Discover more from The Gospel of the Kingdom
The Art of Redemptive Conversation
It feels like hostile division is inevitable—on social media, in workplace conversations, even at church. But what if we could model a different way?
Belinda, deeply frustrated with the youth leader, yelled at her husband: “This is getting out of control—she’s brainwashing our kids with her woke nonsense!”
Mike, incensed about his boss, blurted out: “He’s sick...always spewing atrocious, hateful beliefs!”
These days, it feels like hostile division is inevitable—on social media, in workplace conversations, even at church. I know firsthand how sad and frustrating it can be. But I want to propose that hostility is not a given. It is not baked into the cosmic cake. We don’t have to participate in the hostile comments flying all around us. We, the people of God, can model something different that coheres with the life and teaching of Jesus.
Does your heart long for a world of Jesus-centered discourse? Consider becoming a paid subscriber. All proceeds go to support The Center for Formation, Justice and Peace.
Instead of blocking people who don’t agree with us on social media and leaving one church to find another that better fits our political ideals and values, how can we have a positive impact on the world around us?
I think it’s simple—try the art of redemptive conversation. It works like this.
A redemptive conversation shifts from being an opportunity for victory and becomes a prospect for discovery. The Church is one body, moving in parts toward cosmic, eternal truth. In this body, we are imperfect in every way, including our supposed knowledge. As long as we are trying to triumph over others, we are losing an opportunity to work together to learn God’s truth. When we are seeking discovery—to be closer and closer to God’s rightness—we value others’ insights instead of separating from them.
Christians, above all, should be seekers of truth. This means we engage in open-hearted listening and model it for others. This is not seeking the muddy middle; it is not giving up your own thoughts. It is not a slippery slope to compromise. Listening simply seeks improved knowledge of truth through multiple perspectives. I am (in)famous for asking questions. Just ask any of my teachers, mentors or coaches. My goal is to seek first to understand and only then to be understood.
To do this, to redeem human interaction, I must think of others as better than myself (Philippians 2:3). I must have confidence that it’s possible to find truth, and that seeking it is more than a way to “power up” on others. Truth and reality are gifts to be treasured and stewarded.
Moreover, we must be willing to learn from others. For example, we rely on dermatologists to accurately discern a mole from melanoma. We have confidence in the engineering and manufacturing of the steering wheels in our cars. But when it comes to religion, political parties, legislation and government, instead of seeking truth together, we move quickly to naming, pigeon-holing and contempt. May it not be so!
Sidenote: If you read the news at all, I encourage you to add to your newsfeed two sources that aid intellectual due diligence and thus intellectual integrity: All Sides and The Flip Side. I read them both regularly. They do a good job keeping me connected to the others who help me see reality.
As Christians, we are alive today in this social context by the grace and wisdom of God. It is no accident of history (Jeremiah 1:5; Psalm 8:4-8; Psalm 139:13-18). We have each been given talents to invest on behalf of conversations that move us toward the full flourishing of God’s purposes on earth.
Keep at the art of redemptive conversation, little by little. Model thoughtfulness and charity. Never treat a contrarian with contempt. Try to discern the emotion, the gut-level feeling, that underlies jarring comments made by friends and family. Respond with: “I am genuinely curious and open. Can you tell me more?” Be willing to take the risk of sharing your thoughts—respectfully, of course. Make falsehood—a lack of knowledge, a misunderstanding of the way things actually are—the enemy, not each other. Simultaneously, make conversation partners your allies in mutually seeking the truth.
If you need a model, look to Jesus. Setting an example for human interaction, he washed the feet of four people with whom he had disagreements: Peter, James and John—and Judas. As we mimic Jesus in our life and work, together we can redeem social discourse one conversation at a time.