A Review of “True Friendship” by Vaughan Roberts

friendship“The theme of friendship,” writes Vaughan Roberts, “takes us right to the heart of the Bible’s message.” That the Bible would say so much about friendship should not surprise us, after all God is relational. We are created both to be in relationship with Him and with each other. Though sin has damaged our relationships, the longing for them still exists and there is still much joy to be found in them. In this helpful little book Roberts unpacks the Bible’s teaching on true friendship and urges us to acknowledge its importance.

True friendship is not common in our culture. We have surface level acquaintances, but not deep connections. Many of us are alone and isolated despite being surrounded by so many people and so many outlets for communication. But this isolation is not the way it’s supposed to be. God created us in His image to be relational beings, and through the gospel He is seeking to restore those relationships. So, Roberts says:

God’s plan of salvation is designed not only to restore our vertical relationship with God, but also to create horizontal relationships of loving friendship between human beings in his family.

Ultimately the gospel is about giving us the relationship with Jesus Christ that we most desperately need. “The fundamental relationship in our life must be with the one true God, the sovereign Creator,” writes Roberts. But the Bible also stresses the importance of other human relationships. Roberts explores this concept through a study of key passages from the book of Proverbs.

Throughout the six chapters of the book, the author explores different facets of the Biblical teaching on the importance of friendship. In that sort of typical old-school preaching style, Roberts unpacks the six C’s of true friendship. True friendship is crucial, close, constant, candid, careful, and Christ-centered. The book is brief by design. It is meant to be read in one sitting and to be accessible. It does not, therefore, say everything that could or should be said about human relationships. It is not a “theology of friendship,” but it is a practical, Biblical guide to thinking about the value of friendship. Throughout the book Roberts talks honestly about the challenges to friendship. He examines the stereotypes about men that need to be abolished. He explores the value of marriage. He notes particularly that “Healthy Christian marriages do not have an exclusively inward focus, but are fuelled by looking up to Christ and strengthened by looking out to others, both to give and receive.” He takes a few pages to explore the limitations of technology for building relationships. Perhaps most interestingly he discusses the ways in which our overly sexualized culture, and obsession with “erotic/romantic love” have become an enemy to friendship. Roberts writes:

The Bible certainly has a very high view of marriage, but it is not designed to bear the weight that is placed on it when a husband and wife expect all their relational needs to be met by one another. The result is that they not only put impossible burdens on each other, but also give insufficient attention to other friendship. Single people suffer from the same delusion, too often believing the lie that they are bound to experience miserable, isolated lives unless they can find a spouse. In their commendable desire to protect marriage and the family from contemporary challenges, churches can unwittingly become part of the problem by giving the impression that romantic love is an essential ingredient to human flourishing.

To counter some of these dangers, idols, and myths, Roberts constantly points readers to Jesus as the “perfect model” of a friend.There aren’t simply dangers impeding the development of true friendships, there’s internal issues to be addressed too. After all friendships need to be cultivated and maintained, and conflicts need to be worked through within relationships. Roberts gives us help here too.

The book is often designed to be very practical. It’s not simply a philosophy or reflection on friendship. While it is not a “how to make friends” manual, it does include very practical guides to help us think about developing and cultivating healthy relationships. He encourages us to pull the masks off and let people into our world, giving us some practical steps to take to invade each other’s lives. In that regard this is a good book to read through with friends. He talks practically too about how to safeguard relationships from breeding co-dependency, becoming consuming, or tempting us with idolatry. Roberts continual pointing of readers back to Jesus is the most helpful tool in this regard.

Ultimately human friendships have limitations. They cannot satisfy our deepest emotional and relational needs. Only Christ can do that and the author is continually stressing that, not least of all in the final chapter, which is exclusively devoted to that subject. It is the gospel which makes true friendship possible and so Roberts won’t let his readers forget it.

I thoroughly enjoyed True Friendship. It does not say everything that I want to know about the subject, but it whets my appetite for more. It is a great introduction to the subject, inspiring application to life immediately, and always, always, pointing us to the true friend we need in Jesus Christ.

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