Spiritual Friendship

Finding Love in the Church as a Celibate Gay Christian

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About

Friendship is a relationship like no other. Unlike the relationships we are born into, we choose our friends. It is also tenuous--we can end a friendship at any time. But should friendship be so free and unconstrained? Although our culture tends to pay more attention to romantic love, marriage, family, and other forms of community, friendship is a genuine love in its own right. This eloquent book reminds us that Scripture and tradition have a high view of friendship. Single Christians, particularly those who are gay and celibate, may find it is a form of love to which they are especially called.

Writing with deep empathy and with fidelity to historic Christian teaching, Wesley Hill retrieves a rich understanding of friendship as a spiritual vocation and explains how the church can foster friendship as a basic component of Christian discipleship. He helps us reimagine friendship as a robust form of love that is worthy of honor and attention in communities of faith. This book sets forth a positive calling for celibate gay Christians and suggests practical ways for all Christians to cultivate stronger friendships.

Contents

Author's Note
Introduction
Part 1: Reading Friendship
1. An Eclipse of Friendship?
2. "I Love You Because You're Mine"
3. The Transformation of Friendship
Part 2: Living Friendship
4. "A Piece of Ice Held Fast in the Fist"
5. Friendship Is a Call to Suffer
6. Patterns of the Possible
An Essay on Sources


Endorsements

"Wesley Hill's courageous, thought provoking book seeks to recover 'friendship as a genuine love in its own right.' At one level, it is a historically rooted and theologically nuanced essay that opens up fresh perspectives on a topic that is crucial but too rarely pondered. But at another level, Spiritual Friendship belongs to the classic genre of Christian confessional autobiography, a genre that can be traced back to St. Augustine; it is both searing in its honesty and moving in its chastened hope for grace. This is a book that challenges all of us--whatever our sexual experience or longings may be--to think more truthfully about the meaning of love and the complex ways in which our communities either stifle or nurture it."

Richard B. Hays, dean and George Washington Ivey Professor of New Testament, Duke Divinity School

"This is a remarkable book. Drawing on a deep reservoir of biblical wisdom and theological imagination, Wesley Hill explores the possibilities for a truly Christian picture of friendship. And because this exploration requires him to think also about how his friendship both contributes to and differs from the fellowship that all Christians share, he makes here a significant contribution to the general theology of the church as well. Here is a book everyone interested in Christianity, and everyone interested in friendship, can profit from reading."

Alan Jacobs, Honors College, Baylor University

"Medieval monks expressed their love for one another with what to us is cringe-inducing intimacy, and not so long ago Christians still entered formal bonds of friendship by taking vows that sound like marriage vows. We don't do that anymore, with our commitment to uncommitted freedom, our turnover habits, our sexualization of everything and everyone, and our resignation to loneliness. Wesley Hill's very personal book is an elegant, theologically rich plea on behalf of the love of friendship that uncovers fresh ways to improvise on a lost Christian tradition of committed spiritual friendship."

Peter Leithart, president, Theopolis Institute, Birmingham, Alabama

"Spiritual Friendship weaves together Scripture, Christian history, art, and personal experience. This is a portrait, not a treatise. It depicts friendship's flaws and failures but also shows how friendship can bear spiritual fruit and help us build up the kingdom of God. Wesley Hill challenges us all to strengthen our own friendships and those around us and offers guidance in these tasks from his own experience and from the Christian past. Honest and poignant, Spiritual Friendship is like a conversation with a good friend who has learned much from books but more from loving and being loved by others."

Eve Tushnet, author of Gay and Catholic: Accepting My Sexuality, Finding Community, Living My Faith

"Love is the most complicated thing in the world--and even more so for gay and lesbian Christians who have experienced a vocation to celibacy. With disarming frankness, Wesley Hill charts the loss of friendship from our world and mounts a compelling case for its recovery as a communally celebrated form of Christian love. Hill's is a voice that needs to be heard. His book is a powerful challenge to the contemporary church as well as a profound meditation on the difficult, wonderful, risky business of loving and being loved."

Benjamin Myers, Charles Sturt University, Sydney, Australia

"Wesley Hill not only wants to think about what friendship might mean for a celibate gay Christian but indeed wants to recover a richer, more substantive, and especially more promising understanding of friendship for everyone. In a highly engaging and very accessible manner, Hill uses examples from art, literature, film, and especially his own life to explore what in our culture today most endangers friendship, how Christianity redefines our understanding of friendship, and how our churches can be the best settings for nurturing the faithful, challenging, and blessed relationships Hill presents to us. Spiritual Friendship is a timely gift the reader will quickly take to heart."

Paul J. Wadell, professor of theology and religious studies, St. Norbert College; author of Becoming Friends: Worship, Justice, and the Practice of Christian Friendship

"This book is a rare find! Hill eloquently speaks into one of the great spiritual crises of our day: the meaning of love and specifically of friendship in Christ. This courageous personal and theological account of friendship will both challenge and illuminate those seeking to renew the church's witness today. Hill gives us a glimpse of what we've forgotten--a rich Christian vision of friendship. Whether readers agree or disagree with Hill's theological vision, there is no doubt that this book will be a conversation changer!"

J. Todd Billings, Gordon H. Girod Research Professor of Reformed Theology, Western Theological Seminary, Holland, Michigan

"Wesley Hill captured my imagination by presenting a vision of friendship--spiritual friendship--that has been our Christian heritage. Each of us who make up the body of Christ will be enriched and our corporate witness to a broader culture enhanced if we can find a way to live into this vision."

Mark A. Yarhouse, Rosemarie S. Hughes Endowed Chair and professor of psychology, Regent University

"Too gay for some and too chaste for others, for many Wesley Hill is not supposed to exist. But exist he does, even to flourishing. Challenging settled convictions on all sides of the sexuality debate, he testifies here--alongside countless celibate Christians before him--to the richness of intimate friendships that dare violate our society's sole remaining commandment: 'Thou shalt have sex.'"

Matthew Milliner, Wheaton College


The Author

  1. Wesley Hill

    Wesley Hill

    Wesley Hill (PhD, University of Durham) is assistant professor of biblical studies at Trinity School for Ministry. He is the author of Paul and the Trinity: Persons, Relations, and the Pauline Letters and the much-discussed Washed and Waiting:...

    Continue reading about Wesley Hill

Reviews

Christianity Today 2016 Book Award Winner

"Hill tackles not only the currently pressing topic of what hope Christianity has to offer those experiencing themselves as gay or lesbian, but also the deeper topic of friendship in an expressive-individualist age--something that's relevant to everyone, regardless of sexual orientation. The book makes an acute diagnosis of our atomized lives in a world that imagines sex as the only source of real intimacy, and marriage as the only setting for real commitment. It retrieves elements of the historic church tradition relating to friendship and commitment. And all this is presented in sensitive, evocative language, with a reverence for literature, language, and art that makes it a delight to read. Hill's account has a raw, even wrenching, honesty that's essential to authentic Christian testimony in our broken world."

Andy Crouch,

Christianity Today

"In this is well-versed yet vulnerable book, Hill urges readers to reconsider the centrality of friendship--not only for the flourishing of celibate gay Christians such as himself, but also for the flourishing of the church, which bears witness to bonds that are thicker than blood, even thicker than marital vows. In a time of individualization and loneliness, we need reminders like this that we belong to each other and for each other."

Katelyn Beaty,

Christianity Today

"Part of what makes [this] book so intriguing is that it is an attempt to give an account of friendship that is grounded in history, theology, and literature--yet forward-looking. [It] is an essayistic collection of provocations, not a tome intended to be 'the last word' on friendship or its relationship to Christian community. . . . The book is divided into two sections. Both sections seamlessly weave Hill's personal experience, passages from literature and descriptions of artwork, historical and sociological interpretations, and theological reflection. . . . Where other books on friendship gain their depth and poignancy from their attention to a friendship which has ended, which perhaps we weren't grateful enough for when we had it, Hill's book gains its richness from his attention to and gratitude for a friendship which is only beginning. That's appropriate for a book which is about the future of friendship itself."

Eve Tushnet,

The American Conservative

"[A] spectacular new book. . . . Spiritual Friendship displays Hill's considerable intellect, pulls from an astonishing variety of sources, and inspires with its beautiful prose. If you are straight, I hope you don't stop reading now. While Hill's book is especially helpful for gay Christians, the impoverishment of friendship is a problem that affects everyone. . . . The book is autobiographical, and as [Hill] shares his personal experience, the reader not only understands but feels the truth of his writing. . . . Wesley has found a vocation in being a friend and in championing the revival of friendship. Wesley has found a way to give good love. If you could use a love infusion, and want to grow as a friend, do yourself a favor and pick up Spiritual Friendship."

Tim Otto,

Englewood Review of Books

"[This book] is a part memoir, part historical theology, part cultural criticism, part spiritual reflection, and part biblical exposition. . . . This excellent book deserves thoughtful and attentive reading. . . . Hill's work is a great and generous gift to the church and is valuable for all Christians."

Glenn R. Kreider,

Bibliotheca Sacra

"Spiritual Friendship is not an easy read. It's short, yes, coming in at under 150 pages. But in that space Hill manages to be disquieting on a subject that is often taken for granted--specifically, the question of how we form and maintain intimate friendships. Part historical survey, part biblical analysis, and part personal reflection, Spiritual Friendship manages to be informative and insightful but also unnerving and challenging."

Matthew Lotfus,

Mere Orthodoxy blog

"One of the most important books of our time, vital, important, rare, wise, exceptional. It is exactly about our embodiedness, yes, even about the redemption of our sexuality. It is beautifully written, exquisite at times, and more candid then one might expect in an evangelical Christian book. . . . Many of us--gay and straight--have awaited this next chapter of his story, and his theologically rich call to better, more profound views of friendship. I cannot tell you how glad I am that this is now available."

Byron Borger,

Hearts & Minds Books blog

"Spiritual Friendship holds a special place in my heart. . . . The book is excellent and elegantly written. Dr. Hill shares deeply and elegantly, making strong and compelling arguments for a renewed vision for friendship. . . . Hill offers insights from history and his own experience that show how covenantal friendships can be crucial in forming healthy relationships. . . . He's taken a bold position and I admire him for it. . . . He's offered us a provocative and profound book on spiritual friendship from his own experience as a celibate, gay follower of Jesus. I very much found his book an expression of beautiful orthodoxy."

Joseph Williams,

Expanding Vision blog


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