Tuesday, August 12, 2008

Kevin Bauder on Dialogue?

This is one of the best articles I've read on ShaperIron in a long time (except, of course, for the book reviews ;)). This issue has been heavy on my heart for a long time and the problem addressed is a huge factor in the upheaval my family is currently experiencing.

I believe that Dr. Bauder has articulated the problem well and, with this article, has opened the door for some very needed conversation amongst fundamentalists. Well, in truth, I expect that the conversation has already begun amongst fundamentalist leaders. There has been a strong push from within and there have been heavy backlashes from without for more dialogue, especially amongst other believers.

At least for me, the issue has been that we have been handed strong, traditionalist ("it's always been this way"), reductionistic ("it can only be this way"), provincialistic ("we're the only ones right") dogmas and have been strongly warned against consorting with others, whether orally or literarily, who believe otherwise. We avoid interaction with other Christians on the grounds of dress, music and associations and therefore have absolutely no forum to enter into dialogue regarding "fundamental" issues.

Here's how Bauder articulates the problems:
Some fundamentalists believe that any form of dialogue represents a compromise of conviction. They believe that they already have the truth, and any discussion with truth-deniers would imply some questioning of that truth. Such fundamentalists are willing to announce the truth, but they are not willing to converse about it, except perhaps with others who already possess it. Those who do not possess the truth are subject only to critique.
From recent, personal experience, this is dead on. This, to me, is highly frustrating. I want to learn and grow, and every other area of life teaches me that growth requires resistance. Yes, maturity is very important in this process, and Bauder addresses this very well. However, "maturity" can be used as a billy club to reign in and isolate a student from growing in vital experience. Seminary students, especially, even though there is a great level of immaturity compared to those in full-time ministry, ought to be exposed to those who think/believe differently. Not at all to the biggest opponents, but to lesser opponents, especially to those who differ on lesser issues. The process of interacting with first-hand information ought to commence prior to graduation. This should carry over into a teaching or preaching ministry where one is able to hold to his beliefs and convictions in a respectable and informed way.

It is very disheartening to be denied an opportunity to grow, not because a particular leader knows of a real danger, or even because there is a real danger at all, but because the leader suspects that the other party holds to different convictions on non-fundamental issues. Maybe I'm showing a bit of immaturity, and, yes, I'm trying to remain a little vague; but this is a real problem which is pushing away good people.

The essence of Bauder's argument seems to be that we need to be more willing to listen, and more humble, realizing that we are not infallible. The desire to enter into dialogue is not a sign of compromise, but rather a sign of humility. It is an opportunity to grow and to help others grow.

I think that the following statement is excellent:
By encountering interlocutors who reject our thinking, we gain the opportunity to have our weaknesses pointed out to us. Of course, we shall have to judge whether any particular criticism really does point to a weakness, or whether it simply reflects the bias of the critic. If our critics do expose our weaknesses, we gain the opportunity to correct them. Our ability to present the truth is strengthened.
Again, I think it would be well worth your time to read and interact with this article.