Kate Wharton, Single-Minded: Being Single, Whole and Living Life to the Full (Monarch, 2013)
The best books about Christian singleness are really books about Christian discipleship, because to live as a single Christian should be to live as a faithful disciple of Jesus. Single-Minded by Kate Wharton is a great exhortation to single people to live a life of faithful Christian discipleship and to married people to play their part in helping their unmarried friends to do so.
Kate is a Church of England vicar and Assistant National Leader for New Wine. The book grew out of several seminars on singleness that Kate delivered at the New Wine summer conference, and draws on her personal experience of being single, reflections on the Bible’s teaching, and surveys of and conversations with many Christians, both married and single.
Single-Minded explores a range of subjects relevant to Christian singleness, including the truth that single people are whole people, able to enjoy fullness of life with Jesus; how to navigate the Church’s obsession with marriage and the world’s obsession with sex; living a pure life in which God comes first, and the specific experience of becoming single again either through divorce or the death of a spouse. Throughout, she writes in a warm and down-to-earth way, always keeping faithfulness to Jesus at the centre.
A couple of the chapters stood out to me. ‘Single Again’, exploring the experience of those who find themselves to be single through divorce or the death of the spouse, is particularly valuable as it looks at a distinctive element of some people’s experience that is not often talked about. The chapter on sex (‘Living a God-obsessed life in a sex-obsessed world’) is an admirably honest and courageous discussion of the call to celibacy in singleness. Kate doesn’t shy away from acknowledging the difficulty of living out the Bible’s teaching, but also expresses her confidence that it is possible and shares practical tips to help singles, as well as important challenges to church leaders.
Single people will resonate with much of what she says, and hopefully that will prove an encouragement as we are reminded that we are not alone in our experiences.
There are many strengths in Single-Minded. Kate’s honesty in sharing about her own experience and her research in talking to many other Christians allows her to effectively communicate something of what life can be like for single Christians. Single people will resonate with much of what she says, and hopefully that will prove an encouragement as we are reminded that we are not alone in our experiences, and married people will gain a better insight into what it is like to be a single person in the UK church. This insight may be one of the most valuable contributions of the book for Christians who are married and who want to love and support their single friends.
Another strength is in the balance between acknowledging the difficulties of singleness – Kate certainly doesn’t present a naive or overly optimistic picture – while also recognising the benefits. As singles, because of our cultural context, it can be easy to focus on the negatives of our situation while overlooking the positives. Resources like Single-Minded can offer us a helpful challenge in this area. I would note one thing though. Some aspects of the portrayal of the benefits of singleness are quite specific to those in a certain social and economic position. When we talk about Christian singleness, we must be careful not to portray it only in a form that fits middle-class, educated Christians. This is something that many who speak and write on Christian singleness, myself included, could benefit from reflecting upon further.
What I loved most about Single-Minded is the way Kate calls all of us to life with Jesus as the best life we could live. While acknowledging the importance and impact of our relationship status, she doesn’t allow it to dominate as the most important thing. Rather, she calls us to a life devoted to Jesus, highlighting that perhaps the greatest blessing of Christian singleness is the opportunity for ‘single-minded devotion to God’ (p.47).
Any reader will benefit from Kate’s book. Christian singles will be encouraged and challenged, called back to what is most important. Married people will be equipped with a greater understanding of the experience of singleness and how they can best love and support single friends. And those who are not yet followers of Jesus, but who may be wrestling with the implications of the gospel for their own lives or the lives of those they love, will see that the single celibate life is full of wonderful opportunity when it is lived with Jesus.