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Gift of Singleness (Part 3)

Before returning to the important kingdom business of changing diapers, Debbie Maken has, in her own words, endeavored to “dissect” my reply in my previous post. As we will see, “dissect” my reply she did, but very selectively, and in many places misleadingly.

Interaction with Maken’s Response

The opening salvo is that I and those in my “camp” (?) are “talk[ing] out of both sides of” our mouths. This is a surprisingly inflammatory way to start her critique, especially in light of her previous post objecting to my tone. Is this the tone she wants to use to model proper discourse? As to the substance of her comment, did then Jesus and Paul talk out of both sides of their mouth as well, since both affirmed marriage as the norm and remaining unmarried for the sake of God’s kingdom as a divinely gifted exception?

Maken then refers to “a highly subjective test for singleness” I employ “so that the general rule of marriage can be swallowed whole.” I am not sure what she means by “swallowed whole.” I will say more about the “highly subjective” part later.

Maken’s only response to my point that we should leave the decision whether or not to marry in an individual person’s case up to that person and the personal leading of the Holy Spirit is the sarcastic statement, “Learning that I am not the Holy Spirit has lightened my burden significantly. I rest much better at night now.” However, sarcasm is no substitute for argument.

She goes on to note that singleness “is not a question of Christian liberty” as is buying a car. Does she then advocate compelling people to marry? (Elsewhere [see below] she speaks of marriage as a “requirement.”) Certain associations come to mind in this regard.

Maken then expresses concern “for the spouse they [the person who sinfully did not pursue marriage] could have had.” These are fairly complex matters to delve into theologically, and ultimately it would be best to leave these issues up to God’s sovereign providence.

She goes on to say that, “for most of history, Christian singles were being led by the Spirit to pursue marriage early in life, but now the Holy Spirit is directing teams of Christian singles to pursue marriage later in life. Is God taking a detour in redemptive history?” This comment neglects to understand the cultural nature of certain marriage customs. In the ancient near East, girls often married very young, as early as age 13, and were given to their grooms by the parents in the form of arranged marriages. A dowry was paid, etc. (see my book God, Marriage & Family). Is Maken saying that all these ancient near Eastern customs are permanent and normative for today in all cultures, including the United States? Does she advocate girls marrying at age 13, never meeting their future husband, parents paying dowry, and so on? This seems to be the implication of her comments. However, again, very few would support her in this—hermeneutically, theologically, and culturally.

I question whether Maken is right that the decision whether or not to marry is on the same ethical level as the decision whether or not to have an abortion, or whether or not Christ is the only Savior. There is no “gift of hell” in Scripture, but there is a gift of remaining unmarried for the sake of God’s kingdom. Those are some really bad analogies, in my opinion. (Note I’m not saying Mrs. Maken is a bad person, just that she is using some bad analogies.)

Maken then attributes to me the statement and belief that “no ‘content’ single person . . . could be ‘self-deceived.’ ” This I never said, and do not believe. Let me ask this, however: Is Maken saying that all unmarried persons are self-deceived? This seems to be the case. If so, I would argue that this is an arrogant, judgmental, and highly inflammatory position for anyone to hold.

Maken also speaks of my “interchangeable usage of ‘singleness’ and ‘celibacy’ ” and calls this “sloppy.” Here is why I actually wrote:

To clarify, it may be helpful to note that neither “celibacy” nor “singleness” are biblical terms; the expression used most frequently in this context in Scripture is agamos, “unmarried.” Rather than erect an unbiblical dichotomy, therefore, it might be better to talk about people being divinely gifted to remain unmarried for the sake of God’s kingdom.

After this Maken reiterates her point that we must preach marriage (and having children) to the unmarried just as we must preach Christ to all. I have already addressed this point above. Again, let me say these are complex theological issues, and I believe Maken wades into these without adequate preparation.

Maken proceeds to state that “married to the wife/husband of our youth is required by God in Scripture” and that we ought not to “privatize our singleness as a cosmic unknown purely dependent on our circumstances or conscience or the personal leadings of the Holy Spirit.” Regarding Maken’s appeal to the Proverbs passage, this constitutes a misuse of Scripture, because (1) the passage in Proverbs talks about staying, not getting married; and (2) it is illegitimate to use this passage as biblical support for marriage being a “requirement.” To my knowledge, nowhere in Scripture is “requirement” language used with regard to marriage. As to Maken’s terminology, “privatize,” perhaps “personal” would be a better term. Indeed, the Holy Spirit’s leading is personal, is it not?

With regard to Maken’s claim that she has an “objective test” of whether or not a person should get married, it should be remembered that Matt. 19:11–12 and 1 Cor. 7:7 stipulate a divine gift of remaining unmarried for the sake of God’s kingdom. Which “objective” test does Maken suggest for determining if anyone has that gift? The “monumental achievement” test? The “immune to sexual temptation” test? These are hardly more objective tests than the ones she decries as unduly subjective.

She then cites Matthew 19 and 1 Corinthians 7 in support of the notion that “the fundamental nature of man required marriage, and that if he failed to marry in a timely fashion, he was placing his body and soul in spiritual peril.” I find it hard to see how these passages support Maken’s claim. Also, she cites the Westminster Catechism, while elsewhere being extremely critical of Reformed theology (including proponents such as John Piper). This seems to be a case of citing sources when they seem to support our argument but failing to cite them when they don’t. This is commonly known as “selective use of evidence” and does not qualify as serious scholarship.

Later, Maken holds up Jeremiah and John the Baptist as prototypes of those who remained unmarried for the sake of God’s kingdom. To be sure, these two individuals fall into this category, but how does Maken know they are typical? Neither Jesus nor Paul specifically cite Jeremiah or John the Baptist, or any other specific individual (other than Paul citing himself), nor do they say that this gift is “rare” or the like as I mentioned in my previous post (no response from Maken on this point).

In conclusion Maken claims that she has “an entire cadre” of theologians on her side, as well as “historical precedent . . . Scripture, and . . . good old-fashioned logic.” If so, one wonders why at the same time Maken gives the impression that she is the lone voice in the wilderness on this issue (sorry for this allusion to John the Baptist).

Unaddressed Issues

I mentioned at the outset that Maken is highly selective in “dissecting” my previous post. Here is a list of issues I raised that she does not address:

  • her argument that 1 Tim. 3:2 precludes unmarried men from serving in church leadership (to my knowledge held by no serious published commentator today); in addition, she requires that those who are married are also having children, but she never addresses implications of this requirement with regard to those unable to have children;
  • her rationale from God’s unchanging nature that marriage as the norm per Genesis 2 cannot now be changed to singleness as a divine gift (incidentally, how does she square this argument with Jesus’ statement that in the eternal state there will be no more marriage? if God is unchanging, and his unchanging purpose is marriage, how are we to interpret Jesus’ statement that there will be no marriage in heaven?);
  • my argument that neither in Jesus’ nor Paul’s statements on the subject (Matthew 19 and 1 Corinthians 7, respectively) is there any explicit reference made as to singleness being “rare” or limited to “monumental achievements” (Maken’s “objective test”).

Maken also seems unable or unwilling to acknowledge that I do advocate marriage as the norm today and refraining from marriage as being for those who are divinely gifted to do so. As I mentioned in my previous post, this is an area in which she and I agree (whether or not she is prepared to acknowledge this). It is unhelpful for someone who holds to an extreme position (as Maken does, marriage as the virtually universal “requirement”) to try to push someone who holds to a different view to the opposite extreme. What to her appears to be speaking out of both sides of one’s mouth is in fact an effort to hold biblical perspectives in tension, which is precisely what both Jesus and Paul sought to do in Matthew 19 and 1 Corinthians 7. I invite you to look at both passages and see that both Jesus and Paul sought to affirm the legitimacy of both marriage and remaining unmarried for the sake of God’s kingdom for those divinely gifted in those passages. It is unclear to me how Maken can claim to have Scripture on her side while failing to strike the same balance characteristic of Jesus and Paul in her adjudication of the issue.

Conclusion

I am struck by the man-centered nature and emphasis in Maken’s work. She calls on the unmarried to “get serious about getting married.” Is reality really as simple as this? Is lack of serious pursuit of marriage really and ultimately the most pressing problem, and getting serious about getting married the solution? It seems that Maken’s emphasis is almost unilaterally on man’s (or woman’s) initiative, while God’s providence and the Holy Spirit’s leading are disparaged. Are we not to trust God as to his timing and his way of leading in this intensely personal area of our lives? In the end, one wonders just how Christian Maken’s thinking is and to what extent shallow theology masks a focus on people going out and trying to force the hand of a recalcitrant and ambivalent God who has largely left humans to their own devices.


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