Dialogue is in contradiction to Evangelism. Or is it? Dialogue is generally thought of as conversation between two equals (certainly equals in terms of roles in conversation) so as to achieve mutual understanding. As such it is not driven by a desire to coerce another, or change another’s mind. From this standpoint, it is certainly understandable if Dialogue is seen as contradictory to Evangelism. Some even explicitly (or at least implicitly) say this:
Leonard Swidler: The primary purpose of dialogue is to learn; that is, to change and grow in the perception and understanding of reality, and then to act accordingly.
Peter Feldmeier: Be without covert or ulterior motives. Do not secretly be trying to convert them or prove yourself superior.
Frankly, I agree with them. Dialogue is not to be manipulative. It should be built on mutual respect and openness to learn.
So does that put it at odds with proselytizing? Does it work against evangelism?
No, I don’t think so:
Dialogue IS NOT Evangelism… but it IS Foundational to Evangelism
Dialogue helps one…
- Understand each other (head level)
- Have greater insight with each other (heart level)
- Reduce social distance (relational level)
So consider three forms of evangelism
#1. Testifying. Sharing one’s own experience (serving as a witness of what God has done in one’s life).
#2. Proclaiming. Sharing the gospel message and Christian dogma.
#3. Arguing. Seeking to demonstrate the superiority of the Christian faith over the faith of the other (two-way conversation where each is seeking to change the mind of the other).
Now consider these. Testifying is a more personal form of evangelism and that certainly is helped by a reduced social distance. It would also be aided by an understanding of the thoughts, beliefs, and values of the other so that the testimony can be presented in a way that would be understood well by the other and be relevant to the other. The same could be said in terms of proclamation and even argument.
So, dialogue is not evangelism. the process and goals are different. However, healthy dialogue helps to bring connection between the two and better understanding of each other which is pretty necessary to effectively evangelize.
Let’s be honest here. Most of the evangelisitic methods that have been created are based on the presumption that the other person is already (essentially) Christian. For example, the Romans Road presumes that the respondent accepts the authority of the Holy Bible, and essentially has a Biblical understanding of who God is, who Jesus is, and what sin is. The respondent may or may not be “born again” (having allegiance to Christ) already, but probably already is already at least nominally or culturally Christian. Hardly surprising that such methods don’t work well with those of distinctly non-Christian religions or cultures.
If you are interested in knowing more about Interreligious (or Interfaith) Dialogue, consider clicking on the menu above for “My Books” and look at the book “Dialogue in Diversity.” It can be clicked on to purchase, or simply to preview some of it.