People convert to the Christian faith as a result of some crisis, though a word needs to be said about the meaning of “crisis.” Before that, this: the standard form of “crisis” we often see is what is called the crisis of “conscience,” and it is usually manifested in a sense of guilt that derives from sensing that a person has broken God’s law.
Well and good, but conversion is more than ridding ourselves of guilt, and redemption is more than taking care of the sin problem. I question the long-term value of using guilt as a major motivator in getting people to see their need of redemption, though I do not deny its value.
But, back to the meaning of “crisis.” There are crises and there are crises: St Paul’s crisis is different than Peter’s (whatever it was), and neither Luther’s crisis nor those found in the Great Awakening under Jonathan Edwards are to be taken as the norm for all conversions. We should not devalue these so much as put them in the list of things that prompt a person’s conversion. Some crises are small and slow and growing while others are sudden and powerful. Again, not all are the same and there is no reason to shape every gospel presentation to produce one and only one kind of crisis.
I’ll get to this point in a minute (about evangelists working to provoke crises).
Here are ten crises that conversion theorists note:
1. Mystical experiences.
2. Near-death experiences.
3. Sicknesses and health issues.
4. Dissatisfaction with life.
5. Desire for transcendence.
6. Experience of an altered state.
7. Weak self/protean self.
8. Pathological conditions.
9. Apostasy from one faith can lead to a need for another.
10. External factors — political collapse, etc..
It goes without saying it that evangelists tend to work at prompting a crisis that can promote conversion; such can at times, not always, be manipulative. The problem is that evangelistic preaching tends to work too hard at promoting only kind of crisis (feel guilty). Not all people, especially in this postmodern world, feel guilty about breaking laws. (This is no small issue friends.)
It is my firm conviction that conversions flow from crises, but crises are of all sorts. It is not the evangelist’s responsiblity to provoke crisis so much as it is to proclaim the gospel of Jesus Christ. It is wiser to love people, introduce them to the community of faith, and let the proclamation of the gospel as well as its performance be the persuasive factor.
You can’t hurry love, and you shouldn’t try to hurry conversion.