Is there a new perspective on Christian purity?

May 25, 2015

Book review: Damaged Goods: New Perspectives on Christian Purity by Dianna Anderson

Whether surfing the internet or strolling the aisle of a local bookstore, the average Christian could be refreshed to catch a glimpse of Dianna Anderson’s book Damaged Goods. The cover, highlighting an all-American girl donning a whimsical pink skirt and peep-toe shoes with black graffiti crudely splashed across her legs, encapsulates a painful reality within modern Christianity: women (and men) who are plagued with shame over sexual sin while longing for hope and healing.

One such desperate soul might crack the pages of Anderson’s book and wonder, “Can I find the answer here?”

A new Christian ethic on sexuality?

Anderson clearly intends to provide a new, Christian ethic on sexuality that will free the hearts and minds of those guilt-ridden over their sexual choices. In fact, the author beckons the reader to “listen to the Spirit of Truth about what sexual purity really is” (7). But the unquestionable truth is that her ethic falls far from the tree of Christian orthodoxy.

Throughout the book, Anderson is vulnerable about her own life. Having grown up in the “purity culture” of the 1990’s, she reassessed her beliefs about God’s standards for sexuality in early adulthood. Her efforts to develop a new sexual ethic are propelled by her determination to speak out against the evangelical purity movement. Anderson wants to dismantle this movement’s teachings and replace it with her opinion of how its principles command judgment and unrelenting shame for the sexual sinner.     

She spends an entire chapter outlining her interpretation of how the purity movement developed. Anderson concludes that the movement makes sexual abstinence the primary marker of holiness while forcing strict, legalistic rules on Christians. She also claims it paves a “destructive path” leading to the hatred of women (22).

But foundational to her personal ethic is Anderson’s attempt to disprove what she claims are five biblical myths about sex taught by purity proponents. This chapter highlights her misguided method of interpreting Scripture, which makes it easy for her to conclude that God has given his people carte blanche in the area of sexuality.

Her bird’s-eye view of the Bible relies heavily on Old Testament passages, failing to consider the entire scope of Scripture. Her method doesn’t take the Bible on its own terms but, rather, on hers. And while she often references “many scholars” who back her theological claims, I found myself often wondering to whom she was referring. By the end of chapter three, Anderson states that because the Bible contains “numerous instances of polygamous marriages, premarital and extramarital sexcapades, and complicated and complex gendered relationships” then a Christian journey of sexuality equals one where the individual decides for themselves what to do with their own body and mind (41).

And on this premise, Anderson spends the rest of the book outlining her sexual ethic using six, self-defined principles. Given her permissive biblical conclusions in chapter three, she proposes an ethic with very broad boundaries where almost anything goes: premarital sex, homosexuality, bisexuality, transgender relations and abortion are all on the table. Anderson promotes a view of progressive gender identity where one’s personal gender preference and sexual attractions will change over time. She attempts to defend her ethic as being fail-safe to guard against pedophilia, yet she boldly encourages teenagers to be the sole voice of authority in their personal sexual development.

Anderson identifies with Liberation theology and compares the purity movement’s treatment of women to racial discrimination found in American history. She genuinely sees her book as an effort to free Christian women enslaved to the teachings of the purity movement. In the end, she defines “grace and the gospel” as seeing that “our stories have worth because they are ours” with no mention of Christ’s death and resurrection on behalf of desperate sinners.

While Anderson attempts to provide a fresh, new look at sexuality, her book is a prime example that there really is “nothing new under the sun” (Ecc. 1:9). Her postmodern, humanistic, self-authoritative perspective mirrors the same messages seen in other secular material available today—messages the church must unapologetically pronounce as anti-gospel.

Recognizing legitimate needs

However, the church would do well to recognize the legitimate needs reflected in works such as Damaged Goods and stand prepared to respond proactively in grace and truth. Unfortunately, Anderson’s book has a void of the biblical gospel. For reasons beyond our understanding, Anderson, sadly, emerged from the evangelical purity movement believing her holiness was based on her sexual purity and not on Christ’s sacrificial work on her behalf. Nowhere does Anderson voice an understanding of her inherent guilt before God and rebellion against him or of Christ’s sacrificial offering on behalf of his enemies. Such a deficient view of the gospel inevitably leads to disheartened failure as individuals strive to obey Christ in their own strength rather than in the power of the Spirit.

Anderson’s personal testimony gives voice to an understandable response when faced with the crushing weight of a rules-based system: change the system until it’s personally manageable. As the church continues to hold high the torch of sexual purity, this book stands as a reminder that a call to purity alone is hollow. The first call must be to Christ in all his beauty and splendor based on his righteousness accomplished for us and his resurrection life given to us. The call to say “no” to sin without saying “yes” to Jesus will inevitably lead to shame and defeat. It’s only when Christ is at the helm of the believer’s heart that sexual purity can be a victorious expression of loving obedience (1 John 5:1-5).

Second, the sexual temptation and spiritual dissonance that Anderson personally recounts is becoming a prominent experience for those within the evangelical church. Even for individuals raised under Christian values and sitting in our pews on Sundays, the temptation toward sexual sin and the confusion surrounding sexual identity is pervasive. As a church, we must be prepared to compassionately acknowledge these temptations as par for the course in our culture rather than standing in shock and awe when they come to the surface within the four walls of our church or our homes. We will serve our brothers and sisters well by being armed with an understanding of the gospel that communicates the blood of Christ is sufficient to cover sexual sin just as it covers other seemingly “lesser” sins, such as unrighteous anger or covetousness.  

Books such as Anderson’s hold forth the lie that freedom is only found when you change the message.  But the blessed truth is that the Messenger, Christ Jesus, changes us!  Freedom is not found in a community that dilutes the truth. Lasting freedom is witnessed in a covenant community that is honest about the truth, honest about our sin, brings that sin together to the foot of the cross, and sees Christ supernaturally transform his people to reflect his image. That’s when the church can authentically say, “This is the victory that has overcome the world — our faith” (I John 5:4).

Darla Wilkinson

Darla Wilkinson graduated from Southwestern Baptist Theological Seminary and is the wife of a wonderful husband.  Read More by this Author

Article 12: The Future of AI

We affirm that AI will continue to be developed in ways that we cannot currently imagine or understand, including AI that will far surpass many human abilities. God alone has the power to create life, and no future advancements in AI will usurp Him as the Creator of life. The church has a unique role in proclaiming human dignity for all and calling for the humane use of AI in all aspects of society.

We deny that AI will make us more or less human, or that AI will ever obtain a coequal level of worth, dignity, or value to image-bearers. Future advancements in AI will not ultimately fulfill our longings for a perfect world. While we are not able to comprehend or know the future, we do not fear what is to come because we know that God is omniscient and that nothing we create will be able to thwart His redemptive plan for creation or to supplant humanity as His image-bearers.

Genesis 1; Isaiah 42:8; Romans 1:20-21; 5:2; Ephesians 1:4-6; 2 Timothy 1:7-9; Revelation 5:9-10

Article 11: Public Policy

We affirm that the fundamental purposes of government are to protect human beings from harm, punish those who do evil, uphold civil liberties, and to commend those who do good. The public has a role in shaping and crafting policies concerning the use of AI in society, and these decisions should not be left to those who develop these technologies or to governments to set norms.

We deny that AI should be used by governments, corporations, or any entity to infringe upon God-given human rights. AI, even in a highly advanced state, should never be delegated the governing authority that has been granted by an all-sovereign God to human beings alone. 

Romans 13:1-7; Acts 10:35; 1 Peter 2:13-14

Article 10: War

We affirm that the use of AI in warfare should be governed by love of neighbor and the principles of just war. The use of AI may mitigate the loss of human life, provide greater protection of non-combatants, and inform better policymaking. Any lethal action conducted or substantially enabled by AI must employ 5 human oversight or review. All defense-related AI applications, such as underlying data and decision-making processes, must be subject to continual review by legitimate authorities. When these systems are deployed, human agents bear full moral responsibility for any actions taken by the system.

We deny that human agency or moral culpability in war can be delegated to AI. No nation or group has the right to use AI to carry out genocide, terrorism, torture, or other war crimes.

Genesis 4:10; Isaiah 1:16-17; Psalm 37:28; Matthew 5:44; 22:37-39; Romans 13:4

Article 9: Security

We affirm that AI has legitimate applications in policing, intelligence, surveillance, investigation, and other uses supporting the government’s responsibility to respect human rights, to protect and preserve human life, and to pursue justice in a flourishing society.

We deny that AI should be employed for safety and security applications in ways that seek to dehumanize, depersonalize, or harm our fellow human beings. We condemn the use of AI to suppress free expression or other basic human rights granted by God to all human beings.

Romans 13:1-7; 1 Peter 2:13-14

Article 8: Data & Privacy

We affirm that privacy and personal property are intertwined individual rights and choices that should not be violated by governments, corporations, nation-states, and other groups, even in the pursuit of the common good. While God knows all things, it is neither wise nor obligatory to have every detail of one’s life open to society.

We deny the manipulative and coercive uses of data and AI in ways that are inconsistent with the love of God and love of neighbor. Data collection practices should conform to ethical guidelines that uphold the dignity of all people. We further deny that consent, even informed consent, although requisite, is the only necessary ethical standard for the collection, manipulation, or exploitation of personal data—individually or in the aggregate. AI should not be employed in ways that distort truth through the use of generative applications. Data should not be mishandled, misused, or abused for sinful purposes to reinforce bias, strengthen the powerful, or demean the weak.

Exodus 20:15, Psalm 147:5; Isaiah 40:13-14; Matthew 10:16 Galatians 6:2; Hebrews 4:12-13; 1 John 1:7 

Article 7: Work

We affirm that work is part of God’s plan for human beings participating in the cultivation and stewardship of creation. The divine pattern is one of labor and rest in healthy proportion to each other. Our view of work should not be confined to commercial activity; it must also include the many ways that human beings serve each other through their efforts. AI can be used in ways that aid our work or allow us to make fuller use of our gifts. The church has a Spirit-empowered responsibility to help care for those who lose jobs and to encourage individuals, communities, employers, and governments to find ways to invest in the development of human beings and continue making vocational contributions to our lives together.

We deny that human worth and dignity is reducible to an individual’s economic contributions to society alone. Humanity should not use AI and other technological innovations as a reason to move toward lives of pure leisure even if greater social wealth creates such possibilities.

Genesis 1:27; 2:5; 2:15; Isaiah 65:21-24; Romans 12:6-8; Ephesians 4:11-16

Article 6: Sexuality

We affirm the goodness of God’s design for human sexuality which prescribes the sexual union to be an exclusive relationship between a man and a woman in the lifelong covenant of marriage.

We deny that the pursuit of sexual pleasure is a justification for the development or use of AI, and we condemn the objectification of humans that results from employing AI for sexual purposes. AI should not intrude upon or substitute for the biblical expression of sexuality between a husband and wife according to God’s design for human marriage.

Genesis 1:26-29; 2:18-25; Matthew 5:27-30; 1 Thess 4:3-4

Article 5: Bias

We affirm that, as a tool created by humans, AI will be inherently subject to bias and that these biases must be accounted for, minimized, or removed through continual human oversight and discretion. AI should be designed and used in such ways that treat all human beings as having equal worth and dignity. AI should be utilized as a tool to identify and eliminate bias inherent in human decision-making.

We deny that AI should be designed or used in ways that violate the fundamental principle of human dignity for all people. Neither should AI be used in ways that reinforce or further any ideology or agenda, seeking to subjugate human autonomy under the power of the state.

Micah 6:8; John 13:34; Galatians 3:28-29; 5:13-14; Philippians 2:3-4; Romans 12:10

Article 4: Medicine

We affirm that AI-related advances in medical technologies are expressions of God’s common grace through and for people created in His image and that these advances will increase our capacity to provide enhanced medical diagnostics and therapeutic interventions as we seek to care for all people. These advances should be guided by basic principles of medical ethics, including beneficence, non-maleficence, autonomy, and justice, which are all consistent with the biblical principle of loving our neighbor.

We deny that death and disease—effects of the Fall—can ultimately be eradicated apart from Jesus Christ. Utilitarian applications regarding healthcare distribution should not override the dignity of human life. Fur- 3 thermore, we reject the materialist and consequentialist worldview that understands medical applications of AI as a means of improving, changing, or completing human beings.

Matthew 5:45; John 11:25-26; 1 Corinthians 15:55-57; Galatians 6:2; Philippians 2:4

Article 3: Relationship of AI & Humanity

We affirm the use of AI to inform and aid human reasoning and moral decision-making because it is a tool that excels at processing data and making determinations, which often mimics or exceeds human ability. While AI excels in data-based computation, technology is incapable of possessing the capacity for moral agency or responsibility.

We deny that humans can or should cede our moral accountability or responsibilities to any form of AI that will ever be created. Only humanity will be judged by God on the basis of our actions and that of the tools we create. While technology can be created with a moral use in view, it is not a moral agent. Humans alone bear the responsibility for moral decision making.

Romans 2:6-8; Galatians 5:19-21; 2 Peter 1:5-8; 1 John 2:1

Article 2: AI as Technology

We affirm that the development of AI is a demonstration of the unique creative abilities of human beings. When AI is employed in accordance with God’s moral will, it is an example of man’s obedience to the divine command to steward creation and to honor Him. We believe in innovation for the glory of God, the sake of human flourishing, and the love of neighbor. While we acknowledge the reality of the Fall and its consequences on human nature and human innovation, technology can be used in society to uphold human dignity. As a part of our God-given creative nature, human beings should develop and harness technology in ways that lead to greater flourishing and the alleviation of human suffering.

We deny that the use of AI is morally neutral. It is not worthy of man’s hope, worship, or love. Since the Lord Jesus alone can atone for sin and reconcile humanity to its Creator, technology such as AI cannot fulfill humanity’s ultimate needs. We further deny the goodness and benefit of any application of AI that devalues or degrades the dignity and worth of another human being. 

Genesis 2:25; Exodus 20:3; 31:1-11; Proverbs 16:4; Matthew 22:37-40; Romans 3:23

Article 1: Image of God

We affirm that God created each human being in His image with intrinsic and equal worth, dignity, and moral agency, distinct from all creation, and that humanity’s creativity is intended to reflect God’s creative pattern.

We deny that any part of creation, including any form of technology, should ever be used to usurp or subvert the dominion and stewardship which has been entrusted solely to humanity by God; nor should technology be assigned a level of human identity, worth, dignity, or moral agency.

Genesis 1:26-28; 5:1-2; Isaiah 43:6-7; Jeremiah 1:5; John 13:34; Colossians 1:16; 3:10; Ephesians 4:24