Conversant Faith

For the last two months I’ve taken a break from blogging. I pulled the whole thing down, let it go dark, and spent sometime to reflect on what I’m trying to accomplish in my writing. I’ve always heard that those who believe in the God of resurrection shouldn’t be afraid to let things fall into the ground and die. In fact, Jesus invites us to follow Him precisely there (John 12:24-26). I don’t want to be overly dramatic but these last 2 months were somewhat an experiment in burial. During this time I had some good conversations with the Lord and also some affirming conversations with some brothers in the Lord whom I respect. All in all, I’m happy it happened, but I’m also happy to be back.

What’s in a Name?

I’ve changed my blog’s name from “life and building” to “conversant faith”, and despite being a little harder to say, I think it better captures what my blog is about.

Let me explain.

Conversant means:

  1. familiar or knowledgeable, as by study or experience: conversant with medieval history
  2. able to converse knowledgeably
  3. Archaic. having regular or frequent conversation

So conversant basically has the twofold sense of familiar with and able to talk about. There is an underlying thought with both definitions. The word “conversant” derives from the Latin word conversari,  which means “to live with, keep company with,” literally “turn about with,” from Latin con- “with” + versare, frequentative of vertere- “to turn”. It has the same Latin root as convert.

With this short and basic etymology let me list a few things that I’m intending “conversant faith” to mean.

1. A conversant faith is a faith that is familiar to and intimately known by the one who believes

We need to become thoroughly familiar with the object of our faith by turning to it (Him) again and again. This happens concretely in the pages of the Bible where we encounter the living Word of God and are converted afresh as we become familiar with His voice.

Diligent and consistent reading creates familiarity with the world of the Bible… We cannot venture into the Bible as tourists; we must become inhabitants of the land. We need to retrace our steps, stop and reflect at each site in order to explore it in depth. To become part of this world we must enter it, immerse ourselves in it in order to be absorbed by it.[1]

—Mariano Magrassi

The more I explore the Bible and become familiar with the content of the faith, the more I echo Augustine:

What wonderful profundity there is in your utterances! The surface meaning lies open before us and charms beginners. Yet the depth is amazing, my God, the depth is amazing.[2]

This blog attempts to bring out the amazing depths of God’s word and to help others become inhabitants of the land. The Lord Himself commands us to rise up and walk through the land (Gen. 13:17; Josh 1:3) in order to possess it.

2. A conversant faith is a faith that is able to speak knowledgeably

One of the greatest tragedies of American Christianity is that though many people believe, many believers are mute. Faith has made it to their heart, but not to their mouth. God moves by speaking, God works through our words, and God builds the church through our prophesying. However, many Christians can’t speak much more than “Jesus loves us and we should love others”. Some don’t think there is a need to speak, because, hey, that’s what pastors are for. And some are afraid to speak or hesitant to speak, because they relegate faith to the private sphere of life—it isn’t PC to speak of matters of belief. Where these conditions prevail, Barth was afraid that the church would become “the fellowship of the quiet” or worse, “a community of dumb dogs”.[3]

The more we become conversant (familiar) with the faith, both in its objective content and its subjective experience, the more we will desire to become conversant (able to talk knowledgeably) in the faith.

Both the Old Testament and New Testament people of God experienced a divine inability to refrain from speaking God’s word.

But if I say, I will not mention Him or speak any more in His name, then it is in my heart like a burning fire, shut up in my bones, and I am weary of holding it in, nor can I. –Jeremiah 20:9

For we cannot but speak the things which we have seen and heard. –Acts 4:20

Barth would answer the mute:

Do they not perceive that there are documents, such as the books of the New Testament, which compel men to speak at whatever cost, because they find in them that which urgently and finally concerns the very marrow of human civilization?[4]

This blog is an endeavor on my part not to remain mute. I talked about this in my very first blog post. The internet provides an unprecedented megaphone for the gospel where even the softest spoken Christian voice can reach the ends of the inhabited earth.

3. A conversant faith, a faith that speaks, presupposes a partner in conversation

Embedded in the etymology of conversation is the thought of repeatedly turning to another, to keep company with. This repeated turning to becomes a manner of life among others. It is this literal, archaic sense of the word that the King James translators had in mind when they translated 1 Peter 3:1,

Likewise, ye wives, be in subjection to your own husbands; that, if any obey not the word, they also may without the word be won by the conversation of the wives.

Conversation here means manner of life. The King James translators have preserved here an older meaning of the word conversation.

So in this sense, a conversant faith would be a faith that frequently turns to others. Christians are to engage the world with the message of the gospel. However, to engage in meaningful conversation there needs to be familiarity with the other view or perspective. Paul is the paragon of this in Acts 17 when he engages the Stoic and Epicurean philosophers on the Areopagus. He remarks that he has carefully observed the objects of their worship and then quotes two pagan poets to support his gospel message. Our faith (belief) itself must be conversant otherwise how can we engage other worldviews?

Faith should not end with inward, personal assurance; it should lead to engaging others in a conversation that is both affirming and clarifying for those in the faith (intramural) and confronting and challenging for those outside the faith (extramural).

Even among fellow Christians there needs to be constant conversation about the divine revelation until we all arrive at the unity of the faith (Eph. 4:13).

To this end, I often try to engage various perspectives on this blog, such as Hans Küng, Karl Barth, Thomas Nagel, Mariano Magrassi. This doesn’t mean that I fully endorse their work. I believe it’s possible to appreciate a work, even greatly benefit from it, and yet maintain a critical distance from it. I feel this way about Küng’s work.

4. A conversant faith always maintains faith

It’s important to remember that in all the conversations, faith is not compromised. I am not talking about seeking faith in syncretism. A conversant faith above all is faith, belief. It is not a search for faith. Faith itself presupposes content, something we believe in. In his Dogmatics in Outline, Barth has three chapters entitled “Faith as Trust”, “Faith as Knowledge”, and “Faith as Confession”. I think these are three good points to emphasize.

5. Finally, a conversant faith should ultimately lead to conversion

Here is where the fact that converse and convert have the same root comes into play. The goal of being conversant is not just to thoroughly know or to endlessly talk. All our turning towards others is ultimately to bring them to turn towards the faith. However, it should be kept in mind that conversion is not proselytizing. All our conversation is carried out in sincerity, love, and respect.

To open their eyes, to turn them from darkness to light and from the authority of Satan to God, that they may receive forgiveness of sins and an inheritance among those who have been sanctified by faith in Me. –Acts 26:18


 

1. Mariano Magrassi, Praying the Bible, p. 68
2. Augustine, Confessions 12.14.17
3. Karl Barth, Dogmatics in Outline, p. 31
4. Karl Barth, The Epistle to the Romans, 6 ed., p. 9

Psalm 24: the Arab Spring, Occupy Wall Street, and the Coming King

This has been a tumultuous year.

The events of December 18, 2010 set off the Arab Spring nearly on the eve of the new year. The distrust, disgust, and dissatisfaction with the current economic, political, and social conditions quickly spread throughout much of the Middle East and North Africa.

Tunisia and Egypt both ousted their long-standing presidents and overthrew the governments (Ben Ali for 24 years and Mubarak for 30 years). Libya erupted in civil war resulting in the fall of its long-standing regime under Gaddafi for 42 years.

Of course Uncle Sam has been reeling with his own financial problems and political dissidence. People are unemployed, foreclosed upon, living with little or no health insurance, and in major debt. They are the 99%.

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Culture in Colossians

“We ought not to suppose that what is divine is like gold or silver or stone, like an engraving of art and thought of man.”

-Acts 17:29

I found these style descriptions on a promo website when the W Hotel in Dallas was under construction. I think they were trying to say that the W appeals to all style dispositions, no matter how your chromosomes are wired. Obviously they have made selective reductions in the style spectrum. Which one are you?

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On Owning a Dictionary

I own a dictionary.

A real one.

To add to the mystery unfolding in your brain, I bought this dictionary that I own. I know, I know. I’ve seen the reaction before. In fact, every time I mention this little detail of my life to someone I get it. Even the bookish lady who assisted me at the sales register voiced her surprise. “Wow, a dictionary. We don’t get many people buying these anymore.”

What is it about purchasing all the words in our language that garners such wonderment?

Despite many of my friends’ enduring expositions on electronic dictionaries and their ubiquity, smallness, and freeness, I am glad that I own a physical, hardbound, full-size dictionary. Weighing in at 8.2 pounds with 2076 pages, it is rather permanent in its placement in my apartment. It makes more sense to view it as a small piece of furniture.

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