Scott Sauls urges readers of Befriend to consider widening their pool of potential friends to include others with whom we may not agree or who are different from ourselves. The life of Jesus recorded in the Gospels offers ample justification for such a practice and Sauls asks (page 18), “Don’t you love how Jesus welcomed the outsiders inside, how he invited them to belong before they believed?” Building fences and hiding behind compound walls comes easily for most of us.
Sauls does a great job identifying categories of people who may trigger suspicions and insecurity within us rather than a desire to connect in friendship. Some of the dividing ideologies are significant and the author treats all viewpoints with respect. He does remind his readers (page 149), “I don’t like stirring up a hornet’s nest. I want people to like me. But then I remember my calling as a minister to teach the Word of God, whether in season or out of season, whether convenient or inconvenient, whether culturally engaging or culturally offensive. Teaching God’s Word selectively would make me a charlatan at worst and a coward at best.” Sauls summons his courage and charges into the tough topics.
The book is arranged as twenty-one essays, each ending with a summary statement, applicable Scripture references, and thought-provoking discussion questions making it suitable for personal or group study. Some of the people groups covered include Prodigals and Pharisees, the Shamed and Unashamed, True Friends and Significant Others, Sexual Minorities, Children, Other Races, and the Rich and Powerful.
Be warned that the author exhibits a proclivity toward long sentences. I found myself missing the point several times in these forests of unending commas and clauses but marveled at the word-engineering that allowed their creation.
While I did not agree with all of the author’s conclusions, I respect him for sharing his heart. As an example his chapter, Befriend the Other Race, struck me as divisive rather than inclusive and helpful in building friendships. That is material I will have to revisit and reconsider. But isn’t the point of the book to make me think about my standards for choosing friends and how they may inhibit me from befriending others who think differently? In that case the author certainly challenges my thinking.