Does the Bible discuss friendship?
If you have to pause for a moment to wonder, you’re not alone. The short answer is Yes, of course the Bible discusses it. But compared to some of its other major themes, friendship doesn’t get much air time. And though friendship is one of the most common relationships in the world, it has not been too much discussed in Christian literature.
Into this situation comes Drew Hunter’s Made for Friendship: The Relationship that Halves Our Sorrows and Doubles Our Joys. This appears to be Pastor Hunter’s first foray into lay theology. The slim volume is divided into three parts: The Necessity of Friendship, The Gift of Friendship, and The Redemption of Friendship.
The first two parts, which make up the bulk of the book, are a bit sluggish. Hunter sometimes feels as if he’s writing to people who don’t understand friendship at all and who have never experienced it. He writes early that “friendship is, for many of us, one of the most important but least thought about aspects of life” (23). This simply doesn’t ring true for me. It doesn’t reflect my web of relationships, especially among women, and especially my work as a campus minister. Yet it is basically the presupposition he founds his work upon.
Disconnection with a main premise can make reading a slog, so I’m sure this affected my approach. However, his elementary engagement with the meaning if friendship made it difficult for me to imagine who the audience for the book is. However, he personally seemed to benefit much from the information he discovered in research, so I trust there are more like him in the church who need it.
Some of the biblical elements in the opening sections were questionable. For example, when testing whether a statement about the importance of friendship by a Medieval theologian is true, he runs straight to his life experience, not Scripture (25). This fails to convince, especially if the audience really is friendship-ignorant. They may not have their own good experiences to fall back on, and if his don’t ring true for them, where do they go?
Similarly, on page 79 he declares, but does not seek to prove, that “marriage…should be the closest friendship.” This is not biblically required, and potentially places a burden on marriages that they cannot bear. A marriage is a unique and good blessing, but it does not have to be where one’s best friendship lies, though it certainly could be. That sounds more like our current culture speaking.
However, Hunter’s definition of friendship, “an affectionate bond forged between two people as they journey through life with openness and trust,” (80) does offer some specificity that is welcome. He unpacks this definition with a combination of common sense, folk wisdom, and appeals to scripture. For the person struggling with understanding friendship, this section will probably prove the strongest.
Interestingly, at the end of the section he remarks, “These [criteria] characterize deep friendship, but not necessarily good friendship” (92). This was perhaps the first time in the book I wanted Hunter to say more, and yet he did not. Is his statement true? If so, how can you tell if you’re deep but not good? Many people are caught in unhealthy relationships; working through this idea could have been a real gem in the volume.
Hunter’s final two chapters fall under “the Redemption of Friendship” and are his strongest. Here he engages most with the full breadth of the Bible and illumines the theme of salvation as an act to establish friendship. Hunter sometimes writes as if friendship is the highest category for understanding Christ’s work, whereas it would be more accurate to nuance it as one among many. Still, it is a precious one indeed.
Hunter is effusive and encouraging in his lengthy treatment of Jesus as best and most faithful friend. In his final chapter, he digs deeply into that topic and then spins out six practical ways the friendship of Jesus impacts the Christian life. I think this chapter of the book would make a fantastic stand-alone document that I would be happy to share with my church community.
Hunter’s love of God and his earnestness show throughout his writing. It is easy for the reader to tell that he is engaged with his topic. He says many, many things that are true and helpful. Though the book at times unfortunately feels like a whole that is less than the sum of its parts, I am confident that it will be used by the Lord for the encouragement of his people.
*I received a copy of this book for review from Crossway*