Made for People, Why We Drift into Loneliness and How to Fight for a Life of Friendship

There are few Christian-based books on friendship. Therefore, upon reading that Made for People was on Christianity Today’s 2024 list of best books, I thought I would give it a try. For the most part, I am glad I did. Earley strongly emphasizes the importance of what he calls covenant friendships in a modern world in which most people are busier, wealthier, and lonelier than ever (p. 160). A covenant friend necessitates a serious commitment to flawed people who know you fully but love you anyway (p. 25). Such friendships will involve vulnerability, honesty (pp. 30, 43), and serious commitment. His covenant friends, who call themselves the cast (p. 129), have chosen to live in the same city (p. 88), purchase campground together (p. 153), organize regular dinners, porch time, campfires, vacations, etc. (see list of suggestions on pp. 166-169), in order to spend substantial time developing those friendships.

The author says that everyone needs two or three covenant friends (p. 90), but such will involve scheduling (pp. 155-169), serious time commitment, and plenty of forgiveness (all of chapter five is devoted to forgiveness). Earley documents that loneliness is dangerous to our health (p. 10) and suggests it is the church’s call to reclaim the word friendship (p. 27). To do so, we must recognize the limitation of technological communication (pp. 173-179) and view all nonphysical interaction as kind of a snack, not the main course for relationships (p 179). We also must learn the art of asking questions and listening for answers (p. 72), and to this end the author provides an excellent list of questions to use (p. 201). Evangelistically most Americans come to faith in the context of friendship (p. 136), making friendship with unbelievers that much more important.

For those who balk at the time commitment needed for friendship, the author attempts to defuse this excuse by showing that most people over calculate how they are using their time (many claim they are working up to 25 hours a week more than they are) and how much time is wasted on non-productive activities such as social media, magazine reading, and no doubt television (p. 162). In other words, time is available if one is committed to developing friendships. One of the benefits of spending time with friends is the creation of memories. True, we will forget many of our experiences together, but nevertheless our memories shape our lives (p. 190).

There is much of value in Made for People, but caution and discernment is needed. Earley makes several over-the-top, unsustainable statements. For example, the Trinity is a covenant friendship (p. 6); we are Christ to our friends (p. 203); friendship is an act of worship (p. 213); friendship will save the world (p. 232); and that we have the power to create realities by speaking words (p. 60). Secular psychology is also endorsed (p. 203), and there are hints of the spiritual formation movement, especially frequent references to David Benner (pp. 27, 109, 124, 130), Ron Sider (p. 144) and Madeleine L’Engle (p. 232), He often mentions spending time drinking alcohol with his friends (pp. 65, 74, 77). More concerning is his misunderstanding that forgiveness is as much for us as others (p. 106), and that we need to forgive ourselves (pp. 115, 120). There is very little biblical content in the book, so it falls under the category of practical ideas. Still there is much here to consider; and for the discerning reader, there are valuable insights.

by Justin Whitmel Earley (Grand Rapids, MI: Zondervan, 2023), 239 pp., paper $14.49

Reviewed by Gary E. Gilley, Southern View Chapel

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