Monday, January 30, 2006
Conversion as a Process
Yesterday's Chicago Tribune included an interesting article: "Has the race to faith passed you by?" With the subtitle, "Forget speedy 'born again' lightning. There are small steps that move you toward inner peace," I didn't know what to expect. Nevertheless, I actually found it somewhat informative. The story reports:

...Richardson typifies an emerging trend called "spiritual formation," a fancy way of saying that people grow in their faith through stages. That lines up with a new study by the University of Chicago, which says that more than 50 percent of Americans have undergone a spiritual transformation or been born again. But most people, it adds, found their faith unfolding in small steps. That surprised lead researcher Tom Smith, who has been studying U.S. behavior for decades.

Of course, I find problems with this study as well as with some of the resulting analysis. At the same time, I do believe that this article is reporting about something many Baptists are uncomfortable with--conversion as a process. Because of our historical background in revivalism, we stress the importance of knowing the time of our commitment to Christ. When did we walk the aisle? When did we say the sinner's prayer? When did we allow Jesus to come into our hearts?

However, this is not a full biblical picture of conversion. We as Baptists would do well to reassess our emphasis on "decisions for Christ." Another blogger, Joe Thorn, posted an excellent series on this topic: "Reforming Evangelism." Here are his posts:
posted at 4:00 PM  
Comments (6)

At 4:30 PM, Blogger StuartS. said...

There is a real danger here of speaking of conversion as a process. We should rightly understand salvation as a process, but conversion as the new birth is an event, an istantaneous event involving faith/repentance.

At 5:28 PM, Blogger R. Mansfield said...

I've always had my doubts about some of the quick and emotional decisions I've seen some individuals make, only afterwards to never show any real signs of conversion.

Add to that I've always wondered how many believers actually got "saved" not through an altar call, but during the follow-up, perhaps even through the actual discipleship process.

And when you think how many of our churches emphasize evangelism to the neglect of discipleship, we are setting people up for dangerous spiritual realities.

At 7:16 PM, Blogger said...

Technically, "conversion" and the new birth are not synonymous. The new birth is regeneration (being made new by the power of God and instantaneous), and conversion is our subsequent response (also a grace) of faith/repentance. Connected, but not the same thing.

Thanks for the links John.

At 9:32 AM, Blogger StuartS. said...

Thanks Joe for clearing up my statement. Conversion, as is the new birth, is an instantaneous event. Certainly when this has actually taken place, a transformed life will emerge, or better, a transforming life will emerge. A life of growth -- and FRUIT.

It is interesting to me that the New Testament NEVER points to a persons decision or statement of faith for assurance, always to a continued life of devotion and service to our Lord and King!

At 9:41 AM, Blogger StuartS. said...

Oh yeah, one more thing. It is precisly the distinction between regeneration and conversion that Joe points out that is so dangerous when we talk of conversion as a process. Some of the puritans viewed it this way and the result is that you can have someone who is regenerate but not yet converted, in other words, their hearts have been changed, stone to flesh, but they have not responded in faith and repentance. The immediate effect of regeneration is the expression of faith and repentance in the Lord.

At 12:01 PM, Blogger said...

Stuart, while some in the reformed tradition/some Puritans saw a possibility of a delayed conversion after regeneration, the vast majority argued that in the big picture the process looks the same; hearing the law/Gospel, conviction, regeneration, conversion, but that not all conversion experiences are absolutely identicle. The Puritans especially made this point.

For most of the Puritans, the process of coming to Christ was longer than what began to emerge during the second great awakening and the revivalist movement following the likes of Charles Finney.

It is also importasnt to note that many saw "conversion" (not really a biblical term) as something bigger than the immediate response of faith/repentance. It often included the good work begun by God and completed at the resurrection. So for some, like Calvin, conversion was a life-long process.

As you have made clear, defining our terms is immensely important.


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