Thursday, June 15, 2017

Three Faces of Redemptive Friendships

     Anyone who has ever had a two-faced friend will probably wonder how on earth redemptive friendships could have three faces? These three metaphorical faces of redemption have little to do with our physiognomy or the physical presentation of visages. Rather, what I’m suggesting is that in our approach toward cultivating redemptive friendships we ought to consider three different perspectives or orientations: 1) toward God, 2) toward self, and then 3) toward others.

      Our first priority to God leads us, as children of the Living God, upward, with open face toward the Lord and His purposes. Dr. John Frame called this upward face the “normative” perspective. He wrote in The Doctrine of the Knowledge of God that the Bible provides the lens through which we see and ought to evaluate who we are, the world around us, and the truth claims to which we hold.

     Thus, by knowing the Bible, we come to better see the character and holiness of God, to understand ourselves, and to interpret our context. In turn, the epistemological cycle enables us to know the Scriptures and God better. As John Knox once stated in an address to the statesmen in his time, “The Scriptures of God are my only foundation and substance in all matters of weight and importance.” Furthermore, Paul wrote to Timothy, "All Scripture is God-breathed and is useful for teaching, rebuking, correcting and training in righteousness, so that the servant of God may be thoroughly equipped for every good work" (2 Tim. 3:15-16, ESV). All things begin and end with the Scriptures, our firm foundation in our relationships with others, both inside and outside of the Church. 

     The first face of redemptive friendships turns us heavenward. 

     Next, with the second face or perspective, we ought to examine ourselves and our standing before our Holy God, cultivating an accurate inward awareness. The inward face represents our existential or experiential perspective, by which we come to understand our lives in light of the normative foundation. Experience bolstered by life in the church, under the preaching and sacraments, play a vital role in developing right knowledge of oneself and encouragement to learn and grow upward and outward.

     In terms of the experiential perspective, Frame wrote that every person brings their dispositions, temperaments, biases, presuppositions, and life experience into the act of knowing and experiencing God and each other. In fact, Frame stated, objective knowledge in and of itself is not sufficient, as that would presuppose a denial of our creature hood and thus a denial of the power of God’s Word for us. Therefore, we must know ourselves rightly.

     As John Calvin emphasized the importance of acknowledging our own sinfulness and our inclination toward idols, he taught that our hearts resemble idol factories because we are so prone toward seeking our own autonomy. He further reminds us that faith and repentance are not merely the beginning, but the whole of our Christian lives. It's no mistake that Jesus exhorts us his followers to remove the log from our own eye first before attempting to help our neighbors remove their speck (Matthew 7:1-5).

     Since we have been made in the image of God, the existential face should reflect knowledge of God's glory as it increases through our sanctification. Paul wrote to the church in Corinth, "But we all, with unveiled face, beholding as in a mirror the glory of the Lord, are being transformed into the same image from glory to glory, just as from the Lord, the Spirit" (2 Cor. 3:18, NASB). Hence, the second face calls us to cultivate a life of knowledge of self, characterized by a life of believing and penitence, in light of the holiness and love of God (the upward face). In so doing, the Holy Spirit enables us then to effectively consider the outward face.

     Our third face, or outward orientation, represents the situational perspective. This third stance refers to our interactions with external facts, things, objects, and people, in light of the normative and experiential – knowing God and knowing ourselves. It includes acknowledging and understanding history, science, civil law, and other tangible information, along with our own contexts and relationships. Viewing people and things from a situational perspective involves understanding how we express the normative (Truth of God’s Word) in everyday life.  Without a robust understanding of and compassion for our context and the world, our attempts to apply Scripture in our interactions risk failure -- or reversion to a futile status: a resounding gong, an echo chamber, or the reiteration of confirmation bias.

     So, how might this work out in specific situations? First, consider the normative command of Scripture -- the timeless, unchanging moral principle from God's Word. Next, all the normative, moral principle to transform our hearts as we assess our own lives in light of God's character. How does heart knowledge of this principle affect my standing with God, my sin, and my relationship with others? Where do I need to repent or possibly become more self-aware? "But if any of you lacks wisdom, let him ask of God, who gives to all generously and without reproach, and it will be given to him"  (James 1:5, NASB).

     Finally, we apply this wisdom to our relationships inside and outside of the church, as a result of our upward reorientation toward the Lord (love of God) and our inward application in our own lives. Include contextual or situational clues such as legal, medical, cultural, and community (local church) practices that impact our decisions, actions, and consequences. Go before God and seek His wisdom. Then, we effectively live outward toward love of neighbor. We are enabled to step out in faith toward neighbor, enacting the great commission, extending hospitality and kindness, and expressing the love of Christ in our spheres of influence.

     In this way, we reflect back to God, His glory and the knowledge of Him in acts of worship. Rather than basing our friendships on worldly wisdom or empty promises as the two-faced friend might, we cultivate redemptive friendships, based on a lasting foundation, with eternal implications.

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