REDEEMING CONVERSATION

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Unpublished, first posted on CBF Website in November 1997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 second column.

"Little children, let us not love with word or with tongue, but in deed and truth." Ė 1 John 3:18

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.

The 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 lies.

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 Trust

 

 

 

 

 

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 created.

SUSPICIOUS TALK

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 suspicious.

TRUSTWORTHY TALK

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.

Lying

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 a community.

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

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

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 community.

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

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 one another.

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

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

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 expression.

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

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

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)

 

Home      Search

 

Online since April 7, 1999

 

E- mail questions or comments about this web site to bprescott@auok.org
Copyright © 1999-2014 Dr. Bruce Prescott   P.O. Box 6371  Norman, OK  73070-6371 (405) 343-6357.