Alcorn, Randy. The Purity Principle: God’s Safeguards for Life’s Dangerous Trails (LifeChange Books). Sisters: Multnomah Books, 2003.
Randy Alcorn is a well-known Christian author and speaker. He has written over 30 books which include both fiction and non-fiction. He is the founder and director of Eternal Perspectives Ministries (EPM) through which he has ministered to people in many countries. Prior to founding EPM Alcorn was a pastor for 13 years in the state of Oregon.
Much like the name of his ministry, in The Purity Principle (TPP), Alcorn seeks to address sexual purity from an eternal perspective. That is, from a biblical, godly perspective. Alcorn addresses this topic using stories of people who have struggled with sexual purity as well as those who have fallen into sexual deviancy. He addresses these stories of sexual sin and temptation with Scripture while sharing personal stories of his own struggles and temptation with sexual impurity.
TPP does not side step sexual purity issues, but addresses them head on. It is a book in which the author deals directly with sexual issues including pornography, fornication, and marital fidelity. While these issues are addressed scripturally, Alcorn’s strength is in the practical advice he offers for dealing with sexual temptation in order to avoid sexual sin. Chapters 1 – 5 lay out the real life problems and effects of sexual sin and show the reader how to think about it from God’s perspective. Chapter 5 transitions into practical strategies the reader can use to avoid sexual sin which is spelled out in the last half of the book in chapters 6 – 10 with chapter 11 offering a conclusion. Provided below is a chapter by chapter summary followed by brief concluding thoughts on the books strengths and weaknesses.
Chapter one begins with a story of adultery and blame. In this chapter Alcorn takes the reader through various life stories showing how poor choices regarding sex have lead to serious life changing consequences. These life changing consequences involved people from church going families. The examples Alcorn gives show that no one, regardless of background, is above falling into sexual sin. This chapter clearly expresses the seriousness of sexual sin and that there are consequences even though God still offers forgiveness.
In Chapter two, Alcorn writes about self-interest. He states that the people in the stories from chapter one thought they were acting out of “their own best self-interests” when following their lusts (15). Alcorn goes on to explain that such actions are actually against one’s self-interest in light of being against God’s commands and holiness. God desires purity not impurity and His standard is perfect. Throughout this chapter Alcorn expresses his views on obedience and disobedience toward God in the realm of purity. Obedience is measured “not by its virtue, but by its wisdom” (18). The bottom line is that choosing purity is wise while choosing impurity is foolish. Alcorn finishes the chapter with the idea that one is either punished or rewarded based on their pursuit of impurity or purity, respectively.
The next chapter gives a biblical overview of sex. Sex was created by God as a good thing (26) yet when abused may be turn into a great evil (27). Alcorn explains the boundaries of sex as set by God and that God’s will is for sexual purity.
In Chapter four, Alcorn explains how Satan is out to get Christians and that Christians are at risk of his attacks. The author gives more examples of Christians who have fallen into temptation. He also shares personal stories of facing temptation. His point is that all are susceptible to sexual sin and that Christians do fall into it. He explains the importance of identifying Satan’s lies because “temptations always look good” (37). Alcorn posits that Christians must find fulfillment in Christ rather than sexual temptations.
Chapter five is a transition chapter. Alcorn shares another story about someone who has given into temptation and explains that lust comes from one’s own heart. The author provides Scriptural evidence that the origin of lust is internal and not external as the “Pharisees emphasized” (42). Alcorn puts forward that a Christian must guard his or her thoughts to help fight sexual temptation. Christians “need to set mental boundaries” in order to protect purity (43). The author then begins to transition into offering practical daily steps Christians can use to protect themselves against sexual temptation. For example, he suggests making a “covenant with your eyes” (48).
Chapter six offers more practical advice as its title, “Wise Strategies” suggests (50). Alcorn presents several strategies for dealing with sexual temptations. The “most basic strategy” is that one must run from temptation (52). Alcorn gives several Scripture quotes that deal with fleeing from temptation and even suggests anticipating it. A very important approach Alcorn gives is Scripture memorization and prayer. He encourages Christians to “never underestimate Christ” and to live in His victory over sin (60).
Chapter seven opens with an illustration that ends up pointing to a popular box office hit which makes a powerful point of how prevalent and acceptable sex is in everyday life. This particular illustration should make any Christian question what they view on a daily basis. Alcorn sets the stage to explain how the enemy tries to “normalize evil” (61). In order to combat such normalized evil Alcorn charges that Christians need to take Jesus seriously and “think far more radically about sexual purity” (64). The rest of the chapter is spent giving practical suggestions with Scriptural backing of how to avoid sexual temptation from the TV to the computer.
Chapter eight offers principles for singles to stay sexually pure. Alcorn does not seek to be legalistic in providing guidelines, but to be “biblical and wise” (72). He tackles the question of how far Christians should go sexually in a relationship and even explains that dating is not necessary for those who are single. Alcorn ends the chapter providing a helpful 14 point list of dating guidelines for singles.
Chapter nine offers principles for parents and couples to stay sexually pure. Again, Alcorn offers practical advice with Scripture to ground his suggestions. He gives advice on how couples can “cultivate and guard” marriage through relationship evaluation, dating each other, being “fiercely loyal” and more (77-78). Alcorn also writes practically on the issues of attraction and honesty in a marriage. The chapter finishes with advice on raising pure children which is the shortest part of this chapter. He makes an important point that children will learn by the example of their parents’ lives and habits including having one standard for children and another for themselves. He concludes with urging parents to be their children’s “ultimate sex educators” (82).
The topics in chapter ten are “confession, accountability, and counting the cost” (83). Alcorn brings the reader back to the consequences of sin, but explains that by God’s grace one can move on past those sins. He encourages the reader that Christians cannot “win the battle” alone, but they need a “buddy system” (86). Alcorn shares helpful personal stories of accountability and suggests some accountability questions. He concludes the chapter offering his personal list of what committing adultery would cost him while encouraging the reader to make his or her own list.
Chapter eleven is the concluding chapter in which Alcorn explains that sexual purity is a battle that Christians can win. This short chapter encourages the reader to seek a life of purity because it is a life that is pleasing to God. A life pleasing to God will allow one to experience God’s “blessing and rewards” both presently and eternally (93).
For a book that is just shy of 100 pages TPP offers quite a bit of practical advice on being aware of and avoiding sexual temptation. The book’s strength lies within the practical applications it offers. What is disappointing about TPP is that it seems to assume the gospel. For example, the gospel is only mentioned once by name. Grace is mentioned several times, but Alcorn does not really explain what it means to do something ‘by God’s grace’. When writing about God rewarding those who make right choices towards purity, the rewards are never clearly defined. For those less mature it may be good to work through TPP with a mentor to prevent a slide toward moralism overshadowing the gospel. For the mature Christian who understands that the gospel is behind Alcorn’s advice this book can be very helpful for fighting sexual sin. It is with this concern in mind that I recommend TPP for its practical applications of fighting sexual sin and seeking purity.