Boyce College professor, Denny Burk, has posted an interesting warning about a common tactic employed by some with theological agendas – especially those with liberalizing theological agendas. His post is titled: Should Churches “Dialogue” About Sexuality?
Having read through it a couple of times I find myself appreciating Burk’s concern. Burk notes that many a subtle debate may begin with a seemingly reasonable appeal:
“…with the liberals calling for more dialogue about the issue.”
Then, citing conservative writer Rod Dreher:
Ah, the old “conversation starter” or “dialogue” trick. Any time you see a progressive member of your church try this, you must understand that this is the wedge that they will use to pry the orthodox out. The “conversation” will be one-sided, and will not end until the orthodox have surrendered or left, because the progressives will never, ever take “no” for an answer.
While I am not one who is overly concerned about debate, or about being drawn into compromised theology, I have seen this tactic employed. (For the sake of fairness, I must admit that I have seen the technique attempted by both those on the theological left, and by some on the far right. It just seems that those on the far right are more likely to quckly show their hand, their agenda.) So I agree with Burk, we need to be mindful of this, and encourage the people in our churches– or at least our church leaders – to be mindful of this ploy.
However, what Burk is addressing is not the biggest challenge to the church I serve. Our congregation is pretty well rooted in sound theology and conservatism. (NOTE: These are not always the same thing, especially when the conservatism is more political than theological.) For most of our members it is not difficult to get them to accept the authority of God’s Word on any particular subject. Our commitment to deep, rich, historic, orthodoxy is one of the primary reasons they are part of the church. And while we have many who are doing inspiring works throughout our community, it is far more a concern whether we can get some of the others to love and engage their neighbors – most of whom are likely to differ with us on any number of social issues – than it is whether they will be susceptible to trendy Spirits of the Age.
So while I appreciate Burk’s wisdom, I believe we also need to prepare people to “dialogue”.
Dialogue is how we engage people, without requiring that they agree with us as a precondition of being welcome in our church or wanted as a friend. Dialogue is one way we are able to express and cultivate love for our neighbors. Dialogue may be the only way for some to hear what God has to say about a particular subject, as we appropriately bring our understanding of the Word into the conversations. Dialogue about issues in which we (at least) initially differ may be the means by which some hear the gospel for the first time – as the gospel does apply in some manner to all matters.
No doubt some readers will be uncomfortable with my call to dialogue with unbelievers and with theological compromisers (- which usually qualifies them as unbelievers). But I am convinced that somewhere, somehow, we need to cultivate environments that encourage dialogue – and we must do this for the sake of the gospel.
I don’t feel alone in this thought. It is what Francis Schaeffer called for a couple generations ago. In his Two Contents, Two Realities, the second content was: Honest Answers to Honest Questions.
I agree that we must be wise, and that there are times when conversation should be cut off – such as when it is apparent that the “dialogue” is not honest but rather a cloak over a subversive agenda. This is what Burk has in view, and so it is why I appreciate his thoughts. But, just so there is no mistaking Burk’s counsel as an invitation for Evangelicals to hide out in the fortress of the church, I also feel compelled to contend for genuine dialogue, since it is the only way we will have opportunity to hear Honest Questions from our culture to which we may offer Honest Answers from God’s Word.