Profile of DTS Professor Dr. Abraham Kuruvilla
Watch Dr. Kuruvilla's discussion of A Christian View of Singleness on the Table podcast.
“It is a truth universally acknowledged, that a man in possession of a good fortune must be in want of a wife.”
At first glance, DTS’s well-read professor Abe Kuruvilla, MD, PhD, seems to fit this opening line to Jane Austen’s Pride and Prejudice. But all is not as it seems, for while Dr. Kuruvilla may embody the first part of the description, he is most definitely not “in want of a wife.” The homiletics professor, instead, practices what he calls ecclesiological singleness—singleness for the sake of Christ and his church.
After earning his MD and while pursuing a medical PhD about twenty years ago in Houston, Kuruvilla embarked on a serious study of Scripture, under the influence of his DTS-trained pastor and the radio ministries of DTS alumni. Along the way he enrolled at DTS. His growing number of opportunities to preach factored in to his thoughts on remaining unmarried. “I pursued singleness because of my passion for studying and teaching Scripture without distraction, as well as a recognition that I had the gift of celibacy. My decision to remain single,” he said, “came as a progressive, gradual process, made with much prayer and consulting with friends.”
A Spiritual Discipline
Ecclesiological singleness, as Kuruvilla defines it, involves four pillars that define and describe Kuruvilla’s vocation to serve the Lord as a single man:
Single by choice
Remaining single has been a conscious choice, originally made while in his mid-twenties. Unlike others who may be seeking a spouse and/or are single only due to divorce or the death of a spouse, Kuruvilla remains unmarried on purpose, in line with his spiritual gifting of celibacy, considering it his calling.
Single for life
Just as marriage is meant to be a lifelong union, so Kuruvilla considers his singleness “for life,” opting to close the “door” in order to maintain a singular focus upon ministry.
Single unto Christ
Purposeful singleness has given Kuruvilla the freedom to expand his scholarly training, to accept a variety of preaching and teaching offers, and to explore the theology of celibacy from personal experience. Dr. Victor Anderson, his Pastoral Ministries department chairman, illustrates this reality: “Abe uses his singleness to focus more of his energies on scholarship and ministry. He holds three doctoral degrees, has a clinical practice in dermatology, and teaches preaching at DTS. He’s a voracious reader. It is not unusual to see him carrying an armload of books to his car. When he exercises at the local fitness center, it is normally on a stationary bike so he can keep reading while he pedals.”
Single in community
Kuruvilla purposefully seeks community among friends, colleagues, and fellow church members. While he admits to being careful with his interactions with women, maintaining “strict accountability with a trusted few,” he consistently lives his life with people. “He has never voiced a word of frustration or disappointment about being single,” Anderson said. “He has embraced—not tolerated—singleness fully, never muttering about feelings of loneliness or lack of companionship. I have seen his great contentment in his singleness, even when he is the only single at an event, like dinner at my house.” Kuruvilla enjoys a close relationship with his only sibling, the brother who led him to the Lord forty years ago, and spends most holidays with him and his family.
Abstinence or Celibacy?
When speaking on the subject of celibacy, Kuruvilla cites Matthew 19, in which Jesus acknowledges that there are “those who choose to live like eunuchs for the sake of the kingdom of heaven” (19:12). “Celibacy is a gift—it is not for everyone. There is a ‘givenness’ to it. And, of course, if it is your gift, there is a vibrancy to this choice that energizes you. I would not want to give up my gift of celibacy for anything.”
Kuruvilla carves a fine distinction between abstinence and celibacy. He writes, “Abstinence is a response to outside circumstances, whereas celibacy is inner-driven, a response to a calling.” Celibacy, Kuruvilla added, could be described as “purpose-driven abstinence.” He feels such sacrifice should not be understood as all negative. A person makes such sacrifices for the body of Christ in order to engage all his or her time, abilities, and resources for the church.
When a radio interviewer asked Kuruvilla to explain the reasoning behind his status, the professor pointed to the words of the apostle Paul: “An unmarried man is concerned about the Lord’s affairs—how he can please the Lord. But a married man is concerned about the affairs of this world—how he can please his wife—and his interests are divided” (1 Cor. 7:32–34).
Celibate in Ministry Leadership
Kuruvilla believes that his singleness has enhanced his ministry. “I probably have an advantage of more time and undistracted focus to concentrate on ministry, whether thinking, reflecting, writing, teaching, researching, or preaching,” he said. In addition to serving his Houston church in the past as a teaching elder and more recently leading several Dallas churches as an interim preacher, Kuruvilla has also steered the Evangelical Homiletics Society as president, vice president, and board member; and he currently serves as book review editor for The Journal of the Evangelical Homiletics Society.
Kuruvilla does hope to educate seminary students—future church leaders—to better recognize and value the single people within their ministries. “While I have noted a naiveté in churches regarding singles, it has not directly affected me,” he said. “But churches can do more to showcase celibates, whether in sermons or in extending pastoral opportunities to them. Both singleness and marriage are equally valid platforms for ministry and leadership.”
Celibacy as a Spiritual Discipline
“Like any spiritual discipline, celibacy takes work,” Kuruvilla said. He likens it to fasting, solitude, silence, and other active disciplines. “Over a period of time I’ve learned my own weaknesses, and I’ve made my own buffers against those. I don’t do anything in ministry that is not in some way connected with my primary focus on preaching.”
To those who are single, he says, “Let your life speak. Let it shine and be an example of what single people can do. Don’t whine, and don’t settle for marginalization. You are no less a disciple of Christ than your married colleagues.”
To both the married and the single, he says, “Marriage is not an eternal state, not the best thing or greatest good in eternity. Marriage and celibacy are both gifts. Which is yours? Pursue it.”
Kelley Mathews (ThM, 2000), whose concentration was Media Arts and Ministry, has more than fifteen years’ publishing experience as an editor, writer, and book reviewer. She has coauthored several resources for women in ministry with DTS professor Dr. Sue Edwards.