Saturday, October 27, 2007

Conversion

I read an interesting story on why Muslims convert to Christianity that appeared in Christianity Today's online version this past week. The article was based on answers given by 750 Muslims between 1991 and 2007 who were part of a study conducted by Fuller Theological Seminary's School of Intercultural Studies.

When the data was examined a number of factors emerged as decisive in their conversions. The character of Christians as loving and accepting of others even those outside their group, the consistent link between the stated beliefs of Christians and how they lived their lives, the answers to prayer that had been experienced by Muslims for whom Christians prayed, the equality of Christian marriages, the Christian rejection of violence as a way of furthering their cause, and the Christian theological emphasis on the love of God that results in the forgiveness of sins and assurance of salvation based on the work of Jesus Christ.

These finding are completely understandable given the more extreme forms of Islamic fundamentalism which do not proclaim a God who is loving and gracious towards his creatures and who think that jihad is God's way of building his kingdom on earth.

But what I found most intriguing was the idea of 'conversion' period! It struck me as I read the article that the very idea of 'conversion' is politically incorrect today. No one is supposed to convert to anything these days. Instead we are to accept people for who they are without asking questions or implying that anyone is wrong or their ideas about life are out of sync with the will of God. 'Conversion' implies a measure of certainty that ironically so many are 'convinced' is unattainable.

Nonetheless, the Christian gospel, God's good news in Jesus Christ, calls for conversion. People are not alright the way they are. By nature we are estranged from God and spiritually dead in our transgressions and sins. We need to be reconciled to God and one another and we need to know the power of God that is able to bring about deep-seated change.

Sometimes I fear that we have lost the need for 'conversion' in the church today. We are more concerned with getting the unchurched 'churched,' the ignorant 'educated,' or the newcomer 'socialized' than we are about seeing people change direction and commit themselves without reservation to Christ. If we were genuinely concerned about this kind of change I think we would pray more and we would more clearly articulate the implications of Christ's loving but universal lordship.

Genuine conversion is a miracle of God's grace, and maybe this explains why it is neglected. While people change marriage partners and jobs and cars and houses, and while they may even change their ideas as they grow older or learn new information, only God is able to bring about the kind of change that is consistent with the new humanity that he is calling to himself in Christ.

Amid the psychological, philosophical and theological noise of our day we must not hesitate to call people to repentance. As Jesus said: 'Truly I tell you, unless you change and become like little children; you will never enter the kingdom of heaven' (Matthew 18:3). And we must ask God to bless our efforts so that those around us become new creatures in Christ Jesus by his grace.

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