The primary goal of Dialogic Christianities is to bring as many different expressions of Christian faith and life into dialogue with one another. This goal assumes some concepts that may or may not be controversial:
The first assumption is that there is no one true expression of Christian faith and life that all Christians unanimously agree upon. This, I should say, is an empirical observation and not a comment on the validity of Christian beliefs. It’s simply to observe that throughout history and throughout the world today, there are distinct differences between Christian communities. Perhaps one of the most unifying features among the different Christianities is the presence of tension. Christianity, far from being one unified religion in which people across cultures and history agree on fundamental principles, has been subject to tensions and disagreements from its very beginning. From the arguments among the disciples of Jesus to the disputes between early Christians who heard Paul’s letters, and on to the contentious canonization of scripture and establishment of the creeds, Christianity seems always to have housed internal tensions and disputes. To this very day, different Christianities continue to negotiate, dialogue, and disagree about such tensions as “body/spirit, immanence/transcendence, materiality/immateriality, visibility/invisibility, presence/absence, this/other wordly, or institution/charisma” (Bielo, 2009a: 4). In America today, perhaps most salient to many evangelical Christians has been the tension between those who identify as politically “progressive” and those who identify as politically “conservative” Christians–not to mention the many who are uncomfortable with either side. The assumption I make in Dialogic Christianities is that American evangelical Christians experiencing tension under the Trump presidency in regards to, say social morality issues, immigration, health care, etc., is not a new feature in the history of Christianity. As anthropologist James Bielo writes, “Christianity, wherever practiced, is always subject to processes of fracture, change, syncretism, dialogism, and mobility” (ibid.). Christianity is a contentious faith through and through; and some might even say that this is an exciting thing.
The second assumption, perhaps naive, is that the different Chritianities could benefit from engaging in dialogue with one another. When I use the term “dialogue” I mean more than the mere exchange of words and ideas; I mean a listening posture, an open-ended and vulnerable stance toward a conversation partner, an ethical obligation to take “the other” seriously on their own terms.
It’s hard to speak about dialogue without referencing the Russian literary critic Mikhail Bakhtin (1895-1975), who used “dialogism” as a way to discuss novel writing. He contrasted novels that he called dialogic with novels he called monologic. In monologic novels the author shares his own truth as the only valid truth; he manipulates all of the events, characters, and symbols in order for his truth to win out, with the hopes that his reader will come to see the world his way. In dialogic novels, however, the author gives up control of the truth, and she allows her characters to speak for themselves, even if their truths end up being more convincing than hers (the author’s) (see Morson & Emerson, 1991: 238-9). In Bakhtin’s perspective, Fyodor Dostoevsky’s (1821-1881) novels are some of the best examples of this kind of dialogism; Somehow he manages to stay true to the perspectives of his Orthodox Christian, Hegelian Marxist, and Nihilist characters. It’s no wonder that his novels are praised by nihilist philosopher Nietzsche, atheist psychologist Freud, and conservative evangelical American pastor Timothy Keller.
Going just one step further I want to suggest with the posts in “Dialogic Christianities” that the text we know as the Bible also has this dialogic characteristic. It’s a text that people of all kinds of beliefs engage in all kinds of different ways; it’s a text that gives voice to different and often contradicting perspectives, from violent nationalism to selfless love. As Timothy Beal (2011) puts it, “the Bible can atheist any book under the table on some pages. It presumes faith in God, yet, as we have seen, it also often gives voice to the most profound and menacing doubts about the security of that faith” (175). It is my assumption that communities that revere the Bible to whatever degree would do well to let go of their monologic absolutes and engage dialogically not only with the text, but also with each other. This blog is intended to provide such an opportunity.