At the end of November, beginning of December, I experienced a first.
Winning a competition.
Ten of Those Publications were running a competition on Twitter – retweet and you are in with a chance of winning a copy of Vaughan Roberts new book ‘True Friendship’. For me, there’s not much better than a free book. So I was delighted when I got a tweet telling me I had won a copy.
I wasted no time in reading it – my impatience was well rewarded.
‘True Friendship’ is a very short book (less than 100 pages). There are only six chapters (and they are all alliterated for those Baptists reading this). Chapter one is a call to friendship, after that Roberts begins to lay out the characteristics of friendship – it should be close, constant, candid and careful. He then finishes with a chapter on the importance of Christ in friendships.
There are several things which are excellent about ‘True Friendship’:
1) Roberts has his finger on the pulse of modern society. In the introduction Roberts talks about the phenomenal success of the American sit-com ‘Friends’. He quotes one of the actors from the show who says ‘It’s a fantasy for a lot of people – having a group of friends who become like family’ (pg. 11). In this technological age we can contact whoever we want in an instant from the comfort of our own sofa, yet instead of strengthening friendships, more often than not, this has only weakened them. Friendship is one element of modern life that is missing and Roberts has identified that.
2) Roberts is straight forward in how he talks about the topic. Often books on practical topics like this allow us wiggle room to pinpoint faults in those around. However, Roberts does not allow this self-righteousness to settle in our hearts – he gives us a summons to consider our own failings on this front. We are encouraged to think about our actions, confess our sins, receive forgiveness and try again – ‘Pray, Trust, Obey. Ad infinitum’ (see What’s in a resolution? By Nathan Blair). Roberts does not let you off the hook easily and that’s a good thing.
3) For those who have not read Roberts before, be reassured this is not a self-help book. Roberts writes with great theological awareness and a good handling of Scripture. Of particular benefit is his use of Proverbs.
4) Nonetheless, this is not a dry theological treatise on friendship. Throughout the book Roberts applies the lessons of his chapters and gives very practical advice. For example, in the middle of the book Roberts gives four pointers to building friendships. He says be selective, be open, be interested and be committed (pgs. 47-50) and under each heading he takes time to explain why and how these are to be carried out. In addition to the practical content there are also questions at the end of each chapter for personal reflection or group discussion.
5) This book is short, with small pages, large font and is therefore very readable (Roberts is a particularly readable author). Because of this it makes this resource accessible to everyone – it can be read by everyone; teenagers to seniors, enjoyed by the reader and non-reader alike.
There are some things which I think we miss out on though:
1) While having a short book is of benefit, I am also left wanting more from Roberts. It is like eating small portions at a posh restaurant – what you get is great, but you always want more. This is heightened by the belief that Roberts would certainly have more to say on the topic, and the more would be just as good as what’s in the book.
2) Probably connected to the brevity of the book I also felt I would like more clarification on the distinctions in friendship for married and single people, as well as some more guidance on friendships with Christians and non-Christians. At times Roberts did mention these things briefly, but very often it was only a passing comment. I am left with questions like ‘Do I have to get a new best friend if I become a Christian?’, ‘Can my spouse be my best friend? Or do I need someone who can speak into my marriage?’, ‘What bearing does this have on friendship evangelism?’, ‘Should I have any truly close friends who are not believers?’.
On the whole Vaughan Roberts’ book ‘True Friendship’ is a great read. It is a timely book that offers page after page of wisdom on an aspect of life at which many of us today are notoriously bad.
So, if you are in a book club, have a group of friends you’d like to grow closer to, or are just lonely, get this book, read it and then put its principles into practice – our churches need members who have true friendships.