How were you converted? Readers of this blog will know of my interest in conversion and mapping conversion stories. In a recent conversation I was confronted once again with this reality: local churches tend to “institutionalize” conversion to fit one kind of story. But research, which I sketched in Turning to Jesus, clearly reveals three patterns of conversion:
First, some are converted over time through the ongoing response to the liturgical model of liturgical churches. No one group of churches has figured out how to promise that each child nurtured in that faith will always mature into adult Christian living, but clearly there are some who grow up Catholic or Orthodox or Anglican or high-church Lutheran who become mature Christians.
Second, some are converted over time in mainline denominations through what I call socialization. I use this term for mainline churches who are non-sacramental, or almost non-sacramental, for whom the catechism is combined with Christian homes in such a way that that a young adult realizes that she or he somehow has come to faith over time.
Third, some are converted more dramatically or at least through a singular, conscious decision to accept Jesus Christ and accept his forgiveness of sins. Thjs is the evangelical model and no one can doubt this model, made most popular through the Billy Graham Crusades, has an enduring impact on conversion and how we understand conversion.
Now here’s my point: not everyone in these three traditions has the same experience. Not all Catholics are liturgized successfully into the faith and they may need some personal decision emphasis; not all mainline folks make it and some of them might need some liturgy to make it stick or a decision; and not all evangelical youth are compelled by decision model and some need liturgy or some are quite frankly so successfully socialized into the faith that they can’t remember ever having made a decision.
Have you struggled in your location because your story doesn’t “fit”? Will we ever learn that religious experience can’t be institutionalized?