Saturday, September 20, 2008

conversion

What does a person need to do in order to become a Christian?

15 comments:

Diane Christine said...

Scott.... hmmmm...... What does a person need to "do"? Is this a questions of action solely or being as well? Meaning, is conversion an action or a way of being? I don't know.. may be to nit-picky.... but this was my first thought when I read this post. Bring on the discussion :)

Scott Savage said...

Good question. My question comes from a book I am reading that understands conversion as the human response to God's saving grace. So, in response to your question, are 'action' and 'being' ever not the same thing? And if they are different, why? A further question to the original one I posted is how should we think theologically about conversion?

Diane Christine said...

Zizloulas and others would argue for a non-reductive physicalism (understanding body and soul as one) which would say "no". If action and being are understood seperately it is the result of a dualistic understanding of our existence. Right?

Therefore, if we are going to think theologically about conversion as those who come after a modern mindset and who have been caught up in the flow of the next major shift in thinking some would label "post-modern" (I hesitate to use this due to the controversy.. but alas... it describes where we are)... we must do so viewing our existence in 'whole' sorts of ways.

Hence the following thoughts:
Conversion... a response to God's grace... a saying 'yes' to the God who has already called... a fulfilling of what it means to be human... to live in right relation to God in mind, body and spirit...a cornerstone along the 'way' of salvation

That's all I have at the moment.. thoughts... no real answers....

Scott Savage said...

I agree that we have to think about it in terms of the whole person. No doubt. The reason I raise the question about 'action' and 'being' is because I am trying to make sense of the 'choice' or 'decision' language we use when we talk about conversion. When do we choose to make sense of the world according to the Christian narrative? Do we ever choose, or is there a deeper unknown (unclear?) shift in which people realize, suddenly or not, that they are making sense of the world according to the biblical narrative? These are just thoughts/questions as well ...

mindy said...

First answer: get baptized (?)

Follow up comment: If we locate conversion in baptism, then we always have this really helpful reality to re-visit: "I am a Christian because Jesus underwent His 'baptism' of suffering and resurrection;" "I am a Christian when I follow His Way, dying to myself and rising to a life where 'Christ lives in me.'"

Any thoughts?

Brando said...

So many people have different stories about how they were converted. Salvation was accomplished through the death and resurrection of Christ, but I think there is a choice to be made by each person. Some like myself, feel as if I was pretty much born into it. Others experience it as more of a crisis moment in which they feel like Christ was there Lighthouse on a stormy sea (corny I know).
Its hard to imagine trying to live out a Christian life outside of the church but I do think there are those who have chosen to do so.

mindy said...

I think we've wrapped up so much in the word "Christian" that it makes us afraid to say of someone, "He's not a Christian." I guess a lot of folks believe that if, "he's not a Christian," then he's going to hell. But what if we could set hell aside for the moment, why should someone be considered a Christian who is not part of the Church? I'm not suggesting we make a value judgment on their choice, I'm just saying, what's at stake in making the simple assertion, "Christians are people who have bound themselves to the Church." I feel like that's a more traditional (though less Evangelical) view.

Diane Christine said...

Hmm... back to Scott's comment... "do we ever choose"?? So Mindy... are you saying we choose to understand the world through the Christian narrative when we decide to "join" a church which connects us to the church catholic or the Christian tradition? What do you think, Scott?

Scott Savage said...

I am still no sure what to make of 'choice' language and how that relates to free will. My own story suggests that from birth I was given no option as to which narrative I would choose to make sense of the world. My parents chose it for me, they rooted me in particular assumptions about the way things are. As a side note it was interesting for me to say this to the credentials board in Los Angeles and see there reaction as affirming of my story and yet they still wanted to say that at some point I made a decision of my own free will to be a Christian. I think such thinking still assumes that we are neutral observes who choose which paths we will take in life. It neglects to take seriously formation and narrative. So I would say that I never converted to Christianity, I never made a choice to change narratives.

Now, that does not mean that I am not continually evangelized by the gospel, but I think at this point we have to talk about Sin and and new life instead of conversion. So, I think the issue about when one becomes a Christian has to do with when one views the world according to the biblical narrative. And Mindy I think you're right about 'Christian' bearing a certain stigma that makes everyone want to claim it as their own just to avoid hell. This indicates that we really do need to think better about resurrection and heaven. I also think conversion/evangelism rooted in baptism and a strong ecclesiology really is important. What do you think?

Diane Christine said...

Scott~This is pushing my thinking and I like it. Thank you for sharing your own story and making it applicable to this conversation. I am intrigued and challenged by this idea. Dr. Spaulding seems to argue that "free-will" and the concept of "freedom" has been overplayed in our tradition in some ways... and this understanding of being welcomed into the faith seems to support his notion. Baptism... and strong ecclesiology... yes.... yes... still thinking...

Dave Belcher said...

Diane, I'd be interested to see where Zizioulas associates himself with "non-reductive physicalism"....I think that would commit him to certain positions that would make certain other of his positions unintelligible (though I don't think it would be the first time!).

On the issue of baptism, I think that it is important to point out that even when a person "chooses" to set aside their "former life," or "turns" to Jesus in the moment of baptism, this is pretty passive in the structure of the rite itself. The one being baptized was formerly required to have a "sponsor" who could speak on their behalf as to their "stature" (basically, how serious they were about the newness of their new life!), and the actual moment of "conversion" in the rite (the "being turned around") is something the priest would do (in the 4th century rites at least), from the devil to facing Jesus (typically from "east" to "west"...darkness to light -- though in some eastern rites it's the other way around!).

So, the question of "choice" from very early on seems fairly foreign to baptism. There is of course a "decision" on the baptizand's part to come to the font, but this is always described in terms of "prevenient grace," and I think in our Wesleyan tradition, we would be better off talking about baptism in "covenant" terms anyway, which to me implies from the start God's decision in Christ by the power of the Spirit to be "for us" (pro nobis).

In my own theological work, I have increasingly begun to talk about conversion as a "conversion-to"...the real import of conversio or metanoia language is lost if the "turn" is not a sharp 180 degree turn...so this turn is always to face something new, Jesus, the neighbor. In fact, I think the best way to speak about conversion based on what we get in the Scriptures is a conversion to Jesus who "turns us around" to the neighbor...or, when we are turned by God's Spirit to face Jesus, we meet him in the faces of our neighbors. I wrote a paper on this for last year's WTS actually (though it was more "apocalyptic"!).

Just some thoughts...got a lot more, but I'll shut up.

Brando said...

Dave I like what you said about baptism being linked to covenant. Absolutely. By the time we are able to stand before God and Church to make covenant with them, conversion has happened. But I also think there is a change that takes place in the water. I'll never forget Pastor Greg's story of the the young man who came out of the baptismal waters and his first words were " I'm never gonna get all this water off of me." May it be so.

Scott Savage said...

Baptism does seem to guard the church from associating with a certain individualism that comes with 'choice' language. I agree with Dave and Mindy, whatever it means to say 'I choose Christ' makes sense only within baptism where one sees how they are bound to Christ and a people in order to make sense of their life. One of the books I have been reading for class differentiates between individualism and solitude. The baptism candidate stands in solitude, but is not alone.

Still working this out.

mindy said...

Back to a few comments on "free will." It's interesting that Wesley is so often associated with "free-will" (simply because he rejected a Calvinist/Augstinian view of predestination). I think what Wesley actually had to say about free-will was something like this: We were created with free-will but sin screws us up so badly that we really don't operate out of any freedom at all from childhood on. This is where prevenient grace comes in; God is at work, God is doing the action, God is drawing us to himself. And by God's grace alone, we have a measure of response that we are able to give to the God who's drawing us to himself. This is the notion of "Respond-able" grace that Dr. McCormick talks about.

So, what's all that have to do with conversion. Basically, no matter your story (infant baptism or adult), you are pretty passive. You may give assent, you may say 'OK' to the God who's badgering you to turn to Him, but you are just swimming in grace that's coming at you from all sides (past, present, future).

As for conversion, perhaps its best used in its common sense (that moment when we turn to God), but I prefer to think of it as those moments, all along our journey on Jesus' Way, where God breaks in and delivers us from yet another Power we were enslaved to (Nationalism, Consumerism, Alcoholism, lots of other 'isms); this doesn't usually happen all at once. This makes conversion language a lot more understandable for people who were baptized as infants.

Scott Savage said...

In my reading I came across the phrase “ethical minimum” as a way of describing Christian conversion. The author says, “Christian conversion can be verified only in concrete manifestation of a distinctive quality of life.” Is this okay?

I am prone to use language like the marks of conversion. What are the marks of conversion to Christianity? Would baptism be a mark of conversion?