In this series of reflections based on Turning to Jesus, I want to look today at the various kinds of conversion and then at the context out of which the convert comes.
The process of conversion — whether suddenly or gradually — involves the movement from one context (whoever we are and wherever we are) and entrace into another context (“in” Christ, the Church).
The context of one’s conversion involves sorting out first the kind of conversion we are dealing with. These are the sorts of kinds of conversion, and the kind of conversion one is growing through influences the nature of the conversion experience itself.
Some convert as a form of intensification of the faith that lay dormant in them. If you grow up, say Lutheran, but that sort of faith just lingers in you, but one day wake up to it and say “I need to be more serious about it,” then we call this an intensification kind of conversion. The followers of Jesus “intensified” their Judaism in turning to Jesus because they would have seen it as a “messianic” Judaism.
Some conversions are what we call affiliation conversions. This is perhaps seen in the person who grows up, say Presbyterian, but really does care about it but one day awakens to the need for a Christian faith. This person then officially “affiliates” with that faith.
A third kind of conversion is institutional transition. Here one person converts from one kind of Christian faith to another: Methodist to Presbyterian. The intensity of emotions increases in this when the family is embedded in one and the convert shifts to the other. I have done a study (3d volume of that year), which I will discuss in a later post, on the nature of Evangelical conversion to Roman Catholicism. The intensity of such a move is noteworthy.
A fourth kind of conversion, usually by far the most wrenching for family and convert, is called tradition transition. That is, a person converts from a non-Christian religion to the Christian faith.
Each of these shapes the way conversion happens to the person.
Now for some other features we need to consider when we examine conversions.
There is the cultural context. Persons who are postmodernists who convert to a more modernist context of the Christian faith experience more tension than those who convert to a postmodernist form of the Christian faith. I could go on and on, but one’s culture — economic status, education, beliefs, social milieu, the condition of the “self,” as well as where one is in a particular social “cycle” each influences conversion.
All of this, I know, sounds too complex — it isn’t because it is involved in every conversion. We may not know about it, and we may not think about it, but these things are involved anyway. Tracts are usually culturally-embedded texts that come from and speak to a given culture.
There is also the Christian context of a person. If a person is reared in a Christian home, that shapes conversion; some, in fact, grow into the faith the way you and I grew into adulthood — well, that’s a bad analogy because some of us entered into that stage of life kicking and screaming.
So, these sorts of contexts shape our conversion.
Here’s a classic: the difference between a child reared in a loving, nurturing Christian home who continuously intensifies that faith from day one to adulthood will tell a “different story” of conversion than the one who was reared in a home with no faith or anti-faith and whose conversion causes no end of strife in the home.
It is good for us to consider our contexts and how that context shaped our conversion. It is also good for us to be more sensitive to contexts when we are advocating conversion because until we understand a bit of that person’s world we’ll have a hard time making sense to them. It is also good to let the various “kinds” of conversion come into play in the story as also the various cultural moves that people make.