Wineskins Archive

February 10, 2014

Book Review: “Becoming Friends” (Jan-Feb 2003)

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Paul J. Wadell, Becoming Friends: Worship, Justice, and the Practice of Christian Friendship. Grand Rapids: Brazos Press, 2002. 186 pages. $14.99.


             “And the scripture was fulfilled that says, ‘Abraham believed God, and it was credited to him as righteousness,’ and he was called God’s friend” (James 2:23).

            “I no longer call you servants, because a servant does not know his master’s business. Instead I have called you friends, for everything that I learned from my Father I have made known to you” (John 15:15).

Everyone wants to have friends and to be a friend. Indeed, in our society we may suffer from “friend inflation,” in that we have so many people we call friends that we have devalued friendship. Where everyone is your friend, no one truly is.

            In this thought provoking book, Paul Wadell helps us recover the richness of the concept of friendship for the life of Christians. We are called to be friends of God, called to a personal, intimate relationship with the Almighty. But Wadell reminds us that with the blessings of such a relationship also comes the great responsibility to live out the life of God in the world.

            This intimate friendship with God is lived through the church, the community of faith. Not only is each of us a friend of God, but we as the body of Christ are his friends. This is why worship is so central to the life of God’s friends. In worship we are being transformed into the image of our friend Jesus. Wadell says, “We join the community of the friends of God through baptism, and we nurture and sustain this life through the prayer and practices of the church” (11). Worship should never be a sterile ritual, but the place where we enter the story and life of Jesus, the place where Christ enters us and becomes our contemporary, our companion and friend.

            Friendship with God through Christ therefore begins with and is sustained by worship, but is completed in mission. If we are friends of God we must be friends of others. That spiritual friendship is one that does not seek to have our needs fulfilled in friendship, but rather proclaims the reign of God over all. It is a dangerous love that opens us and our friends to the socially disruptive possibilities of the life of God.

            Spiritual friendship is much more than mutual interest or warm feelings. To flesh out the meaning of friendship with God, Wadell relies on two early Christian writers, Augustine of Hippo and Aelred of Rievaulx. Augustine saw friendship as a marvelous gift of God. “Intimacy is not something we chase after, it is a grace we unwrap” (78). Christian friendship grows out of the life of the Trinity–Father, Son, and Spirit live in constant intimacy and harmony. So too should we love our friends, not just for their sake, but because we love God in them. Friends become one in spirit and soul, and maintain their relationship although parted by distance or even by death. Thus, friendship is eschatological; it lasts forever in the heart of God. Friendship is forever is more than a cliché; by faith it is a reality.

            Aelred, a medieval monk, speaks of friendships in the monastery, but his words are oddly contemporary. Friendship is basic to human nature, he reminds us. From the beginning it was not good for man to be alone. We need friends because life is hard and we need to unburden ourselves honestly before someone. With a true friend we can “relax the heart” and share our most intimate thoughts, wishes, and fears. For Christians this friendship is more than therapy, it is a relationship where Christ is always present as the third person in the friendship.

            Friendship with God and with one another may sound clannish and separatist—“we are God’s friends and you are not.” But Wadell reminds us that we are friends of God for the sake of the world. To be truly God’s friend means we must see the world through his eyes, and lead the world to a hopeful vision of a God who brings justice to the oppressed. To be a friend of the One who “so loved the world” calls us to solidarity with the downtrodden, “the least of these,” the ones Jesus came to heal, free, and save.

            This book is a call to action, not complacency. We must embrace the gift of God’s friendship. We must be genuine friends to others. We must set the world on fire with the frightening, dangerous love of God that breaks down barriers and proclaims peace. In worship and service we encounter a God who no longer calls us slaves, but friends, a Jesus who wants us to share in the self-giving love of the Father.


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