Conversion is variously described in the Bible. Many, like me, grew up in a tradition that stressed a single conversion as necessary for the beginning of the Christian life. Everyone, much like the Apostle Paul, needs to undergo a “conversion” or change in the direction of their life. There are a number of problems with this way of thinking. For one, how and when does a child undergo (in most cases) such a clear-cut experience? Certainly, no child has lived a wicked, persecuting life railing against Jesus as Paul did before he met Christ on the road to Damascus. Yet, I do recall my first conversion. I was only a few weeks from my seventh birthday and I had a lot of questions about heaven, hell and eternal life. I repented of my sins, as much as I understood repentance in my childlike way, and asked Jesus to save me. My wife did not have the same experience and was made to doubt her faith because of this. The fact is that conversion is an important biblical concept and the word is worth keeping if we could reclaim its proper use. We are all in need of conversion regardless of how and when it comes about. We need to turn to the Lord and draw upon his grace personally to be a Christ-follower.
But this is just the problem too. Most of us have undergone many conversions. No one is, sometimes, that different from another. For me there are times in life when what God does must be thought of as a kind of conversion experience. When I wrote my book, Your Church Is Too Small, I wrote about my three conversions. These were the “big” and memorable turning points that I am aware of.
My first conversion was to simple faith in Christ as a boy. My second was my pretty significant turning toward the paradigm of grace seen in the theology of Luther, Calvin and other Reformers. I was a young pastor and this conversion really changed my way of seeing and understanding God and grace. In the book I devote my attention to my third conversion, that of embracing missional-ecumenism the day the Lord met me in saying the Apostles’ Creed and pressed upon my heart the question: “Do you really believe in one, holy, catholic church?” The answer is still causing me to change my life on a daily basis.