Friday, May 04, 2007

Review of Barry Danylak’s Singleness Paper

An old friend (okay, he’s not that old), Barry Danylak, has been getting some press recently with the distribution of his paper “A Biblical-Theological Perspective on Singleness.” John Piper preached a sermon substantially based on the research found in the paper and several blogs are writing about it.

Having read the piece and having found it to be the single best piece on singleness that I’ve ever read, I thought I’d post a quick review. For starters, I found the structure of the paper very interesting. Instead of looking at some specific Old Testament or New Testament passages that deal with singleness, Barry develops a thorough biblical theology based on the covenant structure of Testaments.

The main question that Barry is trying to answer is, “What place and purpose do single people serve within the Body of Christ?” In answering the question, he outlines the place and purpose of singles in the Old Testament. He makes a very compelling argument for there being very little place and purpose back then, but that there were plenty of prophetic indicators that singleness was going to be redeemed in the person and work of Messiah.

This short piece has to be one of the best biblical theologies I’ve ever come across. His observations are astute and I’d say any future work on singleness will likely have to take his work into account. He has made a very compelling argument for why singleness should no longer be looked upon with scorn.

However, I do have a few things that I think need to be clarified. First, while the paper opens with an acknowledgement that singles are not doing their fair share in the church, either financially or through service, Barry does not address how understanding this biblical theology will help solve this problem (hopefully he will publish again with the details worked out).

Also, since Barry is focusing on singles as they relate to the Old Testament and the New, he overlooks (at least in the paper) the continuing role of marriage and family under the New Covenant. If all one had of Barry’s works was this paper, one might come away with the thought that marriage and family have been totally replaced by the mystery of the gospel and that they are secondary to singleness, instead of showing how marriage and family have also been redeemed by the gospel.

As I see it, while singleness has been redeemed under the New Covenant, marriage is still the primary mechanism by which God demonstrates the gospel to the world. This is because it is through marriage (and specifically the loving hierarchal nature of it) that God has chosen to demonstrate to the world and the heavens the relationship between Christ and his church.

As such, even though I think Barry demonstrates the need for a “diachronic” approach to addressing such issues, we also see that, like synchronic methods, a more diachronic approach can get lost in the details as well. No matter what approach we are using, it’s always good to back off and try to think about what we’ve written from other angles.

Personal note: I once made a joint presentation with Barry and a few other students in Dr. Moo’s New Testament Theology class at Wheaton. His portion of the presentation was wonderful, better than most professors. As we were discussing some of the issues that were to go into the presentation, I remember saying something like, “I don’t do theology by committee.” Meaning, I was not able to argue clearly for my position at the time, but I knew for certain that I did not think what was being spoken of was right. I still feel this way often. I get tongue tide in conversations, but when I get back to my desk and have time to think things through, I can sometimes get to the bottom of why I hold certain positions.

That said, I do think theology is done within a broader conversation and I think that Barry has done an excellent job of redirecting this conversation is a way that will ultimately bring more glory to God and bring healing to his church. In a very real sense, as the church has forgotten how Christ has redeemed singleness, singles have left the church. To the degree that Barry's work is understood and proclaimed, singles will be redeemed and become a healthy part of the body again.

Above: Took this photo of College Church in Wheaton (bottom two buildings) and Wheaton College last summer while flying with my brother Jon. These are the two places where got to know Barry best. In fact, he has a heart for bringing the healthy part of the academy into the life of the church and having the church restore the academy to it's right focus. He is certainly gifted by God to make this happen. Note also: Crossway Books (publisher of the ESV) is at the top of this photo, just right of center.

1 comment:

Wendy Widder said...

I've just read Barry's book and your review here of an earlier paper, and would like to address your statement: "As I see it, while singleness has been redeemed under the New Covenant, marriage is still the primary mechanism by which God demonstrates the gospel to the world." I would argue (with some other theologians who have addressed the issue of singleness) that while marriage bears testimony to the EXCLUSIVE nature of God's love, singleness bears (or can bear) witness to the INCLUSIVE nature of it--namely, the idea that there's always room for one more in the family of God. Redeemed singleness is theologically significant to the gospel.

I appreciated Barry's work - especially since I have written on the theology of singleness myself--A Match Made in Heaven: How Singles & the Church Can Live Happily Ever After (Kregel Publications, 2003). In fact, I specifically address your lament about singles not doing their fair share in the church.