"Would you be afraid to meet God?" Graham Maxwell advances his thesis of divinely offered friendship in the very first chapter of Servants or Friends? Taking examples of the human response to God from numerous sources (in particular those people he interviewed in Britain during the making of his video One of the Lads), Maxwell seeks to examine the meaning of Jesus' words in John 15:15: "I no longer call you servants.... Instead, I have called you my friends" (NIV).
Maxwell, professor emeritus of New Testament theology at Loma Linda University, writes as comfortably as he speaks. In his easy style the author coaxes the reader to consider what is surely one of the most fundamental of theological questions: "What is God really like?" He asks: Is God some kind of divine Nebuchadnezzar threatening to burn us to death if we disobey? Is He the heavenly equivalent of Garfield the cartoon cat saying on the outside of the Valentine card "Love or leave me," but on the inside of the card "Make the wrong choice and I'll break your arm!"?
Such a discussion must examine the whole biblical perspective, which Max well does, though not in an exhaustive and encyclopedic fashion. Yet his anecdotal evidence is impressive, derived from 135 "trips" through the Bible in class rooms and churches over the years. The author's evidence gives careful thought to difficult passages that seem to contra dict his "understanding friendship" the sis. Such passages include: Moses at Sinai; Saul on the Damascus road; Nebuchadnezzar; Korah, Dathan, and Abiram's fate; the slaying of the firstborn of Egypt; the Flood; Achan' s death; and the everlasting burning.
In spite of these stories, Maxwell believes that God is not arbitrary, hostile, unforgiving, and severe, but rather a God to be trusted. To back up his belief the author looks afresh at some of the more legalistic views of God, specifically God's use of law, our concept of sin, and the atonement. He covers these concepts in three separate chapters, making a good case for his medical analogy of God as a doctor who does not condemn his struggling patients.
Maxwell concludes that "we've camped around this mountain [Sinai] long enough." Instead of using the approach of "here a little and there a little," he wants us to consider all the rest of the biblical corpus in the light of Jesus' plain statement that we are His friends.
Servants or Friends? is not an obscure treatise but a readable and well-illustrated presentation book designed for wide appeal. The chapter notes at the end of the book assist readers in further study with out breaking the flow of the main text. Susan Kelley's illustrations add to rather than detract from the message, underlining the concepts, often in humorous ways.
Ever concerned to rightly represent God, Maxwell ends his contribution to a personal relationship with God by writing: "Like Abraham and Moses--the ones God spoke of as His trusted friends--God's friends today want to speak well and truly of our heavenly Father. They covet as the highest commendation the words of God about Job: 'He has said of Me what is right" (see Job 42:7).