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.
“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.