7 Myths about SinglenessWritten by Sam Allberry Reviewed By Danielle Treweek
One might well imagine that with all the books on singleness to be found on the shelves of Christian bookstores, we scarcely need another. Yet Sam Allberry’s 7 Myths about Singleness shows that we do. Far from being another self-helpesque book designed to equip unmarried Christians to somehow “eke out something just about tolerable” from their singleness (p. 12), 7 Myths about Singleness sets out to explore the Bible’s presentation of singleness as something infinitely more than tolerable. This is precisely what makes it such an important contribution to this topic.
Rather than simply taking the form of an extended exegesis of 1 Corinthians 7, or perhaps providing an account of all the wonderful ways in which God has worked through particular single Christians in history, Allberry paves an entirely different path. Not only does 7 Myths seek to recover a genuinely theological account of singleness from the pages of Scripture, it also seeks to uncover just how far much contemporary evangelicalism has wandered from that account. Indeed, Allberry argues that it is only in overturning some common misconceptions within Christianity today, that the “whole church, single and married, [may] understand the positive vision the Bible gives us of singleness” (p.15)—hence the title! His overall intention is to facilitate a scripturally informed shift away from the view that singleness, for the Christian, is a state of inherent negation or lacking, to the view that it is a state of implicit blessing and opportunity.
For a comparatively short book, 7 Myths is a remarkably thorough exploration of the following modern Christian fallacies about singleness: (1) it is too hard, (2) requires a special calling, (3) means no intimacy, (4) means no family, (5) hinders ministry, (6) wastes your sexuality, and (7) is easy. With the addition of an introduction, a conclusion and an appendix (the last being a short treatise on how to avoid sexual sin), each of the seven chapters analyses the roots, the content and the implications of a particular myth. Allberry’s writing is concise, yet compelling. He fills out the substance of each myth by including personal illustrations, popular examples, commonly held theological teachings and recurrent pastoral attitudes, while also critically holding up each misconception to the penetrating and corrective light of Scripture.
One of the strengths of this methodology is that it allows—in fact it requires—the reader to be confronted by a range of uncomfortable realities that current evangelical discourse often prefers to ignore. For example, within the first few pages, Allberry gently reminds his readers of the difficult fact that most married people will, one day, be single again themselves (p. 14). A number of chapters later he affirms the often-unappreciated biblical truth that marriage is for this life only, and that all of us will be unmarried in eternity (p. 119). Elsewhere he challenges his readers to acknowledge that Jesus teaches that marriage can be too hard for some (Matt 19:11–12; pp. 23–25). Meanwhile, in his chapters on intimacy, family and sexuality, Allberry patiently seeks to expose the unbiblical underbelly of much Christian culture, which all too often regards our sex lives as core to our sense of personhood (p. 18); sees a life absent of romantic hope as a life only partially lived (p. 26); and tends to collapse sex and intimacy together so that they are virtually synonymous (p. 48).
And yet, as he goes about this task of identifying our mistaken ideals and demolishing our unrecognized idols, Allberry (who has years of pastoral ministry experience) is consistently humble, gentle and loving. As a single man he takes no glee—or even comfort—in the struggles of those who are married. Indeed, in a remarkably honest moment he contends that he would “choose the lows of singleness over the lows of marriage any day of the week. I think being unhappily married must be so much harder than being unhappily single” (p. 30). The author’s willingness to expose his own vulnerability through the many personal musings, experiences and reflections relayed in the book is another of its key strengths. Perhaps the most remarkable example of this comes towards the end of the book when Allberry bravely recounts a recent season of life in which he experienced an unrelenting escalation of the anxieties that singleness can bring. He writes that he viewed everything through the lens that there were “no guarantees, since people can move, or marry, or have some other commitment that supersedes their friendship with me. So, I reasoned, no matter how fond of me a good friend seemed to be, they would drop me when work or family warranted it” (p. 137).
This illustrates another compelling aspect of the book—the pastoral insight provided to married readers (including pastors) into the unspoken thoughts, fears and disappointments experienced by many single Christians, as well as suggestions of how those readers might be able to meet those anxieties with real and demonstrable love. Yet, as noted at the beginning of this review, none of this is framed as an endeavor of Christianized self-help. Rather, Allberry’s approach is deeply theological. Of particular significance are his extended biblical explorations on the nature of friendship (ch. 3) and Jesus’ reconstitution of family (ch. 4). These chapters confront the modern Christian tendency to see marriage as the ideal form of friendship and the biological family as the Christian’s primary place of belonging. In so doing, they challenge married readers to drastically expand their theological vision of Christian relationships. Of course, the book also seeks to challenge the presuppositions and practices of single Christians too, calling them to exploit their singleness for a life of intentional devotion to Christ and proactive sacrificial service of others.
It is difficult for me to provide any points of critical engagement with 7 Myths about Singleness. The reason (from my own unmarried Christian perspective at least) is that there seems little to criticize, both in terms of content and communication. Instead, it might be instructive for me to relay a personal anecdote. Upon finishing the book, I shared an excerpt from it with a married friend in pastoral ministry. In the part I shared, Allberry had reflected on some of the (often unrecognized) practical complexities of the single life, in an effort to encourage those who are married (and particularly those in ministry) to be more creatively intentional in their care for singles. My married minister friend responded that it was good to read, but then immediately went on to express how his experience of marriage was also complex in its own unique ways. It’s “not all one way,” he said. There needs to be some “balance.”
Of course, Allberry would agree with this sentiment. Indeed, on multiple occasions in his book, he communicates his recognition that marriage is indeed uniquely difficult and complex. But this is a book on singleness. A book on singleness that, many would argue, is long overdue. A book on singleness that intentionally seeks to counter and correct the dominant evangelical narrative that all too easily veers toward a view of marriage as the normative experience, desired goal and greatest good of every Christian.
Perhaps the little bit of “imbalance” that 7 Myths about Singleness provides is exactly what we need.
St Mark’s National Theological Centre
Canberra, New South Wales, Australia
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