A Review of “Spiritual Friendship” by Welsey Hill

SFHow should we think about friendship? By in large, the present culture we live in – even within the church – views friendship as a nice, but optional benefit. It has value, but its value is limited and thus our commitments to it are minimal. The real relational interests, especially within the church, are directed towards marriage. Wesley Hill rightly sees this as a problem within the church today, especially as he thinks about those single and celibate Christians among us who need deep, intimate friendships. Spiritual Friendship is his effort to wrestle with both a theology and practice of friendship for the contemporary church. Though written from the perspective of a celibate gay Christian, this is a book that exposes to all readers the invaluable significance of friends.

The book is broken down into two parts. Part one, “Reading Friendship,” focuses on “the cultural background, history, and theology of friendship.” Here Hill invites to see how past generations valued friendship and how we have lost the sense of its meaningfulness today. He explores several myths that have helped to displace friendship as an important relationship: the myth that “sex wholly explains the depths of our most profound relationships (10); the myth of the “ultimate significance of marriage and the nuclear family” (11); the myth of reductive evolutionary biology and psychology (13); and the myth of personal freedom (14). The culture at large, and the church in particular, have bought into many of these myths and have thus pushed friendship to the margins. Hill explains the significance of the loss. Writing from his own experience he indicates how important these relationships are. As a celibate gay man he experiences the “loneliness of the everyday” (20). He writes this book, then, as a way to help the church think for the sake of men and women like him about the experience of love. He writes:

My primary question, over time, became a question about love. Where was I to find love? Where was I to give love? If Scripture and the Christian tradition were right that I shouldn’t try to find a husband, surely the apparent corollary couldn’t also be right – that I was therefore cut off from any deep, meaningful form of intimacy and communion. Could it? (20)

Thus his own personal experience reminds him of the need for a thoroughly thought-out theology and experience of friendship. But it’s not just men and women in Wesley’s situation who need this, and he writes with them in mind as well.

Part two dives into the experience of friendship, the “actual living out of friendship”(xvii). Here readers will encounter a development of friendship apart from erotic love, as well as an exploration in “promise-based” friendships. Finally, Hill concludes with an awareness that he does not have all the answers for how we can recover friendship in the church today. His honesty does not, however, fall short of any suggestions on a way forward. The book concludes, then, with his list of “patterns of the possible,” ways in which friendship might be further developed.

This is a fantastic book. Its insights are fresh and honest. Hill is one of the best writers I know who can so beautifully weave Scripture, history, literature, and personal biography into a seamless tapestry. He makes theology come alive and writes with an eye towards the practical out working of truth in the life of the corporate community. His voice is a much-needed one in today’s theological climate, and this work is much-needed. While the book’s subtitle, “Finding Love in the Church as a Celibate Gay Christian,” makes the focus seem narrow it’s actually much broader. The content of this work applies across the board and gives me much hope for the future of the church. I highly commend this volume and hope to see many Christians reading it.

Trackbacks

  1. […] 4. Spiritual Friendship by Wesley Hill […]

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out / Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out / Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out / Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out / Change )

Connecting to %s

%d bloggers like this: