Diatribe versus dialogue (or, “Let’s talk”)

The world is full of different religions that were started by different men at different times in history. All these religions have different beliefs, different rituals, and different views of the afterlife. They also derive their way of life, their teachings, and their view of God (or gods) from different holy books. They also preach a different message about the purpose of creation and humanity. It certainly makes getting along together a challenge.

And then there’s the problem of people within each of these religions not agreeing too. Splits and divisions, and even outright warfare and brutal persecutions, have broken out between different factions in the same religion, most of which have seethed for centuries without resolution. And even down at the local level, people get terribly upset if a traditional belief or ritual is updated, or the piano is moved to the other side of the stage.

But try to get to the root cause of all these differences and divisions and it usually results in a diatribe from those who believe that only their tradition, or their version of doctrinal purity and their interpretation of the faith once delivered, is correct. It’s good that they’re firm in their beliefs, but what became of dialogue to discuss differences and refine beliefs together?

Dialogue, not diatribe, was how the early church resolved issues. When faced with a challenge that unsettled the church in Acts 15:1-2, “The church decided to resolve the matter by sending Paul, Barnabas, and a few others to put it before the apostles and leaders in Jerusalem.” And in Jerusalem, Paul and Barnabas “were graciously received” (verse 4). A “special meeting was called to consider the matter,” and yes, there was a heated exchange as different views were expressed (verses 6-7), but both sides were heard, Scripture was consulted, and a decision was made – to which “Everyone agreed” (verse 22).

Dialogue, in other words, won the day, not diatribe.

And when Paul arrived in Athens in Acts 17, preaching a message that was totally foreign to the Athenians, including some of their best and brightest intellectuals, they were willing to dialogue. They asked Paul to explain himself “so we can understand” (verse 20), and they gave him a chance to put his view forward without interruption. Paul, in return, did not scoff at their beliefs or show any disrespect toward those people at all. Everyone kept their guns in their holsters. It was a fine example of people from different religious traditions hearing each other out.

It didn’t result in agreement on all points, but it did result in some of those Athenians wanting to meet with Paul again (verse 33).

Dialogue caused that to happen, not diatribe.

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