Thursday, September 20, 2007

Friendship and the Gospel

At Emergent Village, under the FAQ on their beliefs, they write:
We believe in God, beauty, future, and hope – but you won’t find a traditional statement of faith here. We don’t have a problem with faith, but with statements (read more here). Whereas statements of faith and doctrine have a tendency to stifle friendships, we hope to further conversation and action around the things of God.
In his chapter for the forthcoming book The Supremacy of Christ in a Postmodern World, John Piper responds:
I have two responses to this. One is to ask: Are there any statements which, if your friend really believes them, will destroy him? Statements perhaps like, “Jesus is not God.” Or, “God is unjust.” Or, “Jesus did not die for our sins.” Or, “I don’t need to trust Jesus to escape God’s wrath.” And if there are statements which, really believed, will destroy your friend, then denying those life-destroying statements and writing down the ones that lead to everlasting joy would sustain, not stifle, friendship.

The other response is to recall the distinction C. S. Lewis made between the love of romance and the love of friendship.

Lovers are always talking to one another about their love; Friends hardly ever about their Friendship. Lovers are normally face to face, absorbed in each other; Friends, side by side, absorbed in some common interest” (C. S. Lewis, The Four Loves [London: Collins Fontana Books, 1960], 58.
In other words, in romance, two sit across from each other and tell each other how much they like about each other. In friendship, they don’t face each other, but stand shoulder to shoulder, facing a common challenge or a shared beauty or a great God.

For Lewis—and I think this is close to the biblical understanding of friendship—the greater the shared vision and the shared joy in that vision, the deeper the friendship. It’s true; there is a risk that when you make a statement of faith about what you see in God, someone will turn away and say, “I don’t see it,” or, “I don’t like it.” At that point, courtesy and tolerance are possible, but not any deep friendship.

It seems to me that the “emergent” ethos uproots friendship from the solid ground of biblical doctrine, and therefore preserves it in the short run as a cut flower. But in the long run, without the roots in shared biblical truth, it will not be able to weather the storms that are coming. And worse, while it lasts, it does not display the worth of God because it is not rooted in a true vision of his character and work.

The apostle Paul wrote in Galatians 1:8, “Even if we or an angel from heaven should preach to you a gospel contrary to the one we preached to you, let him be accursed.” Friendship hangs on believing the same gospel. The main joy of God-glorifying friendship is joy in a common vision of God.

Coming at the issue of friendship from a broader perspective, Sean Michael Lucas has recently been doing some posts pointing toward a theology of friendship: part 1, part 2, part 3.