Lauren Winner, in her wonderful memoir, Girl Meets God, offers a wonderful perspective on what it means to convert to Christianity. She is a former Orthodox Jew who embraced Jesus as Messiah in her young adult years. In our conversionist evangelical culture, we often desire to have a single moment in time when we turned from darkness to light. For Winner, this is a difficult category to uphold. She states: “My story doesn’t fit very well with this conversion archetype… there are too many ‘ruptures’ in the ‘narrative…’ [The] ruptures are the most interesting part of any text, that in the ruptures we learn something new” (8).
This process of conversion is clear in how her Jewish friend Dov was concerned about her collegiate interest in Christianity and her choosing to not take courses on Judaism. She reflects: “Now I think he could see something I could not see. He could see Jesus slowly goading me toward Him” (55). A few pages later she adds that God “was laying traps, leaving clues, clues I could have seen had I been perceptive enough” (57). Her friend Dov saw them well before she did.
One of the events that turned clues into cues was when Lauren attended a Q & A night at a liberal church. The pastor talked about Jesus being a cultural expression of the one God that all major religions are seeking. It seems that this is a watershed moment in her conversion journey, from Judaism into Jesus. She profoundly recognized that Christians are “running from Christ” and thought that she “should stop running” (61). Eventually, she chooses to be baptized which clearly was another watershed moment, perhaps more literally.
A question that her conversion experience raises is why do we evangelicals minimize the depths of someone’s story to a mere moment in time? Certainly, there are those for whom the ‘moment’ is what matters, but such can become reductionistic in the case of someone like Lauren Winner.
Perhaps it is also problematic that we evangelicals have separated baptism from conversion. This not a statement for baptismal regeneration, but to notice how the separation between these events can also create conversion confusion.
Finally, in a multicultural society, we do well to understand that conversion-as-journey is going to become more regular. Leaving behind the ways of your parents is no small task: “One of the things that happens is, you fell family-less… you lose all sorts of things… your family, all the people who made you their own and who you made yours” (178).
How have you seen the conversion-as-journey motif played out in your own story or the story of someone close to you?
What contributes to our evangelical impulse to desire a sensationalized story of a clear moment of conversion?