The Company We Keep Interview

September 17, 2014

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BCC Staff Note: In this BCC author interview Q & A, we connected with Jonathan Holmes to learn more about his new book, The Company We Keep: In Search of Biblical Friendship.

BCC: “Jonathan, thanks for joining us. Why did you write The Company We Keep?”

JH: “Writing this book was borne out of a series of talks given at a men’s retreat. After developing the material for these talks, I was encouraged to consider putting them into print. The original talks came from the overwhelming grace God has brought into my life in the form of Christ-centered friendships. You might say this book is a written testimony of how God has blessed and changed me through the friendships of other believers. Anything of worth in the book is because of Him!”

BCC: “What do you hope The Company We Keep would accomplish in the life of your readers?”

JH: “My goal in writing this book is to bless and serve the wider church. My prayer would be for God to use this resource to encourage His people to live out the practical responsibilities of being a part of the family of God. The catch-words of ‘relationship’ and ‘community’ have been used quite a bit in recent years (and with much success). And yet, the Bible says we are brought into relationship with Christ and His Body. Many people stop short of actually living out the benefits and responsibilities of this relationship in the church. This is why I believe friendship is such a helpful portrait for us to get a larger and expanded vision for life in the church.”

BCC: “Most people assume true friendship has to happen spontaneously, but you seem to advocate a more deliberate approach. Why is that?”

JH: “You’re right, this does seem to be a prevailing concept for many people and I’m not sure why. Things of value in life typically involve personal engagement and effort. The same should and could be said of biblical friendship. Our relationships with one another are secured through our relationship with Jesus Christ, but moving them forward into dynamic relationships—friendships—require the everyday, redeeming effort of life-on-life interaction.”

BCC: “You mention in the book that it is often hard to form ‘open, honest, genuine friendships’ in the church. Why do you think that is?”

JH: “A loose paraphrase of Tim Keller says that our greatest fear is to be known, but not loved. And the most superficial of relationships is when a person is loved, but not known. In Jesus Christ, we are known and loved which is transformational. I believe this is true in our friendships with others. There is a great fear that in being truly open and honest with people we would actually repel them. So, instead we go for the easier of the two options, which is superficial friendships where we are ‘loved,’ but not truly known.”

BCC: “In The Company We Keep, you share that as a teenager and young adult you struggled with loneliness. How did your life experience help you understand biblical friendship?”

JH: “I like to think that in this area, I am more like the people I am writing to than different. High school and young adulthood were environments which heightened and provided fertile ground for all my fears and anxieties. Do people like me? Do they want to be around me? Am I annoying them? What can I do to make this person like me? Why are they avoiding me now? Loneliness is closer to the average human experience I believe than most in the church care to admit.”

BCC: “The four marks of biblical friendship you listed are constancy, candor, carefulness, and counsel. Which one do you personally find the most difficult?”

JH: “Without a doubt, I would say candor. In the church we are by nature averse to conflict. This is due in large part to our lack of a biblical theology of conflict. Instead of seeing conflict as an opportunity to glorify God and pursue growth, we avoid it or enter into it ungraciously and rashly.”

BCC: “You say that one threat to biblical friendship is the ‘homophobia bogeyman.’ What exactly is that, and why should Christians be concerned about it?”

JH: “The ‘homophobia bogeyman’ tends to be a bit more prevalent with men. In our Western culture, closeness and intimacy with other men is often viewed with either suspicion or aversion. Unfortunately, some men might be afraid to enter into real and abiding friendship with another man for fear of how that might appear to others. In giving way to those fears, they miss out on one of the true pleasures of life.” 

BCC: “You refer to the biblical friendship you share with your wife as a ‘singular grace from God.’ How would you encourage someone whose marriage does not feel like a friendship?”

JH: “I believe fellow Cruciform Press author, Dr. Joel Beeke, has written a wonderful book on this exact topic (Friends and Lovers Cultivating Companionship and Intimacy in Marriage). There is also helpful wisdom in Tim and Kathy Keller’s book, The Meaning of Marriage.”

BCC: “How can churches encourage their members to pursue biblical friendship?”

JH: “I believe the church can play a key role in developing friendships in two ways. First, offer opportunities to connect and build friendship outside the church. Make sure that Bible studies, small groups, and community groups maintain a balance between the more formal side of relationships and the everyday opportunities to cultivate them: meals, activities, and shared experiences.

Second, preach and teach about biblical friendship. Encourage the people in your church to experience the reality of their relationships with one another in the church. Equip them to know what friendship’s purpose is, how they are marked, and cultivated, and the fruit they yield.”

BCC: “Is there anything parents can do to help instill the values of biblical friendship in their children?”

JH: “I did not cover this topic specifically in the book, but as you read the book I believe I give testimony to how this could work. Friendship as a whole has a missional flavor and focus to it. Friendship should exist for something greater than just the two individual’s mutual enjoyment. Friendship carries within it the testimony of Jesus Christ. Towards that end, I would encourage parents to show their children wise and godly friendships. Show them the good, bad, and hard of what it means to be in friendship with others, and encourage them to pursue friendships where they are situated.”

BCC: “Many pastors find that it’s hard for them to make friends. What is your advice to them regarding biblical friendship?”

JH: “This is a question I personally work through daily. In ministry it is said you often have a lot of foes and fans, but few friends. I have seen this to be true. I think pastors often move towards one of two extremes. First, some try to be friends with everyone, which leads to exhaustion. Second, some try to avoid being friends with anyone, which leads to emptiness. Finding the right balance of this is crucial. Like Christ, I think most of us are equipped for 2-3 close, intimate friendships. Whether these people be your fellow elders, ministry leaders or lay-people in the congregation, allow the friendship to grow out of your mutual commitment to Christ rather than your ministry roles.”

BCC: “Thank you, Jonathan, for writing this important new resource and for introducing our readers to it.”

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