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    Entries in Friendship (6)


    John Macmurray and The Golden Girls

    On Tuesday evening our family welcomed a few of my former students from University Baptist Church to our home for an evening of pizza and swimming. It was delightful to see Sharla, Sam, Jarrett, Oliver, and Prezlie. I learned about restarting potatoes and heard other stories from youth camp.

    As our time drew to a close the students piled into Oliver's Jeep. All four doors were off. They backed down the drive and cued Andrew Gold's "Thank You for Being a Friend," featured in the opening credits of The Golden Girls.

    They did so as a tribute. During my three years at University I would cue television themes while we played games. "Thank You for Being a Friend" would also make its way into Snapchat messages, sent along whimsically. I do stuff like that.

    In The Self as Agent, philosopher John Macmurray wrote, "All meaningful knowledge is for the sake of action and all meaningful action is for the sake of friendship." I have thought about this quote for years, for Macmurray is right. Meaningful knowledge, which within my vocation includes knowledge of God, virtue, holiness, and wisdom, is meant for applied action in the shared human venture we call friendship. I love to learn and study not simply to gather facts (though this is a byproduct), but toward the end of love and service to my neighbor, whom I hope to call not only neighbor, but friend.

    This idea is also expressed, and more powerfully so, in Jesus' statement found in John 15:15, "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." The meaningful knowledge Jesus possessed--that of his Father's business--was transmitted to his disciples not only so that they might share said knowledge, but also so that Jesus and his disciples might live together in friendship within the bounds of God's venture we know as kingdom.

    Two verses prior in John 15:13, Jesus says, "Greater love has no one than this: to lay down one’s life for one’s friends." Jesus thus demonstrated the full extent of his love on the cross. Further, Jesus invites to us to join him on the path of discipleship. In John 15, he  exhorts his disciples to obey his commands, demonstrating that they are, in fact, his followers. Jesus' school involves dying to self. Christians take up their cross, follow, and give witness to the reality that Christ lives in them. Paul understood this well.

    Knowledge of this kind, in so far as it is meaningful (and it is), rightly results in action, and friendship. As a minister, I am called to demonstrate friendship with God, but also to offer myself in friendship to all people. It is for this very purpose that Christians have been set apart: to serve as heralds of a message and as living evidence of its veracity, that in Christ friendship with God and reconciliation with one another has been made possible.



    One of my goals for this forum is that it function not only as a vehicle for delivering news and ideas, but also for it to serve as a meeting ground for dialogue, conversation, and connection.  Thanks to the myriad of web-based social tools and the ease of direct communication by way of the commenting system, establishing links and interacting has become quite simple.

    Here are a few easy ways to strengthen ties to this space: 

    • Leave a comment with a link to your blog. Maybe others who swing by this site will bounce and spend some time in your arena.
    • Ask people to connect with you on Twitter via the comments.
    • Ask a question that another commenter can address.
    • Connect with me on Twitter. I sometimes update my feed when a new post goes live.
    • "Like" my page on Facebook. I post links from my personal blog and other writings around the web.

    I want to connect with readers.  I also want readers to connect with one another, extending mutual respect and engaging in constructive dialogue.

    Step out of the shadows and into the light.  Join the community.  Share it with others.


    Friendship and the Kingdom

    See more from this artist on Flickr!

    When we are drowned in the overwhelming seas of the love of God, we find ourselves in a new and particular relation to a few of our fellows.  The relation is so surprising and so rich that we despair of finding a word glorious enough and weighty enough to name it.  The word Fellowship is discovered, but the word is pale and thin in comparison with the rich volume and luminous bulk and warmth of the experience which it would designate.  For a new kind of life-sharing and of love has arisen which we had had only dim hints before.  Are these the bonds of love which knit together the early Christians, the very warp and woof of the Kingdom of God?  In glad amazement and wonder we enter upon a relationship which we had not known the world contained for the sons of men.  Why should such bounty be given to unworthy men like ourselves?

    -Thomas R. Kelly, A Testament of Devotion, 51

    Sounds good, does it not?

    Few of us are so lucky, or recognize ourselves as such, I should say.  Of the many blessings I have received in the Christian life, foremost among the gifts I have been given have been friends.  There have been many a man, woman, child, and teenager who I have come to know and love, whom I might not have come to know and love had it not been for a common venture along a common path towards a common goal grounded in a belief in a common person, Jesus the Christ.  Friendship is beautiful.  I am blessed to call many my friends.  And the Kingdom of God, the very warp and woof, has been most evidenced when I have had communion with others who have shown to me the depths of God's love for this world and for all humankind.


    In Search of The Great Tradition

    A reversal has occurred in our time.  The faithful have in fact outlived the collapse of the foundations of secular society.  Familiar dominant patterns of thought have lost their immune system for recuperation.  The modern outlook is disintegrating.  But communities of traditional faith flourish more than ever.

    It is a fact: evangelical, Orthodox, and Catholic spirituality, scholarship, pastoral care, and institutional life have against all odds already weathered the waning winter of this modern decline.  So has traditional Jewish life.

    We are witnessing an emerging resolve in worldwide Christianity and Judaism to reclaim the familiar classic spiritual disciplines: close study of scripture, daily prayer, regular observance in a worshipping community, doctrinal integrity, and moral accountability.  Even though my voice is Protestant, the arguments and evidences equally apply to Catholic, Orthodox, and Jewish life.

    Turning from the illusions of modern life, the faithful are now quietly returning to the spiritual disciplines that have profoundly shaped their history, and in fact have enabled their survival.  This is the rebirth of orthodoxy.

    -Thomas Oden, The Rebirth of Orthodoxy: Signs of New Life in Christianity

    As I read these opening lines of Thomas Oden's Rebirth, one question came to mind: "Can this be true?"  In the margins, my wife Molly had written, "really?"  Surely such a broad sweeping statement is overreaching.  Surely this cannot be the case.  Surely.


    If I had not also recently completed Mark Noll's The New Shape of World Christianity, I might not think so.  I also might not be willing to consider Oden's thesis if his book was not so compellingly written.  At the very least, it has given me hope that classical, orthodox Christianity is emerging anew, possessing a deep commitment to the historic disciplines of the faith, and willing both to teach and embody those doctrines so that the church itself is strengthened in her witness in this generation and in the future.  To the degree which such a rebirth might be taking place, I do not know.  But at the very least, I know this: Oden's project, which is much larger than him, is one in which I can very easily see myself participating in and advocating for.

    Oden's book is worth reading, for the argument needs engagement.  I'm hoping he is right.  There are others who may believe that he is very wrong.  But he cannot be dismissed--his logic must be considered.  Oden chronicles his perception of "the rise of orthodoxy" that has given birth to a new ecumenicism that is rooted in the historic doctrines of the Christian faith, particularly as they are captured in the creeds.  Such an ecumenicism, in his view, differs from older forms, which depended more on political alliances and bureaucratic structures in order to operate.

    Oden's tale parallels his own life story.  Having been a participant in the old ecumenicism (as typified, in his argument, by the NCC and WCC) and formed by it's institutions, Oden has found himself rejecting many of the presuppositions of that segment of Christianity and embracing Christian faith as he has found it constant across time.  As he has discovered ancient orthodoxy, he has found others who have embraced it in our time, and he believes this same discovery is being made by others from all segments of the faith.  At the heart of his argument he presents evidence for the rebirth of orthodoxy, marked by: (1) personal transformation, (2) faithful scriptural interpretation, (3) ancient ecumenical multiculturalism, (4) well-established boundaries, (5) ecumenical roots reclaimed, and (6) consensual ecumenical discernment.  He makes the case that each of these is now taking place.

    One thing is for certain: reading Oden's work ignited a passion in me to read the Church Fathers.  I also gained a deepening appreciation for the historic creeds--the Apostles', Nicene, and Athanasian formulas, and their role in shaping and guiding Christianity throughout her history.  I was inspired to study these more deeply in order to better help the church remember.  I was moved as Oden described the Vincentian rule, in Latin, "Quod ubique, quod semper, quod ab omnibus creditum est"--meaning that the church is to hold fast to what has been believed everywhere, always, and by all--knowing that in order to abide by this rule takes work.

    Oden's book makes it clear that the Holy Spirit has a history, and the church, at her best, has a long memory. Perhaps what I'm most struck by, as I read Oden's argument, was not just the idea that an old orthodoxy might be emerging anew, but by the resonances which such an idea brought forth in my own heart.  I am longing for something very old, as well as friends who will help remember and maintain that tradition alongside me as part of a community.  It is not that I only want the church to be her best as an outside observer, it is that I want to be part of such a church as an internal participant.  And I cannot do so apart from friendship.  I need friends daring enough to be orthodox, as well as daring enough to help me remember, as well as embody, those teachings of the church held fast everywhere, always, and by all.


    Get Some New Friends

    Become wise by walking with the wise; 
       hang out with fools and watch your life fall to pieces.
    -Proverbs 13:20, The Message

    Joey Wilson and I were having a tough discussion last week over lunch.  Joey is the youth minister at Resurrection West, and I'm one of his volunteers.  He and I were talking about the difficulties faced by some of our students within their peer networks, and the fine balance which exists between equipping young people with the skills to be Jesus' followers among those who see the world differently, and between counseling young people that they might need to spend time with some people of higher character.

    Joey and I both agreed that the latter dominated our experience of youth ministry growing up more so than the former.  The message we remember hearing is that if your friends are leading lives contrary to the teachings of Jesus, you need to establish new friendships that can keep you accountable.  Oftentimes this sounded like a call to sacrifice one's current set of friendships for another, holier huddle.

    As we discussed this, our conversation led us to conclude that there is a very fine balance here--one that is difficult to strike.  We determined that we wanted to avoid extreme forms separatism--the error of the Essenes of old.  But we also do not want, as the Proverb above teaches us, to encourage our people to hang out with fools and be dragged down into a quagmire.  We want our students to continue to engage their friends, love them as Jesus' would, and model another way of living.  This will bring about challenges, we know, and perhaps even hardship or rejection.  But how do you equip people to do this?

    Do you know of any resources or ministries that are doing an excellent job instructing people how to engage their world in transformative, missional ways?  How do you teach people to remain true to their Christian commitments without turning their back on the world?  What kind of theology is required?  What biblical stories do you emphasize?

    I think one of the biggest keys to helping people (particularly teenagers) engage their existing friendship networks while remaining true to their Christian commitments is the creation of a vibrant, alternative community that models responsible, loving engagement in preaching, teaching, worship, discussion, conversation, and common life.

    I'm looking for help.  One of the central themes of my thought and reflection over the past four years has been the formation of Christian community.  I'd love to hear what others think.