What is a friend? – A quick response to a good friend

Stephen Kneale has written a response to my first article about Jordan Peterson.  You can read it here. I’m relieved that Stephen is not about to unfriend me on social media!  I’m also grateful that he has given me the opportunity to respond and clarify. This is not least because part o f a conversation is about realising when the first response you put out just doesn’t cut it. 

I think the best way to respond is to probably take a little step back to some first principles. In my first post, I talked about choosing your friends carefully. Now, if you read my first post and you’ve met Jordan in real life or on social media and you happen to think he’s a nice guy and you could get along with him then I’m not telling you that you can’t be friends. He may prove to be a fantastic, loyal friend in that sense. Additionally, because I don’t know him and because I’ve not heard anyone who does know him say this explicitly, I don’t know whether or not he is a brother in Christ. I am picking up some hints in the secular media. There may be stuff elsewhere. So again, if Jordan is a professing believer, I’m not saying that you should disfellowship him.

I am asking the question as to whether that interview and his approach/philosophy/books provide us with a helpful friend. Does that make sense?

So, a couple of examples

1.       When you learn languages, you are often provided with helpful friends in terms of grammar rules, synonyms, homonyms etc that help you work out meaning and remember things. However, you are also taught to watch out for false friends. In fact, when we learnt NT Greek a few people began to build up a list. You think something is a helpful clue when it isn’t at all because it will misdirect you.

2.       I’m sure that many of us will have had this experience. We are sitting in a meeting and we are trying to argue a point. It’s not going well. Nobody is getting it. Everyone is bitterly opposed. Then someone says “I get what you are saying and I agree.” You think “Brilliant, I have a friend” not in the sense that you get along now. You may have other actual friends in the room who are opposing you still. Then they start to share their view of how to move forwards and you realise that they haven’t got your point at all. They are on a completely different track. In fact, far from being a “friend” they have taken the group’s thinking in completely the wrong direction. It would have been more helpful if they had stayed silent.

It’s in that kind of sense that I am talking about “friends” here. Does Jordan Peterson’s  world view/approach provide us with a friend? I’m not sure. I’ll have to do the hard work of reading his book. Do I think the interview itself provides us with a friend? A lot of people seemed to think it does (note that is different again to saying that Peterson’s worldview and teaching is a friend.  I am not sure it is a friend because I’m not sure that people reading twitter who then watched the interview will necessarily have seen it illustrating the points that some on twitter thought it so obviously did. Now, and not just because I am Stephen Kneale’s friend but because I think this bit was friendly in terms of helpful, I suggest you read his original article and pay particular attention to the last paragraph because it gets us onto the right territory for learning here.

Now some further comments because this touches onto other things.  In the past few months I’ve disagreed with a range of people on faithroots, people ranging from Steve Chalke, through Eugene Peterson and all the away across to people like James Dolezal and John Frame. I’ve also disagreed with Stephen Kneale and there are things I’ve written that guys like Mez McConnell and Duncan Forbes would strongly disagree with but these are people I call friends and I hope consider me a friend and indeed more than a friend, a brother.

The point is that some of those guys are my friends and that does not change on the basis of our disagreement but they may have to call me out sometimes and say that my approach /argument is not the friend I think it is. There are times of course when we have to be clear that fellowship is broken and where it is hypocritical to call someone a friend. So, when someone is blaspheming God with wilful slander against his name and the Gospel and/or when they are abusing God’s people through false teaching, control, manipulation and emotional or physical violence then I find it disturbing when the old boy’s club kicks in and people say “Oh Arius is a great friend however I disagree with him about Jesus’ eternal Sonship but there again, Arius is just being Arius and after all he is very loving and caring, we could learn a lot from that … and he’s written some lovely worship songs too.”  For clarity, I am not talking about that scenario in my articles.

So, it’s helpful to make these distinctions.

1.       I can disagree with someone on an issue whilst respecting their teaching gift and ongoing contribution to the Gospel as a teacher of God’s Word.

2.       I can disagree with someone on an issue or series of issues and say that this is serious enough to disqualify them as a teacher completely whilst continuing to recognise them as a brother in Christ.

3.       I can disagree with someone and argue that they are so wrong on something so essential that it raises questions about their belief and identity as a Christian. I think there is a level here where we can do that on friendly terms

4.       There is a point as mentioned above where I have to be explicitly clear that I cannot associate with someone at all and there can be no pretence of any form of friendship