The Meaning of Singleness: A Review

Kate Wharton
Reviews 3 mins

Dani Treweek, The Meaning of Singleness: Retrieving an Eschatological Vision for the Contemporary Church (IVP Academic, 2023)

Despite the number of new Christian books that seem to be published year upon year, there are still relatively few books written on the subject of singleness. Indeed, I wrote one myself, and that was ten years ago! I was absolutely delighted, therefore, to learn that Dani Treweek, whose social media interactions I really value, had written a book. I certainly wasn’t disappointed and would highly recommend it.

There are four distinct sections to Dani’s book, and they all set out to do something slightly different. The first section is called ‘The Context of Singleness’. Here she looks at singleness in society and in the Church. Dani looks back through history at how singleness has been perceived and how single people have been treated over time. She provides a fascinating overview of the place in which we now find ourselves, and how we have got here.

The second section is called ‘The Diagnosis of Singleness’. Here she looks firstly at what she calls the ‘character’ of Christian singleness – that is, what exactly does the Church teach about singleness, and why and what are the effects of that on the Church and on single people themselves. She considers the extent to which singleness is seen as an ‘aberrant’ state within the Church, and single people as therefore inherently unfulfilled. Then, secondly, she looks at what she calls the ‘value and belonging’ of Christian singleness. Here she considers the value of singleness to the individual person, and also the sense of belonging which a single Christian may or may not feel within the Church. She critiques the binary way in which single Christians today are often defined as single by choice or by circumstance, and suggests that the reality is far more nuanced and complex.

The third section is called ‘The Retrieval of Singleness’, and it looks at that theme in three areas: in Church history, in biblical exegesis, and in Christian theology. This is the most ‘academic’ part of the book, and in my opinion is what sets it apart from other, similar recent books. In many ways this is a positive, as this academic deep dive provides important insights and challenges into the whole subject. It’s possible, however, that this section of the book might put some people off, as it’s undeniably a more complex read than the rest of the book, and indeed than most of the other singleness books you might come across.

The fourth and final section is called ‘The Meaning of Singleness’ (the same as the title of the whole book). The subsections here are ‘Telling the Time’, ‘Making the Meaning’, and ‘Continuing the Conversation’. This part of the book pulls together all that has gone before and offers some really helpful thoughts about what is needed going forward if the Church is truly to welcome and embrace and honour single people as the Bible does.

It is worthy of being read by a wide range of people and is definitely not just for single people.

Dani is clear that in many ways the Church has got things wrong in how it has understood singleness. She writes of ‘the compromised and diminished character, value, and place of belonging of unmarried Christians today’ (p.218). She clearly and robustly critiques this way of being, while helpfully offering suggestions as to what needs to change. She says that ‘the unmarried Christian life [is] typically portrayed as either an exceptional miracle to be embraced, a problem to be solved, an interim period to be endured, or a tragedy to be lamented… Evangelicals need a church-wide, theologically faithful, biblically driven, pastorally oriented “gestalt shift” [that is, change in perspective] on this topic’ (pp.218-219).

This book is a really important contribution to the ongoing conversation around singleness in today’s Church. I know I will return to it again and again. It is worthy of being read by a wide range of people and is definitely not just for single people.