The Importance of Friendship for Theology

"In this world two things are essential: a healthy life and friendship..." - Augustine

How do we develop our theology as Christians who take seriously the call to "grow in the grace and knowledge of our savior, Jesus Christ"? 

I've sometimes enjoyed hearing from others as to what makes them tick in this regard. We all probably have a number of habits that have been particularly helpful to our theological development over the course of our life. One way (I think) I've been able to better myself in the knowledge of God is through friendship. 

One of the best gifts God has given to me are friends who are smarter and more theologically astute than I am. As we have conversations, I'm able to hear how they reason, argue, think, etc. Person-to-person interaction gives us something books or online discourse simply cannot. 

In discussing or debating a theological point, a friend may counter your point and you have to then learn to think on your feet. Without leaving to read a book, you need to be able to justify or modify your view accordingly. It is "theology in action". After all, we should test ourselves in theological debate when we don't have a book or google to bail us out. And, thankfully, your friends don't usually quote long paragraphs to your face - "As Calvin says...." Is there anything worse in online discourse than someone pasting a huge quote to prove their point? I suppose, but still....

Also, with a friend, you can start out apparently disagreeing with each other, but after enough discussion (and - ahem - theological distinctions thrown in!) you often realize you're not that far apart. In fact, you learn that there are sometimes different ways to express the same truth. 

Having someone's voice and eyes before you is a whole lot better than pixels on a screen. Plus, the good thing about having a friend you can discuss theology with is the freedom to really have it out (i.e., argue) but not have to worry that you're friendship will be over if you end up disagreeing in the end. Some of my most vigorous theological arguments have been made with my best friends. I love calling them names, knowing that it's 99% affection, 1% vitriol. 

We should also remember that friendship makes us more forgiving of theological differences compared to those whom we do not know, but disagree with theologically. Some heresy hunters probably need to get out more and develop friendships with people from other theological traditions. There are dangers, of course, but I think friendship helps us be slower to criticize, especially in online discourse. 

I wonder if some Christians have almost all of their friendly theological interaction via Facebook and Twitter rather than face-to-face. What a shame if that's all there is. After all, when I'm debating theology with a buddy, I would rather have the option of offering more than 140 characters and also calling him something unkind, but having a smile on my face when I'm doing it. Throwing in a smiley face emoticon is just wrong when debating theology online, but smiling when you call your friend "crazy" seems quite natural and appropriate.

In light of the above, let me give a shout-out to pursuing formal theological education at a Seminary rather than online. True, seminarians are sometimes the most annoying conversation partners. They have far more zeal and arrogance than knowledge - a dangerous combo. But the friendships developed at Seminary can have real theological value in the long-term, and also in the short-term if one is willing to listen rather than talk all the time. 

Pursue friendships with those who are smarter than you and godlier than you, and you've got a massive advantage over others in your theological development. Almost every time I go to the PCA General Assembly - a great place for friendship, theological discussion, and dorky-looking ministers parading their bow-ties - I ask God for a new friendship.