By Kara Martin
It would seem that the idea of friendship is enjoying its best days. Never have we enjoyed so much connection and communication with so many people via social media, email and texting.
According to Drew Hunter, the idea of true friendship has sunk to an all-time low. Not just outside the church, where research reveals that the number of close friendships experienced by people has fallen in the last 50 years from three, to one or none; but also inside the church, where family is celebrated almost exclusively compared to other relationships.
While there have been several good and solid books on friendship in the last three years: Brian Edgar’s God is Friendship; Vaughan Roberts’ True Friendship, and Wesley Hill’s Spiritual Friendship, Drew Hunter is a good all-rounder with more theology than Roberts, more personal practical guidelines than Edgar, and less of the specific agenda of Hill.
Hunter makes the bold claim that we were actually made by God for friendship, placing it is the Gospel context of walking with God in paradise (creation), broken friendships (fall), the befriending God (Israel), no longer called servants but friends (Jesus), he saves us to befriend us (salvation), the new community of friends (the church), and friendship forever (the new Earth).
Hunter describes friendship as “the ultimate end of our existence and our highest source of happiness. Friendship — with one another and with God — is the supreme pleasure of life, both now and forever, and no one can fully enjoy life without it.” I can see where Hunter draws that from, but I do see the ultimate end of our existence as glorifying God, even if that is within the context of deep relationship.
The most useful section of Hunter’s book is his advice of cultivating friendships. He says friendship takes wisdom, work and weeding.
- Ensure you prioritise friendship, strengthening long term friendships, and investing in new friendships. Make sure you go for few and deep, rather than many and superficial. We need to be flexible with our friendships, allowing them to go through different seasons.
- In this section, Hunter gives a list of very practical activities for each sub-section. Friendship takes effort, and Hunter argues that face-to-face is the best way to develop deep friendship. He also recommends sharing activities with friends, and also eating together. The last sub-section is focused on encouraging our friends.
- Borrowing from Proverbs, Hunter warns us to avoid three things which might be negative on friendship: being inconsiderate, provoking others to anger, or spreading confidences.
Hunter ends by talking about the benefits of cultivating deep friendship with Christ. He highlights th privilege it is to have friendship with God, communion with God. He mentions the need to nurture this friendship by obeying Christ (John 15:14). The benefit of friendship with Jesus is that we are “never alone, and never unknown”. This friendship with Christ also enables us to have better horizontal friendships, as we become more sensitive to others and more Christ-like ourselves. There is also a missional component to our earthly friendships, but only is we are authentic in ourselves, and also in our befriending.
My criticism of Hunter’s book would be that it fails to fully consider gender in friendship. In some ways this is natural because Drew is a guy, and most of our examples from the Bible are male. He does quote some women on friendship, and talks about his wife’s friendships; however, there are some different ways that men and women do friendship which he hints at but fails to explore. For example, men do friendship side-by-side, growing deeper as they do things together, whereas women are much more face-to-face, exploring the relationship.
He also fails to discuss male-female friendship, and deep wisdom on that is sorely needed on that topic in an age of #metoo.
He also fails to adequately address some of the concerns about friendship from other theologians. For example:
- Kierkegaard was concerned that friendship was too exclusive a relationship for Christians.
- CS Lewis warned that friendship is such a spiritual experience that it might become an idol.
Those concerns aside, this is a helpful reminder of the depth and beauty of friendship, and our need to be schooled in the discipline of spiritual friendship which will draw us closer to God and closer to each other.