The Limits of Conversation
Human beings are naturally conversational creatures. It’s how God made us. We like to be seen, but especially heard. On some news channels, we have points and counter points between people sitting at a table or being Skyped in. Because of our love for individuality in the western world, conversation has become integrated even into the way we do religion. Face to face discussion is preferred to thundering homilies which can insult the “enlightened mind”.
Conversation is dialogue between two or more people and can be a powerful tool for evangelism. But there are limits to conversation.
Conversation can reduce eternal truths to the same level as every other philosophy. Like a pig with a priceless ring one its snout, it can become mired in logical debate with the most eloquent winning the day. Whether it’s face to face or through social media, divine truth can disappear into an ocean of mystifying voices inoculating anyone who engages it against its inherent power.
Conversation limits the authority of the gospel which, by its very nature, is to be proclaimed with authority and without apology.
The question might be asked, “What’s wrong with conversation?” and “Why should one voice dictate over all others?” Jeremiah says it beautifully:
“I know, O LORD, that the way of man is not in himself,
that it is not in man who walks to direct his steps.”
The way we were created makes it impossible to transcend ourselves by merely relating to ourselves. The real eternal answers that matter must originate from somewhere outside us.
Notice that any transfiguring moments in Scripture always came from divinity. Even if God used frail humanity to do it, man was never the source but only the vessel used. And it never came through a social forum but rather through some kind of encounter.
Isaiah’s “Woe is me” moment in Isaiah 6 did not come from casual dialogue but from a disturbing epiphany of God and of himself.
When it comes to eternal truth, monologue is God’s way of communicating. It takes the form of Him speaking and us listening.
Preaching is monologue because it declares what the eternal God is saying. Though in our post- modern culture it may have conversational elements, it’s default setting is always unabashed proclamation.
Preaching is counter-culture because it makes audacious demands of us. Like when Jesus told Nicodemus, “You must be born again”, He wasn’t making a request, but issuing a command. Conversations about God are good if they eventually lead to such an imperative.
This kind of authoritarian approach in sharing the gospel sounds imperious to the Western mind, especially when delivered through such imperfect vessels as ourselves. Yet it is the nature of truth to bend everything to its disturbing reality through foolish and weak things.
Some have observed that no church was ever started at Athens because in Greek culture the forum of conversation reigned supreme and any transcending voices were absorbed into the dialogue.
We however don’t have to be like the Athenians. Christ doesn’t have to be lost in the conversation. We must proclaim boldly, the name that transcend us – Jesus – and let God worry about the rest.
If we only “talk” someone into Christianity, it may be possible to talk them out of it. So let’s do more than talk – Let’s declare.
“And now, Lord, observe their threats and grant to Your bond servants [full freedom] to declare Your message fearlessly”