Conversion vs. Transformation

As part of my research for an upcoming project, I’ve been watching a speech by Holy Land Trust Executive Director Sami Awad. Towards the end of his talk, he quotes American Pastor Bob Roberts, who says, “We don’t serve to convert others, we serve because we are converted.”

This got me thinking about the difference between salvation as conversion and salvation as transformation. You could say it’s the difference between being willful and being willing. If I’m focused on conversion, my primary objective is to convince others that my beliefs are correct. This naturally pits my will against theirs, my arguments against theirs, my evidence against theirs, and so on. In the end, it forces me to adopt a hostile religious identity, because if I’m to win this battle of ideas, someone else has to lose.

However, if I’m focused on transformation, my primary objective is not to convince others that I’m correct but rather to allow my beliefs to transform me into a different kind of person. I may invite others into this change process, and some people will be pulled in as a matter of course. But their involvement will never be motivated by my desire to replicate my beliefs in another person. It will simply be a natural outflow of my own metamorphosis.

This brings me back to the two definitions of truth I outlined in yesterday’s post: truth as “an indisputable set of propositions” vs. truth as “that which sets us free.”

It seems to me that if you adopt the first definition, you will define salvation as conversion. If you do serve others, it will be a means to an end–persuasion–rather than an end in itself. If you adopt the second definition of truth, you will likely define salvation as transformation. You don’t serve others merely as a way to share the Gospel. Serving others is the Gospel.

All that to say, I think Pastor Roberts is onto something…

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