The Best of Friends (Book Review)

This is a helpful little book from Phil Knox.  We live in a world of increased isolation and individualism.  The COVID-19 pandemic certainly didn’t help that with its lockdowns and social distancing.  Then there are the cultural idols of greed and selfishness which encourage us to look inward to ourselves.  It’s no surprise the that there is much talk of a loneliness epidemic. 

Knox offers an antidote to this epidemic, friendship.  In the first two chapters, he sets out why friendship is so important and powerful before identifying the different pressures in today’s society which place obstacles against healthy friendship.

In chapter 3, he sets out a model based on concentric circles, working outward from having a best friend, to having an inner circle of close friends, a huddle of good friends and a wider network of friends before looking further to encourage us to keep building and growing friendships through a wider “following”. 

The rest of the book develops this model in more detail using Jesus as the prime example and model of good friendship. The concentric circles can be overlaid onto his relationships to John as best friend, three good friends as inner circle, the disciples as huddle and the 72 as network. He concludes by pointing us to God as the friend we need. Human friendship is a good gift but can become idolatrous. 

Each chapter includes practical tips as well as further reading.  The book is short, accessible, easy to read and difficult to put down.  You will be encouraged by the focus on Jesus as Phil consistently and persistently takes us to the Bible and the Gospel to learn how to live life together now.  There is lots of helpful wisdom along the way and we learn from Phil’s own life story and experience. On a side note, I discovered that we have a point of connection as our two families must be among the few that can claim to have taken holidays on the Hebridean island of Islay.  I know it’s not the purpose of the book or this review, but I’d heartily recommend that you try a holiday there sometime!

When reviewing a book, I try to include a few questions and challenges. In terms of this book, I would raise the following.

  1. Perhaps a minor point to the book as a whole but I do think it’s important that we are precise in our theology, even in practical books.  So, when talking about the Trinity, it would be helpful to be clearer that God doesn’t just act as one but He is one.  This is important because we want to emphasise that God has one nature, we are not describing a social trinity of cooperating persons.  Practically, this means that whilst there is much to learn from God and from Jesus, we do need to say frequently that whilst we are in some respects like God, made in his image, we also need to remember the ways in which God is other, different, not like us.
  2. I appreciate Phil’s emphasis on taking us to Jesus.  Here though is an example of where we might want to pause and ask “In what ways is Jesus not like us?”  So, whilst we can learn much from Jesus’ connections with the three, 12, 72 etc, it wasn’t out of a need for friendship that he called them.  This might actually  be helpful to our thinking about friendship noting that Jesus was and is able to be both their friend and master.  Is it possible to be friends across hierarchies? Yes.  This may help us to think about relationships within churches between leaders and members as well as what happens in the workplace. Perhaps the person most in need of friendship is my manager.
  3. In the context of Christians and church, I wonder how much the responsibility lies with us to choose our friends.  Especially when we consider that Jesus primarily uses those concentric circles for discipleship.  Is it up to me to seek out a huddle? Or is it the responsibility of the church to create those structures for helpful friendship through life groups etc?

Having noted those questions -and looking forward to Phil’s response, I would encourage you to pick up this book and have a read. If you find it helpful, then why not share it with a friend.

Best of Friends is available from IVP, priced £8.79

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