Belief in conversation

“God’s choice is for humanity; that is, for humanity to be what it truly is , God’s dialogue partner” (Alisdair MacFadyn ; taken from Thiselton (2007)

“Where other beings have a natural tendency to share themselves through action appropriate to their natures, human persons have a special capacity to engage in meaningful dialogue” (Vanhoozer 2010)

13 That same day two of Jesus’ followers were walking to the village of Emmaus, seven miles[c] from Jerusalem. 14 As they walked along they were talking about everything that had happened. 15 As they talked and discussed these things, Jesus himself suddenly came and began walking with them. 16 But God kept them from recognizing him.

17 He asked them, “What are you discussing so intently as you walk along?”

They stopped short, sadness written across their faces. 18 Then one of them, Cleopas, replied, “You must be the only person in Jerusalem who hasn’t heard about all the things that have happened there the last few days.”

19 “What things?” Jesus asked.

“The things that happened to Jesus, the man from Nazareth,” they said. “He was a prophet who did powerful miracles, and he was a mighty teacher in the eyes of God and all the people. 20 But our leading priests and other religious leaders handed him over to be condemned to death, and they crucified him. 21 We had hoped he was the Messiah who had come to rescue Israel. This all happened three days ago.22 “Then some women from our group of his followers were at his tomb early this morning, and they came back with an amazing report. 23 They said his body was missing, and they had seen angels who told them Jesus is alive! 24 Some of our men ran out to see, and sure enough, his body was gone, just as the women had said.”25 Then Jesus said to them, “You foolish people! You find it so hard to believe all that the prophets wrote in the Scriptures. 26 Wasn’t it clearly predicted that the Messiah would have to suffer all these things before entering his glory?” 27 Then Jesus took them through the writings of Moses and all the prophets, explaining from all the Scriptures the things concerning himself.28 By this time they were nearing Emmaus and the end of their journey. Jesus acted as if he were going on, 29 but they begged him, “Stay the night with us, since it is getting late.” So he went home with them. 30 As they sat down to eat,[d] he took the bread and blessed it. Then he broke it and gave it to them. 31 Suddenly, their eyes were opened, and they recognized him. And at that moment he disappeared! (Luke 24:13-31)

“We can develop a language of critique and possibility which allows us to act (Giroux 1989: 208). We may even to be able, as Martin Buber would have put it, to glimpse God  in our encounters, or to catch the collective consciousness (Bohm 1997)” (taken from

Over the last few weeks i have been reading several books, and at the same time been involved in detached work in Durham with YFC, participated in a couple of YFC events, during which had some lengthy conversations. In reading Thiseltons work on the hermeneutics of Doctrine has shed some light for me in regard to our collective humanity, and some of the hermeneutics of understanding about who we are, who we are as created beings, and what it means to be created in the image of God, and in his likeness, and the idea that our true humanity is to be in ongoing dialogue with our creator is one that is so simple and yet so deeply profound.

If you have read any of my other writing, or spoken to me in the last few years you will know that the Emmaus story has been a key text for me, in a number of ways. This narrative shows something about how God ( in the person of the resurrected Jesus) turned up unexpectedly in a conversation between two slightly disappointed friends, and amidst this conversation came a realisation of new truth, an awakening experience of a new paradigm ( not just an alive Jesus, but a Jesus that fulfilled the OT, law and prophets (v25,26) – their lives changed, and in conversation, in conversation that Jesus though hidden at first became recognised belief, conversion into the new, and lives that were changed as result of God actively in dialogue with them.

As Christian youthworkers, as detached youthworkers, we have a key belief in the educative, liberating power of conversation. We believe that conversation is a means in and of itself of being educative of being an egalitarian space in which two people share time, share story, share of each other to listen, give, receive and be present with each other. Whether in a small group, one to one, inside or outside, conversation, especially within the philosophy, values or atmosphere of an informal youthwork setting is a intra human leveller, its a moment in time and space where two people interact, communicate, listen, share and be- and for that moment and from that moment in time, neither are the same again as Gadamer discussed;

“Only in the support of familiar and common understanding makes possible the venture into the alien, the lifting up of something out of the alien, and thus the broadening and enrichment of our own experience of the world” (HG Gadamer 1967) 

and Ricoeur:

“Personal identity is shaped by encounter with the face of the other” (Stiver on Ricoeur 2010)

So, for the youthworker, and maybe more so the detached worker, that develops a common understanding of a new life situation in the ‘alien’ space through conversation, has then the possibility of a converting new meaning making life-narrative changing experience with the young person in that moment of conversation.

Is belief found in the everyday conversation between people, between friends? Is this a space where God is encountered, where God surprisingly turns up and glimpses of him are to be found?  Is it in the conversational moments that God is more real, as akin to the ongoing dialogue that we are intended to have.

I guess as youthworkers we have some of the ‘adrenaline’ moments akin to the ‘hearts burned’ experience of these two disciples on the road, where we feel in the zone in a conversation; if the subject is personal or edgy, or we feel like something is changing in terms of our or their understanding, where we might have to go to a new place, a risky place with the young person in the conversation. Can Conversation be conversion? Do we have any ‘control’ about the moments when God might turn up? and would we recognise him if he did? If conversation is conversion, if life is reappointed due to new meaning new life and a new mirrored reality, a lifting up of the alien to new heights, a changed human having seen the face of another.

It was only afterwards that the disciples who were on the road could reflect on the ‘hearts burning’ moment of the conversation they had, the truth at that time was hidden from them, though afterwards all was clearer. At the time they didn’t know that the truth, that a new paradigm was within touching distance.

Can we believe in conversation as a moment where the magic touch paper of belief happens?



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