Made for Friendship: The Relationship that Halves our Sorrows and Doubles our JoysWritten by Drew Hunter Reviewed By Steve Frederick and Kirsten Birkett
Editor’s note: In order to get both male and female reflections on the important issues raised by Hunter’s book, two brief reviews follow: the first by the Steve Frederick, the second by Kirsten Birkett.
Whether as a nervous child scanning the playground on our first day of school or as an accomplished professional glancing up from our all-consuming career for the first time in decades, friendship is something that many of us feel we’ve never quite mastered. But help is at hand. Drew Hunter’s Made for Friendship is a great primer for anyone who suspects that they’ve not given friendship the attention it deserves. The book is set out in three parts.
Many falsely assume that friendship should come naturally to us in childhood and thereafter require little further attention. To counter this, in part 1 of the book (“The Necessity of Friendship”) Hunter assembles a surprising collection of Christian writers who gave sustained attention to the topic of friendship and invested sustained energy in developing friendships—theologians (such as Augustine), church fathers (Gregory of Nazianzus and Basil the Great), bishops (J. C. Ryle), and apologists (C. S. Lewis). However, Hunter’s aim is not simply to compile an encyclopedia of examples of or ideas about friendship. Rather it is to assure readers that the topic of friendship really is worthy of our own careful attention.
In the middle section of the book (“The Gift of Friendship”), Hunter ventures a working definition of friendship: “Friendship is an affectionate bond forged between two people as they journey through life together with openness and trust” (p. 80, emphasis original). He weaves this definition together with the help of both secular and Christian writers, illustrating along the way how many of their deepest insights about the nature of friendship are already present in the wisdom of the book of Proverbs. Hunter is especially keen to contrast what he calls “covenantal friendship” with “consumer friendship” (p. 82). Hunter is surely correct that a consumer mindset has hollowed out the modern experience of friendship, but I think it is misleading to frame friendship itself in covenantal terms. A covenant is a particular kind of relationship, with clearly stated obligations from the outset; our friendships rarely form or persist in that way. Hunter himself seems to step back from insisting all friendships be framed covenantally when he recognizes that “not every relationship needs a covenant. But even if we don’t formalize our commitment, we still must make it felt. No friendship can last without loyalty” (p. 83). Amen to that.
In Part 3 of the book (“The Redemption of Friendship”), as Hunter engagingly retells the “unfolding storyline” of Scripture, it seems at times as if the theme of friendship is a little too controlling. Does rejecting God’s offer of friendship really capture the essence of human rebellion (p. 129)? Even so, Hunter did convince me that both the Old and New Testaments use the language of friendship far more often than I’d previously recognized. In fact, rightly understanding our friendship with God, as opposed to friendship with the world, will deeply influence what the Christian life looks like (Jas 4:4). In this last section of the book I found myself growing in delight at the very thought of being known by God himself as “friend.” By exploring the treasures of friendship with God, Hunter wonderfully deepened my own sense of spiritual security. And he does so in a way that is likely to embolden readers to further open themselves to the possibility of friendships with others as well.
I recently wrote an email to my gas company which I began “Dear friends.” Why did I use such an intimate form of address? I don’t know these people; I don’t even know who will be reading the email. Yet I had to address it somehow, and “Dear Sir or Madam” or “To whom it may concern” just seemed too formal and stilted; definitely out of fashion. To call total strangers my friends, however, devalues my true friends, and will no doubt affect how I treat them (even if unconsciously). It is incidents like these that have come to mind since reading Drew Hunter’s book, Made for Friendship.
This book wasn’t what I expected from the title (and especially the cover); it’s not an in-depth treatise analyzing friendship either as a concept or in the Bible; rather, it’s a popular-level book talking to people about the ordinary experience, and value, of friendship. However, it is far from shallow and makes a timely case for the need to recover friendship in modern life. In the process, it looks at historical and biblical wisdom about the nature of friendship, and gives a number of practical tips about making and keeping true friends. The truest friend, of course, is Jesus; so this book is also evangelistic, as well as providing biblical encouragement for Christians.
Drew Hunter makes big claims for friendship: it is “the meaning of the universe” (p. 22), because Jesus came to befriend us. (Friendship therefore is certainly “cosmic”; is it is the meaning of the universe? Perhaps a little extravagant.) That friendship is one of the most important parts of human life is much easier to defend.
Yet friendship has been much trivialized in modern life; something which probably correlates with the over-sexualization of relationships. It is also insightful that “how highly (or lowly) we esteem friendship with God will correlate with how highly (or lowly) we esteem friendship in general” (p. 26). Statistics on loneliness denote a very big, and very modern, problem. Social media has certainly not solved the problem; to the contrary, it appears to have exacerbated it.
Drew Hunter has provided a useful little book that gives some good theology about friendship with God, and some very practical, even challenging, advice about cultivating real friendships with others. It is something that should be part of being Christian, as well as something that helps us to become more human. I was reminded of how easy it is to slip into isolation without thinking; in a highly mobile, highly individualized culture, creating and keeping friends requires thought and effort.
Yet what this book has reminded me of overall is how much that effort is worth it. Life is about more than duties of obedience; loving others is more than being efficient in relationships. Friendship is that difficult to define, but profound aspect of relationship that gives it substance. It makes both evangelism and ministry part of living rather than tasks to be done. I recommend this book for the wisdom and encouragement it gives.
Steve Frederick and Kirsten Birkett
St Andrew’s Cathedral
Sydney, New South Wales, Australia
St Paul’s Church, Hadley Wood
London, England, UK
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