Resources on Singleness

Posted 31 May, 2008 EUTC by Philip Wilson
Categories: Singleness

Having examined the issue of singleness, it seemed good to me to write a post, most excellent Theopholus, so that you may know of some of the resources that exist. I may add more as I come across them.

A great place to start is the article A Biblical-Theological Perspective on Singleness by Barry Danylak.

Al Mohler takes the position that single adults who do not have the gift of celibacy ought to marry soon if they can, based on his interpretation of 1 Cor 7:8,9. See for example these articles, which arose from this talk of his on marriage. Less extreme is the view that Paul was describing singleness itself as a gift. A key proponent is Al Hsu in his book The Single Issue (in US: Singles At The Crossroads). That book is also valuable for its interview with John Stott on his views on singleness, and it is perhaps no surprise that other single British pastors take a similar view (Vaughan Roberts and Andrew Page). Another helpful book on singleness, and one also taking the singleness is the gift position is The Rich Single Life by Andrew Farmer, (free download here).

Those who don’t accept Mohler’s narrow restrictions for remaining single still expect a God-glorifying view of the issue. In this article John Piper briefly discusses respective benefits of both singleness and marriage that combined with internal longings constitute a call or compelling to one or other in an individual’s circumstances. That article followed on from this sermon to singles based on God’s promise of a name greater than sons and daughters (Is 56:4,5) from his 2007 sermon series on marriage. Piper more recently recommended that While celebrating the call to life long singleness, the church will not encourage those who don’t have the cal to wait till late in their twenties or thirties to marry, even if it means marrying while in school. Piper’s forward to the book Recovering Biblical Manhood and Womanhood is worth reading.

For single women desiring marriage, Carolyn McCulley encourages them that singleness is a gift, in chapter 2 of her book Did I Kiss Marriage Goodbye?: Trusting God With A Hope Deferred and elsewhere. The bulk of the book is taken up with looking at the model of womanhood presented by the woman described in Proverbs 31. Much more by her on singleness and biblical womanhood more generally can be found via her blog. Also from the female single Christian perspective is Lydia Brownback’s Purple Cellar blog.

The following sermons cover singleness from 1 Cor 7: Jeff Purswell (Covenant Life Church), Mark Dever (Capitol Hill Baptist Church; also in book form), Rick Holland (Grace Community Church; see relevant sermons during 3-11/03). Ben Stuart gave a challenging talk on Undivided Devotion at the Passion 07 conference. A download can be purchased for £1.99 here (also hear him here). (a ministry of Focus on the Family) has articles, blog posts and podcasts targeted at singles.


Making Decisions

Posted 20 August, 2007 EUTC by Philip Wilson
Categories: Statistics

The following is related to my dissertation, but should be easily understood without any statistical background. I wrote it for a job interview, no success yet…

Many decisions we make involve uncertainty, such as whether to buy flood insurance, whether to hold an event outside, or which candidate to offer the job to. A common way of modelling such decisions is utility theory. According to this theory, for any person facing a decision, each possible outcome has a number called its utility. Together with the probabilities involved in the decision, these utilities determine which choice they make.

So how do we determine these utilities? Well, suppose a person indicates that she is equally happy to receive 4,000 pounds for certain or to take a gamble where there is a 50 percent chance she receives 10,000 pounds and a 50 percent chance she receives nothing. Then utility theory gives us the equation that the utility of 4000 pounds is equal to half the utility of 10,000 pounds. With more information about her preferences, involving different sums of money and probabilities, we will get more equations which we should be able to solve to find her utilities.

Unfortunately there is a problem. Often we can’t solve the equations because the preferences are inconsistent. This is often dealt with by fiddling the figures to arrive at estimates for the utilities. This is a very unsatisfactory approach because there is no proper justification for the results.

However, I have developed a more justifiable method for dealing with this problem. It is based on a model of how a person’s preferences depend randomly on his/her utilities. This model depends on the unknown utilities and another number which represents how well the person discriminates between choices.

My approach involves 4 components:

  1. The person’s view of his/her utilities, i.e. how cautious he/she is.
  2. The person’s view of how well he/she discriminates, i.e. how strongly he/she responds to changes in the choices,
  3. The person’s specific preferences, i.e. the pairs of choices that he/she finds equally desirable and
  4. The model itself.

By combining these 4 components the estimates of the unknown utilities can be calculated. This can easily be done on a computer.

We don’t have to calculate estimates for every utility. In my report I have used these 4 components to find an equation for the utilities. I’ve used a mathematical computer program to calculate the exact form of my chosen utility function.

This method provides a simple, but justifiable way of calculating the utilities required for making decisions, based on utility theory, and which takes into account the inconsistent nature of preferences.

The Weight Of Beauty

Posted 30 June, 2007 EUTC by Philip Wilson
Categories: Dating

Michael Lawrence has come out with 2 articles on attraction here and here. The context is single men not dating godly women who they do not find attractive enough. As I’ve tried to understand what he’s saying I’ve come to represent it mathematically:

B = k E + (1-k) I

B represents our perception of Beauty on others, E represents external beauty, I represents internal beauty or conformity to Christ, and k is a number between 0 and 1 that represents the weight given to E. This equation is a gross oversimplification, but the idea is that the world and sin lead us to believe that k ought to be close 1, but really in line with true biblical beauty it ought to be much smaller.

Michael also speaks about how culture defines external beauty, based on the book The Beauty Myth (extract); however other research indicates that there is a substantial consistency in some of what is considered beautiful by different cultures. Similarly, what Michael has in mind when he speaks of how our view of the image of beauty is corrupted may also be overstated.

Michael is excellent in discussing that we can encourage and help develop in others biblical beauty as well as improve our appreciation of it ourselves. The need to challenge the messages of the culture is well made and illustrated by these articles, we do well to consider that instruction carefully.

Modesty Survey Results

Posted 28 June, 2007 EUTC by Philip Wilson
Categories: Marriage, Singleness, Statistics The Modesty Survey
Back on St Valentine’s day the folks at The Rebulution posted the results to their modesty survey, which they describe as ‘a resource to help Christian girls (and guys), not a list of legalistic rules… which encourage young women to focus on the heart, not the hemline, to honor their parents, etc.’. I didn’t find the presentation conducive to examining the results, so I have now made up a spreadsheet based on their data. Their website includes a lot of other resources on this topic.

I switched some of the questions around so that agreeing with the statements always represented a more conservative position (so in particular agreement with questions regarding clothing implies the clothing is immodest). If the reversed questions had been asked then the results would likely have been slightly different, but not by much. Then I ordered the percentage agreement (including agree and strongly agree) for each category of questions. The questions are not consistent in form, eg. they vary between asking whether something is a stumbling block, immodest etc., but hopefully this doesn’t make too much difference so that the percentages can still be seen as a consistent measure of the extent to which guys struggle with these various things. That said it clearly illustrates that guys vary in their attitudes/struggles with lust. So for example, 6.9% don’t agree that miniskirts as immodest while 9.1% find sparkly, shiny skirts a stumbling block, regardless of length.

Here are some more examples with the % who agree or agree strongly that these things are immodest/stumble-inducing etc. in parentheses: showing any cleavage (70.3), exposing the stomach when wearing a swimsuit (57.5), the lines of undergarments being visible under clothing (71.6), reaching into the shirt to adjust a bra strap (65.4), spaghetti-strap shirts and dresses (60.8), skirts that fall above the knee (58.4), the way a girl walks can be immodest (74.9).

Dawkins On The Improbability Of God

Posted 5 June, 2007 EUTC by Philip Wilson
Categories: Religion, Science, Statistics

In The God Delusion Dawkins responds to claims that certain entities are too complex to have formed by chance by arguing that since such a designer must be even more complex, he must also be less likely. He turns this into his argument for why there is almost certainly no God: since a creator God (particularly one like the Christian God) is extremely complex, He is also extremely improbable.

The problem with this argument is that Dawkins gives no reason why the probability of an uncreated spiritual entity is thus dependent on its complexity. It might make sense for biological entities where there is some mechanism for chance formation in mind, but why should the probability of God existing depend thus on His complexity? Dawkins’ main argument for atheism turns out to be fundamentally flawed.

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Piper On Singleness In Christ

Posted 12 May, 2007 EUTC by Philip Wilson
Categories: Marriage, Singleness

John Piper has recently finished a sermon series called Marriage, Christ, and Covenant: One Flesh for the Glory of God that comprised 8 sermons on marriage and 1 sermon on a biblical theology of singleness, based on this. In the latter he says,

My main point is that God promises those of you who remain single in Christ blessings that are better than the blessings of marriage and children, and he calls you to display, by the Christ-exalting devotion of your singleness, the truths about Christ and his kingdom that shine more clearly through singleness than through marriage and childrearing. The truths, namely,

  1. That the family of God grows not by propagation through sexual intercourse, but by regeneration through faith in Christ;
  2. That relationships in Christ are more permanent, and more precious, than relationships in families (and, of course, it is wonderful when relationships in families are also relationships in Christ; but we know that is often not the case);
  3. That marriage is temporary, and finally gives way to the relationship to which it was pointing all along: Christ and the church—the way a picture is no longer needed when you see face to face;
  4. That faithfulness to Christ defines the value of life; all other relationships get their final significance from this. No family relationship is ultimate; relationship to Christ is.

To say the main point more briefly: God promises spectacular blessings to those of you who remain single in Christ, and he gives you an extraordinary calling for your life. To be single in Christ is, therefore, not a falling short of God’s best, but a path of Christ-exalting, covenant-keeping obedience that many are called to walk.

This sermon elicited the question “If what you say about the blessing of singleness is true, then why would one even want to be married?” with his response here. He explains that both marriage and singleness work out God’s design in different ways, and says of both “That is a high calling, but it is only compelling if it meets with internal longings for God that lean strongly into these designs.” He sets out God’s design for marriage as

  1. To display his covenant keeping love between Christ and the church,
  2. To sanctify the couple with the peculiar pains and pleasures of marriage,
  3. To beget and rear a generation of white-hot worshippers, and
  4. And to channel good sexual desire into holy paths and transpose it into worshipful foretastes of heaven’s pleasures.

While he similarly sets out God’s design for marriage as,

  1. To display the spiritual nature of God’s family that grows from regeneration and faith, not procreation and sex,
  2. To sanctify the single with the peculiar pains and pleasures of singleness,
  3. To capture more of the single’s life for non-domestic ministry that is so desperately needed in the world,
  4. And to magnify the all-satisfying worth of Christ that sustains life-long chastity.

While previously he interpreted 1 Cor7:7 to refer to singleness and marriage as gifts he now says

neither I nor the Bible means to say that either [marriage or singleness] is compelling in and of themselves. That is why Paul says, “One has one gift and one another” (1 Corinthians 7:7). I think he means: The internal reality of one person finds one of these powerfully compelling and the internal reality of another finds another powerfully compelling. And I would add: This can change from one season to another…Objectively, we cannot know ahead of time whether marriage or singleness will sanctify us more or honor God more. Does the internal reality of our heart lean us into the designs of marriage or the designs of singleness? That is a huge question and one that only the heart can answer. But it should be a heart well-formed with much Bible and much prayer and much maturity through life and counsel of friends and family.

I really like Piper’s balanced view of marriage and singleness. He promotes them both, focusing on their God glorifying nature, rather than taking a more man-centred approach of promoting singleness to make single people feel good or promoting marriage to reduce the suffering of unwanted singleness. I have some more thoughts, but they will need to wait for another post.

Raisin Scones

Posted 25 April, 2007 EUTC by Philip Wilson
Categories: Baking

I’ve had a request for my raisin scone recipe. It comes from the same book as my plain scone recipe. The nutmeg really makes a difference. You can also substitute plain yoghurt or milk and lemonjuice (1 tsp/cup, let sit 5 min) in place of the buttermilk.

2 cups plain flour
2 tsp baking powder
1/2 tsp baking soda
1/2 tsp salt
1/2 tsp ground nutmeg
1 stick butter
2 tbsp sugar
1 cup raisins
3/4 cup buttermilk
1 large egg yolk

Put baking powder, baking soda, salt, nutmeg and flour in bowl and mix. Cut in butter. Toss in sugar and raisins. Mix egg yolk into buttermilk and add. Mix until dough forms. Take out dough and give a few kneeds to mix. Roll out and cut. Cook on baking tray for about 20 minutes at 375°F. You might want to knock any burnt raisins from the outsides of the scones. Read the rest of this post »