Over the past week, I’ve read three different posts all advocating for a shift in the way the church engages potentially contentious conversations. Essentially, the authors are calling for a shift from debate to dialogue. In many ways, I think each of their articles are presenting a perspective on how the church can embody our apologetic through the character of our conversations, rather than just with the verbal content of our faith.
I’ve linked the articles below with a short summary. I’d love to hear your thoughts and reactions to these articles. How do we make these transitions well? Does one of these articles resonate with you more than the others?
Setting the Table for a Good Debate (on TheBanner)
The gathering of churches in which I am rooted (Christian Reformed Church in North America) has had a history of some pretty significant and divisive debates along the way. This is not the only thread or even a primary thread in our storyline, but unfortunately it is one that we have often characterized ourselves with because of how contentious we have been around a few issues. Mike VanBoom writes a thoughtful invitation on The Banner’s website, urging our churches not to be threatened by healthy conversations around topics that we may have considered settled: sexuality, evolution, etc. Rather than feel threatened by these ideas, VanBoom proposes that we give attention to the character or “manners” in which our dialogue (and at times debates) might unfold.
Shibboleths (on ThinkChristian)
Writing from his experiences as a university campus minister, Shiao Chong calls for end to our litmus test approach to North American Christianity: “You can’t be a Christian and …” Pointing to how these extra-biblical standards tie into our desire to determine who is “one of us,” Chong calls us to see how these measurements “predispose us to prejudge people”. As we accumulate and refine our Shibboleths, we develop a quick grid for not even starting conversations with others. In the end, Chong calls for us to drop the litmus test approach to our faith, except for one Shibboleth – our acceptance or rejection of Jesus Christ.
Pub Theology is a Waste of Time (on HuffingtonPost)
Finally, Bryan Berghoef suggests one potential way a healthier approach to dialogue could look like. His post is a brief overview of the underlying theology/philosophy that has given shape to the Pub Theology movement – of which Bryan is a primary instigator. The basic premise is that there is a Christian discipline of listening to others that assumes a posture of seeking to understand others rather than to persuade them through argument. His gentle invitation through this post is create room to share a beer…and allow the deeper conversations to unfold through careful and appreciative listening to the other person. His examples clearly point to how this discipline allows not only for health conversation between self-identifying Christians, but also between people of different faith traditions or who don’t identify with any faith tradition at all.
As you read these articles,
- What catches your attention?
- How would you respond to them?
- What do you think the church can learn from these approaches? Is there anything we need to be careful of in embracing the perspective of these authors?
- How might a greater emphasis on listening to each other and others allow the Church to be more faithful in carrying out its mission?