Conversations with God

A Friendly and Open Letter to Bob Beaudine:

There is little doubt that what passes as “social media” today is more often anti-social. Short quips pass for genuine interaction, and the art of conversation dies a little more every day. When we are genuinely interested in other people, and they in us, there is a give and take that blooms and thrives, color ablaze, in a context of patient time and of attentive listening.

Two Chairs by Bob Beaudine

Click on the book cover to see it at
Amazon.com

So it is for our time with God. Relationship with God does not happen by accident. It is—it must be—intentional. And so, Bob Beaudine has written a small, easy-to-read book: 2 Chairs: The Secret that Changes Everything (Worthy Media, 2016). This 170 page book (nearly double-spaced), is extremely “conversational” in tone, has many uplifting and inspiring stories, is well laid out, and is very inviting. On a scale of 1-10, I would rate this book an 8 or 9, a very high recommendation, especially for “real people” who struggle each day to make sense of life and the ever increasing onslaught of nonsense in the world. Academic types will need to be looking for inspiration and encouragement rather than anything technical. I don’t know the author personally, but I’ll call him Bob, in the spirit of conversation, and treat him as a newfound friend.

So then, Bob, thank you for this book. You encourage everyone to take for themselves a new and intimate look at prayer—to make it truly a personal, engaging, and interactive conversation with God. Throughout the book you help people to ask three simple but powerful questions: Does God know my situation? Is it too hard for him to handle it? Does he have a good plan for me? And even though I would quibble with exactly how you and many other Christians answer the third question, it is clear that these are simple, memorable, and “focusing” questions, and that they are easy to transfer to literally any situation in life—good or bad, exciting or challenging.

In addition to the three questions, the seven action steps you offer in the face of any situation are equally attractive: Discover the Secret, Call your WHO Friend, See the Field, Make the Change, Be Strong and Courageous, Order Yourself, and “Do the Done.” The stories you tell to illustrate your message are down to earth, inspiring, and relatable. You have a great sense of humor and easy writing style. “The great philosopher Mike Tyson once said, ‘Everyone has a plan till they get hit!’” is just one of numerous well-placed quotes from others, including also your dad’s comment before you had written anything, “. . . when you finish writing your fifth book, I believe you will have accomplished some things that will have a lasting effect on people.” Also your own quote: “All it takes is just one thought, one idea, or one great WHO friend and your world can change for the better in a moment’s flash.” A lot to admire, here. Thanks, Bob, for taking the time to write this down and for actively promoting this message!

I do have a couple of hesitations (“wishes”) about the book, which I will try to state positively as encouragements to you and all who might read this.

1. First, I wish you had given at least a little more voice to the importance of reading the ancient scriptures for any ongoing conversation with God. Otherwise, it is quite possible, that any desired “conversation” can very easily degenerate into self-talk in which one projects onto God one’s own thoughts and will. Clearly, you do not condone such a thing; clearly, Bible reading is not your main subject and is somewhat assumed by you; and clearly you make several references to the scriptures throughout your book. Believe me, I understand that you are passionate about getting people to talk with God one on one.

However (and I’m afraid you will misunderstand me here) when you place a “real conversation with God” as something “Bible reading, devotion, and study” cannot be, it perpetuates a very common and unfortunate misunderstanding among Christians. You say it this way:

Some will say, “I talk to God,” but then describe their talk time as more of a “quiet time” of reading, studying, and doing devotions. All of that is awesome! I hope you do it more. But that’s not really what I’m talking about here. That sounds more like something you’d do in a library, and if someone talked you’d hear Shh! What I’m asking you to consider is dedicating 2 Chairs in your house for real conversation with God. (p. 45)

The two chairs idea is (as you say several times) not new, and it is great! Bravo! Let’s get more people to do this. But presenting this so that, supposedly, real conversation is somehow a different species from spending time in the scriptures is very disappointing. Actually, let’s show how “conversational Bible reading” is just as important as “conversational praying.” So I’m with you on this! Just as you want to encourage people to pray (talk) conversationally with God, let us be just as vigilant in bringing Bible reading (and study and devotion) out of the dark-ages, as if “it belongs in a library” in some muffled corner. Actually, it belongs on the coffee table Between the 2 Chairs. (There is your next book title!) Yes, I realize that you are not wanting anything between the two chairs–you are wanting open conversation with God! I’m wanting that too. That is why we must emphasize that conversational praying and conversational Bible reading are not in competition with each other. The more I read the scriptures conversationally, the more my conversational praying will be enhanced, filled, and energized. And vice versa.

That is why since 2012 we at The Institute for the Art of Biblical Conversation (called early-on “Coffee with Paul and other biblical authors”) have utilized the empty chair concept to encourage among Christians the idea of “responsible, contextual, and conversational Bible reading.” And that is why we have produced an introductory set of books (Unrelenting Faith!) on reading the Bible conversationally. What you are talking about in 2Chairs is wonderful! But these two concepts are compatible, and they need to walk hand in hand. I am guessing that, actually, you will agree with my concern here.

2. My second wish is the quibble I mentioned earlier: the plan of God. This is, of course, a longstanding area of theological discussion. But I will simply say here that I do not need to believe that it matters to God which house I live in or which job I have or what sale I make. What matters is how I act in the process; and then how I act next in any and every given circumstance; that I know that no matter what happens next, God is there to help me take the next step. So no matter what the street is on which I buy my next bigger home, or whether I end up on the street, God is in both places and will help me take the next step. 1Th 4:3 says it best: “Here is God’s will: your holiness!” So I would always answer your third question (Does he have a good plan for me?) in this way: “Yes! Of course! And I know exactly what it is: that no matter what happens—even if my child dies (and she did)—God is right here with me to help me take the next step.

My quibble aside, I recommend this book to all who wish to be encouraged. May we have more faithful people write and read and follow such leading as this.

I thank you, Bob, for your continued life in the Lord. And I trust that you will take this as supportive engagement.

Sincerely,

Your friend and brother in the Lord,

Gary D. Collier, PhD
Institute for the Art of Biblical Conversation
http://BiblicalConversation.com

 

 

Supportive Engagement

“The Bible proves that I’m right and that you’re an idiot!”

When Christians Simply Yell

To call Christian conversation about the Bible “intelligent” is sometimes laughable–or maybe ludicrous.  Yet, that is one of our highest goals in both our live and online gatherings, and it is why we have taken the name The Institute for the Art of Biblical Conversation.   We pursue an incredible, lively, open, generous, electrifying, and thoughtful atmosphere in our discussion of biblical texts, concepts, and ideas.  This does not mean we always agree.  It does mean we try to live up to the name of Christ in the effort.

Far too often, “Christians” won’t sit down at the same table with each other–they just yell across it at each other. Instead of setting an example for the world, they follow the pattern of political radio talk show hosts or of presidential debates—–which in recent times are national scandals, disgraceful, and a sign of baby-rattling self-centeredness on the part of all involved. Unfortunately, Christians often end up either fighting or just refusing to talk about anything important at all, creating a culture of mindlessness that  is unworthy of the name Christian.

The inability or unwillingness of Christians (often even within their own churches!) to be able to talk to each other and to challenge each other with an open spirit of grace is both deeply entrenched and reprehensible.

What follows are the guidelines (not rules) we have in place for ourselves.  Not because we ourselves feel in any way superior to anyone else;  but only because we feel this is a far superior way.  We commend these kinds of guidelines for all kinds of Christian groups around the world.

What is “Supportive Engagement”?

“Conversation” for us implies a “give and take” among people of good conscience in an atmosphere that we call “supportive engagement.

Supportive Engagementhas two main elements which work together: (1) challenge, and (2) support.

  1. CHALLENGE: Many faith environments avoid “thinking” together because thinking promotes dissension!  However, in our groups we intentionally pursue a thinking environment in which we study together and engage each other for the sake of “iron sharpening iron.” In our group, you are free to advocate any belief or position you like; but you had better be ready to get challenged by someone. Challenge is not only acceptable, it is welcomed. Challenge does not imply being “argumentative” or “obnoxious.” Rather, “challenge” means the intelligent exploration of ideas with one another, especially when we disagree over one or more issues.
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    1. This implies that the challenger is mature enough so as to always try to show appropriate respect to the person he or she is challenging. It is never permissible for a challenger to attack, demean, or impugn the person whom the challenger is approaching. (This is not a presidential debate, and the disgraceful tactics used by childish candidates will not be tolerated here!) Any such attack will be stopped promptly in its tracks, and anyone who will not cooperate may be ushered out of the group altogether. Personal disputes do happen, and those disputes will need to be handled personally off the community discussion board–like two grown-up Christian people. This is a place for invigorating discussion. Mud slinging will not happen here. Following are some examples:
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      1. Appropriate: “I find your argument lacking coherence, especially at two points: (1) . . .”
      2. Inappropriate: “You are obviously incapable of thinking through a problem with any coherence . . .”
      3. Inappropriate: “You’re an idiot!” (Anything close to this will certainly get you called on the carpet, and it will possibly get you thrown out of the group.)
      4. Inappropriate: “You are trying to say . . .” or “You feel x . . . ” or “You think X . . .”  (Don’t tell people what they they think, feel, or are trying to do. Speak your own feelings and let others do that for themselves. This is good manners and it shows respect.”)
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    2. This also implies that the one being challenged is mature enough to know the difference between a personal attack and an appropriate challenge to a position or approach. Misunderstandings can occur, of course, even among mature participants, and sometimes confusion sets in. But being able to receive a challenge with grace is part of what we are about. As long as we keep in mind that we are challenging “issues” and not “people,” we will be able to resolve any misunderstandings and continue.
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    3. This also implies the acceptance of three basic principles of communication:
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      1. The sender always must take responsibility for what he or she says/writes. He or she must work to write/speak in such a way that deals with issues rather than personalities, always in an attempt to respect and NOT to offend another person. It is always appropriate if a sender chooses to reword a statement based on a perceived offense.
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      2. The receiver must take responsibility for how he or she decides to read/hear a statement. He or she must work to not “over-read” any received statement. The fact is, absolutely anything can be misunderstood and inadvertently twisted into something it was not intended to say (even this statement). There is clearly a point at which a sender is not responsible for how a reader may twist or distort a received message.E.g.: The statement: “Offensive comments are not allowed” can be interpreted: “You are accusing me of writing offensive comments!” But it does not even come close to saying that. To assume such a thing may be an aggressive and unwarranted reading on the reader’s part.
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      3. In all cases, it is legitimate for a receiver to ask a sender what is implied by a statement. In this environment, once the sender clarifies the intent, that is the end of the matter. Any response by anyone questioning the sincerity or honesty of a discussion partner will be regarded as a personal attack on that party (for calling that person a liar). This has no place in mature Christian discussion.
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  2. SUPPORT: No matter whether the sender and receiver end up agreeing, in this environment, they make a commitment to end up supporting each other for the sake of community harmony—–even if they disagree in good conscience. (And it is perfectly legitimate for them to state it as such.)
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    1. Appropriate: “Jo and I disagree with one another, yet I respect and laud her attempts to search the scriptures and to explain her position.”
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    2. At all times we resolve to interact with each other openly and honestly in a spirit always of Christian love. We offer support of each other despite particular disagreements over one matter or another.
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    3. We grant to each other that we are all doing the best we can do to understand the scriptures and be honest with ourselves. We grant that it is possible for intelligent people of good conscience to diligently study the Bible and then honestly arrive at different conclusions. We accept that it is NOT a requirement that everybody has to agree with each other in order to support each other.
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WHAT “SUPPORTIVE ENGAGEMENT” IS NOT:__

  1. It is not “agreeing to disagree.” The latter is where all tend to believe whatever we want without any need to discuss or support it.
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  2. It is not any kind of formal debate. (We are not a debating society!)
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  3. It is not a Sunday school class, a counseling session, or a feel-good session where participants tiptoe around each other so that no one will “feel any challenge.” This is honest discussion where we do not wear our feelings on our sleeves and where we support the other in challenging us. There is no promise, here, that you won’t get your feelings hurt! It depends on where you wear your feelings and what you decide to do about it that is important.
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SUMMARY: We advocate an incredible discussion environment! “Supportive Engagement” is just that: Engagement! It refers to an active and willing challenge to one another to sharpen each other. Such an approach is only possible among mature Christian adults who can and do distinguish between (1) intelligent, pointed, and direct challenge (as an actual goal), as opposed to (2) personal attacks, dismissals, or name calling (as is found in presidential debates, a thing of disgrace to everyone and which brings shame to a nation). Christians are to walk by a different set of principles.

Again, these are not rules, but guiding ideas that flow from a principle desire for something better than what the popular political arena offers. What we follow here is a kind of mindset that asks:  “What can we do to engender valuable conversation? How can we help create that and pursue that?”

I do not suggest that this is a perfect outline;  I do suggest that this kind of approach can work. As always, it depends on the people involved.

Gary D. Collier
On behalf of the Institute for the Art of Biblical Conversation (IABC)
The parent of Coffee With Paul  (CWP)

PS:  It is possible to read the above statement as an indication that members of our group are having trouble getting along.  But that would be a mistake.  Actually, this is an expansion of a statement made in 2012 in the book Scripture, Canon, & Inspiration, and it was based on numerous experiences within various churches across the US in which various church leaders would not recognize “Supportive Engagement” if it walked up and gave them a hug.

 

 

 

Theological Tartar

This is more of a personal posting.  This morning I received an email from someone I’ve never met in reply to my recent post on aliens.  However, this letter then turns to a question of a more personal search for truth.  So, I want to share this letter verbatim without the name of the person who wrote it.  If he or she wishes to “own” the letter, that is up to that person.  The idea of “theological tartar” to describe traditional religious baggage will show up at the very end of my reply.

The Letter

—–Original Message—–
From:
Sent: Monday, August 4, 2014 10:01 AM
To: garydcollier@coffeewithpaul.com
Subject: RE: Did Jesus Die for Aliens, Too?

Good morning Gary,

Thanks so much for sharing this article. I have not seen the complete email from Mr. Ham. But I would venture to say that it possibly falls into the same category as many other so called Christian viewpoints (i.e. does more harm than good). It is very frustrating when someone tries to speak for all “Bible believing Christians”. Unfortunately it tends only to give more ammo against what I believe is the very logical argument for the truth of the Bible and the case for God & Jesus specifically. Once again, I appreciate you passing your thoughts along.

On a separate subject… I am curious where your thinking falls, with respect to many of the opinions of men such as Edward Fudge and Al Maxey? The more I read of their published writings (emails, etc..), the more I tend to lean towards their understanding and opinions on several subjects just as Hell, Grace, Diversity of the believers, etc…Unfortunately, the Independent Christian church where we attend, does not seem to have the same opinions on some of these subjects (Hell specifically). I was raised conservative church of Christ, and my spouse was raised southern Baptist. So we come from a very “works based”, law keeping, background. But once I started reading many of the writings of men such as Carl Ketcherside and Cecil Hook, I started questioning my stance on many topics.

All that said… I guess my main questions are… Do you have an opinion on these men and their writings? And, where do you worship (collectively) at on a regular basis?

Thanks so much for your time and help.

My reply:

Hi, I appreciate your email very much.

My background is also fairly conservative Church of Christ. My first college was Freed Hardeman, which was much more conservative then (late 60’s) than now. I’m actually very grateful for my conservative grounding even though my attitude, demeanor, and focus have changed quite a bit over the years. I am currently attending a local small community church (I live in a small town 50 miles west of Indianapolis), and the only Churches of Christ and Christian Churches are either hard line conservative and don’t want me there or too far for me to drive to economically. The funny thing is, the preacher of the church I attend is a young earther (!), but insists that I teach the Sunday school class and has me preach whenever he is away, and he never tries to put stipulations on anything I would say. I think he appreciates my focus on the scriptures, and certainly he is a good friend. Like any church this one has many good people of various backgrounds and leanings.

I consider Edward Fudge a personal friend, and also appreciate the work of such men as those you mention. I would not say I am a student of any of them (I’m simply not an avid reader of any of them, not that I’m opposed to them), but that is not due to any dissatisfaction so much as my attentions are simply in other places. I agree with Edward that traditional views of hell (prominent everywhere in evangelical circles) is overdone and problematic. I have actually never stated my own views on this topic anywhere, and will not do so here. But I will say that they (my views) are friendly to the efforts of Edward and others, even if they differ on some points as well.

What I love to this day about my upbringing is the emphasis I received on the love and respect for biblical text and about taking it above and beyond any attitude or teaching or tradition I have available to me. If I have a central “heartbeat,” this is it: the love and respect for the ancient scriptures above other forms of Christian focus. (Certainly, not in any Pharisaical sense.)  That is why in every single one of our Coffee With Paul activities (online or “live” or in writing) we emphasize responsible, contextual, and conversational readings of the scriptures. Now this sounds nice and friendly, but the truth is, when we actually do this, that kind of reading of the scriptures itself exposes all of the hardened tartar on our theological teeth.

Again, I thank you for your letter, and I hope I have addressed your questions.

Many blessings,

Gary

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Gary D. Collier
CWP Classroom
http://CoffeeWithPaul.com