Fifty years ago, when a generation of seminarians was cutting its theological fangs, friendship was a disdained term. Anders Nygren’s classic Agape and Eros ruled in classrooms and pulpits, and Nygren had little use for philia—the Greek word for the kind of love friends share. Nygren stressed that divine love, agape, is different from other forms of love. Eros and its correlates, like philia, depend on desire, whereas agape is offered without attachment and without any need for reciprocation.
Nygren, in the company of Kierke gaard, argues that friendship has an essentially selfish nature. In friendship, one chooses whose company to keep in order to meet the needs or interests of the self. The act of choosing, as Nygren points out, is based in part on desire for the other. And friendship brings with it an almost unavoidable and ungodlike exclusivity.