One of the most challenging issues for single Christians, including mission workers, is the church’s seldom-questioned assumption that marriage is good. The church rightly celebrates marriage, parenting and fidelity but the corollary to this assumption is the implication that singleness is wrong. If married people are defined by what they have, singles are defined by what they don’t have, and that can be seen as an underlying deficiency.
This means that those who are married often fail to affirm and celebrate singles, while the singles can spend their lives feeling that they are somehow abnormal. Unchecked, this negative attitude can undermine their spiritual wellbeing and come to dominate their thoughts and emotions.
Barry Danylak’s book Redeeming Singleness tackles this challenge head on. It is one of the very few quality resources that Syzygy regularly recommends to single people at our events (along with our own Single Mission!). At one such event recently, after we outlined Danylak’s proposition, one person in the audience commented “I feel really angry that these things are not being taught in our churches.”
We share that concern, which is why we recommend Barry’s book. Academic without sacrificing readability, Redeeming Singleness propounds a positive theology of singleness that is absent from most churches today, despite the huge heritage of single people serving effectively in mission and ministry over the centuries.
David Hayward @ Naked Pastor.tumblr.com
Danylak starts by acknowledging the high importance attached to marriage in the Bible, particularly in the Genesis account where it is apparent that marriage has the duel function of companionship (Genesis 2:18) and procreation (1:28 and 2:24). However he soon moves into explaining that it was important for people in the Old Testament to be married because they had no concept of the afterlife. They lived on in their descendants (hence the significance of the genealogies) and in the land which they passed on to their descendants.
Thus, for an individual in Israel to be devoid of spouse, children, and land, such as Naomi on her return to Israel, was to feel the weight of divine judgment (Ruth 1:21-22).
Having established this base, Danylak shows how the prophets, particularly Isaiah, pave the way for a New Testament refocussing. The woman who cannot have children is promised that she will have more ‘children’ than a mother (54:1-5). The man who cannot have children (56:2) is promised something better – a lasting place and an eternal memorial.
Danylak then goes on to unpack Jesus’ frequently overlooked statement that, if you can handle it, it’s better to live a single life for God (Matthew 19:11-12) and then follows it up with an analysis of Paul’s teaching in 1 Corinthians 7 to demonstrate that there is significant esteem given to the single lifestyle by these two Jewish rabbis who, given their cultural background, might be expected to do exactly the opposite:
What is striking in Paul’s counsel to his Greco-Roman audience is that, while his perspective on sexuality and sexual ethics is so clearly rooted in the moral tenets of Old Testament law, his response on the question of marriage and singleness appears to be anything but a traditional Jewish perspective.
What happens to the blessing to Abraham? It’s fulfilled in his ‘seed’ Jesus and in the ‘children’ of Jesus. What happens to the blessing on Adam and Eve when they were told to ‘Go and multiply’? This commandment is nowhere reiterated in the New Testament. It is replaced by ‘Go and make disciples’, and in doing so, the followers of Jesus inherit the blessing.
This book is an excellent contribution to the well-being of single people. It helps them overcome the implicit stigma of living a single life and be able to embrace their singleness through finding scriptural affirmation. It fully demonstrates that while marriage may be normative in Christian culture, it is not the only way of living, and that singleness is equally, though differently, blessed. Danylak concludes with:
Singleness lived to the glory of God and the furtherance of his kingdom testifies to the complete sufficiency of Christ for all things. The Christian is fully blessed in Christ, whether he or she is married or single, rich or poor, in comfort or distress.
This clear, concise Biblical teaching needs to reach a wider audience, so that single Christians will be encouraged and the church will be equipped to bring balanced teaching to facilitate a Christian culture fully supportive of both single and married people.
Redeeming Singleness (ISBN 978-1-4335-0588-1) is available from all good online retailers both as a hard copy and ebook.