The mysterious and organic nature of conversion
[IWWL] We continue our series out of the book. I Once Was Lost. Today we’ll explore a little bit about how postmodern people come to faith in the risen Christ.
Let me begin by telling you a story.
Once upon a time there was society that was marked by an almost universally held moral consensus. People sometimes deviated from that consensus in private, but for the most part they kept it private. To the outside world, the moral consensus stood. Few were the voices that loudly and openly proclaimed that they did not accept the dominant morality. There were too many consequences for that to be an easy option.So when followers of Christ the King shared with others the faith they had received, they often would start with the moral consensus. They asked questions that brought to the forefront of their conversation partner’s mind all the ways in which both of them had violated the moral consensus and explained that this was displeasing to Christ the King. Their conversation partners would often realize that they had indeed failed to keep this moral law and that it made sense that God would be displeased with theirlack of obedience.
But that was a long time ago. Things have now changed. The story is going in another direction.</block quote>
In describing the conversion path of postmodern people, Schaupp and Everts use two words that are helpful: mysterious and organic.
How and why postmodern people come to faith is ultimately a mystery. That is to say, the precise reasons are beyond our intellectual grasp: “…It reminds us of the truth of Jesus’ parable in Mark 4:26-27…. As kingdom farmers in postmodern soil, we must welcome this mysterious nature of that path to faith” (19) Ultimately, according to Schaupp and Everts, it is a liberating thing to realize that people do not come to pledge allegiance to Christ on the basis of our technique or our ability to make the Gospel relevant to them. Conversion isn’t primarily a psychological phenomenon, although the mind is certainly involved.
Over the years, I have encountered different ways of sharing the kerygma with people – The Four Spiritual Laws, Share Jesus without fear, Evangelism Explosion, etc., etc. I have awkwardly knocked on doors in apartment buildings and in suburban subdivisions hoping to bear witness to Jesus. Each of these tools has something to offer in learning to express the Gospel. However, too often have I seen Christians slip into dependence on mastering a technique instead of relying upon the Holy Spirit.
To use the book’s language, conversion is “soul deep.” I like that. And because it’s soul deep it is strikingly unique to the person who is encountering Christ.
While we might want to say that contact evangelism as traditionally understood and practice in recent evangelical memory isn’t the best way to communicate the Gospel to our non-Christian friends, it is important to note that few come to faith absent the very prominent witness of a friend who is a disciple of Jesus (21).
While one-trick evangelists always seemed to annoy our [non-Christian] friends, they’ve also told us that they never would have traveled all the way to Jesus if someone hadn’t come along and helped them with the different parts of the journey they were on (21).
Abandoning witness is abandoning our calling as set apart followers of Christ commissioned by our Lord to be agents of reconciliation with God – urging those who have yet to encounter Jesus to seek him, be met by him, and follow him as Lord.
As we sat and listened to their stories we were struck immediately by the mystery but also by the similar seasons of growth that each of them went through.
Organic here is used in contrast to the traditional binary way we talk about conversion. Converted v. Un-converted. In recently evangelical memory we thought of coming to Christ as something that usually happens in a single encounter or conversation. By using the word organic the writers are once more drawing our minds to the parable of the seed and sower in Mark 4.
Conversion is a continuum during which the person is justified before God on the basis of the sacrifice of Christ. It is often a mystery to the convert (and certainly to the witness) precisely the moment in which that change of legal status before God takes place.
Three lessons from the mysterious and organic nature of conversion (pp.22ff.):
- Conversion is uncontrollable. The seed grows both when the farmer is working and the farmer is sleeping. The farmer doesn’t really understand precisely the way in which the seed grows, he is often only able to see the big changes in its development (pushing through the earth, sprouting a leaf, flowering) but there are changes happening all the time.
- Conversion follows a pattern. It is possible to identify five thresholds that are passed in the process of conversion. “…[I]t still follows nature. It’s organic, and that means that for the seed to become a ripe plant, it will grow in a certain way” (22).
- Conversion should inspire awe and humility. Awe because it is no small thing to incline a heart to God and to lead someone to cede control of his life to another. Humility because of the innate tension between the need for a witness (us) and the almost unfathomable way in which people actually turn to Jesus (or away from Jesus).
Help us with humility and gentleness to bear witness to your beauty and justice, help us to be faithful messengers of the Good News.