his other work. (But, as he noted, stepping down from work to care for your spouse shouldn’t be seen as strange or especially selfless.)

    Reply
    • Maria

      Kacey, thanks for sharing this! Such a wonderful husband he was.

      Reply
      • Sheila Wray Gregoire

        Yes, I’ve heard that story before (and there’s a beautiful video about it on YouTube), and it’s lovely.

        Reply
  25. Ted Kijeski

    Call me superficial — and many do — but my big takeaway from this article was that A.W. Tozer’s first name was Aiden. That’s so 2021 !!!!

    Reply
    • Erika

      Right?! I was thinking the same thing!

      Reply
  26. Jane Eyre

    “And then, suddenly, they marry without a second thought when an opening in the mission organization comes, but only for a married couple.”

    So he married when it became convenient for him to br unmarried. Marriage is not convenient and approaching it that way is wrong.

    Bigger idea: she is missing the Catholic idea of vocations. Marriage is a vocation, as is consecrated singlehood. But there is no situation in which you take the vows of marriage but do not commit yourself to it.

    It is a simple idea. Marriage has slowed me down a lot in terms of my work for Christ; however, that is temporary.

    Reply
  27. Dara

    Thanks for the blogpost.

    know that there is still a saying out there that we should look for someone who “loves Jesus more than they love you.” Which I’ve always interpreted as find someone who would call you out on your sin and hold you accountable and would challenge you to grow. Which really doesn’t mean they love Jesus more than they love you, it just means they really do love you because they want you to grow and be a healthier human and not just the cutesy love. But now I see how that saying could be applied to these scenarios and why some women look for men who are “sold out for Jesus” because they look like they love Jesus more than they love them.

    Also why in the world would your love for Jesus which includes loving strangers well and ministering to strangers and neighbors not be applied even more so to your closest neighbor, your wife?!!!!

    Reply
  28. A2bbethany

    They actually had a timeline of getting married before that “job/position” opened up.

    He was building a missions house and upon completion, they were going to be married and move in. But a flood wiped out the halfway built house and they went back to figuring it out, what to do.

    Reply
  29. Hannah

    This is a very good post. The fact is, when the world looks at Christians, they don’t care about all the missionary work or the “selflessness” of some of the most prominent names that the church holds up as examples. The world (and many people inside Christian families) includes all the people who were deemed less important than “the lost” or “the mission field” and made to feel greedy and selfish if they were hurt by that. People who have grown past such inhuman rejection like that are not easily fooled again and don’t trust a person coming to them under the name of Christ. A man or woman who is TRULY sold out for Jesus will not treat spouse and children like that. Followers of Christ are known by the world because of our love for one another. People who have families and then abandon them emotionally or physically for “God’s work” are not doing God’s work. The world looks at those people and laughs at Christianity and derides Christ. People who put their “all-consuming holy duty to the lost and the church” before their families bring shame to our Lord by their treatment of their families. They care if the lost are damned but don’t take the time to be missionaries to their own children and a Christian brother/sister to their spouse. They appear to be more concerned with personal gain and personal renown than the quiet, unnoticed, HARD work of loving their spouses and children. Unfortunately, the church holds people like this up as “ultra-holy” venerable saints all the time. If people like this weren’t venerated that way, then criticizing them publicly wouldn’t be needed, but their public damage to the name of Christ must be countered publicly. This is not who Christ called us to be, and we must make sure that the lost know that. If we don’t point to Christ truly, then we are no better than a cult. Thank you for writing about this, Sheila!

    Reply
  30. Kayla

    I never knew that about Jim Elliot kissing other girls during their relationship.
    And it’s very sad when men put ministry before their families. When someone is married, they serve Jesus best by taking care of their family, not neglecting their family to focus on the rest of the world. Jesus talked about that in Mark 7:11, how some people make an offering to God instead of taking care of their elderly parents.
    So basically people can be zealous to do something big for God, when they are not actually doing the things He wants.

    Reply
  31. EOF

    I remember reading that book in high school in the mid-90s. It seemed so out of date and unrelatable. I didn’t take it to heart, and really don’t remember much about it – other than knowing that kind of ‘romance’ wasn’t for me.

    It makes me so sad to see people who are so devoted to God fail their families. In my particular denomination, what I’ve seen is a married couple dedicated to ministry and their marriage, but then basically leave the raising of their children to others. Those kids are always getting babysat by the congregation, and the majority grow up walking away from the faith. One such leader passed away recently, and when his kids shared at his funeral, I wanted to cover my own children’s ears. These grown kids took their dad’s memorial service as an opportunity to rant about church.

    Another thing the church gets wrong about relationships is the need for single parents to get married _so that the kids will have a mother/father_. That’s a horrible reason for someone to get married! In the same vein, I’ve heard it said, “He’s such a good dad, you KNOW he’s going be a great husband!”

    Wrong.

    So, so horribly wrong. What can look like good parenting can actually be idolatry, especially with the guilt of being a single parent. Then throw in the fact that the same parent only marries for their child! Imagine the dynamics of THAT marriage, the unrealistic expectations on that poor spouse. It’s worse than you think. Especially for a wife in the current church culture of Love & Respect.

    The church has so far to go, and 1950s America is not the ideal of Christianity. Not by a long shot.

    Reply
    • Sheila Wray Gregoire

      Very true, EOF! And definitely yes to what you said about single parents.

      Reply
  32. Cara

    I am not suggesting this book, however, I read it in college during the middle of a friend break-up, and it opened my eyes to the joy of pursuing God above all else, and was a wonderful read in that context. However, I did carry some unhealthy burdens looking toward relationships and what I wanted, thinking that if he pursued God alone, I would just catch up. I have not been able to get over this line of thinking until recently when my now boyfriend has shown me what true sacrificial love looks like through making and keeping commitments, being open and honest, having gentle replies, and the constant encouragement of real scriptural truths. We will probably never make it to the mission field, or be Christian power couples, but I am seeing that those things are worth sacrificing for someone who looks like Christ, and doesn’t just talk about Christ.

    Reply
    • Sarah R

      Thanks for opening up the discussion on this Sheila. It seems to me there’s a related wider discussion about how we do mission as well (avoiding missionary burnout, white-saviour complexes, or any hint of arrogance or superiority, not neglecting spouses and families under the veil of ‘holiness’ and not glorifying suffering for the sake of suffering, but only in the advancement of the gospel.)

      I’d love your take on a similar issue I’ve mused on a lot. Before Christmas, a friend gave me Enough by Helen Rosavere, about her exp as a missionary in the Congo. Idk if you know the story, but during her time there she was raped by revolutionaries, and what troubled me deeply was how she chose to rationalise this theologically. She recounts ‘hearing’ Christ say to her as she was being raped and felt she couldn’t endure it, that He had suffered far more for her sake and couldn’t she endure this for him.

      I read that and thought, ‘big yikes.’ I think the dear sister may have been deceived there, because that lack of compassion for his suffering child does not sound like the Jesus I know. I was troubled because we Christians often do this – putting a theological gloss on our suffering so as to rationalise it with our belief in a good God. Personally, I string along with the Job line of thought that we may never know why we suffer, but it happens in a fallen world, and I have all sorts of issues with the way Helen looked at it. I prefer the Pete Greig school of theology – ‘sometimes life’s a bitch, but God is good.’

      Reply
  33. Rebecca

    I remember reading this book a few years ago and it making me so angry how Jim treated Elisabeth. I come from a very conservative and unhealthy family, so it wasn’t shocking to me and yet it still made me furious. No one deserves that kind of treatment, and it’s even worse in my opinion when the other person takes the blame or justifies the abuser.

    Reply
  34. Angela

    Don Francisco had a song about REALLY following Jesus and the chorus flat out asks “Do you love your wife? For her and for your children are you laying down your life? What about the others? Are you living as a servant for your sisters and your brothers? ”

    As someone who has always been “sold out for Jesus” and around many others, and who married a toxic one, I think many are more enchanted by the idea of Jesus and ministry than interested in getting to know Jesus Himself and being transformed into a healthy, safe, mature person. Few people even know how. And immature ministers keep ordaining more immature ministers to perpetuate the problem. Not ok.

    Reply
  35. Cindy

    I think there has to be a distinction between being “sold out for Jesus” and being “sold out for the mission.”
    Jesus doesn’t usually ask us to neglect the people we’ve made covenant with. But mistaking the mission for God will often cause a wake of broken relationships.

    God can lead us to make wise decisions and be good spouses and parents.

    I loved Elisabeth Eliott and those books when I was young and single. But once I got my prize in a husband I never read them again. I did internalize so much of the purity culture that it has taken me many years and some slow and steady critical thinking and real evaluation of what God has to be like and what it really must be like to follow him — it shouldn’t be at the expense of healthy, real, respectful relationships.

    Reply
  36. Dani

    I’m torn somewhat on this. Not because what you say isn’t true and concerning but because Jesus did say anyone who isn’t willing to give up all for me is not worthy of me giving the impression that Christian ministry and God’s spiritual family should come before biological family. I have also seen people who refuse to serve in any way because it encroaches on family time and family comes first and I don’t think that is a good example to children either. Service always costs something, I guess it just shouldn’t be used as an excuse to shirk your responsibilities at home. Something I need to give more thought to.

    Reply
    • Talia

      I grew up in purity culture that venerated sacrifice above emotional health. I didn’t even know what emotional health, or emotionally healthy relationships, were in any way. I wanted a man who put Jesus before his family. I thought Jesus would magically make it all better.

      We went overseas as missionaries, and were emotionally unhealthy. Finally my husband resigned from ministry last year, and announced it was for his family. Those in the ministry were hateful toward him, saying that was a lie because ministry comes before family, so you simply cannot give up ministry for family.

      My kids went to a Christian Day Camp last week. Tuesday on the way home they enthusiastically announced, “We’re going to meet REAL, LIVE missionaries, who live in a faraway country!!!!!”

      “Guys.” I said, “You used to BE real, live missionaries. And you lived in a faraway country.”

      They just blinked at me. Certain lives of “service” are romanticized and idealized, and while it doesn’t always, abuse of all kinds can take place that is easy to hide. Missionaries are, after all, in faraway countries.

      Spiritual and emotional maturity were NOT considered in our circles, and NOT important.

      While my kids were “special,” they didn’t realize they were idealized; but they easily go along with idealizing others. We need to idealize instead true Christlikeness, boundaries, and spiritual and emotional maturity.

      Reply
    • Jes

      Dani, first Timothy 5:8 says if any man does not provide for his own household, he has denied the faith in is worse than an unbeliever.
      Yes, Jesus did say that we must for sake all to follow him. However, that nowhere implies divorcing one spouse, leaving once children, etc. for the gospel. It simply means we must place our allegiance to Jesus above everything else, even if no one else understands what we’re doing. For example, if your wife refuses to go to church every single Sunday, you should still go. It’s different if she is sick or something like that, but if she is willfully disobedient, you must prove your obedience to Jesus by still going. That’s just an example. Maybe this is the reason why Jesus never married. He was too busy in ministry.

      Reply
      • Dani

        Of course! People are not let off the hook of caring for the family they have chosen to have, I just wonder where the line is. Christian service is costly. Being a missionary is costly and even if done with love and care for your wife and children they may feel they have missed out on things because of the cost of mission or on a smaller scale, the cost of any ministry parents/husbands/wives might partake in. Where is the line? My children may one day bemoan the fact that I am out every Friday night at youth group and as such they miss out while I invest in other people. In fact, it’s already something they complain about. Is that fair? Obviously I’m not talking about blatant mistreatment as seen in the Elliot’s story and countless others, I’m just wondering where the line is.

        Reply
        • Sheila Wray Gregoire

          That’s a really important question. We’ve wrestled with that, too. I think both parents need to be emotionally available to your kids and be around, but it’s okay if one isn’t around all the time. But there should be some expectation that if your child is going through something, you’re there to help them through it, and you’re there to witness it. Maybe not the whole thing, but you wouldn’t miss something important. I think many missionaries missed pretty much everything (especially with the mandatory boarding schools for so long). But it is a tricky question that we don’t ask often enough.

          Reply
    • Anon

      “it just shouldn’t be used as an excuse to shirk your responsibilities at home.”

      That’s the key. Being truly ‘sold out for Jesus’ will mean we become more like Him – which will mean we will never neglect our partner or children. The problem is that many people use being ‘sold out for Jesus’ as an excuse to do what THEY want. But that isn’t being ‘sold out for Jesus’ at all.

      Reply
  37. Melanie

    I remember being similarly horrified at this passage from “A Man Called Peter” as a teen girl:

    “Faux pas number one was that sometimes I left the top off the toothpaste or failed to squeeze it from the bottom, rolling it up as it was used. What was even worse, often I failed to close dresser drawers completely. The man of the house decided to teach his new wife a nonverbal lesson on drawer closing.

    One night I walked into our bedroom. It was quite dark. Suddenly, I bumped into something- something very hard, with sharp cruel edges. Ruefully rubbing my injured leg, I snapped on the light. Every drawer in the chest was pulled out. I got the point, but my pride, as well as my leg, was hurt. It was days later before I was able to see the funny side of this. Thereafter, I carefully closed drawers all the way.”

    This does not sound like the action of a loving husband.

    Reply
    • Sheila Wray Gregoire

      Oh, that’s awful! You know, their “courtship” was quite similar to Elisabeth and Jim’s. Catherine absolutely adored Peter, but he didn’t notice her for the longest time. Then he would give her “crumbs” of affection and lead her on, but never truly commit to her, and leave her wondering what his affections really were. Then he finally married her after torturing her for a time.

      Reply
    • Emmy

      How awful! What is this A Man Called Peter book? Who wrote it? Sounds almost like a quote from one of those How I Survived a Narcissist -stories from a self help book but I suppose it is a Christian book of some kind.

      I live in an European country and even though there is a strong Evangelical tradition here, the weirdest and most unhealthy stuff do not get translated and published here. They do not pass the filter, so to speak. I suspect this Peter Guy book will not be available here, and that’s probably for the best.

      Reply
      • Sheila Wray Gregoire

        I believe A Man Called Peter was written by Catherine Marshall about her husband Peter, who was a great evangelist and minister to members of Congress. He was very well-known in his time; I think Catherine Marshall is more well-known now, though most of what she wrote was to keep his legacy alive. But she wrote some amazing books herself, and I think she was actually the more gifted of the two.

        Reply
  38. Alice

    This story reminded me of a guy I dated in college, I wasn’t his priority. He would go back to his dorm after dinner & say he would call me then he would forget about me & say he got busy playing his guitar. I got tired of that, playing second fiddle so I broke up with him. I remember how surprised he was. But it was the best thing that could happen because God brought me a guy who made me his priority. God wants us to love Him first but our spouses is next, if we can’t do that then we shouldn’t marry. That first guy never did marry, I guess he never figured out how to treat someone.

    Reply
  39. A

    I agree that this book seems to be giving really bad advice and I think it’s good that you’re calling it out for what it is. However I’m a bit concerned about your comments about that men usually can’t be both “sold out for Jesus” and good husbands. Maybe it’s just that we have different views on what being sold out for Jesus means, but I believe men (and women for that matter) can be both sold out for Jesus and loving spouses. I think all of us as Christians are called to share the gospel with people and live radically outgiving lives, no matter if we’re married or not or of we’re men or women. Obviously we need to listen to Paul’s warnings and realize that if we marry we won’t be as free to do whatever se want to as we were when we were single, but I do not think this necessarily means we can’t live radically for Jesus and serve in different ministries and so on if we marry. I believe the key is to talk to the person you’re interested in marrying and ask them what kind of life they want to live and how you’d do regarding for example caring for children when married and then decide if you think that the two of you could create a life together that both of you would be happy with and that would please God. I’ve seen many good examples in my church of married couples who have good marriages and happy and healthy children and in the same time serve in different ministries, so I believe you can have both.
    Also I think that if you’re really actually “sold out for Jesus” and you know him well and love him and know that he loves you, then that will be visible in how you treat other people. If you treat other people bad I would question how well you really know Jesus and how “sold out” for him you really are. Doing things for God such as preaching or praying for sick people doesn’t necessarily mean your a godly person.

    Reply
  40. Mary

    I’m actually really glad you wrote this post! I read some of Elizabeth Elliot’s work and also that of one of the other missionary wives in that group of 5 couples in Ecuador. I came to the firm conclusion that Jim Elliot was a complete jerk! It does a person good to die young… they get beatified and their faults get glossed over. Stupidity and callousness get rebranded as bravery and single-mindedness.

    He was truly terrible to her and had a toxic influence on the marriages of the other couples who were with them at Wheaton and in Ecuador. Let’s call it as it is. And although the way he died seems noble, when you read more about it, it happened because he rushed things with the Aucas, pushing ahead with contact against all advice. Had he waited and gone more slowly, outcomes may have been different. We will never know. But the worst part is that 5 women became widows and several children lost their fathers that day because of his influence over the other men. I wouldn’t want to answer for that.

    Unfortunately, people love heroes and many will struggle to dismantle the fantasy ideals they have built around these people. I do wish we could just stop making idols out of men.

    Reply
  41. Anon

    It’s interesting to reflect on what the Elliots might have said about marriage & relationships if Jim had lived longer. I’m not in any way defending his behaviour, but he was in his early 20s when he was dating Elisabeth and only 28 when he died. I know a LOT of young people who had some very extreme & weird views in their teens & early 20s, but who have gained wisdom with maturity.

    It’s telling that, although Elisabeth was only married to Jim for 3 years and later remarried twice, she is always known as ‘Elisabeth Elliot’ – I wonder if being constantly regarded as ‘Jim Elliot’s widow’, even after remarriage, prevented her from ever reviewing their early beliefs on relationships. If you are regarded as the ‘keeper of the flame’ and the widow of a martyr, it must be very difficult to ever publically acknowledge that some of that martyr’s earlier decisions might not have been wise.

    Another aspect to bear in mind when considering their lives is that it was only recently that missionaries had been able to return from the mission field at all – previous generations went out knowing they were unlikely to ever return. They made tremendous sacrifices, but those sacrifices were necessary. Reading some of the mission biographies from the 50s and 60s, there seems to be a faint undercurrent of guilt among some mission workers that they had it ‘easier’ than previous generations combined with a tendency to deprive themselves unnecessarily as a sign of devotion to God. I suspect the two are linked – making unnecessary sacrifices in an attempt to ‘match up’ to the previous generations.

    Reply
    • Sheila Wray Gregoire

      Yes, I think their early life was idolized simply because of the myth and that he died so young. I think you’re right about the guilt that they felt in the 1950s that they didn’t have to sacrifice as much. That’s what comes out in Elisabeth Elliot’s writings–about her always trying to sacrifice everything. In some ways that’s good. But it can also keep us from just enjoying and embracing life.

      Reply
  42. Anonymous

    If you read Jim’s journals (I can’t remember the title, but they are printed as a book), it wouldn’t be far fetched to imagine he may have been gay. Or same sex attracted at the every least.

    The way he professes his love and affection for men in his life l,
    Or yearns for love and affection from men is a night and day contrast to how he talks about it and processes feelings with women.

    With Elizabeth and other women it is a steady stream of “deliver me of this temptation and distraction so I can be more focused on God,” but regarding male friendships it is a constant “please send me a ‘Jonathan’ that loves me and that I can love like David loved….” It is actually quite jarring to read the differences in his own words.

    (Personally I think he could have loved snd served God while gay. That’s not the toxic part. It’s the part where he treated Elizabeth like crap and eventually just married her to be able to do the adventurous missionary thing to a more daring degree.)

    Obviously no one will ever know one way or the other. I say it because it is relevant to the whole idea that theirs was a relationship to be emulated and idealized. It was so far from that mark on so many levels.

    Toxic is an appropriate word. From day one. And what Elizabeth tolerated, excised and then idolized is a dysfunctional and damaging relationship. And then wrote a book about how others should do it….. sigh.

    Reply
    • Sheila Wray Gregoire

      There are definitely a lot of unknowns.

      What should be known, though, is that this relationship, as reported in Passion & Purity, was not healthy for anyone. Yet I see shades of Elisabeth’s “wrestling” in other books written about ten years later–about how you can never love him more than Jesus; you have to wrestle through in prayer and leave the one you love on the altar, lest God be angry; etc. etc. There’s nothing of just being happy that you’re in love and serving God together! There’s always something to feel guilty about.

      Reply
      • Noel

        She was Presbyterian, therefore Calvinist. In my experience Calvinists really struggle to be happy. It is not their natural mode of being.

        Reply
      • Anonymous305

        She was also proud that she was willing to make the sacrifices that God required while today’s youth are too lazy to do so. I was the same way until a severe mental health crisis in a 3rd-world country changed my plans and gave me a lot more respect for people who don’t go on long-term foreign missions. God loves people who stay home, and so should we, and not all have lazy reasons for staying!!

        Sometimes he requires sacrifice, but we should not assume that all sacrifices are godly. Instead, we evaluate each decision with the understanding that the same God who sometimes demands sacrifice also comforts and restores the brokenhearted. We’re supposed to love Jesus more than family in general, but most of the time, we love Jesus BY loving family.

        Reply
  43. Nathan

    In general, anybody who takes a lot of time shouting just how much they love God and Jesus and berates others for being wicked sinners is likely hiding their own weaknesses and insecurities. They feel that if they yell loud enough and long enough, and put up a big beautiful facade, they think that nobody will notice their crumbling foundation.

    There’s one thing to proclaim your faith openly and not be ashamed of it, versus shoving it into everybody’s face 24/7.

    It’s definitely a red flag when anybody elevates their own sanctity constantly.

    Reply
  44. Melissa

    I just can’t help but see how absolutely miserable their “love letters” sounded. It strikes me as so odd. My husband and I loved each other passionately before marriage and waited until we were married to have sex and it wasn’t miserable. Why must being holy and pure involve so much agony and misery and beating up of oneself before God? It sets an unhealthy tone for impressionable young people who are looking for direction as they enter adulthood. I went through a brief time of being in a sort of agony over a guy I wanted to be with, and I did “lay it on the altar” eventually, but once I did that I went out and lived my life and pursued God and had fun with my friends and enjoyed being single. I didn’t keep writing to him, I didn’t text him, I didn’t call him, nothing. He had stuff between himself and God that needed to be worked out. If that ended with me being with this guy, great. If it didn’t, also great, because God is faithful regardless. It was during that time that I met my now husband. And with that relationship, everything just felt so easy and natural. Being together was the most natural thing in the world for us from the first date. There wasn’t any agony or misery. Sure we’re not perfect and we had stuff to work through together. But it wasn’t this super dramatic thing. So yeah. Let’s bring the tone we set back to center. The agony and misery are not necessarily marks of holiness.

    Reply
  45. Joel Horst

    Thank you for sharing this, Sheila. I never read P&P, but I did read Jim’s journals, as well as other books about Jim Elliott and Nate Saint. (His wife, BTW, who along with Elisabeth and Nate’s sister Rachel, did spend time with the Aucas, was named Marjorie. But I digress.)

    That was years ago that I read those books, and I don’t remember much. I do remember Jim, while single, journaling about his sex drive. I specifically remember him writing one day that his drive was so high, he wasn’t sure what would have happened if he had met an Indian woman while hiking through the jungle.

    But what this article really got me thinking about was an experience I had recently. I met a guy who had a real desire for ministry and outreach; yet our friendship eventually fell apart when he refused to respect my boundaries and time. In retrospect, I feel like he was very ministry-focused and saw me as a ministry partner, not just a friend. There are more issues involved, I think, but his ministry mindset seemed to drive his behavior. Actually, not his ministry mindset itself, but the drive BEHIND his ministry mindset. And I think that may be the key here.

    Reply
  46. Keri B

    Hi! I have a completely different take on this book, and I thought I would offer it here.

    I became a Christian at age 29, after spending ten years making a complete disaster of my “love life” by always following my feelings, chasing after whoever had caught my attention at any given time (regardless of whether or not I was already dating someone), and not giving much thought to the character of the guys I dated. As a result, I left a lot of heartache in my wake, and suffered a great deal of it myself, not to mention the fact that at age 29, I had no female friends because I had been solely occupied with men and had no interest in investing in female friendships. When I became a Christian, most of my repentance was in the area of relationships and sex.

    Shortly after turning my life over to Jesus, I came across Passion and Purity, and as I read it, I felt a tremendous sense of relief. I saw it as a blueprint so-to-speak, for turning over my love life to God, and trusting Him to run it for me — which had to be much better than what I had been doing with it! To make a long story short, and skip all the details, the Lord used this book to position me spiritually and emotionally for meeting the man who is now my husband. If I had met him before reading this book, I am certain that things would have turned out much, much differently. Coincidentally, around the same time, my husband had read I Kissed Dating Good-bye, and he was inspired by that book to change his way of dating as well. We both had sinned and caused misery by having relationships the world’s way, but when we committed to doing things what we believed was God’s way, we found peace, freedom, and joy…and, ultimately, each other.

    In short, we can each credit a book that has been criticized on this website with showing us how to carry on a healthy courtship that led to a happy marriage of nearly 20 years now. I’m not saying that these books don’t have flaws, or that they’re for everyone, but clearly God can use even “bad” books to change hearts and lives in ways that honor and glorify Him. I’m grateful for that.

    Reply
    • Laura

      Keri B,

      I enjoyed reading your love story and your view about these two books. As I mentioned earlier, there is no one-size-fits-all on relationships. It’s also good to see the different perspectives here. I wish I could say that some of these books written during purity culture had a positive impact on me. At first, I thought they did because after my divorce I wanted to do things God’s way. What I did not realize at that time (19 years ago) was that the Bible does NOT have specific instructions on how to date and choose who you marry. During biblical times, no one dated and the parents chose their children’s spouses. Mainly, the men got their pick of who they wanted to marry.

      Well, as a 21st century Christian, it is hard to know what the right way is when it comes to how to date. What I knew was that I did not want to engage in premarital sex and date a lot of men before finally finding the right one. At first, I thought IKGB (Joshua Harris) was somewhat helpful to me because I learned that a person should establish physical boundaries and guard their heart. I must have taken that advice to the extreme because subconsciously I put up walls. I also believed that I should not date anyone unless I saw them as a potential husband. I was afraid to go on dates, even if it was just dinner or a group outing because I had the mindset that I had to marry them.

      So, I’ve learned not to take advice to the extreme and weigh it with God’s Word. Also, I asked God for wisdom, but maybe I did not hear him correctly. For example, 11 years ago, a male counselor told me to stop thinking of every unmarried man (age appropriate) as a potential husband. Just go on a date and don’t think about whether it leads to marriage. I tried to do that but felt in my conscience that it was wrong to date someone I didn’t think I would marry. Well, now that I’m in my 40’s and experienced a broken engagement three years ago and a disappointment in the romance department, I decided to accept a date with someone and not concern myself about marriage. When I did that, it felt so freeing.

      Reply
  47. Patricia

    When the writing of progressive feminist Sarah Bessey is proclaimed as wisdom and that of Elisabeth Elliot (whom I knew personally) is in any way disparaged, I think I’m out. I have enjoyed and appreciated your ministry but this is where we part ways. I will continue to pray for discernment and wisdom for you (as well as myself.)

    Reply
    • Sheila Wray Gregoire

      Okay, Patricia, thank you for being gracious about it, but I have to say that this is the sort of thing that makes me frustrated, and this is what is wrong with modern-day Christianity, so I’m going to spend a bit of time on this.

      Let’s go back to the Bible. Paul said, in Galatians 1:8, “But even if we or an angel from heaven should preach a gospel other than the one we preached to you, let them be under God’s curse!” The point of that? He was saying that NO MATTER WHO is giving you the message, you check it out. You’re responsible for what you believe. You don’t take it on face value just because you like the person. You test it.

      So let’s test it. I was upset at the story that Elisabeth Elliot depicts in Passion & Purity about Jim, because it is objectively emotionally unhealthy, and that she then holds up as an example to follow. He strung her along for five years, and kissed other girls, and never gave her assurances. This isn’t something our girls should be following.

      And Sarah Bessey? She spoke for about 3 minutes on the Mars Hill podcast, and what she said was that the current times are like an “apocalypse”, which literally means a “great revealing”, where God is revealing what is happening in the church. She referenced God showing us Mark Driscoll’s true character, and Ravi Zacharias, and other abusers. That’s all she said.

      From your comment, you’re maligning Sarah without even listening to her message and testing it. Do you think it’s better that Ravi Zacharias WASN’T revealed to be an abuser, and instead his victims were still maligned? That abuse stay in the background instead of God shining a light on it?

      I understand that we all have our idols and friends and heroes, but when we let that stand in the way of actually listening to what people are saying? That is when we end up with ill-health in the church.

      And to dismiss someone’s message ust because you think they’re on the other side? That’s perpetuating the whole polarization and us vs. them in the church. What Sarah said was much needed and good. God is shining light. There is a big revealing. Maybe we should listen.

      In fact, that’s a great message for me to end on, because that’s really the message of this blog. And so I’ll say–God is revealing. And our attitude should be like Paul with everything. Look at it and test it and see if it’s from God. And if it is–don’t spurn it. And if it isn’t–don’t believe it, even if it’s from someone we love.

      Reply
  48. Linda

    I recommend everyone to get a hold of the documentary that was done regarding the story of these missionaries and hearing Elizabeth’s personal recorded account regarding Jim. In that moment she shared something very personal to her and Jim which also was a powerful encounter with the Holy Spirit speaking to Elizabeth very clearly regarding their relationship. I believe the Holy Spirit made it very clear to Elizabeth that her marriage to Jim would be short and she really did love her husband.

    Elizabeth went on to marry two other husbands. The second died of cancer and I believe the 3rd has outlived her.

    Speaking of Elizabeth and Jim’s relationship, I feel it was a typical outlook of the 50’s and the expectations that were placed upon them. In reading her account, I saw the flaws yes I certainly did but I also saw beauty and the Lord working through both their lives inspite of their shortcomings. They also brought a daughter into the world and were raising her on the mission field.

    Elizabeth made this comment regarding her husband years after his passing. That after he married her he hardly wrote in his diary his thoughts, impressions, feelings he was processing because he was sharing it with her and he no longer felt the need to write it down anymore.

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  49. Jeanne Howard

    I had the same thoughts when I read about both Jim Elliot and Billy Graham!

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  50. Lindsey Calverley

    When you quoted that scripture of being divided, I had a physical reaction because of how that scripture is typically used. I love that you interpreted it, not as criticism towards marriage or married people., or women for having needs. You interpreted it as an observation. Thank you! Sometimes I think many of Paul’s words (and other scriptures) can be interpreted as an observation where we see it as a warning or criticism. I think marriage permanence is one of these contexts. I happen to think the bond is permanent, but not in the way we think and it certainly doesn’t mean divorce isn’t appropriate in many scenarios . I also think it’s irresponsible for people to take the bible out of context and overlay it on everyone in every context. It doesn’t work unless it’s one of our basic tenets of Christianity like “Love one another”. We are in the information age and much ministry can be done without sacrificing our home lives. Plus, we have stoves, microwaves, many household conveniences they didn’t have back then. So singleness is less of a practical way to focus on god now than it was back then. The idea is to choose a route that doesn’t interfere with serving ones’ spouse. Or at least to take them into consideration with timing out mission trips, etc. Thank you, Sheila. I am an enneagram 7, btw. Does your bio say you are an 8? I love enneagram!

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  51. Krystle Gerber Moilliet

    I’m one of the blessed people to have missed out on much of the really toxic stuff in our Canadian Christian culture around purity and virginity. But the older I become the more I realize this is not due to the wonderful teaching around me, but rather my ability to be stubborn and reject what sounds false or temper the message to a place that is actually healthy.

    I have often felt that the message of divided loyalty is one that doesn’t get spoken about enough! I’m married with 2 kids. We had the privilege of adopting both of our boys. Though I was never sure I would get married I ended up getting married in my yearly 20’s and have/do love it! I love my husband and who I’ve become because of our relationship. I know that I’m a better woman, friend, daughter, wife and mother because of him. (I’m historically very closed with my emotions and communication, while he is not! I’ve learned how to nurture and express myself because of him)

    The older I get, the deeper into the marriage I love, the more I understand and want to shout to the world the gift of singleness and undivided loyalties. I know many would say (and it’s true) that it’s easy for me to say – I “have it all” after all. But I think that’s just it. We’ve elevated marriage and children, the home to a place where we actually can’t see why God would call anyone to anything else. There is so much more I could say. But for now, thank you for talking about this message.

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  52. RV

    Oh my. I’ve referred to the terrible results if being raised under IKDG book, but I had this one, too. Makes me wanna go dig it out of my boxes, chop it, and burn it. No wonder it was almost as hard as “spiritual authority” to get throgh, my youth instinct was screaming, danger, abuse, but it was according to church culture how things were supposed to be. No wonder I get so triggered now when I see posts about wives submission or ministrymabove all else. No wonde I was 32 by my first date, as I spent so long “waiting”. No wonder im trying so overly hard to work through so much baggage before we get married next year… Yikes

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  53. Tricia Versteeg

    A newer book, Devotedly, by Elizabeth Elliot’s daughter has been published that I think sheds some better light on the relationship between Jim and Elizabeth Elliot. I think it is worth the reading.

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  54. EK

    I read the book at one point as a Christian teen and felt the same way. Glad to know I’m not alone in this. And not a lot of people know about AW’s issues either. How can people so close to God not be led by the Holy Spirit to work on these issues in their life? I haven’t found an answer to this question yet. Issues with Jim and Elisabeth stem from a train-track view of God’s will for your life, men not respecting women’s needs or being forward enough, and Elisabeth not having enough of a backbone and emotional management to value herself to move on from Jim and his bad behavior. When you treat someone like a prize, they will treat you like a fan.

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