One of our regular commenters, Bob Smallman, was a classmate of mine when we were seminary students and this blog reunited us. Bob has a brother who pastored for 40 years and is now teaching students about evangelism. Stephen Smallman has a book I like. It is called Spiritual Birthline. Maybe I can put it like this: Kevin Vanhoozer gave us the image of “drama” for understanding doctrine and Stephen Smallman gives us the analogy of a birthline and lifeline to describe how new birth occurs.
Big question for me: If conversion, or new birth, is a process, what does evangelism look like in a process form of conversion? What advantages are there to this theory of conversion? What do you think are the disadvantages? What do you think of seeing evangelists as “midwives”?
Because our own book on conversion (Turning to Jesus) deals with how conversion is experienced — and is not just a theological study — Smallman’s book grabbed my attention. Let me set out a few ideas of this book for pastors and theologians (and evangelists) and get your feedback:
1. New Birth is a process — not just a big, sudden, date-able event.
2. New Birth can be analogized: top line human lifeline; bottom line spiritual birthline.
Conception …… Pregnancy ……. Delivery ……………… Growth
Life Begins ….. Effectual calling … Conversion …………. Sanctification
Conversion involves “faith and repentance.”
3. One of the central themes of this book, and one that is not emphasized enough and therefore brings this book to the top, is that “regeneration” is the “work of God”. So, Smallman emphasizes that evangelism is entering into what God is doing and not our work. Many tell stories of their conversion in which they draw attention, some time later, to how God had been at work in them prior to conversion — Smallman’s book gives good attention to this.
4. Therefore, the “evangelist” or (in my terms) the “advocate,” for the gospel becomes for Smallman the “midwife.” I find this emphasis really, really wise and helpful.
5. The midwife’s skill is knowing and asking questions and listening so that wisdom and insight and discernment can occur and so that the right word can be offered.
6. The book has an exceptional chapter on kids who grow up in Christian homes — “growing up born again” as that one book had it (GUBA). Smallman’s chp is wise, insightful, and pastorally sensitive for all of us. A highlight of it is that his four children tell their own stories.
7. The book is filled with rich and textured stories and rooted in good biblical study.
And did I mention yet that Smallman is Reformed and I haven’t even given him a hard time for it!