Talking “to” each other rather than talking “at” each other …

“What did you mean by that?”

I recall sitting in a Galatians 6:6conference and listening to the facilitators describe the need for more intentional “listening.” They may not have used this description but the intent was the same. You have likely heard someone suggest before drawing a conclusion about what someone else said, ask, “Is this what you are saying?” The process, though tedious, allows the conversation to develop with better understanding and less potential ire as we filter what we hear burdening it with our own “conceptualities” about a given word or description.

Quite a while back Desert Pastor linked to an article by David R. Blumenthal titled, “Repentance and Forgiveness.” I was immediately caught by this paragraph,

The spiritual task of interfaith dialogue requires each party to understand what the other teaches and what the other does not teach because, in reaching out to the other, we tend to assimilate what we hear to what we already know. It seems, therefore, prudent to note those conceptualities which Judaism does not embrace in the hope Catholics will, then, better be able to set aside ideas already familiar and reach out to encompass ideas that are not already-known.

Theological conversations are laden with the particular conceptualities each party brings to the dialogue. When one assumes to know what the other is talking about without listening we find ourselves being talked at in the response rather than talked to. I have watched the back and forth between those at Fide-O and the BHT. Since adversarial blood already exists “some” participants in the dialogue appear to be talking past others and so there is a talking “at” rather than a talking “to.” I admit to my own guilt from time to time when intensities run high.

Joe Thorn offers a most noteworthy post on the way in which we talk with and about each other – The Ninth. Among the many well written paragraphs, I found this one to be a consistent description when cooler heads fail to prevail,

Recently some men have been accused of being â??Ã?úliberalâ??Ã?ù theologians. Vague generalizations are being made, people are not quoted, sound argument is not made, but naked assertions and accusations are released in an effort to warn others to stay away. â??Ã?úThat guy is a liberal in evangelical clothing!â??Ã?ù My trouble is that in some cases these accusations amount to unrighteous distortions of the truth. And I have to say, I am grieved.

He adds later,

Look, if you think someoneâ??Ã?ôs theology is dangerous, then deal with it. Use the manâ??Ã?ôs words, and show where his words speak heresy or false doctrine. I believe this is one of the tasks of our pastor-theologians and professors. But it must be done with care and precision, not passion and presumption. This forces everyone to be honest and fair.

Misrepresenting the ideas of another is both a misrepresentation of the truth, and it is unbecoming of the church. Such habits are satanic, and the danger is double because it encourages others to repeat the lie and spread the sin. As Watson put it, â??Ã?úA false witness perverts the place of judicature; he corrupts the judge by making him pronounce a wrong sentence, and causes the innocent to suffer.â??Ã?ù

The carelessness of it all amazes me. Watson explains that men who would never steal anotherâ??Ã?ôs goods donâ??Ã?ôt think twice about robbing a man of his reputation.

Some appear to be all too quick to throw around the word “heretic.” Do the hard work. Do the tedious work. Listen with a view to understanding before violating the “Ninth.” Good post Joe.

About the Author
Husband to Patty. Daddy to Kimberly and Tommie. Grandpa Doc to Cohen, Max, Fox, and Marlee. Pastor to Snow Hill Baptist Church. Graduate of Oklahoma Baptist University and Southwestern Baptist Theological Seminary. Reading. Photography. Golf. Colorado. Jeeping. Friend. The views and opinions expressed here are my own and should not be construed as representing the corporate views of the church I pastor.

2 comments on “Talking “to” each other rather than talking “at” each other …

  1. says:

    In supportive communications the objective, or motivation, is to communicate ideas and embrace understanding. You point out examples where the methods do not align with those objectives. Most bloggers take care to clearly articulate their thoughts, so I have to assume comments are calculated and well-played. Lately, my disappointment is the motives behind the comments, not the execution of their mal-intent.

  2. Anonymous says:

    I shared your same thoughts with a fellow blogger a month or two ago. I would like to think comments are as well thought out as posts. The sad reality is that most comments are written while still in a good “lather,” generally over disagreement.

    Your reference to supportive communication is well put. Some of what I have been reading is a devolving from, what could otherwise be great dialogue, to fanatical diatribe that wholly considers the one spoken to or about as little more than a doofus. What’s more, the “parrotting” is intrusive into good conversation. Rather than interact with what we would refer to as “source material,” we get re-iterations of what another person’s critique. A referral to another’s criticism is not inherently a poor thing to do but when it is wholly depended on for the framing and expressing of personal feelings you wonder if there exists a personal conviction or are we just assuming another’s.

    Thanks for stopping by and commenting. Hope your week goes well.

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