The Risk of Dialogue


In the first chapter of his book, A Beginner’s Guide to New Testament ExegesisRichard Erickson discusses the necessity of openness and commitment to the practice of faithful exegesis of Scripture. He says

Exegesis requires openness toward hearing the message of the Bible, the Bible to which we are passionately committed.

Exegesis, like every critical task, requires a certain amount of distance from the object being criticized. This distance gives us a vantage point for asking questions about the text that we could not see before. It’s like trying to criticize your “outfit” while standing 1cm away from a mirror – you can’t really see everything you need to see unless you back up. I think this is what Erickson is getting at when he says openness. There has to be space in our minds for something new to take root; open space.

The commitment part seems self-explanatory. We must remain committed to our belief that Scripture is in fact the Word of God and that it brings us life. Regular commitment won’t do – we need passionate commitment. As Erickson explains, the work of exegesis is tough and it takes time and lots of practice to develop. Our commitment to the Word – our desire to know the God whose Word it is – will propel us in this hard work.

What does this have to do with dialogue? Everything. Why? Because exegesis IS dialogue (well… half of it at least). It is about hearing the text rightly, as it was heard by those who first heard it. So, what is essential for exegesis is essential for dialogue as well.

Like exegesis, true dialogue – on any topic – requires an openness to the voice of another. Without this openness, you hear nothing but static. It also requires a passionate commitment to your own voice. Without this commitment, you have nothing to say.

In my view, followers of Christ – His Church – should be well-equipped for the art of dialogue. Why? Well, we say that we believe in things like forgiveness and hospitality and reconciliation. If we do, we should have no fear of dialogue with one another; no fear of sharing ourselves with another. We say that we base our lives – even our eternity – on the things we believe. If we do, we should have no lack of passionate commitment to those things. So, we should be equipped with the tools we need for dialogue, but how is that going?

I’m often discourage by the lack of dialogue in the Church as a whole. Of course, I have a very limited view and much, much, much, much, much is happening that I do not and will never know about. Still, if I had to grade the part of the Church I participate in on its dialogue skills, I’d give it a C-.

Why do we struggle with dialogue? I think Erickson hit the nail on the head. He writes about how we are sometimes afraid of jeopardizing our passionate commitment to Scripture (or to any topic of discussion) when we open ourselves to hearing other interpretations of it. He says:

For those who truly love the Bible and Bible’s Lord there is little risk of losing the passion by listening to what others think. These people love Scripture so much that they are willing to risk what they believe the biblical text says in order to discover more accurately what in fact it does say.

Are we willing to take the risk of dialogue? Do we hold our own beliefs and interpretations so dearly that we “hide them under a bushel”?  Are we willing to quiet our own passion in order to be hospitable to the voice of others? Do we even care what others think?

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