"I planted the seed... but God made it grow." I Cor. 3:6

Engaging the World Through Dialogue



Culture: the totality of socially transmitted behavior patterns, arts, beliefs, institutions, and all other products of human work and thought characteristic of a community or population.”


In what way should the church engage the culture?  How should we relate to it? The most common stances that the church has taken through the years have been to either withdraw and avoid, or to take over and rule. 


Monasteries are example of the former position.  Along the same line, pillar saints of the 4th century took an even more extreme attitude.  The pillar saints actually lived atop pillars in the desert, suffering deprivation, dependent on the assistance of their followers to feed them as they lived out their days cut off from the culture.  


The alternative view is exemplified by the reconstruction movement of our own time or the Anglicans in England a few centuries back. Today’s Religious Right is motivated by the conviction that Christians cannot simply be content with saving souls, but must roll up their sleeves and get immersed in – and take over, if possible – the political powers, and turn the current world order on its head.


Both of these positions have good intentions.  Similarly, many in each camp have difficulty imagining any other possible stance.  But I would like to suggest an alternative way, what I believe is a better way to influence the world we live in.




What is a culture?  What is American culture?  Essentially, it is made up of people. 


To reach people we must communicate with them.  But for there to be effective communication, it is necessary to create two-way channels of communication.  Effective communication is a dialogue, not a monologue.  Dialogue flows out of relationship. Relationships cannot develop in a one way conversation.  


Reuel Howe, in his book The Miracle of Dialogue, states that “Dialogue is to love, what blood is to the body. When the flow of blood stops, the body dies. When dialogue stops, love stops and resentment and hate are born.”  We all know that in a marriage, when we are not talking we are dying inside.  This same holds true in our relationships with others, including the world around us. 


It’s not easy to be good at dialogue.  It involves qualities like humility and vulnerability.  And it involves two critical skills which we think we know, but which we are often quite poor at: speaking and listening.


Mortimer Adler, famous for his classic “How to Read a Book”, recognized late in life that our educational system is adequate at teaching grammar and composition, but no where does it teach the essentials of speaking and listening. For this reason Adler wrote “How to Speak, How to Listen.” 


In school we learn how to read and write, but where are we ever given instruction on how to have conversation?  Or how to listen?  How to speak so that we actually connect with the hearts and minds of our hearers… or how to listen so that we comprehend the meaning behind the words that we hear. 


The Lord told us not only to love one another, but to love the needy, the lost, the whole host of humanity for whom He died. Love.  The true measure of our love is measured in the way in which we engage the world around us. Dialogue is the door through which we most powerfully influence the hearts and minds of others.  Monologue leads to alienation and apartness.  Only dialogue has the ability to bring people together, to bring unity.


The reality is that we often prefer monologue to dialogue because a totally honest response might be too threatening.


We’re not going to change the world from the position of a soapbox. We can’t treat people like we’re teachers and they’re pupils. (“Don’t ask questions. Just shut up and listen.”)  This is an insult and violates the personhood of the listener. 


True engagement means vulnerability. Christ is the pattern again. He humbled Himself and became one of us so that He could meet us where we are. Dialogue puts people on equal footing.   Dialogue says, “I have things I can learn from you, too.” Love says, “I am listening to you because you are important, not to me alone but to God, the great God who made all things.


Did Jesus have all the answers.  The Bible actually says he learned things while on earth. Scripture says He learned through the things He suffered. 


We don’t need new laws to tell people what Goodness is.  What we need are lives lived out in the presence of others, demonstrating what Goodness is.  It is much easier to pass laws or write letters to the editor than it is to actually learn how to talk with and listen to people who are different from us.


When there is a failure to embrace true dialogue, true communication can not happen.  And if we can’t communicate, then how can we say we love? 


No one said the Christian life is easy.  Jesus Himself said, “The way is hard that leads to life.”  Much of the difficulty is right here in this simple matter of speaking and listening.


“Whoever loves God must also love his brother.”  ~ I John 4:21

back to Seeds Intro