The Author and Contents
John Perkins grew up as a black man amid intense (think violent) race relations in the United States. In one sense, that should not be how we define John Perkins as a man. On the opposite side, Perkins endured unspeakable acts, of which many of us can never imagine, that lend understanding to who he is. Those experiences as a Christian lend themselves to the composition of his recent book, He Calls Me Friend.
The author indicates that this is a follow-up to One Blood, an appeal to the church to walk in love in race relations (note: I have not read this book). In this book, Perkins guides believers to walk in faithful friendship with others. He divides the exhortation into four parts, with the first three focusing on friendship with each part of the Trinity (God the Father, God the Son, and God the Spirit), while the final two chapters that makeup part four focuses on friendship with others. The author interestingly chose to end each section by enlisting the help of others. The section closings are done by close friends of Perkins, except part four written by his son; each explains their friendship with the author and why they appreciate him.
Permit me to get on my soapbox for a minute and share a personal conviction. In a society now dominated by social media and technological connections, I believe the Christians need to do better at developing a biblical theology of friendship. More than that, we need to do a better job of living out that theology. We are committed to one another at the most basic level, often refusing to go deeper. Generally speaking, we’ve reversed friendship priorities: from behind a screen, we publicly share what should be private, and privately we share only what is public knowledge.
Lack of Precision
With this conviction that our Christian relationships need to exist at a deeper level, I was excited to read this book from John Perkins. However, the author writes with a lack of clarity that makes this book concerning. Throughout the book, he seems to pick and choose the characteristics of God that he wants to emphasize, noting at one point that the love of God is revealed through God’s grace (p. 88). Such a comment ignores that God’s judgment and discipline is also an act of love (Proverbs 12:1; Hebrews 12:10-11; Revelation 3:19). In doing this, the author sometimes mentions God’s holiness, but he seems to minimize the importance of it.
His lack of precision is notable in some of his wording as well. Throughout the book, he uses the phrases brothers and sisters, but he seems to employ it as a general reference to all of humanity. In one aspect, he is not wrong, as God is the creator of all. However, he sometimes does this at points when it is only appropriate to fellow Christians. At another point, the author indicates that the fruit of the Spirit produces what is needed to walk with God (p. 116). While not wrong in that the Holy Spirit is an enabler, he has taken the passage from Galatians and reversed the responsibilities.
Erring on the side of grace, it may be that the author writes imprecisely and did not intend for these misinterpretations. However, the imprecision allows readers to adopt aspects of Perkins’ book and adapt it to a personal theology, not biblical theology. Therefore, that imprecision acts as a significant concern.
Finally, I want to note the author’s repeated reference to God as ‘the hound of heaven’ (which I assume he picks up from the poet Francis Thompson). He intends to capture God’s relentless pursuit of people, which he likens to a hound on a pursuit. I struggle when we apply our names to God that minimize God’s character to personalize him for ourselves (I shared this before when Elyse Fitzpatrick referred to Jesus as a believer’s ‘bestie’ in a book review here).
I appreciate the author’s experiences, which allow him to relate to others on a different level. This is especially seen in the author’s discussion about friendship with the Holy Spirit and His role in reconciliation. However, the imprecision lends itself to promoting an imprecise theology, something we need less of right now.
Coffee Pairing: Every good book deserves to be paired with a good cup of coffee. Truthfully, much like the struggle I had with this book, I am uncertain as to what coffee to recommend. My advice is this: call up a friend, perhaps one you haven’t met in a while, and agree to meet at a coffeeshop of their choice. Arrive and purchase them whatever they may prefer, even if it is not coffee related, and enjoy the time together.
To learn more about this book, click here. If you desire a good book on Christian friendship, I recommend The Company We Keep by Jonathan Holmes. You can learn more about that book, by clicking here.
Disclaimer: I received a copy of this book from the publisher at no cost to me for the purposes of review. However, this review was not influenced in any way by the author, the publisher, or any other person associated with it. The review presented is the result of my own reading of the book.