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In a culture where online communications and communities can be set up in seconds, it is striking that loneliness is still rampant. Even in the church, a place where we might hope for an oasis of love and acceptance, we can find interactions awkward and superficial.
It’s for this reason that Vaughan Roberts takes us back to the Bible, and challenges us to consider our need for true friendship. He’s both honest and clear in his approach as he shows us that knowing and being known by God is the hope we need to begin to deal with the sickness of our ‘self–love’ society.
So whatever the state of your friendships, take heart and take hold of this book – because as you do, you’ll see that we can live out our true humanity as we sacrificially love others for God’s glory.
Each chapter includes thoughtful reflection and discussion questions to help change us as we read, as well as practical suggestions for how we can make a real difference to our friendships.
Vaughan Roberts is Rector of St Ebbe’s, Oxford. He is President of The Proclamation Trust and the author of numerous books including God’s Big Picture.
‘True Friendship’ is a very short book (less than 100 pages). There are only six chapters (and they are all alliterated for those Baptists reading this). Chapter one is a call to friendship, after that Roberts begins to lay out the characteristics of friendship – it should be close, constant, candid and careful. He then finishes with a chapter on the importance of Christ in friendships.
There are several things which are excellent about ‘True Friendship’:
1) Roberts has his finger on the pulse of modern society. In the introduction Roberts talks about the phenomenal success of the American sit–com ‘Friends’. He quotes one of the actors from the show who says ‘It’s a fantasy for a lot of people – having a group of friends who become like family’ (pg. 11). In this technological age we can contact whoever we want in an instant from the comfort of our own sofa, yet instead of strengthening friendships, more often than not, this has only weakened them. Friendship is one element of modern life that is missing and Roberts has identified that.
2) Roberts is straight forward in how he talks about the topic. Often books on practical topics like this allow us wiggle room to pinpoint faults in those around. However, Roberts does not allow this self–righteousness to settle in our hearts – he gives us a summons to consider our own failings on this front. We are encouraged to think about our actions, confess our sins, receive forgiveness and try again – ‘Pray, Trust, Obey. Ad infinitum’ (see What’s in a resolution? By Nathan Blair). Roberts does not let you off the hook easily and that’s a good thing.
3) For those who have not read Roberts before, be reassured this is not a self–help book. Roberts writes with great theological awareness and a good handling of Scripture. Of particular benefit is his use of Proverbs.
4) Nonetheless, this is not a dry theological treatise on friendship. Throughout the book Roberts applies the lessons of his chapters and gives very practical advice. For example, in the middle of the book Roberts gives four pointers to building friendships. He says be selective, be open, be interested and be committed (pgs. 47–50) and under each heading he takes time to explain why and how these are to be carried out. In addition to the practical content there are also questions at the end of each chapter for personal reflection or group discussion.
5) This book is short, with small pages, large font and is therefore very readable (Roberts is a particularly readable author). Because of this it makes this resource accessible to everyone – it can be read by everyone; teenagers to seniors, enjoyed by the reader and non–reader alike.
There are some things which I think we miss out on though:
1) While having a short book is of benefit, I am also left wanting more from Roberts. It is like eating small portions at a posh restaurant – what you get is great, but you always want more. This is heightened by the belief that Roberts would certainly have more to say on the topic, and the more would be just as good as what’s in the book.
2) Probably connected to the brevity of the book I also felt I would like more clarification on the distinctions in friendship for married and single people, as well as some more guidance on friendships with Christians and non–Christians. At times Roberts did mention these things briefly, but very often it was only a passing comment. I am left with questions like ‘Do I have to get a new best friend if I become a Christian?’, ‘Can my spouse be my best friend? Or do I need someone who can speak into my marriage?’, ‘What bearing does this have on friendship evangelism?’, ‘Should I have any truly close friends who are not believers?’.
On the whole Vaughan Roberts’ book ‘True Friendship’ is a great read. It is a timely book that offers page after page of wisdom on an aspect of life at which many of us today are notoriously bad.
So, if you are in a book club, have a group of friends you’d like to grow closer to, or are just lonely, get this book, read it and then put its principles into practice – our churches need members who have true friendships.
A really searching book
(In a Glaswegian accent) “What is the loneliest city in the world?”
“Naples (Nae Pals)”
We don't want to live there do we? Well, have you ever grumbled that your friends keep letting you down? Why are they never there for me when I need them? Have you ever thought “I need to get some new friends”?!
If so, you'll find this book immensely helpful and profoundly challenging. You will be taken through six chapters that will help to colour our Christian friendships. It begins with the necessity of committed friends for a growing Christian life, and concludes by pointing us to Christ as our greatest friend and perfect example, who is guaranteed to forgive our many let downs.
In between these two chapters come qualities essential to friendship, namely: closeness, constancy, candidness and carefulness. This is a searching book, because it doesn't simply expose where our friends may be weak, but lays out in front of us that failing friendships start with us. If we long for godly, wise and caring friends then the answer is to start modelling this ourselves.
What's it about? A refreshing look at the wisdom Proverbs gives us on all things friendship.
What did you get out of it? Firstly, a searching look into the requirements of being a good friend, and learning that what we bemoan as lacking in others friendship we must first examine in ourselves. Secondly, a real encouragement as to the worth of investing in close friendships
Who is it for? Anyone who has friends and takes serious that “Whoever walks with the wise becomes wise, but the companion of fools will suffer harm.” This will help your Church family so don’t just buy one for yourself, buy some for your friends (the more you buy the cheaper they are) so they can hold you to this standard of friendship.
How long does it take to read? Not long, you could read this in a sitting of 2/3 hours! Warning! It may take much longer to let it sink in and affect you.
A deeply perceptive book
Vaughan Roberts has done it again. Since the publication of Turning Points fifteen years ago, he has been producing a steady stream of books on subjects from biblical theology and worship to godliness and apologetics. Now the tradition continues with his latest offering, True Friendship.
Like Vaughan’s other books, True Friendship is insightful, punchy, clear, and biblical. He writes as a Pastor to ordinary people, and it’s hard to imagine anyone struggling to understand what he’s saying. If you can read English, you can read True Friendship.
And yet behind this easy style lies a remarkable depth of theological and pastoral reflection. Vaughan has clearly read widely and deeply on the subject of friendship, and brings us insights from (among others) the 12th–century English monk Aelred of Rievaulx, the 19th–century theologian Hugh Black, and the 20th–century Catholic Priest Henri Nouwen, along with more familiar names such as C. S. Lewis and Francis Schaeffer. Vaughan encourages his readers to take time chewing over what he says, and each chapter ends with questions for reflection, making the book ideal for group discussion.
There’s certainly plenty to discuss. For though True Friendship is short (less than 100 pages), each chapter is succinct and thought–provoking, and the book as a whole covers a remarkable range of biblical, theological, and pastoral material. The first chapter sets the scene: friendship is a reflection of the gospel itself, the message that lies at the heart of the Scriptures and reveals the relational character of God himself as Father, Son, and Holy Spirit. Friendship is therefore crucial for all of us, for in cultivating friendships we come to reflect more closely the image of God.
The following five chapters reflect on friendship from several other angles: true friendship is close, constant, candid, careful, and Christ–centred. A few highlights will give a flavour of the book’s many strengths.
Vaughan attacks the caricatured social expectation than men should “not cry … not display weakness … [and] not need affection or gentleness or warmth.” On the contrary, he insists, “Unless men are able to resist this unhelpful understanding of masculinity and be vulnerable with each other, they will always have companions, but not friends” (pp. 23–24).
Of course, while it’s a tremendous blessing to have deeper friendships, developing them requires both commitment and sensitivity. “The danger of cliquey exclusivity” means that coffee–time after church may be “not the ideal time for intense conversations that only include a few” (pp. 36–37). And it’s a mistake simply to become jealous of others whose relationships seem more authentic than ours. Instead, says Vaughan, “The way to have good friends is to be a good friend. Instead of lamenting that no one invites us for a meal, that our church is so unfriendly and that everyone relates at such a superficial level, let us take the initiative to open our homes and lives and see what happens” (p. 40).
Another way to cultivate sincere, intimate friendships is to be candid with one another. “That will involve sharing our hopes, fear and passions, as well as our darkest secrets or greatest temptations” (p. 47). In a characteristic display of honesty, Vaughan recalls, “I have found time and again that as I have taken the risk of being open with trusted friends, far from recoiling from me in horror, they have responded by revealing some of their own struggles, and our friendship has deepened” (p. 48).
Just a few insights from a deeply perceptive book that promises to be a blessing to many.