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The Heart of Being Human

series: Pastoring for Life: Theological Wisdom for Ministering Well

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In this vibrant theological reflection on the meaning of friendship, an experienced pastor and leading Christian ethicist argues that friendship is the medium through which God shares grace with his creatures. Victor Lee Austin locates friendship as the heart of God's intention in creating human beings and explains that to reestablish friendship--with each other and with God--is the purpose of Jesus's incarnation.

Mixing personal reflection and theological commentary, this book offers a fresh take on the meaning of friendship for the life of faith. Austin sets forth the classical view on friendship, which is attractive but limited, and shows how the gospel addresses the limitations of the classical view. He demonstrates how a robust theology of friendship addresses contemporary controversies in the areas of marriage, celibacy, and homosexuality, and he draws examples of the desire for true friendship from contemporary literature, such as the Harry Potter books, The Lord of the Rings, and Huckleberry Finn. Ultimately, Austin helps readers understand the strange yet real possibility of friendship with God.

About the Series
Pastors 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.

From the Series Preface
"We don't pastor only during intense times. No one can live at that decibel level all the time. We pastor in the ordinary, the mundane, the beautiful (or depressing!) day-by-day most of the time. Yet it is striking how often during those everyday moments our talk turns to the transitions of birth, death, illness, and the beginning and end of vocation. Pastors sometimes joke, or lament, that we are only ever called when people want to be 'hatched, matched, or dispatched'--born or baptized, married, or eulogized. But those are moments we share with all humanity, and they are good moments in which to do gospel work. As an American, it feels perfectly natural to ask a couple how they met. But a South African friend told me he feels this is exceedingly intrusive! What I am really asking is how someone met God as they met the person to whom they have made lifelong promises. I am asking about transition and encounter--the tender places where the God of cross and resurrection meets us. And I am thinking about how to bear witness amid the transitions that are our lives. Pastors are the ones who get phone calls at these moments and have the joy, burden, or just plain old workaday job of showing up with oil for anointing, with prayers, to be a sign of the Holy Spirit's overshadowing goodness in all of our lives."--Jason Byassee

Series Preface
Introduction: An Invitation to Friendship
1. The Limits of Marriage
2. The Confusions of Friendship
3. Friendship as Success at Being Human
4. Friendship and Beauty
5. The Weirdness of Divine Love
6. Biblical Friendships
7. Christian Friendship and Christian Love
8. Unapologetic Celibacy
9. Is There Friendship in the Trinity?
10. Examples of Friendship
11. All Together Now
Postscript: Concrete Practices


"I have long admired Victor Austin: his preaching, his writing, his persona, his faith. Here is a most unusual volume, grounded in wide learning as well as deep understanding of human nature. The breadth of knowledge on display is recommendation in itself, but more important still, the reader will be enlarged and strengthened by these writings from a Christian disciple who has looked into the depths and returned. He helps us to know how to love one another as the Son of God has loved us."

Fleming Rutledge, author of The Crucifixion and Advent: The Once and Future Coming of Jesus Christ

"In the course of writing my own book on friendship, I read dozens of good books on the theme. But none of them quite matches the biblical richness, theological depth, subtlety of observation and judgment, and artful prose found in this one. Its discussion of friendship with God is a particularly rich highlight. This is the best book on friendship by a Christian writer I have ever read."

Wesley Hill, author of Spiritual Friendship: Finding Love in the Church as a Celibate Gay Christian

"No one who has read this wonderful book will ever be able to hear those famous minimizing words, 'we're just friends,' in the same way. In a learned and deeply meditative study of his subject, enriched by personal and pastoral experience, Victor Lee Austin claims for friendship a more exalted status than even that of marriage and calls it 'the highest human thing.' And he makes a powerful case for that bold assertion. Many readers will come away from this wise book convinced that Austin is right and convinced that they should henceforth place the cultivation of friendship at the very center of their lives."

Wilfred M. McClay, G. T. and Libby Blankenship Chair in the History of Liberty, University of Oklahoma

"Austin is one of our most sensitive pastoral theologians. His account of friendship in this new book will surely become the gold standard for a Christian understanding. Austin presents a concept of friendship that is both intimate and challenging. Indeed, it is no exaggeration to say that Friendship: The Heart of Being Human will take its place alongside Aristotle's account of friendship in the Nicomachean Ethics and that it will be read for the same reason: to uncover the true significance of this deepest form of human relationship."

Jeremy Waldron, New York University School of Law

"Austin takes us on a gentle, erudite, and judicious exploration of friendship from a Christian perspective. Humanely winsome, Austin is also, in his words, a 'missionary' into this realm, willing to search, risk, encounter, proclaim, and be transformed by the reality of God's love in Christ as it is shared most fundamentally in friendships. Sex and marriage are profoundly reframed in this light, and Austin's arguments will challenge both the confused and the complacent. Filled with lucid readings of classical philosophers and theologians, enlivening examples from contemporary literature and art, and sometimes daring scriptural exegesis, including a moving discussion of Job, this is a persuasive, bracing, and wise book by a penetrating soul. I hope it is widely read and shared."

Ephraim Radner, professor of historical theology, Wycliffe College

The Author

  1. Victor Lee Austin
    Edward Adesodun

    Victor Lee Austin

    Victor Lee Austin (PhD, Fordham University), an Episcopal priest, is theologian-in-residence for the Episcopal Diocese of Dallas and Church of the Incarnation in Dallas, Texas. He has taught in various academic settings and is the author of several books,...

    Continue reading about Victor Lee Austin


"Friendship is an elegant theological text that emphasizes the importance of friends in developing a spiritual and emotional life. . . . Austin's achievable, human advice is beautiful, and Friendship is a rare and wonderful theological book that turns something ordinary--being a friend--into an expression of God's greatness."

Jeremiah Rood,

Foreword (starred review)

"Friendship is an unquestionably worthwhile read for all thoughtful audiences. Informed by solid scholarship without being tediously academic, Austin leads us on an accessible, thoughtful, inviting, provocative, and genuinely friendly journey."

Don J. Payne,

First Things

"The wealth and diversity of content contained in this reflection on friendship is such that it proves a useful introduction to the subject, whether for those who are simply reading for pleasure or those seeking a map by which to orientate themselves for higher-level studies into specific aspects of friendship."

Chloe Lynch,

Studies in Christian Ethics

"Austin's engagement with philosophical and theological writings on friendship, as well as his application of those sources to how we understand friendship, make his book an invaluable resource for courses that situate friendship in the biblical and virtue ethics tradition. Its pastoral focus also makes it significant work for ministry students."

Ebenezer Akesseh,

Journal of the Society of Christian Ethics

"Austin's work gives readers a fresh perspective on friendship and challenges cultural paradigms of friendship. His work is almost poetic, weaving in philosophy, Scripture, and literature while propelling readers to value and seek friendship in their own lives. . . . This book should find its way onto the desks of ministers and lay readers alike. It is also helpful for courses in pastoral ministry, counseling, and specific courses related to friendship."

Coleman M. Ford,

Reading Religion