Sam Allberry, 7 Myths about Singleness. Wheaton: Crossway, 2019. 172pp.
Sam is a pastor, speaker, and writer with Ravi Zacharias International Ministries, as well as an editor for the Gospel Coalition. He is the author of a number of books, including Is God Anti-Gay? James For You; and Why Bother with Church? He is also a writer and co-founder for the website Living Out which provides stories and Christian resources for those who are same-sex attracted. Sam has been involved in pastoral ministry for years and has remained single during that time. This book is an outflow of his work and ministry and a resource for what he discerns to be a needed area of consideration for Christians.
In this book, Sam deals with issues or perceived issues in the church around the topic of singleness. The seven myths he addresses are: (1) Singleness is too hard, (2) it requires a special calling, (3) it means no intimacy, (4) it means no family, (5) it hinders ministry, (6) it wastes your sexuality, and (7) it is easy. For any single adults who are committed Christians and members of a church, they have probably heard most of these ideas in the church. Sadly, these ideas can often be preached or mentioned in a sermon within the church, but this book contends that these are all myths and that the Bible has something far different to say.
The book begins with a clear statement of its intent: “much of what we commonly assume to be the case with singleness is either flat-out untrue or, at the very least, really shouldn’t be true” (p. 11). Additionally, he notes that many Christian books on singleness suggest that it is awful and that no one in their right mind would choose it. But this book seeks to be different and to show a more balanced view of singleness and its place in the family of God. He is clear that from Christianity’s perspective, to be single means being both unmarried and committed to sexual abstinence (p. 12). This means that singleness will look very different for a Christian as opposed to a nonchristian. Additionally, he points out that with the rise of divorce statistics and the natural reality that most married couples do not die on the same day, many churches are filled with those who are single or who have recently been made single again by life’s circumstances. As such, this problem is not going away and the church must consider once again what the Bible has to say on the matter.
For many, they consider singleness to be too difficult of an option. The primary reason is because, at least in a Christian context, it means one must go without sex. But Jesus speaks of marriage and sexuality within it as a difficult thing whereas our culture has suggested we need to redefine marriage and make it as easy to get into and out of as possible. Both in this area, as well as the rest of the book, Sam points out that the Church has often been guilty of getting her ideas from the world and not from the Scriptures. Furthermore, to say that one must have sex and romance to be fully human is to suggest that Jesus was subhuman in some way since he had neither by choice. Of course, this cannot be the case.
Throughout the book, many helpful contrasts and explanations are considered. Here are a few that might catch your attention. First, singles often compare the lows of singleness with the highs of marital life. That is, they compare their down moments with the honeymoon moments of a marriage. But it is correctly pointed out that marriages have difficult times as well and that we must acknowledge that both situations have their challenges (p.30). Second, singleness does allow a greater freedom and flexibility to serve the Lord. This is a good thing; singles are able to do things in ways that married Christians cannot. Third, when we speak of singleness as a gift of God, we are not saying it is a sort of superhuman ability. Rather, the Biblical understanding of a gift is that it is an ability or situation that should be used to build other Christians up. This is a helpful clarification as some think of singleness as only for certain superhuman missionaries etc. Fourth, singleness does not mean you cannot have intimacy. The point is made that many married people do not think they have intimacy with their spouse, so marriage is not the savior of everything as some like to believe. Here is perhaps the greatest strength of the book: the emphasis on the local church acting like the body of Christ as He commanded. If the church is acting like the body of Christ, that means that those who are single can still have family relationships, intimacy and belonging even if they never marry.
Part of the problem is that the Western world conflates sex and intimacy. But these are not the same thing. Many who have sex have no intimacy, and those with close personal friends and relationships may not be having sex, but there is plenty of intimacy and a sense of belonging. But in a world where society is often only surface-deep in their relationships, this distinction is difficult to fathom because most have never experienced it. This idea of intimacy is often linked with family. It is tempting to think that a single person cannot have either, but this is not what the Bible says.
Perhaps more than any other section of the book, this one will help a Christian to think more fully of how the church can be the family/body of Christ. At this point in the book, Sam gives several illustrations and suggestions of how the church can begin to act more like a family. By recapturing the Christian idea of hospitality and having others into one’s home, a much more intentional type of Christian-family life can be fostered. Christian families can invite other families and singles into their homes, and they can become part of the family. Additionally, the suggestion is made that families and singles in a church might go on holiday together or share other moments that are typically reserved only for the family units.
Furthermore, he spends time considering the many ways in which Christian singles can serve the Lord in a manner that families cannot. There are many demands on time, energy and resources for the husband and wife in a family that the single Christian does not experience. This allows them to serve in a unique way for the benefit of all in the church. Sam’s own life makes this abundantly clear. What if churches caught the vision of singleness that this book suggests? Then they would be more loving, close-knit, considerate, and friendly groups than they are currently. Furthermore, they would offer a much better expression of the body of Christ than is often offered at present. Perhaps Tim Keller says it best in his recommendation of the book on the inside cover: “the local congregation must be not merely a loose network of families but a close-knit family itself, consisting of both married couples and singles, all living together as brothers and sisters. This volume will show us how to do that.”