A Purity Curriculum? Really?!

Feb 13, 2020 9:52:09 AM / by Erik Ullestad

If you found yourself wondering why Sparkhouse was making a purity curriculum, let me reassure you that not all purity resources are created equal. There’s a lot more going on in the purity conversation than what Evangelical Christianity has shown the church in recent decades. There’s complexity and nuance involved in understanding Biblical purity. It’s important for young people to be shown how to make sense of these purity laws, especially as they wrestle with the Bible’s relevance in their twenty-first century lives.

A little backstory:

When Rev. Dr. Ritva Williams came to our youth ministry cohort meeting to talk about purity, I was utterly confused. Pastor Ritva’s daughter, Anne, was one of my friends. I knew Anne to be a thoughtful, intelligent, progressive theologian. So why was her mother coming to talk to a room full of like-minded youth workers about PURITY?! I wasn’t the only person who was similarly skeptical. Several others in the room had been exposed to a version of purity theology which was rooted in shame, built on misogyny, and steeped in biblical literalism. Why would we, a bunch of Protestant mainline youth ministers, waste our time learning about something (i.e. PURITY) which we had no intention of discussing with our young people?

As it turned out, Pastor Ritva wasn’t interested in having a conversation about that kind of purity either. She shared with us the outgrowth of her grant-funded research project which provided us with a more comprehensive look at purity than the narrow view we had been exposed to. Apparently, the purity laws in the Bible (mostly in the Hebrew Scriptures/Old Testament) were about waaaaayyy more than sex. There are purity laws about the kind of food you can eat, the kind of clothes you should wear, the kinds of things you can touch, and on and on. There are hundreds of purity laws in the Bible, and none of them include phrases like “true love waits” or “modest is hottest.”

It was clear after Pastor Ritva blew our minds for a couple of hours that her insights needed to be shared with other youth workers—and those youth workers needed to have a resource which could guide their Bible studies with teenagers. Enter Wholeness & Holiness, a more complete look at Biblical purity than the body-shaming, abstinence-only alternative often presented to Christian teens. In crafting this resource, Pastor Ritva, Jake Bouma, and I endeavored to be faithful to the whole of Scripture without attempting to frighten teens into works righteousness by cherry-picking certain passages. With Ritva’s grant-funded research as the source material, we worked with confirmation classes, youth groups, and parents to help us create a resource that exposes learners to the entire picture of Biblical purity through the lens of Jesus.

If you’re put off by the word “purity” and made assumptions about what Wholeness & Holiness is trying to do, I encourage you to take a few deep breaths. Not all purity curricula are alike. Consider downloading a Wholeness & Holiness sample and see what this resource is truly all about. You just might give yourself—and the young people in your care—a whole new way to think about PURITY.

Topics: Youth Ministry, Wholeness & Holiness

Erik Ullestad

Written by Erik Ullestad

Erik Ullestad is a certified youth minister with 20 years of congregational experience. He's served on a variety of national boards, spoken at youth conferences, and contributed to more than a dozen youth ministry resources. He lives in Iowa with his wife and three teenage children.


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