The end of singleness? Towards a theological retrieval of singleness for the contemporary christian church

Danielle Treweek

Research output: ThesisDoctoral Thesis

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The opening chapters of this thesis contend that the contemporary Western discourse’s hegemonic ideology of marriage—and of romantic partnership and sexual gratification more generally—has resulted in the pervasive discernment of the single life as at best deficient and at worst deviant. We further argue that the contemporary Western church’s theological construct of singleness (and alternatively marriage) has proven itself to be so heavily populated by many of the same secular doxic convictions that on these matters it is difficult to distinguish between the two discourses.

In light of the ever-growing demographic of single individuals within both secular and Christian society, it has become increasingly incumbent upon the church to re-evaluate its prevailing theological and pastoral diminishment of the unmarried Christian life, and to subsequently reformulate a theology of singleness which is in accordance with faithful Scriptural exegesis and doctrine. We suggest that particularly relevant to such a task is the sense in which sustained eschatological reflection may support a more theologically expansive and pastorally sustaining ethic of Christian singleness.

However, this endeavor ought not be conceived of as a novel theological pursuit, indigenous only to the present moment. The church of the past is ripe with resources which are of vital potential to such an inquiry. In part two of this thesis we thus define, establish and deploy the mode of theological retrieval, in order to provide renewed impetus towards, and rediscovered content of a thick theology of singleness for the contemporary church.

Our retrieval is undertaken within three specific fields of theological inquiry. In the first instance, we explore the historico-theological development of virginity (as a pre-cursor to the contemporary construct of singleness) within the eras of Christian Antiquity and the Middle Ages. This analysis functions as both a contextual backdrop to subsequent chapters, and as a meta-exercise of theological retrieval in its own right. We secondly embark on a reception history of a number of key texts that are particularly relevant to our purposes. In ascertaining how they have been received across two millennia of Christian history, we identify a number of significant exegetical implications for an eschatologically focused retrieval of singleness. Thirdly, we dialogue with the constitutive elements of four eschatologically informed accounts of Christian singleness, as presented by four distinctly significant and significantly distinct Christian theologians located across the spectrum of the church’s history and tradition.

Through this multilayered exercise of retrieval, we identify, interrogate and, finally, integrate a number of key motifs of singleness’ eschatological import that have proven to be doctrinally and pastorally nourishing throughout Christian history. These threads of retrieval are presented as a range of diverse “ends” of singleness that are either “recentring” and “decentring” in their theological significance. It is within these ends of singleness that we ultimately discover the critical significance of the single form of the Christian life in the present—both for the unmarried individual themselves, but just as importantly, for the sake of the body of Christ as a whole.
Original languageEnglish
QualificationDoctor of Philosophy
Awarding Institution
  • Charles Sturt University
  • Cameron, Andrew, Principal Supervisor
  • Foulcher, Jane, Co-Supervisor
Place of PublicationAustralia
Publication statusPublished - 2020


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