Conversion, what is it?

Conversion, what is it? August 17, 2011

What is conversion? John Stott, in his classic book, Christian Mission in the Modern World (IVP Classics) , examines the word “conversion” in his final chapter. He has so far examined mission, evangelism, dialogue, and salvation. So today, we look at the meaning of “conversion”.

Stott, a true-blue Anglican, begins by poking at snobs who think conversion is for the lower classes who can be ministered to by the Salvation Army or it can be assigned to those who are prone toward “enthusiasm.” One person calls conversion a “spasm of the ganglions.” Yet others are put off by conversion because for them it means imperialism. And then he finds a third group: the universalists and syncretists. In short, if you think no religion is final or that all are saved, there is no need for anyone to be converted.

For Stott it comes down to two features: those are saved are “in Christ” and those who are “in Christ” are reconciled to God. Therefore, conversion is about getting “in Christ.” Those who aren’t are perishing.

First, conversion and regeneration: regeneration is God’s act; conversion is what humans do. Regeneration is unconscious; conversion is conscious. Regeneration is a complete act of God and instantaneous while conversion is a process.

Second, he examines the implications of conversion:

1. Conversion and repentance. Repentance must be a part of evangelism as the call to the Lordship of Christ.

2. Conversion and church. God’s mission in this world has always been through a people: Israel, the church.

3. Conversion and society. The truly converted become socially active out of neighbor-love.

4. Conversion and culture. The truly converted enculturate the gospel in their culture.

5. Conversion and the Holy Spirit. Too much talk of mission, evangelism, dialogue, and salvation — even conversion — are man-shaped. This is all about the work of the Holy Spirit. Note how often the Spirit emerges in the pages of Acts. But this does not mean lack of preparation, or anti-intellectualism, or irrelevance, or the suppression of our personality.


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