Archives For Dialogue


To Argue Lovingly 

A Feature Review of 

A House United:
How the Church Can Save the World

Allen Hilton

Paperback: Fortress, 2018
Buy Now:  [ Amazon ]  [ Kindle ]


Reviewed by Justin Cober-Lake


As the US has become increasingly divided, some Christians have rightly sought to show the rest of the world a unified group. Some have suggested, however, that that unity should include no public disagreements, that the world should see a church together in mind as well as heart. We’d have a better witness if we didn’t argue on Twitter, the thinking goes. Conversations concerning Paige Patterson and the Southern Baptist Convention have sometimes taken this tone, whether about letting those outside the SBC watch the chaos or even about how leadership problems could be handled.

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Ascending the Same Mountain.

A Feature Review of

Monks and Muslims: Monastic and Shiˁa Spirituality in Dialogue.
Mohammad Ali Shomali and William Skudlarek, eds.

Paperback: Liturgical Press, 2012.
Buy now:  [ Amazon ]   [ Kindle ]

Reviewed by Richard Goode
Moses did it—Elijah too. Even Mohammed and Jesus embraced the practice. Climbing a mountain to encounter the compassionate and merciful God is a time-honored contemplative practice. Timothy Wright, OSB, uses this metaphor to describe the 2011 monastic-Muslim gathering at Rome’s Primatial Abbey of Sant’ Anselmo.[1] Here “followers of the Rule of Benedict and the followers of the Holy Prophet are like two sets of climbers who are ascending the same mountain, the Mountain of God, but from different sides!” (144). The respective vocabularies, practices, and perspectives of the climbers may vary yet their goal is essentially the same, “ever closer intimacy with God.” Toward such a summit there is no jealous competition. Rather co-climbers form a kind of rope team, graciously supporting one another.

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Cultivating Virtue Through Conversation

A Feature Review:

Why Can’t We Talk? Christian Wisdom on Dialogue as a Habit of the Heart

John Backman

Paperback: Skylight Paths, 2012
Buy now: [ Amazon ] [ Kindle ]

Reviewed by Tim Otto.


One of John Backman’s best answers to the question that titles his book, “Why Can’t We Talk?” is that rather than being good, we’ve settled for being in favor of the good.


It is an insightful answer. One of the deepest religious impulses—on both the right and the left—is to believe that we believe the right things and are therefore superior and saved. Talking vulnerably with others threatens that stance. Genuine dialogue runs the risk that we might realize we are wrong. But if we move beyond being religious to being righteous (by finding our deepest identity in God), then we are secure in God and can welcome without fear any new truth that dialogue reveals.


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Shameless plug here…

The Virtue of Dialogue - C. Christopher SmithERB editor Chris Smith has written a little ebook called

The Virtue of Dialogue: Conversation as a Hopeful Practice of Church Communities,

which is now available from Patheos Press:

This ebook narrates Englewood Christian Church’s practice of conversation, how we — a failed megachurch — stumbled in the practice of conversation 15 years ago, and how it has transformed us and continues to transform us.  A strong case is made that open, conversation is an essential and timely practice for all churches.

“There is something very 1st Century about Englewood, and there’s also something very postmodern — that’s because Englewood is seeking to be missional, not by theorizing about it but by actually doing it. Where they began is where we all need to begin: with conversation. We must face one another in a listening mode. Only then can our words become genuine conversation. This little book could be revolutionary for your own faith community.”
– Scot McKnight, author of The King Jesus Gospel and Junia Is Not Alone
“The story of the Englewood Christian Church is a compelling one, not because it’s unusual (which it is), but because it narrates a story of church rebirth many people are experiencing under the radar of the ‘success-driven’ U.S. Christian establishment. Beautifully written, stunningly simple, this piece by Chris Smith gives hope for all those working in churches in the midst of long decline. To you who are looking for a way forward that is different from the latest mega church conference, I urge you to read this little book.”
– David Fitch, B.R. Lindner Professor of Evangelical Theology at Northern Seminary, author of The End of Evangelicalism?

The Virtue of Dialogue is available for download as a Kindle ebook for only $2.99!
(if you want to tell others about this ebook, use this shortlink which benefits the ERB)

If you do not have a Kindle, Kindle apps for your computer or smartphone are FREE and easy to install…

It is also now available for the NOOK (at the same $2.99 price)…

*** Help us spread the word:

  1. Download the ebook…
  2. Share the link on Facebook, Twitter, etc.
  3. Once you’ve had a chance to read it, write a short review and post to Amazon, Facebook, your blog, Goodreads, etc.


“Trust-Building Conversation

A Review of

Building Cultures of Trust.
By Martin Marty.

Reviewed by Bob Cornwall.

Building Cultures of Trust.
Martin Marty.
Hardback: Eerdmans, 2010.
Buy now: [ ]

[ A longer version of this review is available
on the reviewer’s blog. ]

Martin Marty - BUILDING CULTURES OF TRUSTTrust seems in short supply these days, with the populace seemingly trusting no one including politicians, government, religious institutions, science, corporations, banks or the courts.   But, if trust is in short supply, how then can our society survive, let alone function?   Although a certain degree of suspicion is healthy, lest we allow ourselves to be scammed and defrauded, we’ve moved far beyond healthy skepticism, which makes building cultures of trust difficult.

Martin Marty takes up the challenge of “building cultures of trust” in a  contribution to the Emory University “Studies in Law and Religion” that’s based on lectures given for the Trust Institute at the State University of New York at Stony Brook in 2008.  Trust starts with the individual, having to do with a person’s character, resolve and ability to change, but as Marty makes clear, it doesn’t stop with the individual.  Trust must involve others, and it evolves in the context of social cultures, which provide for conditions where the task of building trust can occur and even thrive.  It also involves risk, for without risk there is no need to trust.

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“Toward Constructive, Beneficial Dialogue

A Review of
The Disenchantment of Secular Discourse
By Stephen D. Smith

Reviewed by Mark Eckel.

[ Read an excerpt from this book… ]

The Disenchantment of Secular Discourse.
Stephen D. Smith
Hardback: Harvard UP, 2010.
Buy now: [ Amazon ]

THE DISENCHANTMENT OF SECULAR DISCOURSE - Smith“How can you believe in something you can’t see?”  My atheist friend whispered this question to me during homeroom announcements when I was 16.  So bothered was I by the one sentence interrogation that I read all of Francis Schaeffer’s works by the time I was out of high school.  From then on, apologetics (“defense of The Faith”) would always be wedded to real life for me.  Schaeffer’s argument swung on two hinges: The Personal Eternal Triune Creator Is, and He has spoken.  All of life depends on proper opening of this door.  The ultimate questions of life (e.g., Who am I? Where did I come from? What is right and wrong? What happens when I die?) come through that door.  And ever since high school football practice, or English class, or talking with friends over lunch, my concern in conversation has been to persuade others that our deepest inside questions have to have an outside answer.

So it was a great thrill to read that theological thought would be allowed a voice in Steven D. Smith’s The Disenchantment of Secular Discourse. If the title does not tell the tale, consider some opening quotations.  People act on “comprehensive doctrines—that is, their deepest convictions about what is really true” (15).  Human-centered discussions have no ultimate basis, no standard for discovering Truth unless there is “smuggling” of “purposive cosmos . . . providential design” (26).  “Smuggling arguably allows modern discourse to function” (34).  Conversations in a separate secular arena “could not proceed very far without smuggling” because “secular vocabulary . . . is insufficient to convey our full set of normative convictions and commitments (emphasis his, 38-39).  Smith’s concern for years has been that no one in strictly secular circles has admitted they use other-world ideas for physical world arguments.

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“Polis and Ekklesia: Friends or Foes?

A Review of
An Awareness of What is Missing:
Faith and Reason in a Post-Secular Age
By Jürgen Habermas, et al.

 Reviewed by
Matthew Kaul.

An Awareness of What is Missing:
Faith and Reason in a Post-Secular Age
By Jürgen Habermas, et al.
Translated – Cieran Cronin.
Hardback: Polity Press, 2010.
Buy now: [ Amazon ]

J Habermas - AN AWARENESS OF WHAT IS MISSINGFor a range of reasons, the question of the relationship between religious faith and liberal democracy has recently risen to the forefront of political and religious discourse. From Republican presidential candidate Mitt Romney to current President Barack Obama, from the Anglican Archbishop of Canterbury Rowan Williams to Pope Benedict XVI, from evangelical megachurch pastor Greg Boyd to scores of small church pastors across the country, an incredibly wide-ranging set of people have sought to address this question. 

The problem, stated simply, is one that goes back to Augustine, or even to Paul: how does the eternal kingdom of God relate to the temporal, fleeting, present power of the State? For a liberal democracy, the question is even more urgent, because there is no divinely-ordained kingship which we either submit to or disobey. Rather, (theoretically, at least) we ourselves are both subject and legislator. Is it the Christian’s responsibility, then, to legislate “Christian values”? What relationship should the religious citizen have to those fellow citizens who hold different religious beliefs? 

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837465: Between Allah & Jesus: What Christians Can Learn from Muslims A Brief Review of

Between Allah & Jesus:
What Christians Can Learn from Muslims

Peter Kreeft.
Paperback: IVP Book, 2010.

Buy now: [ ]

Reviewed by Rev. Warren Hicks.

During Lent, I received a copy of Peter Kreeft’s new book  Between Allah and Jesus: What Christians Can Learn From Muslims courtesy of the publisher, IVP Books.

I had become acquainted with Peter Kreeft through an interview on the Mars Hill Audio Journal last year.  I was interested in his thinking and was intrigued by this book, hoping to find a constructive dialogue about the shared tenets of Islam and Christianity.

That isn’t at all what I received.  I’m still not sure how I feel about this frustrated expectation.  Given Dr. Kreeft’s academic CV I was expecting a philosophical analysis between the two faiths.  When I began reading the first page of the introduction I read the following with some trepidation: “My medium is not essays but fictional dialogues between a pious Muslim and various Christians. For my strategy is indirect rather than direct, showing rather than telling.” (9)

Even given that caveat at the beginning I found myself getting ‘stuck’ and frustrated in the air of brinksmanship in the dialogues between some of the characters that Dr. Kreeft builds in the book.  Dr. Kreeft has published this piece as a precursor to the novel An Ocean Full of Angels that he’s crafting with the same characters.  He further is good about owning some of the problems I found with this work up front: “Without the novel to frame them, the characters in this book are bound to be somewhat thin and flat, even stereotyped.” (14)

I understand the need for clarity and the polarities that Kreeft is laying out here, but some of the dialogue seemed to me to be caricatured and did not fall on my ears as objectively as the author says he intended it to.  I’ll own that this is likely because I find myself toward the ‘liberal’ side of the Christian dialogue as he describes it.

That being said, I have to admit I continue to be uncomfortable with Kreeft’s ‘Liberal’ conversation partner in the dialogues. Libby Rawls is described by the author as a “sarcastic, sassy, Black feminist ‘liberal'” (13).  Contrast is necessary but Libby comes off as reactionary, unthoughtful, morally flawed, emotional and (apparently worst of all for Kreeft and the other characters) illogical.

I don’t disagree that those points of view are an integral part of the project here and are likely necessary to provide the contrast that Dr. Kreeft is trying to draw.  I found it disconcerting that they wound up all in one person who represented any number of stereotypes and groups of Christians.  All this being said, ‘Isa Ben Adam, Fr. Heerema, Libby Rawls, Evan Jellema and Fr. Fesser take us on a ride that can be frustrating and unsatisfying to the nth degree.

I was tempted to give up before the end and write this review. I’m glad I didn’t.  I beg you don’t give up until ‘Mother’ has the last word in this rollicking, rhetorical set of dialogues.

We have a lot to learn from each other.


God: Initiating and Sustaining Conversation

A Review of
An Unsettling God:
The Heart of the Hebrew Bible
by Walter Brueggemann.

Reviewed by Brent Aldrich.

[ Read an excerpt of this book here ]

An Unsettling God:
The Heart of the Hebrew Bible
Walter Brueggemann.

Paperback: Fortress Press,  2009.
Buy now: [ ]

Brueggemann - UNSETTLING GODWalter Brueggemann’s An Unsettling God: The Heart of the Hebrew Bible describes first of all a God-in-relation, YHWH understood as he is in dialogue, most especially with Israel, but also with human persons, the nations, and all of creation. Locating God’s primary identity not in unilateral commands or creeds, but rather as an engaged dialectical partner, Brueggemann identifies God’s covenanting act as one in which he is an “available agent who is not only able to act but is available to be acted upon” (9).  Indeed, the agency of Yahweh is seen to be inviting a reciprocal act of participation and conversation from the dialogical partners, suggesting that the response of Yahweh’s chosen people – in attentiveness and discernment – extends the possibilities in the work of reconciliation.

Israel’s identity then, as a people, is also best understood as it is in relation: “If we are to identify what is most characteristic and most distinctive in the life and vocation of this partner of YHWH [Israel], it is the remarkable equation of love of God with love of neighbor, which is enacted through the exercise of distributive justice of social goods, social power, and social access to those without leverage” (29). The demands of justice and holiness are fulfilled within the gathered community of Israel, as they are in relation themselves and with Yahweh. God, as characteristically in relation, places Israel, and consequently all of creation, into a dynamic role in the narrative of God-in-history. In fact, God’s dialogue partners are “invited, expected, and insistently urged to engage in a genuine interaction that is variously self-asserting and self-abandoning, yielding and initiative-taking,” (65) all of which may be characteristics of any good conversation, but when extended to Yahweh as a partner, it becomes the narrative by which God is known as embodied on earth.

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I’m a sucker for the 12-month seasonal essay types of books, but when The Wild Marsh crossed my desk, I hesitated to dive in. I’ve tried reading environmental activist and author Rick Bass’s nonfiction before, and found he tended toward strident rather than prosaic. That’s okay if I’m getting ready for a global warming rally but less inviting if I want a good porch-side read.

Bass quickly put my doubts to rest. By his own admission, The Wild Marsh aims to be “all celebration and all observation, without judgment or advocacy.” An admirable goal, which of course he falls short of—he can’t help preaching the green gospel or lapsing into sermonizing about the environment as he goes—but he does concentrate, as Wendell Berry once said, “on the matter at hand, which is living.”

The Wild Marsh was written over the course of a decade, encompassing both the turn of the millennium and 9/11. Bass compresses his observations, then frames them as a year of life lived off the grid with his family in northwest Montana. This is a book about divides in time and in place, as well as a philosophical reflection.

Read the full review:

The Wild Marsh: Four Seasons at Home in Montana.
Rick Bass.

Hardback: Houghton Mifflin Harcourt, 2009.
Buy now:  [ Amazon ]

Powells Books Reviews
FEMINISM, INC by Emilie Zaslow

Run a Google image search on “girl power,” and what comes up is a series of visual contradictions: a pink woman’s symbol with a fist in the circle; a photo of a businesswoman’s legs, in stockings and stilettos in front of a chorus line of men’s trousers; girls sporting athletic gear; “girl power” emblazoned across bikini underwear; and an ad for a porn film. In these images the power afforded girls is mixed. A working woman is reduced to her girly fashion sense. A little girl’s source of influence is what’s written on her panties. And almost every image is linked to consumerism. “Girl power” is up for sale.

In Feminism, Inc., Zaslow details the contradictions within a media culture that’s been pervasive and potent ever since the Spice Girls popularized the phrase in 1997. On the one hand, she writes, “girl power is a commodification of opposition to traditional femininity.” Epitomized by such popular figures as Lisa on The Simpsons and rapper Missy Elliott, girl power encourages young women to be independent choice-makers and suggests they can control their own sexuality, style and sense of self. Yet Zaslow points out that such feminist discourse is undercut by corporate media, explaining that “[girl power] does not celebrate a feminist movement for social change at structural levels.”

Read the full review:

Feminism, Inc.: Coming of Age in Girl Power Media Culture.
Emilie Zaslow.

Hardback: Palgrave MacMillan, 2009.
Buy now:  [ Amazon ]

Soong-Chan Rah Raises Some Pointed Questions
About Foster and Wilhite’s
Deadly Viper Character Assassin

Let me begin by stating that I applaud the intent and subject matter of your book.  Integrity and character in leadership needs to be discussed and should be an important part of leadership development.  But the “theme” you have chosen and the application of that theme (particularly in your media clips) reveals a serious insensitivity to Asian culture and to the Asian-American community.

My contention has nothing to do with the content of the book itself (i.e. the material that discusses integrity and character).  It is with the way in which you choose to co-opt Asian culture in inappropriate ways.  Let me cite Edward Said in Orientalism where he states:

Orientalism can be discussed and analyzed as the corporate institution for dealing with the Orient — dealing with it by making statements about it, authorizing views of it, describing it, by teaching it, settling it, ruling over it: in short, Orientalism as a Western style of dominating, restructuring, and having authority over the Orient.

Mike and Jud, you are two white males who are inappropriately co-opting another culture and using it to further the marketing of your book.  You are not from our cultural framework, yet you feel that you have the authority to represent our culture before others.  In other words, you are using what are important and significant cultural symbols to make a sale or to make your point.  It is an affront to those who are a part of that culture.  You’ll notice that there are a number of individuals that take offense at the ways you misuse Chinese characters.  You also confuse aspects of Japanese and Chinese cultures.  These are two very distinct and ancient cultures that you did not take the time to understand before using those symbols as a fun way to market your products.

Read the full review: