Friendship: The Heart of Being Human – Victor Lee Austin

Friendship Victor Lee Austin
Friendship: The Heart of Being Human by Victor Lee Austin, Jason Byassee
Series: Pastoring for Life: Theological Wisdom for Ministering Well
Published by Baker Academic on July 21, 2020
Genres: Academic, Non-Fiction, Christian Life, Theology
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three-half-stars

In this vibrant theological reflection on the meaning of friendship, experienced pastor and leading Christian ethicist Victor Lee Austin argues that friendship is the medium through which God shares grace with his creatures. Mixing personal reflection and theological commentary, Austin provides a fresh reading of classical writers and biblical texts; shows how a robust theology of friendship addresses contemporary controversies in the areas of marriage, celibacy, and homosexuality; and draws on cultural examples of the desire for real friendship. Ultimately, Austin helps readers understand the strange yet real possibility of friendship with God.
About the SeriesPastors are called to help people navigate the profound mysteries of being human, from birth to death and everything in between. This series, edited by leading pastoral theologian Jason Byassee, provides pastors and pastors-in-training with rich theological reflection on the various seasons that make up a human life, helping them minister with greater wisdom and joy.

This book elevates friendship as the definitive human relationship experience. Victor Lee Austin pushes back against common secular and Christian assumptions about human nature, arguing that even though sexual love is deeply important, it is not essential for life and happiness, while friendship is central to our humanity. He encourages Christians to prioritize friendship instead of exclusively emphasizing marriage as the path to connection and joy, and he also writes about friendship within the Trinity, and about being friends with God.

Friendship: The Heart of Being Human is part of an academic series for pastors, but because Austin writes in a warm, engaging, and personal style, this book can appeal to a broader audience. Nothing about the text is specific to pastors, and it never reads like a dry or detached treatise. Austin’s work encourages readers to see past cultural myths and engage with friendship at a deeper level, and I especially appreciated the chapters that explore literary examples of friendship and practical advice for maintaining friendships. However, I wish that Austin had addressed a wider range of practical concerns and delved deeper into controversial issues.

Even though the synopsis indicates that Austin will engage with the topic of same-sex relationships, that is a very minor part of this book. Also, he does not address how people can maintain healthy friendships with people to whom they might otherwise be attracted. For example, even though he de-prioritizes marriage as the only relationship that matters, he does not offer a perspective on how married couples can set healthy boundaries while also pursuing same-sex and cross-gender friendships. I understand that this is primarily a theological work, not a practical guide, but because the book’s description promises engagement with current controversies, it disappointed me to see how many core issues Austin did not address.

three-half-stars