Turning to Jesus: The Sociology of Conversion in the Gospels

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Turning to Jesus: The Sociology of Conversion in the Gospels. By Scot McKnight. Louisville: Westminster John Knox, 2002, 214 pp., $19.95.

Scot McKnight is on the cutting edge of the growing number of scholars in evangelical circles who are doing historical Jesus work. His previous work in the area (A New Vision for Israel: The Teachings of Jesus in National Context [Grand Rapids: Eerdmans, 1999]) has been worthy of much study and has raised many new ideas to prominence in the historical Jesus debate. His current work is of an entirely different character. McKnight asks the question "What do we mean when we say that a person is converted?" He attempts to answer this question from both a biblical and sociological standpoint.

Lest some evangelicals worry about viewing conversion as a purely sociological phenomenon, McKnight cautions that he does not "think religion and conversion are simply social factors" (p. 175). He does, however, see value in viewing conversion through the sociological categories of conversion that come from such scholars as Lewis Rambo. These categories are not ends in themselves, but they are carefully sifted through the grid of conversion as it is presented in the NT.

McKnight has written this book, he says, because many of the "orientations to conversion in the evangelical, the Roman Catholic, and the mainline Protestant churches force each person to `tell the same story"' (p. ix). He means by this that the conversion experience that is accepted as the norm by a particular group is often foisted upon members of that group in spite of the fact that their particular experience may have been different. In the introduction, McKnight offers three major orientations to conversion: socialization, liturgical acts, and personal decisions. He argues that all three of these orientations are valid and potentially offer a genuine conversion experience. The problem, as McKnight sees it, is that one of these orientations (and which one depends upon what kind of church one attends) is taken and made normative at the expense of other kinds of conversion experiences. The problem which often occurs, argues McKnight, is that a convert with a different kind of experience is looked upon as quirky at best, if not lacking in a genuine conversion. McKnight sees his book as a "plea for understanding and appreciation" of different kinds of conversion experiences (p. 2). He is simply asking that Christians realize that the conversion story of another may not be exactly like their story, but that those stories that are different are no less valuable.

There are a number of very valuable points in this book. …