A Review of “The Company We Keep” by Jonathan Holmes

holmes“Deep and meaningful friendships don’t come easily – even within the church, and sometimes especially within the church,” says Jonathan Holmes (17). It’s a reality many of us know well. Church can feel like one of the loneliest places for some folks, but that is not the way it’s supposed to be. God has a great design in friendship, which makes it necessary for our Christian growth. In his short but very helpful book The Company We Keep Holmes defines Biblical friendship for us and gives us a clear vision for cultivating it in our lives. This monograph helps readers to think about friendship in fresh ways for our own good.

Quoting Kevin DeYoung, Holmes insists that friendship “is the most important-least talked about relationship in the church” (18). The modern man does not feel the need for deep meaningful friendships. They are a luxury but not a necessity. This thought is due, in large part, to a misunderstanding of the concept of friendship itself. Holmes introduces his book both by distinguishing between friendship and “fellowship” generally, and then defining specifically Biblical friendship. He roots it, naturally, in the relationship of the Trinity. He writes:

Indeed, the eternal Trinity is the most fundamental expression of community and relationship. Therefore, one of the simplest yet most profound aspects of mankind being made in God’s image is that we were designed to live in relationships. (19)

Our relating to one another is grounded in our imaging God. Ultimately it is the cross which directs our friendships, Jesus is at the center of Biblical friendship (25-26). This gospel-centered approach takes shape across the pages of the book.

Biblical friendships have Jesus at the center. This focus means that some of the ways we think about friendship are utterly deficient. So, Holmes outlines several substitutions we make for legitimate Biblical friendship: the social media friendship, the specialized friendship, and the selfish friendship. He blows up some of our notions as he targets, specifically, the idea that we need to build relationships around either common interests (sports, hunting, etc.) or stage of life (young parents, singles, retirees). “The specialized friendship is content to reduce a relationship down to a common activity or interest,” Holmes writes (36), but “Biblical friendship does not automatically discriminate based on lesser common denominators that most worldly friendships are built around” (37). Holmes continues to define Biblical friendship in ways that contrast with common ideas about it. A great deal of what readers find in this book will alter their perception of relationships and hopefully spur them on to biblical patterns of relating.

Even as Holmes outlines his “Marks of  Biblical Friendship,” readers will be challenged to think about how they misunderstand relationships. He lists four C’s: constancy, candor, carefulness, and counsel. His list exposes the shallowness of so many church relationships and calls us to something bigger and ultimately better.

The book is incredibly sensitive and realistic. It’s full-orbed theology should not lead potential readers to conclude that Holmes is idealistic and impractical. He recognizes that we cannot be friends with everyone, so he urges us to be wise and intention in our time investments with specific people. He recognizes that relationships will struggle, be strained, and sometimes even fall apart. He gives us counsel on how to pursue reconciliation and when to walk away from relationships. He reminds us of grace and of the gospel constantly as he does this, to keep before us the model of Biblical friendship as Christ. Of particular note is Holmes’ sensitivity to same-sex attracted individuals. He understands the difficulty that some will have in relating to others because of this temptation. He gives wise counsel both to those who struggle with this temptation and to those who befriend them. This was a rare treat to stumble upon, and reveals Holmes’ depth of thought on this subject.

I highly commend The Company We Keep. Holmes is well versed in some of the older literature on the subject of Christian friendships, and his work makes many of those others more accessible. In addition, Holmes writes with incredibly warmth and delight. He doesn’t just guide us into the construction of godly friendships, he invites us into them. He writes as a friend to friends. His warm prose and thoughtfulness saturate the text making this a very encouraging as well as informative book. Read it for your own health, and for the health of the church.

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