Stott on Dialogue

[We are clipping quotes from John Stott’s Christian Mission in the Modern World. When Stott wrote the book, the idea of ‘dialogue’ with other religions was a very hot topic. He differed with the concept, seeing proper dialogue being a part of our proclamation itself. Nevertheless, the idea of a loving conversation and interaction with adherents of other faiths was a type of dialogue he embraced.]

Paul seems to have expected all the disciples of Jesus to be involved in continuous dialogue with the world, for he urged the Colossians: ‘Let your speech always be gracious, seasoned with salt, so that you may know how you ought to answer every one’ (Colossians 4.6). Here are Christians in such close contact with ‘outsiders’ (v. 5) that they are able both to speak to them (with gracious and salty speech) and to answer their questions. (63)

(Here quoting J. H. Bavinck) So, ‘in practice I am never concerned with Buddhism, but with a living person and his Buddhism, I am never in contact with Islam but with a Moslem and his Mohammedanism’ (240). Further, this living contact must also be a loving contact. (70)

If we do nothing but proclaim the gospel to people from a distance, our personal authenticity is bound to be suspect. Who are we? Those listening to us do not know. For we are playing a role (that of the preacher) and for all they know may be wearing a mask. Besides, we are so far away from them, they cannot even see us properly. But when we sit down alongside them like Philip in the Ethiopian’s chariot, or encounter them face to face, a personal relationship is established. Our defenses come down. (71)

It is impossible to evangelize by fixed formulae. To force a conversation along predetermined lines in order to reach a predetermined destination is to show oneself grievously lacking in sensitivity both to the actual needs of our friend and to the guidance of the Holy Spirit. Such insensitivity is therefore a failure in both faith and love. (73)