Jesus Creed

Jesus Creed


After all, what is conversion?

posted by xscot mcknight

Trying to define conversion in a meaningful way is not easy, so I will go to two major scholars of conversion theory. In doing this, let me emphasize that the scholarly discussion of conversion avoids specific theological terms, so sometimes this can sound a bit clinical and artificial — but I want to emphasize that it isn’t. Conversion is a profound spiritual moment and/or process that, at the same time, can be analyzed on the basis of “what we can see.”

So, two theorists and then I’ll offer a rendition of my own.

Lewis Rambo, who has written the definitive study of conversion (Understanding Religious Conversion), defines it like this — and this will shock some of us:

“Conversion is what a group or person says it is. The process of conversion is a product of the interactions among the convert’s aspirations, needs, and orientations, the nature of the group into which she or he is being converted, adn the particular social matrix in which these processes are taking place.”

Rambo emphasizes the community nature of conversion — think about it. We convert to the Christian faith that comes to us and our conversion is shaped by how that the community presents the gospel.

James Fowler, whose book Stages of Faith, is both learned and frustrating for me, defines conversion most clearly in his second book, Becoming Adult, Becoming Christian, as follows:

“I mean an ongoing process through which people (or a group) gradually bring the lived story of their lives into congruence with the core story of the Christian faith.”

James Fowler gets to the heart of another important feature: conversion is the re-writing of our own autobiographies. One of my former students, Scott Wagoner (Wagsy), introduced me to the “BC and AC” days expression: Before Christ and After Christ.

For my take, which can be found in Turning to Jesus, I see conversion essentially as the transformation of our identity from a self-identity to a Christ-identity.

How about you, how would you define conversion? Try to avoid quoting a Bible verse — I’d choose Mark 1:15 or Galatians 2:20 — for what we are trying to do is put all the Bible together into a succinct intelligent formula.



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Ted Gossard

posted July 14, 2005 at 8:39 pm


I like the definitions you share. To try to do it in the way you are asking: Conversion is a change of mind and heart that means a new orientation to life influenced by factors both within and without.To try to be more theological I’ll say: Conversion involves a process in which one enters into and becomes part of the communal kingdom of God, through Christ- no longer only part of God’s old creation, but now partaker of and participant in God’s new creation.I certainly agree that story is important in “getting it” with reference to the Book. I need to see better all of my study of Scripture in terms of God’s story. Fortunately Scripture lends itself well, as- for example, I consider “warts and all” aspects of people who nevertheless experienced conversion and came to be living- blessed by God, in his story.



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Ali

posted July 14, 2005 at 9:35 pm


What about this?Conversion is the acceptance of a new sun in your solar system. :)I know, a little weird, but I like the solar system analogy because it allows for the reality of other orbits (eg. the moon around the earth as, say, children around you as a parent – community etc) all the while having God in the position of the sun as the total centre.I first put ‘acknowledgement’ instead of ‘acceptance’, because knowledge comes before acting out the change, but ‘acceptance’ seems to indicate the heart’s involvement more.Uh huh. Anyway…



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Scott

posted July 14, 2005 at 11:21 pm


Falling in love. Growing in the knowledge/realization that you are in love. When Romeo first sees Juliet across the ballroom. When Tevye and Golde sing “Do you love me?” And they realize how deeply they love one another. Both.Being bought.Being born.Being rescued.Finding what you never knew you were looking for.All of these metaphors are about the realization of relationship or perhaps the reception of relationship. All of them describe a total reorientation to that realized or received relationship.I guess more descriptions than definitions.



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WoundedHealer

posted July 15, 2005 at 3:57 am


Great discussion. Here’s my 2 cents worth definition:Conversion is the crisis and process, by which the entire person (mind, will, emotions, life, body, and personality) is (re)oriented and transformed to live as a community member in the Kingdom of God.Probably too wordy – sorry.WH



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jean

posted July 15, 2005 at 5:46 am


Friends,I have a full weekend schedule, but I will post this in hopes when I return the discussion will be ongoing.As bare bones definitions go.. I completely identify with Mr. McKnight’s.For a beginging contribution on my part, this qoute is one that is friendly to all, especially when approaching those in a any “post” context. “The Nigerian storyteller Ben Orki says that ” We live by stories. We also live in them. One way or another we are living the stories planted in us early or along the way, or we are also living the stories we planted–knowingly or unknowingly– in oursleves. We live stories that either give our lives meaning or that negate it with meaninglessness. If we change the stories we live by, quite possibly we change our lives. It is in the place where our own stories (self identity) converge in (a) different story (Christ identity), a different narrative, where we are then able to begin to rewrite and thus live by new story lines.I paranthesize the word (a) because It is my conviction that coming to grips with ones faulty self identity is the catalyst for change or transformation of any sort. In my next post I would love to explore the following quote from Mr. Mcknight’s book The Jesus Creed. How our self awareness can be profoundly catalytic, especially as it pertains to aspects of conversion.”To akcnowledge ones own misery in the site of God is not to abase oneself,But to live the truth of ones own condition… the truth thus lived is the only thing in the human condition that makes us free.” Pope John Paul II.Have a great day all,Jean



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Susan

posted July 15, 2005 at 6:04 am


Here’s a try:The inaugural event in the the life of a Christian in which the affections, mind, and will are transformed, empowered, and enabled to orient the self Godwardly and begin the process of transformation and full restoration to God and His purposes for human life.



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Jeremy

posted July 15, 2005 at 6:15 am


An intitial go at it…Conversion is a time-space moment of choosing the Jesus-Life and process of patterning your life and lifestyle after Him.jeremy



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Scot McKnight

posted July 15, 2005 at 6:44 am


Friends,Lots of very good ideas and images here and I thank each one of you, but I must say the “new sun in our solar system” is capturing. Quite an image; Copernican one might say!



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Pilgrim

posted July 15, 2005 at 7:31 am


Scot,I must say that your definition needs no improvement. The other two you cited were too academic and sociological to be useful. The purpose of a definition is to clarify a concept not bury it. Conversion is more than just turning from self to others. As you suggest it has to be a specific other, Christ. Christ because is the perfect reflection of the nature of the true God. It is interesting in the Gospels when the rich young ruler asks Jesus what he must do to please God. The reply to Jesus’ question, “What does your faith say?” brought momentary relief to the man until Jesus told him there was one more condition to fulfill. Conversion is not just turning from selfishness to altruism; it is also the embracing of the truth that God is Creator, Lord, and Sustainer of my soul. That moment when we agree that God is worthy of all our potential, hope, faith, and love is conversion.Pilgrim



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jean

posted July 15, 2005 at 8:14 am


“That moment when we agree that God is worthy of all our potential, hope, faith, and love is conversion.”Pilgrim,How does one agree?Jean



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Ted Gossard

posted July 15, 2005 at 8:15 am


Conversion sometimes involves a crisis and usually a process in which one’s own story is altered by entering into and becoming in harmony with the ongoing story of the communal kingdom of God in Christ- thus a part of God’s new creation breaking into the old.



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Ted Gossard

posted July 15, 2005 at 8:16 am


How does one agree? Good question.



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Ted Gossard

posted July 15, 2005 at 8:41 am


“It is in the place where our own stories (self identity) converge in (a) different story (Christ identity), a different narrative, where we are then able to begin to rewrite and thus live by new story lines.”Story is where we live and it often seems anthing but neat and tidy. Look at Abraham and Sarah. Conversion in some sense really never ends. How many times do I feel lost and can’t seem to think all that straight about things? But that is where, I suppose, we must keep going back to God and to his story so that we can more and more be those who identify with his story.



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Pilgrim

posted July 15, 2005 at 8:49 am


An individual agrees when they acknowledge that what the Holy Spirit is revealing to them within their spirits is the truth about God, the world, and themselves. I do not believe that the individual must necessarily understand that the Holy Spirit is the author of that truth in a factual way but their spirit will bear witness of God’s truth. Children and most of us adults cannot properly frame a vocabulary that explains the mystery of God’s reclamation of our souls. We don’t expend great effort in developing a language that describes our metaphysical selves because the unseen world is more felt than sensibly experienced. Such limitations leave us with fuzzy attempts at explaining the divine. I do add that conversion also includes a volitional turning toward God’s way. I do not wish to provoke a doctrinal tribunal so let me add I do not know whether this volitional turning is a process or has a definable moment that can be identified in space and time. It is not only important that we agree with God about the truth but we behave as though God’s truth has personal and real implications to our true selves. I fear I may be getting Jamesian so let me finish. I refer you to the fuzzy language comment.Pilgrim



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PJ

posted July 15, 2005 at 9:04 am


I really like this discussion!Because of all the great ideas so far, I’ll add something in a different direction.Conversion is what happens in that moment when you see something you don’t want to see, so you close your eyes and turn your head. But you have to reopen your eyes, or choose to live with them closed.For the sake of the post, I’m leaning towards the idea that conversion is a moment, not a process.Thanks!



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Miriam

posted July 15, 2005 at 10:53 am


Why does it have to be a moment? Many beliefs are embraced so gradually you may not realize you hold them until you are asked to put words to them. Admitting there is absolute truth, and making pursuit of this truth a life’s focus are the hallmarks of conversion. The thing about discussing conversion is that it often devolves to figuring out how you know you (or worse- others) are “in”. Which means painting one picture, presenting one set of requirements, easy public altar call displays. Here’s my hay-penny on the previous discussion about what a church accepting many types of conversion theories would look like. Without bowing to the god of tolerance/acceptance, maybe it would involve acknowledging God’s infinitely diverse means of reaching us. That is a huge challenge for a pastor, staff, worship team- all of it has to be flexible yet discerning while striving for ways to reach different types with Truth. Why else would we all have been created with such diversity?



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jean

posted July 15, 2005 at 10:53 am


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jean

posted July 15, 2005 at 10:55 am


Pilgrim,Thank you for your response.Do you think a more colorful attempt at describing the fuzzies has it’s place in postmodernity?Jean



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Pilgrim

posted July 15, 2005 at 1:08 pm


Jean,I am the wrong person to speak for post modernity or the emerging church position. I am usually oriented toward the scientific method, logical argument, and “come let us reason together”. With that disclaimer I hope I am open-minded and open-hearted enough to recognize there is a mysterious aspect to our faith as well as to our selves. I am in favor of necessary agreement on the centrality of Christ in our faith and beyond that a warm but aware tolerance for our cultural “expressions” of the faith. I have not a clue to many of my questions about the dynamics and particularities of the Christian faith but I declare my ignorance to God and keep walking.Pilgrim



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PJ

posted July 15, 2005 at 4:03 pm


Miriam,I agree with your thought that “Many beliefs are embraced so gradually you may not realize you hold them until you are asked to put words to them.”Even further, I would say that I cannot articulate some beliefs of mine, even if asked to put words to them.I believe that I am “in process” as a Christian, but I can’t say that one day before the Lord, some one can get by with the testimony that “Lord, I’m still gradually embracing conversion.”As far as the challenge of diversity – you are right on. Our diversity is a reflection of being created in God’s image. I can accept “God’s infinitely diverse means of reaching us” while still expecting those who chose to participate in the faith community of having chosen and recieved Christ as Savior at a specific moment.Thanks!



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Miriam

posted July 15, 2005 at 9:27 pm


pj-I’ve enjoyed your thoughtful comments. I guess there is no difference, anyway, whether a person is cognizant of or retains a memory of, or even experiences at all a conversion moment or not. I agree that a person must have “chosen and recieved Christ as Savior”, I just am not so sure about the “at a specific moment” part. I also agree that the, “well, lord- I’m working on that” argument will get no one in the… um, pearly gates(?). But does that mean that no one comes to the belief gradually?I’m convincable, though. Why a discrete, specific moment?And again, since we seem to agree on the crucial aspects of belief, arguing these minor points is just for fun. I hope my previous post didn’t seem like I was taking you out- I’ve been talking about these things with some friends and just took the opportunity to dive in.



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Miriam

posted July 15, 2005 at 9:50 pm


Oooh, I thought of something while talking to my husband- sorry to comment hog. Also this might be schmaltzy, but:Couldn’t conversion be akin to falling in love? For some there is a decisive moment and for others, it’s so gradual as to be imperceptible. There may still be a realization that a belief is held, a *moment* of realization, even. But I’d say for many there is no watershed instance where it all becomes blindingly clear. Anyway, thanks again for allowing comments, even on a probably-not-so-important (or at all provable) point.



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John Frye

posted July 16, 2005 at 10:00 am


I read somewhere that you do not have a conversion until you have experienced a changed world-view. I like the analogy of conversion being like “falling in love” because the analogy is deeply relational. However, falling in love and getting married are not exactly the same. Normally, in our culture marriage is a verbalized (promised) commitment in the presence of witnesses. Are we loading into “conversion” what the early church determined for catechism and baptism? Having fallen in love with Jesus, are you now determined to marry him and be a part of his bride–the church? Being part of the church is agreeing to live by another world-view.



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PJ

posted July 16, 2005 at 11:58 am


Yo,Don’t worry Miriam – I’m flak-free. Perhaps the moment I’m thinking of as conversion is the pop of a cork, the launch of a plane, or smacking the ground when falling in love…just a moment defined within the process.Before I was married, I loved my soon-to-be wife. But there was a moment where I gave in, submitted, decided to define my life by this committment. Even though the gradual movement was there, I see that moment as the real change between my one life and the new.Great talking with you all. Obviously, I’m pretty new here.I’ll get my profile straightened out sometime…it’s probably full of youth ministry stuff…because that’s what I do.Thanks,PJ



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Matt

posted July 17, 2005 at 9:19 pm


I see conversion as the process of following Jesus in daily life. Every step we take on the path behind Jesus (wherever he’s going) in some way reduces our other options to follow other leaders; nevertheless it is a constant process of choosing to follow throughout life from our first encounter with Jesus Christ through to the consummation of the world.



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