By Bruce Prescott
Unpublished, first posted on
CBF Website in November 1997
Note: This essay
was written in the summer of 1996 upon the request of a publisher. When we
could not agree on its editing, I withdrew the article and posted it on CBF's
website. The paragraphs of the second half of the article are placed in the
right hand column to demonstrate a symmetry which escaped the publisher and his
editor. To read the article in its original form, just read the left column to
the bottom of the page and return to the top of the page before reading the
children, let us not love with word or with tongue, but in deed and truth." Ė 1
In the beginning God spoke and created all
that exists and has life. His Word expresses his loving nature. Godís Word
perfectly correlates with His deed.
God made us in his image. He gave us power
to create words and symbols that express our nature. When Adam and Eve first
spoke they knew exactly what the other had in mind when they were talking. The
meaning of their words was clear and transparent.
Birth of Suspicion
Things began to change when the word of
the serpent was heard. Words were whispered that made the first couple
suspicious of Godís intentions. A division between word and deed was
created. When Adam and Eve acted on the basis of suspicion, life based on
trust died. No longer would the meaning of words be clear and transparent.
No longer could they take each otherís words at face value. No longer
could they be sure they knew what the other had in mind when they talked.
Talk had been degraded. It was filled with distortions, half-truths and
Each of us repeats the experience of
Adam and Eve in our own lives. Shortly after we learn to speak, we begin
to lie. There is no natural correlation between word and deed for us. Each
of us speaks out of our own self-interest. Each of us learns to listen to
others with suspicion.
A community founded on suspicion always
ends in conflict and confusion. That is what happened when people agreed
to build a tower at Babel. They were united in purpose and spoke in one
language when they began. Before they could finish they were divided and
spoke with many tongues. Confusion and division always results when
community is based on word or tongue but not in deed and truth.
The Birth of
Overcoming the legacy of suspicion
necessitates a new beginning. Creating a conversation based on mutual
trust and respect requires a faithful and true unity of word and deed. Word
must become flesh. Truth must be embodied. A new kind of man must speak
and create a new kind of community. That is what God did in Christ. Jesus
initiates a new kind of talk. His talk is trustworthy.
A community based on trust ends in
unity and understanding. That is what happened in the upper room on the day
of Pentecost. The Holy Spirit was poured out on those trusting in the Lord
and waiting on him. Everyone heard the gospel in his own native tongue.
(Acts 2) A new kind of talk was being spoken and a new kind of community
was being extended. A community that ends in unity and understanding was
The legacy of Eden and Babel is a world of suspicious
talk. Suspicious talk separates word and deed. It is speech that
subordinates others and seeks power over them. It is talk that violates the
freedom and dignity of others. Suspicious talk creates a community based on
self-interest and mistrust. There are at least four forms of talk that are
The legacy of Bethlehem and Pentecost
is a world of trustworthy talk. Trustworthy talk correlates word and
deed. It is speech that elevates others and seeks to serve them. It is
talk that respects the freedom and dignity of others. Trustworthy talk
creates a community based on love and trust. There are at least four forms
of talk that are trustworthy.
Talking takes place within a
community. Communities are comprised of persons who relate to one another
on the basis of mutual trust. The level of trust within a community depends
upon the degree to which persons talk to one another honestly, openly and
respectfully. Slander, gossip, lies, half-truths and all forms of deceitful
speech reduce the level of trust and increase the level of suspicion within
Lies destroy both the community and the
individual. Liars wound their victims by depriving them of mutual respect
and injure themselves by destroying self-respect. They harm the community
by undermining the foundation of mutual trust and personal respect on which
civil society is built. Both the individual and the community are degraded.
Lying is Peter in the courtyard of the
high priest cursing and swearing he never knew Jesus (Mk. 14:66-72)
Testimony is talk that gives honest and
open expression to experience and understanding. It risks exposing oneís
self to ridicule, rejection and persecution in the hope that others will be
receptive and responsive to a word that is truthful and trustworthy. It
speaks with the hope of extending the community in which persons can grow to
become responsible and mature.
Testimony increases the level of trust
in a community by always speaking the truth. It reduces the level of
suspicion by speaking the truth in love (Eph. 4:14-16) Whenever called upon
to testify against sin and error, the faithful witness always speaks without
vindictiveness and with integrity, discretion and respect.
Testimony is Paul speaking about his
conversion experience and call to ministry before King Agrippa (Acts 26)
Propaganda is more than lies frequently
repeated. Propaganda consists of facts falsely interpreted and actions
falsely attributed to unworthy intentions and motives. Propagandists always
speak in tones of moral indignation. They reduce trust by identifying a
group as a threat to community. They raise the level of suspicion by
relentless verbal attacks designed to isolate the group and exclude it from
The more prolonged and passionate the
rhetoric of the propaganda, the greater the likelihood of violence against
the isolated group. Impressionable individuals will be incited to
collective action against the perceived "enemy." Perniciously, the
reproach of association with the isolated group discourages discerning
members of the community from protesting about injustices against the group.
Propaganda is the Pharisee who observed
Jesus heal a demoniac and attributed his compassion to the spirit of
Beelzebub (Mt. 12:22-37).
Proclamation is talk that speaks
faithfully about God and His kingdom. The faithful preacher receives
revelation with an open heart, reflects on scripture, tradition and
experience with a critical mind, and shares a growing insight and
understanding with humility.
This form of talk reduces suspicion by
announcing the "good news" that Godís grace demolishes all the artificial
distinctions that keep genders and races from having genuine fellowship with
Proclamation is Peter speaking to the
council of the church in Jerusalem and affirming that Gentiles were being
saved by grace through faith and should not be required to keep the law of
Moses. (Acts 15:1-11)
Indoctrination is talk that closes the
mind. Indoctrinators speak with unquestioned certainty and unshakable
conviction. They believe they possess the truth. They transmit a formula
for faith, a uniform way of viewing the world, and a standard form of speech
and expression to their pupils. Questioning the formula is not permitted,
perceiving different points of view is not tolerated, and deviating from the
standard form of speech and expression is not welcome.
This form of speech reduces trust to
the small group of the indoctrinated. Suspicion of others can be so intense
that adherents often feel threatened by any friendly and open conversation
with those who do not accept their doctrine.
Indoctrination is the Sanhedrin
commanding Peter and John "not to speak or teach at all in the name of
Jesus."" (Acts 4:1-22)
Teaching is talk that opens the mind.
Teachers speak with the authority of wisdom and experience. They
continually search for deeper forms of analysis, broader perspectives and a
more complete understanding of truth. They seek to instill within the
student a passion to quest for truth and understanding. Teachers share the
skills and abilities necessary to analyze experience, to evaluate or
correlate alternate viewpoints, and to develop new forms of speech and
This form of speech suppresses
suspicion by increasing tolerance and understanding within the community.
It elevates trust by extending the community of trustworthy talk to
strangers and foreigners.
Teaching is Paul, a Jewish Christian
apostle, mentoring Timothy, a Gentile Christian pastor, in the word of
gospel ministry (1 Tim. 4)
Monologue is a single speaker talking.
It is talking without listening. Monologue is the culmination and
conclusion of suspicious talk. It is the talk of those so suspicious of
others that they trust no one but themselves.
There is no community in monologue. It
is the talk of those who have closed themselves off from others and are
tormented by their isolation and loneliness.
Monologue is old King Saul brooding
about his sins and suspicious that a shepherd boy was plotting to seize his
throne. (1 Samuel 18:1-15)
Dialogue is honest, open and respectful
conversation between two or more persons. It is talk with an other
listening. It is talk that listens to others.
Dialogue is the culmination and
conclusion of trustworthy talk. It is the talk of those who have such
confidence in the trustworthiness of others that they can share themselves
freely. It is the talk of those who, in the communion and conversation with
others, are growing to become mature and responsible.
This is the kind of talk that everyone
desires. Those in dialogue are open to others and find joy and fulfillment
in a community based on fellowship and love.
Dialogue is Jesus telling his disciples
that those who abide in His love will not be called Godís slaves, but will
be named among His friends. (Jn. 15)