Conversion in the New Testament: Paul and the Twelve

Conversion in the New Testament: Paul and the Twelve

Conversion in the New Testament: Paul and the Twelve

Conversion in the New Testament: Paul and the Twelve

Excerpt

What Do We Need to Know
about Conversion?

I have been interested in conversion for as long as I can remember. Part of that interest has been professional in orientation. My ministry has focused on evangelism for nearly forty years, and the experience of conversion lies at the very heart of evangelism. In order to be effective in evangelism, it is necessary to have a clear and nuanced understanding of the nature of conversion.

But herein lie the problem and the fascination. The church has not always been clear about conversion. In fact, there is a wide difference of opinion as to what constitutes conversion. Some would understand conversion in quite particular terms: it is like what happened to St. Paul on the Damascus road — a mystical encounter with Christ, a radical reformation of life around Christian principles and ideas, and a reorientation of one's relationships so that they focus on a Christian community. Others would allow more latitude in understanding conversion: it has to do with the decision (rapid or gradual) to align oneself with Christ and with the church. Still others would point to certain liturgical events as the moment of conversion, in particular, baptism or confirmation. Some would even question whether conversion is a useful category, in that the real issue is not some past experience or decision but the ongoing search for spiritual reality and the openness to pursue whatever path promotes such an awareness.

When I began full-time work in evangelism with a group called African Enterprise (which my wife and I and several others helped start when we were students at Fuller Seminary), I brought to that ministry all the typical evangelical assumptions about conversion. Conversion, to me, was that experience . . .

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