One of the best theological conversations I've had was during my second year of seminary. Every year, the seven seminaries in St. Louis come together for an annual Day of Theological Conversation. Eden is the resident 'liberal' seminary, along with two Catholic seminaries, a Missouri Synod Lutheran seminary, a Presbyterian Church of America seminary, and a budding Pentecostal seminary. The theme that year was war, and we first listened to professors from the schools make presentations on the topic before we all split into smaller groups in classrooms to discuss the topic.
After the official day had ended, a group from Eden invited some of the guys (and they were all guys) from the Lutheran school to a local pub to hang out. THIS is where the real conversation started. A couple of us talked about the meaning of the garden story in Genesis, humanity's sinfulness, and issues of Christology. All this was in between pool games and sips of beer. If there was any hostility or animosity among us, no one paid attention. If there was any disrespect shown, it was hard to notice. There was passion among us, but no anger; no resentment.
This night brought to mind the days of the Greeks, when people came together for a meal and then after a transition time (usually involving some imbibing), moved into symposium, when ideas were traded and discussed. It was meant to be a relaxing time among colleagues and friends rather than a hardline debate. I considered that night more productive than the more organized, more polished events earlier in the day and much less tense than any of us were expecting it to be.
Of course, I wouldn't chalk the success of this after-hours time up to booze. It was the atmosphere in general. There was no agenda, we were in a public place, we didn't have expectations. We just shared with one another. And we listened, too.
You can only do so much to set something up like that. The rest had to come from the participants. I think we did pretty well.