Review of Phil Knox's new book 'The Best of Friends'

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Review of Phil Knox's new book 'The Best of Friends'
The Big Review, taken from Together Magazine

Today an epidemic is sweeping across the world. It’s not Covid, but it has been exacerbated by Covid: during the pandemic the proportion of people saying they ‘always or often feel lonely’ increased from 1 in 20 to 1 in 14. Phil Knox’s new book, The Best of Friends, advocates for more intentional connection and contends that friendship is a great remedy for the lonely yearning at the centre of us all. We are biologically hardwired for connection – physically, mentally and spiritually. ‘This book is a celebration of how profoundly good it is to know and be known,’ he writes.

Friendship is a word of many facets. It can be positive for some and difficult for others, and it’s also something that we don’t talk about too much in church, Knox says. We focus on marriage and family and forget to celebrate the joy of friendship and to reflect together on what it means to be a friend. The Best of Friends challenges this silence and shouts loud about the need at the centre of us as human beings for deep and real connection.

Knox utilises Robin Dunbar’s research on ‘circles of friends’ as a framework for the book. Dunbar found that the maximum number of meaningful relationships one human being can sustain is 150, and then broke this into several expanding circles: intimates, close friends, best friends, good friends, friends and acquaintances. Knox suggests that Jesus modelled this in his relationships and goes on to break down these circles in each chapter in terms of Jesus’ ministry. Jesus, being human, only had human bandwidth so, just like all of us, needed his closer friends and wider circles to function well. We are reminded that Jesus needed his intimate friends in his ‘mountaintop and valley’ moments: at both the transfiguration and Gethsemane his inner circle is invited into the moment with him. This is not about Jesus excluding others, but about modelling emotional and spiritual health, says Knox.

We move from the intimate circle out to the ‘huddle’; the twelve disciples, who were made up of diverse and contrasting personalities. ‘The example of Jesus and the needs of the world urge us to be intentional in cultivating friendships with people who are different from us,’ Knox writes. There is so much power when we cross cultural bridges – it’s easy to get caught up in echo-chambers of like-minded people, especially online, and focusing friendships only on those who are like us can lead to us missing out on so much.

We are led outwards through the circles, through the ‘network’ stage – in Jesus’ case, the 72. We all need a wider network to draw on for all sorts of things, and it’s healthy to both give out to others and to be open to wider hospitality and support. As a disabled person, I find it a challenge to think about these matters in terms of intentional hospitality and networking due to the limiting nature of my condition, but I greatly value wider friendships and networks in terms of giving support and being supported. I believe that we can apply Phil’s wisdom in this book to those deep friendships many of us form online as well as in person.

The final outer circles are those of acquaintances/people we don’t know well. In these cases, Knox advises, we would do well to cultivate an attitude of warm encouragement and keen observation so we can take initiative where needed, like Jesus did with Zacchaeus. We are challenged to look at our own circles and think about how we could be more intentional: could we change things around? Could we cultivate friendships with people of different ages, opinions, backgrounds?

This is a superb book that will reach both Christians and non-Christians, packed full of sound advice and encouragement that will leave the reader keen to evaluate their own friendships and make space to grow new ones and refresh old ones. Knox gently invites readers to explore friendship with God as the most important friendship that will satisfy all their yearnings.

Phil’s writing is poetic and lyrical and peppered with humour and humility. The spoken word pieces included in the book are masterfully crafted, powerful and inspirational. He has taken an everyday subject and unearthed a treasure-trove of fresh reflection and encouragement to the reader to seek more, to build better, to be a better friend. In the end, readers will find themselves strongly called to true friendship that looks like real faithfulness and speaks at a level far beyond words: ‘Frodo Baggins tells the epitome of faithfulness and the companion who stubbornly refuses to leave his side, Samwise Gamgee, “I am glad you are here with me. Here at the end of all things, Sam.”’

Review by Liz Carter

Together Magazine

Together is the Christian resources magazine for the UK, with stories of what God is doing across the church today, book reviews and publishing industry news. Subscribe now at

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The Best of Friends (Paperback)
Phil Knox
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