Wednesday, July 11, 2018

Review: Why Can't We Be Friends?

Why Can't We Be Friends? - Avoidance is Not Purity by Aimee Byrd, P&R Publishing, 2018, 243 pages.

Four year ago, the Alliance of Confessing Evangelicals invited Aimee Byrd to join Carl Trueman and Todd Pruitt as a cohost for their podcast, The Mortification of Spin. To her surprise, not all the listeners were pleased. There were concerns about where this interaction would lead and even warnings that Aimee was an affair waiting to happen and a potential cause of moral downfall for two pastors.1 When I read this account in the beginning of Why Can't We Be Friends?, it reminded me of a another story.

In Openness Unhindered, Rosaria Butterfield was preparing a Lord's Day meal with another sister. It was just the two of them in the kitchen quietly working together, and then the question came up,
"Is this safe? Being alone together in the kitchen?"... "Does being alone with a woman bring back those feelings for you? Those kind of feelings."
Suddenly, the danger was exposed: I. It was I. I was the potential source of unsafety. I felt that chill of isolation creep in. She couldn't even name those feelings, they were so dirty, or foreign, or dangerous.... I was perplexed that even though I was a new creature in Christ, that was not good enough. I pondered why my identity in Christ did not seem to be good enough for her, and it made me wonder again, if it was good enough for God... Why did she not see that my identity in Christ was bigger than my past? Because there is another category of personhood that takes preeminence: sexual orientation."2
These responses from Christians aren't that different from the dictum of Harry Burns in the movie, When Harry Met Sally - "men and women can't be friends because the sex part always gets in the way."3 If Harry and the naysayers are right, then Aimee should be booted off the Mortification of Spin, and we should be wary of all cross-gender friendships in the church. For Rosaria, even same-gender friendships are potentially dangerous, so perhaps it would be safer to segregate her with just her family.

But is this how God wants his family to function? Are we called to commune around the Lord's table as fellow blood-bought believers and then view each other with suspicion? In our desire to obey the 7th commandment, do we inadvertently break the 9th by imputing sinful motives to one another? Is Christ's work in making us new creatures not good enough? Or have we lost something along the way? I think we have, which is why I am so glad Aimee wrote this book. The solution to the friendship problem is not just behavioral. It is, at its heart, theological.

Aimee identifies four theological categories that form the foundation of friendship, and these categories anchor the discourse in the subsequent chapters:4

Anthropology - What are we here for? We are created for communion with God and with one another.
Christology - Who are we as Christians? Christ, our elder brother, has not only given us new life but brought us into a new relationship as brothers and sisters.
Ecclesiology - We are God's family. How does he expect us to treat one another?
Eschatology - What is our ultimate hope?

Then in the first half of the book, Aimee examines the reasons why we think we can't be friends:5
- Our concept of identity is shaped by the culture and seen through the lens of stereotypes.
- We've forgotten the goal of communion with God and the outflow of that communion in the church.
- We've narrowed purity down to sex.
- Immaturity and fear weaken relationships.
- We've forgotten that we are family.

In the second half of the book, she gives ways where sanctified siblingship can flourish in the local church:6
- Our identity comes from our Elder Brother.
- Consider the "one anothers" in scripture.
- Cultivate holiness in one another through encouragement and exhortation.
- Practice community through table fellowship.
- Celebrate and suffer together.
- Model affectionate and appropriate relationships to the world.

There has been a lot of discussion about Why Can't We Be Friends? even before its release. There have been concerns that Aimee is advocating antinomianism (disregarding the moral law) in the area of friendship. I don't think this is the case at all. I believe she steers a theologically straight course between license and legalism, which is why I strongly recommend this book. She is not advocating permissiveness in our friendships. Neither does she give a list of cast iron dos and donts. Rather she raises the bar by encouraging her readers to look to Christ and what he has done on our behalf. It is through our union with him that the family of God can be family in holiness and purity. He sets the standard for friendship, not the culture. After all who gave us a new heart? Who gives us new desires? Are we perfect? No. Are we still tempted? Yes. But who convicts us of sin? Who delivers us from temptation and gives wisdom from situation to situation? Who is building his church and able to present her blameless at the last day?
Can men and women be friends? It's the wrong question. How could we even ask such a question if we understood the meaning of friendship?
Are we opposed to friendship? No - we are opposed to sin, and we are for holiness. And for this reason, men and women are called to be more than friends. We are called to Christ, in whom we become brothers and sisters As the saying goes, blood is thicker than water.7

For more on the book:
Mortification of Spin Podcast on Why Can't We Be Friends?
Theology Gals interview with Aimee Byrd 

1. Why Can't We Be Friends? - Avoidance is Not Purity, Aimee Byrd, P&R Publishing, 2018, pg. 7.
2. Openness Unhindered, Rosaria Butterfield, Crown & Covenant Publications, 2015, pp. 35-36. (bolding mine)
3. Byrd. pg. 25.
4. Ibid. pp. 15-16.
5. Ibid. Chapters 1-7.
6. Ibid. Chapters 8-13.
7. Ibid. pg. 229.

I received an e-copy of this book from the publisher. I was not required to write a positive review. The opinions I have expressed are my own. I am disclosing this in accordance with the Federal Trade Commission's 16 CFR, Part 255: "Guides Concerning the Use of Endorsements and Testimonials in Advertising."

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