Wednesday, July 25, 2007

Adventures in Ecumenism (I) - Revealing Questions

This past weekend I had the privilege of participating in an ecumenical conference held at Oberlin College in Ohio to commemorate the 50th anniversary of Faith and Order in the United States. The papers and discussions are worthy of extended reflection, and so I am going to share some stories and thoughts over the next few weeks in a series entitled "Adventures in Ecumenism."

One particular afternoon during a discussion group, a young Lutheran minister asked for clarification on the notion of "apostolic power," a term which had been mentioned a few times earlier that day. A few of us from Holiness and Pentecostal traditions explained how we speak of the power of the apostles being given to believers today. After hearing this explanation, the young collared Lutheran asked a Texan Pentecostal, "And how is it conferred?"

Now it took us a while to even answer this question, because the question itself presupposed forms of institutional mediation foreign to the traditions that speak of apostolic power. Because of this, the question itself turned out to be more interesting than the answer. It is an example of a revealing question: one which tells us more about a person's commitments and concerns than a summary of belief could ever do. The take-away for the practice of dialogue is that we not only learn about others through asking good questions, but we also learn about others through listening to their questions.

Any thoughts?
Can you think of examples of revealing questions in the context of ecumenical encounter?
What revealing questions do you find yourself asking regularly? What do they reveal?
How can we unveil the deeper meaning behind someone's question in a gracious way that does not merely reject their question?


David Drury said...

Great though. This is a crucial observation in pastoral work, John. I find that you learn more about the people in your church by their questions than anything else. Too often we assume they believe what we've taught them from the pulpit... but their questions oft reveal otherwise.


Mark said...

John, great post here... I am racking my brain trying to come up with some common revealing questions that I or those around me pose, but my brain seems to be frozen after this past weekend. I hear you saying that on some levels reveling questions carry, by their very nature a set of presuppositions... I remember hearing some questions in Oberlin around a, "Trinitarian Ecclesiology" which, by their very nature, revealed the essence of a theological structure that to some may open the question from a dialogical perspective that is limiting from the onset...

Angie Van De Merwe said...

John, it just goes to show that "systems thinking" should be held with the tentativeness of any other "model of reality". You remember my husband's Templeton award-winning course at IWU, don't you? So, questions reveal where the "gaps are" in understanding the prevailing system (model of reality, i.e. world-view). That is why I believe that postmodernity has some "good" insights about the absoluteness the sciences and our reason....Of course, even our behavior will be based on the model that is prevailing. Look at Nazi Germany....which is an ideal model of systems thinking! (And emergent properties do not "qualify" to recitify the "problems" with the "system"!)