Dialogue is a popular concept in religious and theological circles today. Everyone is supposed to be in dialogue. Sermons and lectures must yield to it. Above all, divergent theological and ecclesiastical groups are expected to be in dialogue. Refusal to engage in it is regarded as churlish, obscurantist, and arrogant. Evangelicals who are lukewarm in dialogical venture incur particular displeasure.
Now, dialogue has much to be said for it. Christian mission demands that others be addressed and that we take account of what they say. The more direct and personal this dialogue is, the better will the ends of communication and community be served. Defectiveness in dialogue is regrettable.
Yet dialogue is no panacea. In and by itself it solves little. Although unavoidable, it can be frustrating and futile. Certain difficulties exist that can make the ideal of free and fruitful interchange unattainable unless steps are taken to overcome them. In the dialogue between orthodox and liberal theology, these difficulties are both principial and personal.
1. The first principial difficulty is the difference in basic presupposition. The believer in the full deity of Christ and the man who accepts Christ only as a genius of religion are up against a fundamental problem that will affect almost all the subjects they may meet to discuss. Whether we believe in the self-revealed God of Scripture or God as known in some other way is another example. This kind of difference restricts the possibilities of dialogue in many fields, since apparently peripheral disagreements are often implications of the fundamental divergence. Dialogue, then, will either be shallow and valueless or will have to keep coming back to the underlying ...1
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