Chapter Four: The Meaning of Singleness
The Value & Belonging of Christian Singleness
My upcoming book, The Meaning of Singleness, will be published by InterVarsity Press on May 9, 2023. In the lead up to its release, I’m sharing a short weekly excerpt, chapter by chapter.
You can pre-order or see more information about the book (including its full contents page, endorsements & a free sample chapter) here.
Chapter Four: The Value & Belonging of Christian Singleness
“So exists a palpable tension between the predominantly negative perception of the unmarried life discussed in the previous chapter, and certain biblical passages which indicate at least some instances of singleness are replete with some sort of godly value. In order to navigate this tension, the contemporary discourse has sought to distinguish (so-called) legitimate Christian singleness from illegitimate expressions of the same. The result of this endeavor has been the demarcation of three categories of the unmarried life, each of which validates singleness to varying extents as dependent on that category’s perceived purpose and value […] These three categories—gifted or called, transitional, and single-again—are generally used to demarcate what the contemporary church considers to be legitimate (i.e., godly) forms of the unmarried Christian life from their illegitimate (i.e., ungodly) counterparts.
Albert Mohler’s teaching provides a helpful insight into the general evangelical discourse on this point. In line with the broader conversation, Mohler argues that there “is no biblical category of enduring singleness, except for the gift of celibacy.”While the transitional category of singleness allows for some validation of non-enduring singleness, it must not be used to excuse delayed marriage because “unless given the calling of celibacy, Christians should honor marriage and seek to marry and to move into parenting and the full responsibilities of adulthood earlier rather than later in life.” Indeed, Mohler considers the deliberate putting off of marriage to be “the sin [which] I think besets this generation.” Such disobedience is usually motivated by and manifested within “simple sloth, personal immaturity, a fear of commitment, or an unbalanced priority given to work and profession. On the part of men, it may also take the shape of a refusal to grow up.” In fact, to Mohler’s mind, the prevalence of illegitimate singleness in the church is “primarily a problem that should be laid at the feet of young men.” By enjoying prolonged singleness, these young men fail to “grow up, take responsibility, lead, and find the woman God would have them to marry.” In so doing they consign innumerable young Christian women to the frustration of prolonged circumstantial singleness.
Mohler further concludes that this “pattern of sin” has “caused any number of ills in the larger society, and in the church.”That is to say, delays to marriage result in delays to adulthood (as per the forementioned maturity and sanctification narratives) and both of these lead to “ominous economic, political, and social implications.” Interestingly, the “single again” category is largely absent from Mohler’s argumentation. This is likely because the deemed link of marriage as essential to personal and spiritual maturity keeps his primary focus on those who have never married, thus making “marriage a priority in the critical years of young adulthood. In that cause, we have no time to wait.”
While many evangelical leaders and church communities would deny that they have directly adopted Mohler’s (or other comparable leaders’) rationale, such pervasive devaluation of singleness’ value and purpose is nonetheless endemically and subtly present throughout the evangelical discourse…”
Taken from The Meaning of Singleness by Danielle Treweek. Copyright © 2023 by Danielle Elizabeth Treweek. Published by InterVarsity Press, Downers Grove, IL. www.ivpress.com.
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Albert Mohler, The Mystery of Marriage—Part 1, “New Attitude Conference,” 2004, audio, 32:23, accessed July 21, 2022, www.albertmohler.com/2004/08/01/the-mystery-of-marriage-part-1/.
Albert Mohler, “The Problem of Delaying Marriage,” Ligonier Ministries, February 25, 2017, www .ligonier.org/learn/articles/problem-delaying-marriage.
Albert Mohler, “Looking Back at ‘The Mystery of Marriage’—Part One,” albertmohler.com, August 19, 2004, www.albertmohler.com/2004/08/19/looking-back-at-the-mystery-of-marriage-part-one.
Albert Mohler, “Looking Back at ‘The Mystery of Marriage’—Part Two,” albertmohler.com, August 20, 2004, www.albertmohler.com/2004/08/20/looking-back-at-the-mystery-of-marriage-part-two/.
Mohler, “Looking Back—Part One.”
Mohler, “Looking Back—Part One”
Mohler, “Looking Back—Part Two.”
Mohler, “The Problem of Delaying Marriage.”
Mohler, “The Problem of Delaying Marriage.”
Thanks, Dani. Looking forward to the book. I find that there in some churches here in the UK a deeply unhelpful pressure on young men to marry young, as if this will mature them, rather than an encouragement in godly singleness. This puts a burden on young women, who come to an emotional and physically maturity earlier - they become the ones made responsible for maturing men. This doesn't always happen, alas.