Review of 7 Myths about Singleness by Sam Alberry
Sam Alberry is eager for his readers to grasp what he calls “the positive vision the Bible gives us of singleness”. “When I started this project”, he says, “my initial aim was to write about the goodness of singleness. It is often maligned or demeaned in the church today. I wanted to redress that”. If this positive vision of singleness is to be ours, however, some “common misconceptions” need to be overturned. In the book title itself they are called “myths”. Alberry addresses seven of them.
A question before we come to the first: what does it actually mean to be single? For the Christian, writes Alberry, it means two things, “being both unmarried and committed (for as long as we remain unmarried) to sexual abstinence”. In today’s world, by and large, the sexual abstinence part isn’t in the picture. Celibacy is widely regarded, in fact, as both weird and even harmful. It is, however, God’s will for singles and therefore a good thing.
So what are the seven myths? The first is that singleness is too hard, especially because it involves being sexually abstinent. Alberry is honest about the difficulties of singleness but denies that they are so great that it is unreasonable to expect someone to live a celibate life. He helpfully balances the picture by reminding singles of something that can be easily overlooked, namely, that marriage has its difficulties too.
The second myth is that singleness requires a special calling. A particular endowment from God is needed if singleness is to be coped with well, and not every single has it. Alberry doesn’t deny that it’s appropriate to speak about ‘the gift of singleness’. He insists, however, that it is singleness itself that is the gift. We are to think about it as a good thing – a good gift from God – that opens up unique opportunities for service.
A third myth is that singleness means no intimacy. “It has become an unquestioned assumption today: singleness (biblically conceived) and intimacy are alternatives…In the West, we have virtually collapsed sex and intimacy into each other…We can’t really conceive of genuine intimacy without its being ultimately sexual”. Intimacy and singleness, however, are not alternatives. Through the cultivation of close friendships intimacy can be as an enriching a reality for singles as for those who are married.
A fourth myth is that singleness means no family. The chapter addressing this particular myth is the longest in the book and focusses on the family of God to which all believers – single and married – belong. Alberry writes, “If we don’t have any physical family, we’re not to think we have been left with no experience of family life at all…Jesus says this should not be the case”. And if the church to which a single believer belongs is functioning as the church family it ought to be, it will not be the case.
The fifth myth addressed is that singleness hinders ministry. Neither Scripture nor experience suggests that it does. On the contrary, singleness can be an advantage. Paul indicates that in his treatment of the subject in 1 Corinthians 7. Alberry cites the example of John Stott who would not, he says, “have been so profoundly used by God were it not for his singleness, enabling him to give himself so deeply to so many people in so many places”. Here is his conclusion: “Just as marriage by itself isn’t a qualification for gospel ministry, so also singleness by itself isn’t a hindrance”.
What’s the sixth myth? Singleness wastes your sexuality. Alberry asks, “If we are to live lives of celibacy, does that mean our sexuality is now playing no active role in our lives? Are people like me wasting our sexuality by not giving expression to our sexual desires?” Part of his answer is as follows: “Our sexual feelings remind us that what we forgo on a temporal plane now, we will enjoy in fullness in the new creation for eternity. Sexual unfulfillment…becomes a means of deepening our sense of the fuller, deeper satisfaction we await in Jesus. It helps us to hunger more for him”. The argument is complex but it does grapple with the issue helpfully.
The seventh and last myth is that singleness is easy. It is not. Sam Alberry is a single man himself and understands it from the inside. “Marriage and singleness”, he says, “are both good gifts from God, ways in which we can experience God’s goodness, but in a fallen world they’re gifts that come with unique difficulties. Neither is easy. Both are painful. Each has its ups and downs…” He bears moving personal testimony to his own struggles but concludes on this so helpful note: “I need to know that while there is so much beyond my capacity to handle, there is nothing beyond his. I don’t need to worry about facing more than I can cope with; I only need to worry about facing more than God can cope with. And that thought gives me good cheer”.
To think about singleness is a valuable thing for the whole church to do. It might one day be a reality for those of us who are married (should death take our spouse away). An understanding of singleness will also help the married among us in our care of those who are single. 7 Myths about Singleness, in other words, is a book from which we all might benefit. But especially singles themselves – including those who are struggling with same-sex attraction. Alberry is keenly aware of contemporary thinking, pressures and temptations, and writes with insight, sympathy, and biblically-shaped wisdom. He is also deeply persuaded not only of the goodness of singleness but of God’s goodness. It is something with which he became increasingly preoccupied as he wrote his book. “The issue”, he says, “is not whether this or that path is better, whether singleness or marriage would bring me more good. The issue is God and whether I will plunge myself into him, trusting him every day…Let’s aim for more of God”, he concludes, “assured that whatever happens, we will never outpace his kindness to us”.