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Book review: Living for Love by David R. Tomlinson; The Best of Friends by Phil Knox

by
20 October 2023

Anthony Phillips reads two books about the Christian’s relationships

 

THE book by David R. Tomlinson is, in effect, a manifesto for the Christian life. It is all spelt out in the title. Central to that life must be love, love of God, love of humankind, and love of creation. As Tomlinson puts it, “The aim of the Church’s life is no less than the transformation of the world by love and for love.”

The author’s starting point is that God has made all in his image and that, therefore, in the other we see the Other. This means that all should be approached with a sense of reverence. Like God, we are created to give and receive love. The purpose of life is to grow in love, which inevitably will be costly. Like Christ, “living and dying for love” is our purpose.

Tomlinson recognises that we must protect ourselves. Perhaps more could have been said about the tension of proper selfishness.

The practice and pitfalls of loving others is spelt out in detail. Whom we love is not a matter of our choice; nor is the obligation to love ended by rebuttal. For Christians, Jesus remains the paradigm of love. We are called to take up our cross, “the touchstone of discipleship”.

The demand to love God is for our own benefit. We are to allow God to interrupt us. In my experience, we need to recognise that God is a God of surprise. Tomlinson describes the importance of prayer and the value of silence, providing, in an appendix, a simple guide.

Finally, the author sets out the part for the Church to play as the community of love. In the pursuit of justice, those in power need to be challenged. Our ultimate goal and “humanity’s only hope” is a world bound together in love. Who could argue with that?

Nor can anyone doubt the importance of friendship, the subject of Phil Knox’s book. He rightly believes that we were designed to live in relationships. They determine our well-being. But they need nurturing and can prove costly. They also require managing.

For Knox, Jesus provides the appropriate model. The author depicts his friendship pattern starting from the centre of a circle and moving outwards in a succession of rings. At the heart is Jesus’s best friend, John, the disciple whom he loved. Then comes the “inner circle” of Peter, James, and John, followed by “the huddle” of the Twelve. The fourth circle comprises the “network” of the 72, before the final circle of his followers.

These stages are examined in turn. Friendship is both inclusive and exclusive: not all friends are to be treated in the same way. Both vulnerability and forgiveness are part of friendship, as is laughter. In spite of Knox’s acknowledging the importance of diversity in friendship, nowhere in his study is mention made of people of other faiths, with whom rich relationships can be formed.

Finally, using as examples Moses and Joshua, Knox points to the benefits of intergenerational friendships, before concluding with that most important friendship of all, friendship with God.

Knox writes from a committed Christian perspective. Although he acknowledges that we “do not make friends with people in order to convert them to Christianity”, none the less, the embarrassing account of his young son’s “conversion” of his schoolfriend indicates that what ultimately motivates Knox is evangelism.

The chemistry of friendship is in my view a much more complicated business than the somewhat prescriptive pattern that Knox’s model envisages. Indeed, it is something of a kaleidoscope with many diverse patterns. In the end, friendship is not capable of explanation; for at its heart lies mystery, which includes the mystery of our relationship with God which we call faith.
 

Canon Anthony Phillips is a former headmaster of The King’s School, Canterbury.

 

Living for Love: The essence of Christianity, and humanity’s only hope
David R. Tomlinson
Sacristy Press £14.99
(978-1-78959-258-0)
Church Times Bookshop £13.49
 

The Best of Friends: Choose wisely, care well
Phil Knox
IVP £10.99
(978-1-78974-424-8)
Church Times Bookshop £9.89

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