Conversation or Conversion?

  (21 August 09)
  by Greg Spearritt

Anglican Bishop Tom Frame is Director of St Mark's National Theological Centre and head of the School of Theology at Charles Sturt University. He has a new book out, reportedly lamenting the weakness of the Churches and their message in Australia.


In Losing My Religion: Unbelief In Australia he says:


The Christianity that most Australians have encountered is weak and insipid and in more than a few instances uninspiring and unintelligible, and the majority have no idea of what the Christian religion is offering.


It seems that among the factors contributing to a decline in faith in Australia is an inability among Christians to stand up and express clearly and resolutely what they believe.


But Frame makes clear in an interview on Radio National Breakfast that he’s not promoting bible-bashing. He argues that Christianity should engage with non- (or tepidly-) religious Australians, but that the encounter should be in the form of conversation, not point-scoring debate.


It sounds good at first blush. However, ‘conversation’ here has a very clear sub-text: to whit, conversion. Frame himself has a firm view of his own faith, based as it is on what he considers “strong and compelling” evidence for the resurrection of Jesus. My question is whether there can really be genuine conversation if one party has a position fixed in the cement of fervent religious belief (or unbelief, for that matter) and, to boot, a hope that the other party will come round to their way of thinking.


It’s a bit like the situation in anthropology:


In their studies of the cultures of other people, even those anthropologists who sincerely love the people they study almost never think they are learning something about the way the world really is.


(Riesman, quoted in Bernard McGrane, Beyond Anthropology [Columbia Uni Press, 1989] 128)


In ‘conversation’ of the kind Frame envisages, can the Christians – the ones firm in their faith, the ones Frame believes need to engage with non-believers – engage so that they are genuinely open to the possibility that their faith may not after all be justified? If their position is not in the teensiest bit provisional, how can the conversation be genuine?  




I heard Tom Framed interviewed and read his piece in the ALR in a recent supplement to The Australian. Sounded all traditional in his theology e.g. about the resurrection.

But I couldn't help but recall that many of his colleagues have different (progressive)views and others talk about those traditional aspects of theology as if they don't really believe them. One wonders what bheing an Anglican really means.

I got the impression that he thought the progressives were diluting the religion and letting the side down.

What hope is there for a modern Christianity?

Posted by Scott McKenzie

On Wednesday 19th August 2009, I wrote this Comment in the 'Have Your Say' section of the ABC 'Religion & Ethics' Guestbook:

"In his interview with Fran Kelly on ABC Radio National's 'Breakfast', Wednesday 19th August 2009, concerning his book 'Losing My Religion: Unbelief in Australia', Professor Tom Frame, Director of St Mark's Theological Centre, bemoaned the lack of a space for respectful dialogue to take place between believers and non-believers; between the religious and the atheists.
There is such a space. It is the Sea of Faith Network, an Australia-wide organisation. Its website is: "

Posted by David Miller

Another place for dialogue is the Unitarian people who are forever talking,questioning and arguing and enjoying the cross-fertilisation of ideas.We dont want to convert anyone bevause there is no place the Unitarians are at!!

Posted by robert halsey

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