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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.
This is a brilliant book helping us to step outside of our cultural britishness and the way in which sin causes us to separate ourselves from one another. Whether you feel great anxiety about your friendships and over analyse them constantly or perhaps feel the need to maintain a constant front of being sorted out and, therefore, feel isolated, this book is for you! Vaughan Roberts sympathetically and clearly sets out what friendship is, why it is valuable, what it should look like and potential dangers to be aware of. Being encouraging and challenging, the gospel is set out as the basis and foundation for these true friendships making them seem not only attractive but realistic prospects! The greatest challenge here is to be changed by this radical gospel to become better friends and to truly allow people into our lives. As a church community of Christians, nationally and internationally, we're called to love our neighbours as God has loved us. This is the book that practically tells us how to do that within friendship relationships! Read it and then pass it on to a friend!
I am someone who finds it very easy to fall into loneliness. Ironically, and understandably, hopefully, I am not at ease with it. Loneliness can be destructive. It can distort our perspective on reality, warping it away from a Christ-centeredness into a Me-centeredness. It particularly seems to hit me during vacations. Away from all my university friends, I long and yearn for their intimacy. Vaughan Roberts, in his new short guide True Friendship, addresses this topic in light of God’s Word succinctly. We can thank God and rejoice in the fact that, in Vaughan, God has blessed us with a servant faithful to his Word. And that he is in True Friendship. Vaughan never deviates from the bible and retains a gospel-heartedness which has Christ at its centre. His faithfulness should be praised. It is clear that Vaughan has experience of loneliness; he admits it on the very first page. Therefore, as someone with experience, and also as someone trained to handle the bible correctly, Vaughan is an ideal candidate to communicate how we should be raising our friendships entirely up to Jesus. This he does – in classic alliterative fashion – through characterising a Christ-centred friendship with six ‘c-words’. Crucial, close, constant, candid, careful and Christ-centred. True friendship is crucial; Vaughan is very honest about our tendency to trust in our own independency and strength. Instead, we must admit our weakness and expose our need. True friendship is close; rather than spread out over a mass, we must put our trust in depth of friendship which requires time and effort. True friendship is constant; Vaughan again admits his tendency to go hot and cold on different friendship. Instead, he shows that biblical friendship, exemplified perfectly only in Jesus Christ, is constant over years. True friendship is candid; often we are tempted to stay closed to certain people, instead we should be open and share our challenges and ministry. True friendship should careful; we should strive to achieve these characteristics whilst simultaneously guarding our hearts and the hearts of our friends. True friendship should be Christ-centred. Jesus must be the bedrock. Vaughan’s exposition of what true friendship is and how we are to go about achieving it will be very helpful to many. Moreover, his questions at the end of each chapter are particularly challenging. His question ‘How does the ‘idolatry of Eros’ distort our friendships?’ especially, was a highlight. I think above all else, Vaughan has given me the encouragement and security that, when feeling lonely, I do not have to ride it out, looking for the solution in my own independence and solitude but have the freedom to search for the solution in close, constant friendships. I would implore everything to invest in this book. If you wouldn’t call yourself a Christian, do still read it. Everyone experiences loneliness and the wisdom in this book will be a real aid to you too. True Friendship is a fantastic exposition of what it looks like to raise up our friendships to Christ encouraging and supporting one another; definitely should go on the ‘to-read’ list.
I don't know why, but when I think about Christian books on friendship I always think about flowery cards to go in your wallet or Patience Strong sayings on a calendar. Perhaps this shows that there isn't much out there that is theologically meaningful about this important topic. Vaughan Roberts' book is incisive and gets to the gospel heart of friendship: 'Just as God is love, so he commands us to prioritize love in our lives by loving him and our neighbours.. This is not something we can do by ourselves... But, wonderfully, God is determined to change us by his Spirit so that we are transformed from being turned in on ourselves to reaching out in love to him and others.' I found the teaching in this book really refreshing, and also it really challenged me that we do need to make true friendship a priority in our busy lives and not just settle for superficial social-network-style acquaintances. The book has an honest tone with the realistic acceptance that friendship is hard, but with the gospel mandate that we need it! Perhaps more could be said about the sanctifying aspects of friendship, whether it's non-Christian friends challenging your faith and behaviour, or fellow believers, but I did like the section on the need to be 'candid' in friendship as this is something we seem to struggle with in our culture. Or at least, it's hard to be candid without being insensitive as well. This book could be a great one to study in small groups or maybe prayer pairs/triplets, as the questions at the end of each chapter provide good food for discussion. It would definitely be worth reading this with someone else so that you could talk more about how to put the teaching into practice and be accountable on it. This book is a great, short read, and it could be really helpful for people at all seasons of life from teenage years to post-retirement. Thoroughly recommended!
So, here’s a question: When did you last read a book on friendship? In fact, have you ever even come across one? And what about a sermon or a seminar? If, like me, you found yourself answering in the negative, then it seems we’re not alone – author Vaughan Roberts went through a similar experience. Roberts is a church minister in Oxford and an established writer of popular-level Christian books, but he explains that this book came into being not simply because he wanted to teach on the subject, but because he came to an overwhelming sense of the significance of friendship in his own life. He speaks of the realisation that he had gone through a period of neglecting friendships without really being aware of it, and so suddenly found himself very aware of the need for meaningful friendships. Now combine this with the growing conviction that the Bible has much to say on the subject, and True Friendship was born. A Book to Read Together... Early on Roberts makes the bold claim that shapes the rest of the book: friendship is not an optional extra, indeed “living unfriendly and friendless lives is both a rejection of God’s purpose for us as his image, and a dehumanizing tragedy”. Over the course of six bitesize chapters he then proceeds to paint a surprisingly comprehensive picture of what kind of friendships God would have us foster. Each chapter reflects on a different aspect of the Bible’s rich exhortation to ‘true friendship’, and all along it is the framework of the gospel of grace that provides its motivation, power and wisdom. 10Publishing, the publishing division of the growing Christian book-seller 10ofthose, has put out a number of brilliant little books over the last few months, seemingly hand-picking some brilliant material from evangelical pastors – and True Friendship is no exception. Clearly this is no lengthy treatise, yet as Roberts explains, the brevity is intentional. Given the nature of the subject matter, if the form of such a book could not be easily accompanied by reflective reading, and ideally communal reflection too, then surely it would have fallen short. Whether it be a summer book-group, a prayer triplet, or an accountability group, having Roberts' material on the table will set you in really good stead to discuss how best to focus those relationships. Too strong for friendship? Roberts’ pastors’ heart means he has a canny ability to push and prod exactly where one needs it. He gives a particular challenge to those of us who often desire to be seen as ‘strong’, perhaps who affirm the idea of friendship but always consider ourselves as the ‘giver’ rather than receiver. Those of us prone to this ‘ministry mindset’ need to remember that we need friendships too. Amongst other more subtle areas, Roberts carefully unpacks the wisdom of Scripture on the need for sensitivity and discernment in friendships, how to deal with the unspoken tensions that can arise in friendships, and how friendships and marriage might relate. In all these areas Roberts consistently notes that our temptation will be to point the finger and accuse ‘them’ of not being a particularly good friend. He calls us to instead challenge ourselves and ask, “What kind of friend am I?” Arguing later that true friendship is candid, Roberts makes the timely point that if we really believed the doctrine of sin, then we’d know how foolish it is to not be open with our friends. Who are we really trying to kid about what we’re really like? Here Roberts cites minister Jonathan Fletcher’s 3 tips on receiving criticism, which certainly made me re-evaluate whether I’m encouraging people to challenge me. Do we foster friendships that encourage us to change and grow, or do we make it tricky for our friends to say hard things to us? Facebook Friendship? No current book on friendship can surely bypass the impact of social media on our thinking and practice in this area, and Roberts rightly raises concern about the effects that our use of such technology may be having. To some this may seem like old hat, but in his chapter on closeness, Roberts still serves up a fresh challenge. He tells the story of Joanne Harris, author of the novel Chocolat, who was so concerned about the effect the Internet was having on her relationships that she stopped using it completely. She’d noticed she was spending hours communicating online with people she hardly knew, leaving her with no time to see her close friends. It was an illusion, “a false intimacy that serves only to compensate for the absence of a real one.” And so Roberts prompts us to ask ourselves, are we really known, or have we just succumbed to the pressures of our age and left ourselves with a gaping lack of intimacy? Perhaps the Facebook culture encourages us to make countless contacts, permits us to call them ‘friends’, and thus excuses us from really investing our time and love in particular people. Roberts instead offers the challenge that true friendships involve being selective (by which he means it is important to acknowledge we can’t share at a deep level with everyone), being open, being interested and being committed. He defines commitment as being about allegiance, affection and action, with most friendships growing over countless small everyday tasks and “relatively insignificant actions”. A Plea for Friendship with Intentionality... In the final chapter, Roberts proposes that true friendship is Christ-centred, and that any friendship will become destructive if we expect it to the take the place that only Christ can fill. How do I view this friendship in relation to my friendship with Jesus Christ? Here he helpfully quotes Henri Nouwen about loading friendships with expectations that they were never meant to meet: “this deeply satisfying friendship became the road to my anguish because soon I discovered that the enormous space that had been opened for me could not be filled by the one who had opened it.” Given the aforementioned dearth of Christian material on such an everyday area of our lives, reading True Friendship is actually a really refreshing exercise. Ultimately the book is a compelling plea for friendships that are more than merely ‘special interest’, as CS Lewis would put it, but instead are concerned with a spiritual dimension and have a corresponding intentionality. Certainly this book isn’t meant as a quick-fix, but I found it gave me a renewed vigour to have a big vision for friendship, as well as a much-needed heart-check on what kind of friendships I encourage and live out. Vaughan Roberts has done our relationships a great service by producing a resource that encourages us to think proactively about an area which perhaps, by default, we are prone to not really think about at all. Well recommended. Full disclosure: The publisher sent me a copy of the book for free, but I hope this is still a fair and honest review!
Today’s book review is one I was intrigued to get my hands on, because of Vaughan’s involvement in ‘Living Out’. The church today, and the world around it, needs all the help it can get in the area of healthy, biblical relationships. Vaughan’s slim, readable and practical little book, ‘True Friendship’, is one which I think goes some way towards filling the void. Before reviewing the book itself, it is worth noting (gladly!) that whilst this may be a new book, it is one that taps into something deep and old and true and beautiful. Written at a time when friendship and real genuine intimacy is desperately needed, Vaughan stands in a long tradition, from Old Testament times till now, of True Friendship. One of the highlights of ‘True Friendship’ is the way, alluded to above, in which Vaughan draws together biblical themes and historical reflection, to give us a vision of genuine friendship. We have usage of Proverbs, and the story of David and Jonathan’s friendship, quotations from Henri Nouwen, and a twelfth century British monk called Aelred. This is not a rough idea of friendship that an Oxford pastor has plucked out of a few blogs, but a meaty, deep, real form of friendship. As an aside, this is the first book of this size in which John Frame’s massive ‘The Doctrine of the Christian Life’ has been referenced. Kudos. On a personal–academic note, it is refreshing to see Vaughan identifying so much of what he says with my favourite topic, our humanity as being the image of God. We read much in this little book of how relationships echo our relational God, and how redemption means restoration of both our vertical relationship with God and our horizontal relationships with each other. The vision of true friendship that Vaughan so ably spells out is well rooted, and resonates with what I think is one of the two key trajectories in the Image of God, our relationality. The final thing I want to pick out in this review – given that the book is inexpensive and reasonably short (95 pages!), I’d far rather you read it yourself – is the way in which the biblical and practical are so interwoven. Vaughan, as befits an expository preacher, is masterful in weaving scripture throughout his book, and at the same time this is an immensely practical, useful book. Each chapter ends with ‘Questions for Reflection and Discussion’, aiming to facilitate real friendships and genuine reflection on the ideas. As I said at the start of this review, there is nothing ‘new’ here, in a historical/biblical sense, but this is a very true book, a deep book, and one which deserves wide readership. It will be, I think, particularly useful for starting conversations and experiments in seeing the Church become a better family – I think particularly of those called to singleness, for whatever reason – but should cause all of us who have normal relationships and friendships to reconsider how we live those out in our lives. There is also, as one might expect, some engagement with social media, but this is quite helpful, recognising its utility and its limitations. I thoroughly recommend this slim little book, and look forward (At some point!) to follow up the footnotes…
I don’t know why, but when I think about Christian books on friendship I always think about flowery cards to go in your wallet or Patience Strong sayings on a calendar. Perhaps this shows that there isn’t much out there that is theologically meaningful about this important topic. Vaughan Roberts’ book is incisive and gets to the gospel heart of friendship: ‘Just as God is love, so he commands us to prioritize love in our lives by loving him and our neighbours.. This is not something we can do by ourselves… But, wonderfully, God is determined to change us by his Spirit so that we are transformed from being turned in on ourselves to reaching out in love to him and others.’ I found the teaching in this book really refreshing, and also it really challenged me that we do need to make true friendship a priority in our busy lives and not just settle for superficial social–network–style acquaintances. The book has an honest tone with the realistic acceptance that friendship is hard, but with the gospel mandate that we need it! Perhaps more could be said about the sanctifying aspects of friendship, whether it’s non–Christian friends challenging your faith and behaviour, or fellow believers, but I did like the section on the need to be ‘candid’ in friendship as this is something we seem to struggle with in our culture. Or at least, it’s hard to be candid without being insensitive as well. This book could be a great one to study in small groups or maybe prayer pairs/triplets, as the questions at the end of each chapter provide good food for discussion. It would definitely be worth reading this with someone else so that you could talk more about how to put the teaching into practice and be accountable on it. This book is a great, short read, and it could be really helpful for people at all seasons of life from teenage years to post–retirement. Thoroughly recommended!
Ours is a generation that is struggling to maintain real relationships. We talk to each other by texting, marriages disintegrate because of poor communication, people are busy yet lonely and we all long for the kinds of relationships portrayed in sitcoms like Friends and Cheers. In a world where to be a friend means the click of a mouse button, comes this little book that helps us to think about true friendship. Vaughan Roberts is the Rector of St Ebbe’s Church in Oxford, England and a major international Christian speaker. In this little book Vaughan takes us to the book of Proverbs and calls us to examine our thinking on friendship in the light of the Bible’s teaching. He calls us to consider our thinking about friendship to ask whether we are constantly behaving like friends, whether we are candid and truthful in our friendships and whether we value and protect our friendships. He calls us not to overvalue friendships, nor to have expectations of our spouses or other relationships that are too high. He calls us to glory in the astonishing truth that we can call God friends through the Lord Jesus Christ! It is a short read, (my teenage son read it in an hour) but in its brevity it calls us to consider a tremendously important subject!! Each chapter has study questions and so this book could easily be used for a small group discussion. Highly Recommended.
This is a great read and well worth giving time and prayer as you go through. The fact that it sets friendship in the context of the gospel storyline God is working out in the world, with Jesus the Friend of Sinners right at its heard, was particularly wonderful. I found myself thinking with warmth and thankfulness of close friends God has brought into my life; but it was also really hard to avoid the challenge the book helpfully brings, especially in the areas of being honest in friendship and inviting criticism and challenge. Read it, but prepare to be praying and recognising the need for change as you do!
This is a thought provoking read and I found it a particularly good one for my morning commute on the train. I did enjoy the first half of the book more than the second half, but would certainly recommend this as an excellent starting point to exploring Christ centred friendships.
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