Monday, October 4, 2010

Dialogue: Just a Pipe Dream?

A blog can be either a monologue or a dialogue. “Monologgers” use their blogs as nothing more than a personal soapbox, just big enough for them – and no one else – to stand on.
Our TBC bloggers are “dialoggers.” Yes, we intend to vigorously promote the historic principles upon which John Smyth, Thomas Helwys, and others based the Baptist movement from its beginning. But even Smyth and Helwys ultimately disagreed on some of the details and wound up going their separate ways. Even in unity, Baptists have dissented – whether directing that dissent at society, the state, or each other. But healthy dissent is based in dialogue. “Dialoggers” spend as much time listening – and hearing – as talking.
We intend this blog to be a dialogue . . . a conversation. We intend our posts to be conversation-starters . . . invitations to genuine, serious-minded dialogue on serious issues . . . issues relating to how our churches and our people can, by staying true to historic Baptist principles, better serve Christ in our communities and our world – a world that is struggling to find hope these days.
DIALOGUE . . . Is it possible in a communications environment that is loaded with information and charged with emotion? There's a lot of shouting on the Web, but serious discussion is hard to come by. Too many people view anyone having differing views as opponents and enemies, and go to any ends necessary to discredit them. Yes, dialogue is difficult. But we must try.
DIALOGUE . . . Is it possible in a Baptist environment that seeks to protect rather than challenge? Many of us have used our faith to build walls around us, and we call it “security.” Difficult questions threaten, like the trumpets at Jericho, to cause the walls to come tumblin’ down. Such questions threaten our relationships with friends, family, and colleagues. Difficult questions threaten the funding of our institutions. But how secure is a faith that is afraid to face those questions? And how faithful are institutions that, for the sake of survival, refuse to face them? And can we ever fully be the presence of Christ if we run from them?
DIALOGUE . . . Christ often made those who followed Him uncomfortable by challenging their security. He also challenged the religious leaders and institutions of His day. How? By asking them difficult questions that required them to reconsider their theology, their ethics, and even their politics. But Christ’s aim was always redemption, not condemnation or destruction. Asking questions to challenge believers and institutions should be aimed at strengthening them and drawing them back to their purpose, NOT at destroying them.
DIALOGUE . . . We seem to shrink from it these days. We either shout at each other or avoid each other. What’s missing is the willingness to honestly challenge each other with mutual respect and understanding . . . to listen to the other person’s perspective and try to understand it (whether or not you're persuaded to agree with it) – just as we expect others to try to understand ours. Jesus said it best: So in everything, do to others what you would have them do to you, for this sums up the Law and the Prophets.” (Matthew 7:12, NIV)
It takes courage – the courage of Christ – to grow our faith by challenging our own notions and by listening to what others are thinking. It takes courage and integrity to wrestle with difficult questions rather than simply consider all questions settled . . . to challenge ourselves, our friends, and our churches to wrestle with the question of all that is implied in truly being the presence of Christ in our world. For God did not give us a spirit of timidity, but a spirit of power, of love, and of self-discipline. (2 Timothy 1:7, NIV)
Five years ago, shortly before he passed away, Phil Strickland – director of the BGCT Christian Life Commission – wrote a speech to be presented at the TBC Breakfast at the BGCT annual meeting in Austin. Too ill to attend, Phil asked his dear friend and pastor, George Mason, to deliver the speech on his behalf. In his address, titled "Where Have All the Prophets Gone?," Phil wrote that he believed that "pretty much all of us are called to have the element of the prophet in us." But he told of times that he was asked to preach in churches around the state, and pastors too often warning him to avoid controversy in his sermon. We've heard the same warning – avoid controversy – plenty often at TBC, and we're hearing it now regarding this blog.
During the next week, I'll be posting Phil's speech, "Where Have All the Prophets Gone?," on this blog. It will be broken into parts, to give you an opportunity to digest a little of this rich spiritual food at a time. Please read it prayerfully, and ponder Phil's challenge to us. Then let's talk about it. We at TBC don't think that dialogue is just a pipe dream.

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