The Importance of Conversation
- Wednesday, April 11, 2007
“And these words that I command you today shall be on your heart. You shall teach them diligently to your children, and shall talk of them when you sit in your house, and when you walk by the way, and when you lie down, and when you rise.” (Deuteronomy 6:6,7)
The art of conversation is in a rather deplorable state in our day. At least, that’s the argument of Stephen Miller in his interesting and timely book, Conversation: A History of a Declining Art. While he’s not persuaded conversation is dead, Miller agrees it is languishing, and very near to complete collapse.
Many things have conspired to throttle good conversation, both throughout the course of America’s history and today, when technology can discourage in-depth involvement with others, preferring more shorthand and arms-length kinds of communication, and when people seem more to enjoy watching a conversation on TV than engaging in one with friends. Nevertheless, conversation appears to be making something of a comeback — cafés and coffee houses, book and poetry groups, and so forth, on the rise. Yet one of its great enemies, religious enthusiasm, threatens to shut it down altogether. Miller writes, “Fundamentalist Christians are enemies of conversation insofar as they continually refer to the Bible and they often say that there are only two sides to a question” (p. 302).
Enemies of conversation? That seems pretty harsh to me, especially since, at least in my experience, it can be very difficult to get Christians to talk about anything. Anything of substance, that is. Christians will happily jabber on about their children, last night’s game, some work-related opportunity, or even some current issue or event. Yet they very rarely talk about these things from anything even vaguely resembling a biblical point of view.
When it comes to conversing with others about almost anything, Christians more often seem to leave their Bibles out of it and just follow the conversational trail wherever it may lead. Of course, there are a few highly visible Christians auguring for all manner of views and policies according to their biblical understanding of truth. But we’re mostly content to let them do all the talking. We don’t seem to have much to say to our friends, neighbors, and colleagues that would cause them to believe the Bible speaks about anything more than a fairly narrow range of spiritual and moral concerns.
And as for the Gospel — its proclamation and defense (Philippians 1:15-18) — we are in danger of becoming a generation of non-evangelistic evangelicals. We have bought into the “come/see” model of “doing church” and have decided to go along with our unbelieving world’s insistence that we keep our faith to ourselves and that, if they want to hear about it, they’ll let us know. So even if we were inclined to inject the Gospel or any aspect of biblical truth into a conversation with others, out of politeness (or is it fear?), we simply decline to do so.
And so the conversations of our day — over all manner of personal, social, cultural, and moral issues — go on without the benefit of biblical insight. We hear certain Christians espousing biblical ideals in various parts of the public square, but they are increasingly resented by all other disputants and encouraged to keep their “private” opinions to themselves. That’s not real conversation. And although the reviving of conversation as an important human function proceeds apace, there seems to be no room for Scripture or the biblical worldview in the agenda.
Can we be content with this situation?
A Word Fitly Spoken
The Bible has a good deal to say about the tongue and how we use it. The Lord gave us our tongues, at least in part, for the purpose of conversation, and His Word is filled with rich insight into how to make conversation a positive activity, even a Kingdom endeavor. The key to becoming an effective Christian conversationalist seems to lie in two disciplines: First, in understanding the people with whom we are conversing, and discovering their interests and needs; and second, in fashioning our words with such grace and care that people will find them thoughtful and interesting. If we can practice these two disciplines more consistently, we may find that people are willing to engage us in conversation, and to give fair hearing and due consideration to our biblical worldview.
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