Earlier today, I had a conversation with someone on Twitter about the Bible. One of the comments he made was that people from my particular ‘tribe’ in the church – i.e. conservative evangelical – aren’t always very good at engaging in a way which people can understand. I’ve been thinking about this a bit recently: Steve Chalke and Andrew Wilson recently debated our understanding of the Bible (there are a series of four videos all available from that link, as well as written articles from both of them).
One of the things that particularly struck me about the debate was their different approaches in terms of communication: Andrew Wilson seemed to be along the same lines as my approach. In contrast, virtually every time Steve Chalke opened his mouth he said something like “Let me tell you a story…” In other words, Chalke spoke almost entirely in anecdotes.
This seems to be a fairly common thing – for example, see the conversation between Mark Dever and Jim Wallis on Justice and the Gospel. In both cases the two people just seem to think differently: one thinks in fairly abstract propositions, the other in concrete narratives.
The problem is, are these two modes of thinking reconcilable? Are we doomed to forever talk past each other? I’m not sure there’s an easy answer to that question, but I think it’s important for us to recognise different ways of thinking and accommodate. I say this to myself as much as anyone – if there’s anything this blog has proved, it’s that I’m not very good at talking to people whose thought processes are somewhat different to mine.
This issue with communication is particularly acute on the internet – so much content is written quickly, responded to quickly, without ever really being thought about properly (just look at the comments on any online newspaper article).
A while back, I read a brief blog post: “What you have to do first before you can agree or disagree with someone“. The idea is, before you can agree or disagree – you first have to understand. This strikes me as wise advice: our first task should be to make sure that we have understood correctly, rather than diving straight in with our own thoughts. I am far too guilty of diving in before understanding – I find it helps to take a few minutes before replying to something to clear my head a bit.
Also, it’s important for Christian communicators in particular to realise the validity of different methods of reasoning: the Bible contains narrative, poetry, history, proverbs, as well as logical / forensic – all different ‘discourses of truth’. These are all valid and should be used appropriately.
To bring this back to earth in a concrete example: I think one of the failures of the Christian campaign against same-sex marriage was the fact that it didn’t actually tell a story. The pro-same-sex-marriage camp had lots of stories about two people in love who wanted to get married. Which is more appealing?
As with many of my blog posts, I don’t really have a big take-away point here: now it’s over to you. How do we bridge the communication gap? Is it possible?