A Brief Review of
Why Celibacy Must Be Reinvented in Today’s Church.
Christine A. Colon and Bonnie E. Field.
Paperback: Brazos Press, 2009.
Buy now: [ ChristianBook.com ] Reviewed by Rebecca Henderson.
Another book on singleness…GREAT (tone: extreme sarcasm)…what 10-step quick-fix formula will this one present to lead me to a spouse? Thankfully, refreshingly, none at all. That’s not what this new book is about. Singled Out invited me into a world I’ve known experientially for years, but have had little context for outside my own life or that of my friends—living single within the seemingly married world of the Church. It enlightened me on historical perspectives, both Christian and secular, of my state as a single Christian. Many of the topics discussed were familiar…painfully so…and current. Through the authors’ depth and breadth of research, I gained a new understanding of the dignity and value, as well as criticisms, that have existed for singleness and celibacy throughout history. Both positive and negative images of celibacy are discussed, as well as current demographics of singleness within the United States and the implications they present for the church in America as it ministers to a growing number of older singles today.
Ironically, the very week I began reading Singled Out, my church kicked off a 6-week sermon series titled, “Song of Solomon: God’s plan for love, marriage, and sex.” I have to be honest…the ONLY reason I continued to attend those 6 weeks was to see how my church measured up when compared to what I was learning in this book. Not unlike several examples presented in Singled Out, my church prefaced each marriage talk by stating that I, as a single, shouldn’t tune out because I would most likely be married one day. Therefore, I should pay attention and glean wisdom for my future relationship. Really? Was there no way to utilize these truths now…single? And if I never get married? Will these truths from scripture be irrelevant to my life altogether? But reading Singled Out throughout the marriage series encouraged me to stay engaged in my faith community and initiate discussions regarding how our church incorporated and ministered to singles in general, especially during 6 weeks of Song of Solomon.
I appreciated several things about Singled Out. First, the authors fearlessly and authentically address sensitive issues such as celibate sexuality. Specifically, they recognize that sexuality encompasses all types of relational intimacy, not just intercourse, and leads us to intimate connection with God. Jesus is our perfect example of sexuality within celibacy on earth. Second, Colon and Field identify dangerous historical messages within the church that promote either marriage or celibacy over the other. A few of the assumptions they challenge are that marriage/sex are rewards for obedience, marriage is God’s primary institution on earth, and spiritual maturity happens through marriage, not singleness. Third, through a detailed account of Scripture, as well as other Christian authors, they remind us that our identity and ultimate loyalty are in Christ, not a spouse or nuclear family. The authors are careful to point out that this does not devalue marriage but allows celibacy to be a valid option for Christians. And while the Bible shows that both marriage and celibacy are good, it’s human tendency to elevate one over the other.
A frequent occurrence within Christian communities today is that many people find their common ground based on life status or season rather than their relationship as brothers and sisters in Christ. Singled Out admonishes the church to place marriage into an eternal perspective, acknowledge the complexities of older singles, and work toward creating communities whose structures make chastity and celibacy attainable through loving support. I found myself shouting, “Amen!” as the authors point out that loneliness, rather than sexual desire, is the most difficult problem for singles. Whether I am sitting by myself Sunday morning in a sea of couples and families, or reading a book at a coffee shop, it is relational connection and care I am longing for, not sex. I was encouraged to read how some churches are making genuine efforts to structure their communities to this end.
Singled Out reoriented my view of celibacy back on scripture and reminded me of the host of ‘celibate’ witnesses throughout history that have glorified God fully and passionately in their singleness, the greatest of which was Christ himself. But going beyond the individual, Colon and Field ultimately pose a question for us, the church—the answer to which could profoundly alter our faith communities, regardless if we’re single, married, or somewhere in between—“What would it mean for our church family truly to be our family?” I would like to find out.
Rebecca Henderson is a counselor and writer, based in Longview, Texas. She is currently working on a book on her experiences with Christian singleness.
C. Christopher Smith is the founding editor of The Englewood Review of Books. He is also author of a number of books, including most recently How the Body of Christ Talks: Recovering the Practice of Conversation in the Church (Brazos Press, 2019). Connect with him online at: C-Christopher-Smith.com
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