I don’t have time for a long post today (maybe you feel relieved about that) but as a follow up on last week’s post, I thought I’d give you some great quotes from Transforming Conversion by Gordon Smith. I didn’t have too much familiarity with the “revivalist” era of America history before this book, but it was fascinating to see where our evangelical culture came from. While Smith does point out that our revivalist heritage has some great benefits, he spends most of the first chapter critiquing how it distorted our understanding of salvation and conversion.
One of the noteworthy features of the language of revivalism is that the words conversion and salvation are used synonymously. This means, for example, that those within the movement are inclined to use the language of salvation almost entirely in the past tense (one is “saved”), and this reference to being saved is directly linked to some action that the person in question has taken . . . Conversion is certainly a human activity, but God alone saves.
Thinking salvation was just a one-time event of conversion allowed room for other issues like thinking that all that mattered was getting saved so you could go to Heaven.
As a result, conversion is oriented toward the afterlife, toward one’s postdeath experience rather than toward transformation for life and work now, in the present world, in anticipation of what is coming . . .
What is alarming is the failure to appreciate how conversion is as much about this life as the next. It is as much about becoming who we are called to be now, women and men who through an experience of God’s saving grace are enabled to be now, in this life, thoroughly and redemptively engaged with our world.
I love this. I wrote a big “AMEN!” in the margins (duh! He’s talking about us being called!). Sometimes it feels like evangelism efforts are targeted solely at counting conversion prayers and getting people into Heaven, when there’s really so much more to it than that. Smith writes that there is:
Dynamic tension between arrival and beginning. Through conversion we come home, we find ourselves and we find God, and we know the salvation of God (we are saved), but this “arrival” is a point of departure for the rest of the Christian life. Conversion is both arrival and departure simultaneously, and our new language of conversion must not only assure us that we are the children of God but also remind us that the journey has just begun, as we work out our salvation with fear and trembling, looking forward to the day of our salvation.
Just the first chapter really made me think a lot about how we talk about the whole conversion process and experience. Do you have any reactions to these quotes? Thoughts on the conversion experience?