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Meaning of singlness

Review: “The Meaning of Singleness” by Dani Treweek

As I give my testimony when delivering speaking engagements on behalf of TFT, I often find myself sharing what the reasons were that I decided to contact TFT and pursue membership in the first place. One of those reasons related to a struggle over what seemed like an accepted evangelical narrative – one that said I must marry and have children if I’m ever to advance into spiritual adulthood. Probably many TFT members have felt that, at times, the Church has told them that singleness is second best.

Theology of singleness

Dani Treweek serves as a theological researcher in the Anglican Diocese of Sydney. In this scholarly book, she seeks to demonstrate what she calls “the unique intelligibility and privileged inhabitability of singleness” in the lives of God’s people, and in the Church. Treweek presents a theology of singleness that is rooted in the age that is coming on the other side of Christ’s return, arguing that singleness in this age allows us to anticipate the completion of our union with Christ in a way that is distinct from, but equal in beauty to, biblical marriage.

This is an academic book, coming out of Treweek’s doctoral studies. It is extremely well researched, and would make a great starting place for anyone wanting to do a significant study of their own on the topic. That shouldn’t put off other types of reader though, as church leaders and those with a more casual interest in the topic would likely find it quite readable. The book is helpfully broken down into four parts, and chapters can be read independently of each other.

History and culture of singleness

Treweek opens the book in part one by looking at perceptions of singleness through history in both church and culture. Want to know how unmarried women went from being thought of as the epitome of purity and beauty to being thought of as ‘spinsters’, or worse, a threat to traditional family values? The first part of the book has you covered. The second part of the book turns to address some of the missteps the church has taken in its attitude towards singleness. This was one of my favourite parts of the book, as it gave language to the narrative that has been heard by many of my single brothers and sisters. That singleness is characterised by lack, inadequacy and unfulfillment. Treweek provides a critique of this view.

Part three is the lengthiest and most academically dense part of the book. Treweek recognises that Christianity hasn’t always thought the same way about singleness as it does today. Here, she seeks to mine the riches of Christian thought through history, to see what lessons there might be for the modern age. Attention is given to three fields of study: church history, biblical exegesis (focusing mainly on Matthew 22 and 1 Corinthians 7) and the thought of four noteworthy theologians. The final part of the book weaves all that has gone before together and paints a positive vision of singleness as a gift for both individual disciples and the wider Church. 

Emotional breadth

A strength of this book, which you don’t often see in academic works, is that Treweek is acutely aware of the complex gamut of emotion that comes with talking about these subjects. It actually made me think about something I said at a recent speaking engagement about the temporality of human marriage; owing to Matthew 22 teaching there will be no marriage in the age to come, as perhaps sounding a little insensitive towards those in the room who are happily married. Here, Treweek helpfully points to RC Sproul, who reminds us that while legal/covenantal relationships of that type between believers will not exist in the new creation, our love for one another will be made perfect and, therefore, will only increase.

God’s design

This isn’t an especially practical book. If you’re looking for some punchy, handy hints on how to make the most of your singleness as a Christian, or how to facilitate the best conditions for Christian community, this won’t be for you. What this book will give you is a deeper understanding of the significance of singleness and how it relates to other areas of theology (particularly eschatology). As theoretical as that sounds, understanding God’s design can help us to live at ease with our circumstances and know our place in His plans and purposes. For the person who struggles with their own singleness, that just might be the reassurance needed to keep going and press into the Lord. 

This article was originally published in the Spring 2024 edition of the TFT magazine, Ascend. Click the button below to download your copy.

Download the Spring 2024 edition of Ascend