The Moment of My Christian Conversion–And How Mistaken It Left Me

tower-of-babel1I became a Christian when I was thirty-eight years old. Up until the moment of my sudden conversion I had no interest whatsoever in Christianity, and never had. I thought its doctrine moronic, its adherents willfully delusional, its role in history contemptible. I’d as soon have become a traveling circus geek as a Christian.

Then God thought I should change my mind about that. So he slammed me to my knees, and spoke in my ear. And in a single moment the truth was fully imprinted upon me that the historical story of Christ is true—that God, out of his love for people, decided to take human form, come to earth, say and do the things that Christ said and did, and then, having made his Big Point (which, for the record, is Everything is Okay), return from whence he came.

The feeling of learning that the story of God-as-Christ is true had much in common with the feeling of learning that, say, Jimmy Carter was the first American president born in a hospital, or that Mt. Everest is 29,029 feet. These are remarkable things, yes. But what they are mostly are facts. And facts exist independently of my or anyone else’s knowledge of them. Being composed primarily of gas means that, technically speaking, Jupiter has no surface. That fact was true before I knew it, and would remain true if I never learned it.

Upon the moment of my conversion I immediately quit crying (for I had been, as can happen when your life and conscious structure suddenly unravels.). I got up off my knees; I straightened my tie; I went back to work. (Of all places, my conversion happened in a supply closet at the law office where I worked as a photocopy/mail/fax guy. Thirteen years later, a stationery store still seems like a church to me.) Because what was there to really cry over, or feel dramatic about?

Jimmy Carter was the first president born in a  hospital.

Everest is 29,029 feet high.

Jupiter has no surface.

God came to earth as Christ.

If I didn’t return to my work area soon, I’d be in trouble with my supervisor.

The more things change, and all that.

At the time of my conversion I was ignorant about something that I still have trouble getting into my head. And that is the fact that saying a person is a Christian tells you no more about that person than does saying they’re an American, or that they have brown hair. It tells you nothing about how that person lives or acts. It barely tells you what they believe. In my thirteen years now of knowing and working with Christians, I doubt I’ve ever met three with identical beliefs. Conservatives, liberals, evangelicals, Catholics, Calvinists, Methodists, Orthodox, Baptists, Presbyterians … there are some four thousand Christian denominations.

Who goes to hell and why. Whether hell is real or metaphorical. When people should be baptized. The role of women in church and marriage. Homosexuality. Predestination. Sacraments. Abortion. The perpetual virginity of Mary.  Trinitarians versus non-trinitarians. Creationism. Universalism. Biblical inerrancy.

If you know anything about Christianity, you know I could fill page after page with issues such as these, over which vast numbers of Christians always have and always will fervently disagree.

What happened to me in that supply closet at my job seemed like the simplest, most easily understood thing in the world. That’s one of the things about it that most affected me.

How naive I was then! And when it comes to God and Christ how naive I resolutely remain—which, again, is a subject for another day. For now, I want to talk about why it might be that God, whom I assume is fully capable of communicating to humans precisely what he wants and means, chose to reveal of himself just enough to deeply inspire people, but not so much that they would actually agree upon the beliefs inspired by that inspiration. So that’s what I’ll get into next time (since this post has grown so long). Your own thoughts and ideas on this matter welcomed, as always.

(The follow-up to this post is We Get the God We Can Handle.)

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About John Shore

John Shore (who, fwiw, is straight) is the author of UNFAIR: Christians and the LGBT Question, and three other great books. He is co-founder of The NALT Christians Project and founder of Unfundamentalist Christians (on Facebook here). His blog is here. His website is JohnShore.com. John is a pastor ordained by The Progressive Christian Alliance. You're invited to like John's Facebook page. And don't forget to sign up for his mucho awesome monthly newsletter.

  • http://larrywho.wordpress.com Larry Who

    I became a Christian at age 39 on a bathroom floor. Not very religious, right?

    It’s not that God doesn’t want to reveal Himself to us in the deepest ways possible because He does. I believe that we are like raw onions with layers and layers of flesh, attitudes, incorrect beliefs and assumptions which have to be peeled away over a long period of time. So, like the Bible says, we go from faith to faith which really means that we go from revelation to revelation of who God is.

  • http://ramblingsofaspiritualidiot.blogspot.com/ Julia

    HI John.

    You said: “For now, I want to talk about why it might be that God, whom I assume is fully capable of communicating to humans precisely what he wants and means, chose to reveal of himself just enough to deeply inspire people, but not so much that they would actually agree upon the beliefs inspired by that inspiration.”

    God gives each of us a song.

    I believe the Creator gave truths to all Peoples. But not ALL the truth to one People lest they covet it and thus corrupt it. The simple wisdom behind this it that it means we all must share our songs with one another. This keeps us humble and real for it requires us to put down barriers and truly listen.

    A very difficult thing to do it seems.

    History is fraugth with incidences where some who felt theirs the ONLY truth and set out to establish that by erradicating all they believed to be untruths, including the Peoples if necessary. How many songs have been lost in this blind desire to have the one and only true song? To have the one and only truth? How many truths, how many wisdoms and knowledge has been wiped out in the name of ONE truth? In the name of God?

    Ironic, isnt it? God gives each a truth and instead of sharing it we beat others with. God was wise in only given a bit of Truth to each of us. If we want to learn we have to share. How long will it be before all songs are heard and not silenced?

    We each have a song to sing. We each have a precious and unique voice in God’s Grand Chorus.

    Be willing to sing your song. Be willing to share your song.

    Yet also be willing to LISTEN to the songs of others and the truths God has also given to them.

    Let those with ears to hear….

    That is how I see it. Thank you for allowing me to share a bit of my song with you these last months. Thank you for sharing yours with me. Mituakuye Oyasin,

    ~julia

  • http://mymenandme.wordpress.com Janelle

    I don't know. I've wrestled with this a lot. Jesus came to bring the Kingdom of God to earth. That was his mission. Not to begin a new religion but to bring a sense of community, of purposeful belonging, to humankind. Purposeful, in that he was all about justice and mercy. Heaven on earth. A beautiful, wonderful ideal. (He was, of course, also fulfilling prophecy, providing a way back to God, etc. But his mission, as he stated several times, was to usher in the Kingdom.)

    The problem, or one of them, is that anything we get our hands on, we institutionalize. And then, sadly, the maintenance of the institution usurps the members' original purposes.

    So my question is, is it possible for a believer to live a faith-driven, God-motivated, purposeful life without institutionalism (or denominationalism, or whatever) taking the place of what Jesus intended the Kingdom to be?

  • onemansbeliefs

    I think Paul says it best when he writes to believers, "But I fear, lest by any means, as the serpent beguiled Eve through his subtilty, so your minds should be corrupted from the simplicity that is in Christ." (2 Cor 11:3)

    My conversion was next to the bed that my wife read her Bible in every night for the 3 years we had been married. There were no fireworks or warm fuzzy feelings. Just one life changing decision that has been working in my life for over 13 years.

  • missrose

    Janelle,

    Just to throw my 2 cents in, regarding your question….YES YES YES! At least- that is the conclusion I reached, after wondering the same thing. I am waiting for someone to show me where in the Bible Jesus said to "organize and form a religion"…. Not to negate the awesome things some Christian organizations have done. Pretty fond of World Vision.

    Hi John,

    My mom introduced me to your blog. Obviously the coolest mom ever. I am with you brutha! Cheers to keeping it simple, and staying naive.

  • http://holidaylonging.wordpress.com Holiday Longing

    Yeah.

    The longer I am a Christian, the more I realize the only thing that really matters, the only thing that truly ties us together is that Jesus Christ, the God-Man died on the Cross for me.

    Didn't someone famous say that?

  • Meg

    Jannielle, yes I go to a non-denominational Christian Church where the kingdom is taught. The Church I go to is called Faith Temple http://www.faithtempleministry.com …. You can download podcasts of the sermons from the website if you'd like, they are sorted under "media" : )

  • Meg

    Janelle * sorry I'm awful with spelling names lol.