This Just In: Spiritual Friendship by Wesley Hill

Friendship is a relationship like no other. Unlike the relationships we are born into, we choose our friends. It is also tenuous—we can end a friendship at any time. But should friendship be so free and unconstrained? Although our culture tends to pay more attention to romantic love, marriage, family, and other forms of community, friendship is a genuine love in its own right. This eloquent book reminds us that Scripture and tradition have a high view of friendship. Single Christians, particularly those who are gay and celibate, may find it is a form of love to which they are especially called.

Writing with deep empathy and with fidelity to historic Christian teaching, Wesley Hill retrieves a rich understanding of friendship as a spiritual vocation and explains how the church can foster friendship as a basic component of Christian discipleship. He helps us reimagine friendship as a robust form of love that is worthy of honor and attention in communities of faith. This book sets forth a positive calling for celibate gay Christians and suggests practical ways for all Christians to cultivate stronger friendships.

 

Wesley Hill (PhD, University of Durham) is assistant professor of biblical studies at Trinity School for Ministry. He is the author of Paul and the Trinity: Persons, Relations, and the Pauline Letters and the much-discussed Washed and Waiting: Reflections on Christian Faithfulness and Homosexuality.

Hill is on the editorial board of and is a columnist for Christianity Today. He also contributes to Books & Culture and First Things.

 

Praise for Spiritual Friendship:

“Wesley Hill’s courageous, thought provoking book seeks to recover ‘friendship as a genuine love in its own right.’ At one level, it is a historically rooted and theologically nuanced essay that opens up fresh perspectives on a topic that is crucial but too rarely pondered. But at another level, Spiritual Friendship belongs to the classic genre of Christian confessional autobiography, a genre that can be traced back to St. Augustine; it is both searing in its honesty and moving in its chastened hope for grace. This is a book that challenges all of us—whatever our sexual experience or longings may be—to think more truthfully about the meaning of love and the complex ways in which our communities either stifle or nurture it.”
Richard B. Hays, dean and George Washington Ivey Professor of New Testament, Duke Divinity School

“This is a remarkable book. Drawing on a deep reservoir of biblical wisdom and theological imagination, Wesley Hill explores the possibilities for a truly Christian picture of friendship. And because this exploration requires him to think also about how his friendship both contributes to and differs from the fellowship that all Christians share, he makes here a significant contribution to the general theology of the church as well. Here is a book everyone interested in Christianity, and everyone interested in friendship, can profit from reading.”
Alan Jacobs, Honors College, Baylor University

“Medieval monks expressed their love for one another with what to us is cringe-inducing intimacy, and not so long ago Christians still entered formal bonds of friendship by taking vows that sound like marriage vows. We don’t do that anymore, with our commitment to uncommitted freedom, our turnover habits, our sexualization of everything and everyone, and our resignation to loneliness. Wesley Hill’s very personal book is an elegant, theologically rich plea on behalf of the love of friendship that uncovers fresh ways to improvise on a lost Christian tradition of committed spiritual friendship.”
Peter Leithart, president, Theopolis Institute, Birmingham, Alabama

Spiritual Friendship weaves together Scripture, Christian history, art, and personal experience. This is a portrait, not a treatise. It depicts friendship’s flaws and failures but also shows how friendship can bear spiritual fruit and help us build up the kingdom of God. Wesley Hill challenges us all to strengthen our own friendships and those around us and offers guidance in these tasks from his own experience and from the Christian past. Honest and poignant, Spiritual Friendship is like a conversation with a good friend who has learned much from books but more from loving and being loved by others.”
Eve Tushnet, author of Gay and Catholic: Accepting My Sexuality, Finding Community, Living My Faith

“Love is the most complicated thing in the world–and even more so for gay and lesbian Christians who have experienced a vocation to celibacy. With disarming frankness, Wesley Hill charts the loss of friendship from our world and mounts a compelling case for its recovery as a communally celebrated form of Christian love. Hill’s is a voice that needs to be heard. His book is a powerful challenge to the contemporary church as well as a profound meditation on the difficult, wonderful, risky business of loving and being loved.”
Benjamin Myers, Charles Sturt University, Sydney, Australia

“Wesley Hill not only wants to think about what friendship might mean for a celibate gay Christian but indeed wants to recover a richer, more substantive, and especially more promising understanding of friendship for everyone. In a highly engaging and very accessible manner, Hill uses examples from art, literature, film, and especially his own life to explore what in our culture today most endangers friendship, how Christianity redefines our understanding of friendship, and how our churches can be the best settings for nurturing the faithful, challenging, and blessed relationships Hill presents to us. Spiritual Friendship is a timely gift the reader will quickly take to heart.”
Paul J. Wadell, professor of theology and religious studies, St. Norbert College; author of Becoming Friends: Worship, Justice, and the Practice of Christian Friendship

“This book is a rare find! Hill eloquently speaks into one of the great spiritual crises of our day: the meaning of love and specifically of friendship in Christ. This courageous personal and theological account of friendship will both challenge and illuminate those seeking to renew the church’s witness today. Hill gives us a glimpse of what we’ve forgotten–a rich Christian vision of friendship. Whether readers agree or disagree with Hill’s theological vision, there is no doubt that this book will be a conversation changer!”
J. Todd Billings, Gordon H. Girod Research Professor of Reformed Theology, Western Theological Seminary, Holland, Michigan

“Wesley Hill captured my imagination by presenting a vision of friendship—spiritual friendship—that has been our Christian heritage. Each of us who make up the body of Christ will be enriched and our corporate witness to a broader culture enhanced if we can find a way to live into this vision.”
Mark A. Yarhouse, Rosemarie S. Hughes Endowed Chair and professor of psychology, Regent University

“Too gay for some and too chaste for others, for many Wesley Hill is not supposed to exist. But exist he does, even to flourishing. Challenging settled convictions on all sides of the sexuality debate, he testifies here—alongside countless celibate Christians before him—to the richness of intimate friendships that dare violate our society’s sole remaining commandment: ‘Thou shalt have sex.'”
Matthew Milliner, Wheaton College

The Weekly Hit List: March 27, 2015

J. Todd Billings, author of Rejoicing in Lament, wrote “Why Doesn’t God Always Heal? Prayer and Incurable Cancer” for Huffington Post Religion.

“If God desires our well-being, why doesn’t he always grant prayers for healing?

“‘There’s no doubt about your diagnosis,’ the doctor told me.

“I squirmed in my chair as I heard the numbers: according to the calculus of medical predications, my young children would most likely lose their dad in their childhood. It’s an incurable, lethal cancer.

“But as a Christian, I wondered – should ‘incurable’ really be part of my vocabulary? What about God’s power and prayer?”

Read the entire article here.

 

Other Rejoicing in Lament Media:

Billings is appearing with poet Christian Wiman at Western Theological Seminary on Tuesday, March 31. The Holland Sentinel wrote about it here.

First Things is hosting a lecture and book signing event with Billings in New York City on April 7. Be sure to RSVP if you plan to attend.

Western Theological Seminary wrote about Rejoicing in Lament.

Hearts & Minds Books reviewed Rejoicing in Lament.

Billings was mentioned by Her.meneutics.

Ron Holdeman recommended Rejoicing in Lament.

Carl Wilton recommended Rejoicing in Lament.

Don Haflich reviewed Rejoicing in Lament.

Jordan Stone recommended Rejoicing in Lament.

 

Quick Hits:

Wesley Hill, author of Spiritual Friendship, preached at Cathedral Church of the Advent and was interviewed by AL.com.

Wesley Hill was interviewed and lectured at Moore College.

Nonviolent Action by Ronald Sider was reviewed by Jerry M. Ireland.

Jerry L. Walls, author of Heaven, Hell, and Purgatory, was interviewed on Deeper Waters podcast.

 

Ebook Specials:

Good News for Anxious Christians: 10 Practical Things You Don’t Have to Do by Phillip Cary is on sale for $1.99 (88% off) from participating retailers through March 31.

Ebook Special for Good News for Anxious Christians by Phillip Cary

Now through March 31, the ebook for Good News for Anxious Christians: 10 Practical Things You Don’t Have to Do by Phillip Cary is on sale for $1.99 (88% off) from the following participating retailers:

Amazon

Barnes & Noble

CBD

 

“Addressed to shepherds and their flocks, Good News for Anxious Christians features the admonishing, teaching, and comforting voice of a Christ-haunted philosophy professor at Eastern University. Its timely message is timeless: Servants of Christ grow through repetition of the gospel (which turns the heart outward), not through experimentation with techniques (which turns the heart inward). . . . His quiver contains ten arrows, one for each of the practical things that we don’t have to do because they’re not in the Bible. . . . Cary submits that the Lutheran doctrine of sola fide (faith alone) offers a powerful corrective to the strangely Catholicized and psychologized evangelicalism that oppresses us. . . . The gospel, Cary argues, gives us permission to ignore anxiety-producing techniques because Christ is enough, period.”
Christianity Today 5-Star Review

 

Like a succession of failed diet regimens, the much-touted techniques that are supposed to bring us closer to God “in our hearts” can instead make us feel anxious, frustrated, and overwhelmed. How can we meet and know God with ongoing joy rather than experiencing the Christian life as a series of guilt-inducing disappointments?

Drawing on his work with college students, Phillip Cary shows Christians that discipleship is a gradual, long-term process that comes through the Bible experienced in Christian community, not a to-do list designed to help them live the Christian life “right.” This lucidly written book covers ten things Christians don’t have to do to be close to God, such as hear God’s voice in their hearts, find God’s will for their lives, and believe their intuitions are the Holy Spirit. Presenting a time-honored approach to the gospel that is beautiful and liberating, Cary skillfully unpacks the riches of traditional Christian spirituality to bring the real good news to Christians of all ages.

 

Phillip Cary (PhD, Yale University) is professor of philosophy at Eastern University in Pennsylvania as well as scholar-in-residence at the Templeton Honors College. He is the author of Jonah in the Brazos Theological Commentary on the Bible and of three critically acclaimed books on the life and thought of Augustine.

Lectionary Reflection for the Liturgy of the Palms

This excerpt comes from Psalms for All Seasons, commenting on Psalm 118:

Psalm 118 is a psalm of thanksgiving that features two primary emphases: a grand testimony regarding the deliverance of God (vv. 5-7, 10-18, 22-23) and a strong vow to praise and confess God in worship (vv. 19-21, 24, 26-29).

An unusually complex psalm, these emphases are complemented by exhortations to worship God (vv. 1-4) and to trust God (vv. 8-9) and a short prayer for God’s continued deliverance (v. 25).

It describes the work of God in terms of deliverance (v. 14), discipline (v. 18), and enlightenment (v. 27).

The psalm offers a vivid imagery of salvation as the move from claustrophobic constraint (v. 5), made maddening by an enemy that felt like “buzzing bees” (vv. 5, 12) to a place of spaciousness (v. 5) marked by the joyful praise of God’s people (v. 15).

This psalm is quoted several times in the NT.

 

A prayer for reflection:

Lord Jesus Christ, you are the foundation of our life and faith.
Even when the world rejects you, we sing your praise.
Help us to love and serve others even when they reject us and you.
In your name there is healing, in your death there is life,
in your resurrection there is hope, and at your return every knee will bow.
Lord Jesus, come quickly. Amen.

 

©2012 Faith Alive Christian Resources. Published by Brazos Press. Unauthorized use of this material without express written permission is strictly prohibited.

An Eclipse of Friendship (an Excerpt from Spiritual Friendship by Wesley Hill)

The following is an excerpt from Chapter 1 of Spiritual Friendship: Finding Love in the Church as a Celibate Gay Christian by Wesley Hill.

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A penumbra of questions and anxieties, it seems, lingers around the concept of friendship, perhaps especially for many of us navigating our late-modern world as Christians.

We might be able to muster a definition and explanation of friendship’s importance if we were quizzed on it, but for many of us that doesn’t solve the deeper matter of why we want it so much, and why it so often seems unreachable or fraught, burdened in our own era in a way many of us imagine it wasn’t in previous centuries.

Benjamin Myers, an Australian theologian, has outlined a series of ways that friendship has been eclipsed or pushed to the margins of contemporary life. He suggests that friendship in modern Western societies has been obscured by various myths, to the point that we can’t see our way clear anymore to understand friendship the way we once did and embrace it along with its ancient practitioners.

Myers traces the first of these myths back to Sigmund Freud’s suspicion that all relationships, at base, involve eroticism—that the desire for sex is the secret truth of every relationship, so that any mutual liking or interest must be something more than chaste affection. And many cultural observers nowadays would apparently concur, as we will see in the pages below.

For instance, notice how some of us wonder about—and make light of or poke fun at or even feel embarrassed or ashamed of—the perception of romantic longing seeping into our same-sex friendships. In pursuing this line of thought, especially in its stronger forms where we treat any close male friendship as just inevitably homosexual, we are treating sex as a myth in the traditional meaning of the word—a story we tell ourselves that seems to illumine the hitherto misunderstood hinterland of a thing.

With male friendship, where certain previous eras might have seen two people who merely admired each other and wanted to spur each other on to greater heights of maturity and virtue, in the modern West we’re more attuned to the possibility of an underlying, subconscious erotic attraction. And that mythology contributes to the anxiety or humorous uncertainty many of us feel about friendship today.

 

©2015 by Wesley Hill. Published by Brazos Press. Unauthorized use of this material without express written permission is strictly prohibited.

The Weekly Hit List: March 20, 2015

The Gospel Coalition reviewed Rejoicing in Lament by J. Todd Billings

“Dealing with our own troubles and sharing in those of others are among the most challenging aspects of the Christian life.

“It isn’t always easy to weep with those who weep (Rom. 12:15). Foolish and insensitive things get said by well-meaning folks.

“J. Todd Billings’s excellent new book, Rejoicing in Lament: Wrestling with Incurable Cancer and Life in Christ, will go a long way in equipping us to endure and to minister to one another in more theologically grounded and helpful ways.”

Read the entire review here.

 

Other Rejoicing in Lament Media:

Books at a Glance reviewed Rejoicing in Lament.

Tim Challies recommended Rejoicing in Lament.

Derek Emerson reviewed Rejoicing in Lament.

Bobby Grow reviewed Rejoicing in Lament.

 

 

Congratulations to David G. Benner!

Presence and Encounter: The Sacramental Possibilities of Everyday Life is a Foreword Reviews 2014 INDIEFAB Book of the Year Award finalist in the Body, Mind & Spirit category.

Foreword Reviews, the only review magazine solely dedicated to discovering new independent books, announced the finalists for its 17th Annual INDIEFAB Book of the Year Awards.

Each year, Foreword Reviews shines a light on a select group of indie publishers, university presses, and self-published authors whose work stands out from the crowd.

 

Quick Hits:

Craig Blomberg, author of Can We Still Believe the Bible?, is answering readers’ questions on Margaret Feinberg’s blog.

Bob Trube reviewed Can We Still Believe the Bible?.

Lectionary Reflection for the Fifth Sunday in Lent

This excerpt comes from Psalms for All Seasons, commenting on Psalm 51:

Psalm 51, one of the seven penitential psalms, is a poignant cry for divine forgiveness, appealing to God’s goodness, mercy, and compassion (v. 1).

It acknowledges sin in terms of three contrasting images: rebelliousness (vv. 1,3), waywardness (v. 2), and failure (v. 3). It acknowledges the relational barrier that sin creates (v. 4), the importance of inner renewal that only God can bring (v. 10), and the way that forgiveness leads to testimony and praise (vv. 13-15).

The conclusion of the psalm reprises the main theme of Ps. 50 (vv. 16-19), suggesting that Pss. 50 and 51 can helpfully be studied and prayed together.

Prayer for reflection:
Merciful God, we cannot stand before you
unless our hearts are cleansed and our spirits are made right by your redeeming.
Thank you for your merciful forgiveness,
and even more for your transforming love
made known to us in Jesus the Savior. Amen. 

©2012 Faith Alive Christian Resources. Published by Brazos Press. Unauthorized use of this material without express written permission is strictly prohibited.

We Inhabit the World (an Excerpt from Traces of the Trinity by Peter J. Leithart)

The following is an excerpt from Chapter 1 of Traces of the Trinity: Signs of God in Creation and Human Experience by Peter J. Leithart.

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I am different from the things around me, yet I’m also inseparably intertwined with them. The world isn’t just outside; it’s also inside. I’m not only outside the rest of the world; I’m in it. My connection with the world is a Celtic knot. Inside and outside form a Möbius strip that folds back on itself.

That may sound strange and mystical, but it’s not hard to see. Let’s start simply. Consider the obvious fact that you have a body. Descartes knew he had a body, but he believed his body was part of the external world that lay outside his real self, his thinking mind. His body was the closest bit of that extension he called space. It was the machine nearest to his mind.

But this doesn’t describe how we actually experience our bodies. If my hand got mangled in an industrial accident, it would be absurd for me to tell sympathetic friends, “Oh, it’s fine. After all, the accident only happened to my hand, not to me.” If I said that, my friends would wonder if my brain had also gotten mangled in the process.

What the apostle Paul said about the church as the body of Christ is a truism for all bodies: when one member suffers, all suffer; when one member rejoices, all rejoice. Each member is a member for and of the whole. You can’t detach one part of you from the other and identify one or the other as the “real me.” We are mind-body unities, and my body is as much me as my mind is. Pain would be concentrated in my hand, but my entire body, including of course my brain, would be entirely involved in the event.

Once we recognize that—and we have to be trained not to recognize it—we can see that we aren’t sitting outside the world peering in. We inhabit the world. Since we have bodies and are bodies, we occupy space in the world. We bump into things, rest our elbows on the table, tap on the keyboard with our fingers. The world bumps us back, taps us in turn, and our life takes shape in the sometimes clumsy dance that goes on between me and my environment. The French philosopher Maurice MerleauPonty put it well: “The body is the vehicle of being in the world, and to have a body is, for a living creature, to be involved in a definite environment, to identify oneself with certain projects and be continually committed to them.”

 

©2015 by Peter J. Leithart. Published by Brazos Press. Unauthorized use of this material without express written permission is strictly prohibited.

The Weekly Hit List: March 13, 2015

Outreach Magazine Resources of the Year Awards:

Congratulations to Scot McKnight: Outreach Magazine chose Kingdom Conspiracy as their Resource of the Year in the Missional Church category.

Todd Engstrom, executive pastor of ministries at The Austin Stone Community Church, described Kingdom Conspiracy as “a timely resource for the missional church to re-examine some basic assumptions that impact church practice in the everyday.”

 

Also congratulations to Craig Detweiler: Outreach Magazine honored iGods in the Culture category.

 

 

Rejoicing in Lament Media:

Todd Billings was interviewed on Jesus Creed.

“Instead of a theodicy, scripture gives us a prayer book. The Psalms shape our response to evil through laments, which focus our eyes upon God’s promise to make things right, even when things are a mess and through thanksgiving, which rightly recognizes that we are not “entitled” to good things, but the goods of creation and redemption come from the gracious hand of God.

“I think that we cultivate our confidence in God and his promise through prayer, through worship – feeding upon Christ by Word and Sacrament in community – and through compassionate service.”

Read the entire interview here.

 

Todd appeared on INSIGHT (on Canada’s Miracle Channel).

Immanuel UCC‘s blog reviewed Rejoicing in Lament.

Dr. Conrade Yap reviewed Rejoicing in Lament.

 

 

Heaven, Hell, and Purgatory Media:

Scot McKnight recommended Heaven, Hell, and Purgatory by Jerry L. Walls on Jesus Creed.

“No one in the world has thought more about heaven, hell and purgatory than Jerry Walls.

“He has an academic, but accessible, book on each topic and now he has brought all his thinking together in one far more accessible, rearranged book called Heaven, Hell, and Purgatory: A Protestant View of the Cosmic Drama.”

 

Peter Leithart discussed Heaven, Hell, and Purgatory by Jerry L. Walls on his First Things blog.

 

Jerry M. Ireland reviewed Heaven, Hell, and Purgatory.

 

 

Quick Hits:

Presence and Encounter by David G. Benner was recommended by Kathy Milans on Soul Care Collective.

Nonviolent Action by Ronald J. Sider was reviewed by Chris Woznicki.

 

Ebook Specials:

The Evolution of Adam: What the Bible Does and Doesn’t Say about Human Origins by Peter Enns is only $2.99 (83% off) from participating retailers through March 13.

Lectionary Reflection for the Fourth Sunday in Lent

This excerpt comes from Psalms for All Seasons, commenting on Psalm 107:

Psalm 107, the first psalm in the fifth and final of the Psalter’s five books, is a psalm of thanksgiving for God’s faithfulness, deliverance, and covenant love in response to human repentance, turning away from sin and toward God.

This is celebrated through a repeated pattern of describing various groups of people who have experienced calamity, turned toward God, and experienced deliverance (vv. 4-9, 10-16, 17-22, 23-32).

The psalm concludes with a general hymn of praise to God (vv 33-41) and a proverb-like refrain that calls on the wise to “take this to heart.”

 

Prayer for reflection:
Good and loving God, in Jesus you know the paths your children walk
and all that can frighten and discourage us.
Make your presence real to use as we make our journey,
that at any time and in every circumstance
we may remember your blessings—and rejoice! Amen.

 

©2012 Faith Alive Christian Resources. Published by Brazos Press. Unauthorized use of this material without express written permission is strictly prohibited.