Jesus Creed

Jesus Creed


Crises prompting Conversion

posted by xscot mcknight

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.



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John Frye

posted July 16, 2005 at 4:06 pm


Scot, I am glad you wrote this: “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.” If crisis is contributing factor to conversion, are we not “being converted” all along the Christian journey, e.g., as Peter seemed to be in the Gospels and Acts?



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Virgil Vaduva

posted July 16, 2005 at 5:32 pm


Scot, this strikes at the heart of the traditional view that “the perfect” is yet future and “heaven” somehow equates with “nothing ever going wrong.” The truth seems to me to be that conversion, as you said, is often rooted in a negative event or series of events taking place. Only our awesome God can take something perceived as negative and turn it around in such a wonderful way.One thing that I often thing of is the claim that in heaven, the perfect place, there would be no tears (of course this is a literal claim), or no sorrow, or no sadness,or no anger – when in fact we see God being contrasted across the Scriptures, showing hapiness, anger and sorrow. If then God, the perfect being does go through these emotions, then how can we perceive the steps to conversion as anything other than “a perfect series of events” leading one to the Creator?



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Scot McKnight

posted July 16, 2005 at 7:40 pm


Yes, John, I’d agree that we do go through crises to one degree or another all through life.Virgil, the notion that God, who is perfect, expresses emotions in the Bible is a good indicator of his eternal being rather than just some sort of accomodationist language. Thanks for this thought.



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Miriam

posted July 16, 2005 at 9:55 pm


Does “#7. Weak self/protean self” cover the feeling of being on the outside that many evangelists emphasize? They talk about loneliness/ longing/ lack of peace, all of which are valid and all, but they sometimes manipulate people with these human conditions. One reason a tent revival can be persuasive has to be the group mentality and need to belong. That doesn’t mean it’s impossible to have it be sincere even under peer pressure, but I think a self-centered (rather than Christ-centered)evangelist can do damage this way as well by manufacturing a crisis. When the person is removed from the false-crisis situation or community, they may question or reject the whole experience.



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Scot McKnight

posted July 17, 2005 at 4:20 am


Miriam,Protean selfhood is a self that becomes whoever is around that person. Such persons convert to whatever environment they find themselves in.You are right: evangelists do bring up genuine conditions; manipulation is the misuse of one’s power.



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jean

posted July 17, 2005 at 6:20 am


“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.”I would like to revisit the quote I mentioned in an earlier post , the one from Pope John Paul II. The one you site around the 60th page in your book the Jesus Creed.”To aknowledge one’s own misery in the site of God is not to abase oneself, but to live the truth of one’s own condition. The truth this lived is the only thing in the human condition that makes us free.”I find it interesting in church culture how we “get in the way” of others and their need to be honest in the site of God. If a person seeks guidance during times of crisis I ask the Question “who are they being honest with?” Entrenched in church culture is this need for some to see the expression of emotional release, and how mistaken we are to think that this is helping another acknowledge their misery before God. It is negligent, and the reason droves are in need of deconversion/reconversion.Just my thoughts.Oh and BTW, I am assuming that the undeniable value of guilt to which you are refering, has more to do with helping another identify their guilt as it relates to their need for a cure for their soul rather than the use of guilt as an external motivator?



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jean

posted July 17, 2005 at 6:27 am


Just a tad more,These ten crisis points. Do you explore their common denominators in your book Turning to Jesus? the what about them that aids in movement toward God?Jean



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Scot McKnight

posted July 18, 2005 at 7:06 am


Jean,the book is a descriptive analysis, with stories to illustrate, of each of these points. I don’t really get into deeper analyses of various combinations.You’ll have to check it out.



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