Thursday, July 12, 2018

Understanding conversion in light of the “Silence” of religious change

Some writing I’ve been doing over the last few days. I’m trying to knit together a conference paper delivered in August 2016 and a conference paper delivered in March, 2017, for a potential book chapter due mid-July 2018!

Both conference papers stand at around 2,000 words. Together, could the two pieces, make a whole, a chapter for a potential book publication? This will require one central idea and some clear editing. That begins with an introduction. So, can I find an introduction ….

Jesus comes announcing the Kingdom of God is near (Mark 1:15; Luke 10:9). This invites the possibility of conversion. Hence the relationship between conversion and Christian witness becomes an essential area of study for missiology.

The documents of the early church offer narratives in which the proclamation of the Good News is linked with life change and transformation. In Acts 2:41-47, three thousand experience a transformation into a church which practices a passionate spirituality, experiences the supernatural and outworks a radical egalitarianism. The book of Acts chronicles the expansion of Christianity, geographically from Jerusalem to Rome; ethnically, from Jews to Gentiles; numerically across the cities of the Roman empire. Soards argues that the speeches in Acts, of which he identifies thirty-six, are key to the unity and emphasis of Acts. In words, they present “the story of the early church’s bearing witness to God’s will and work in Jesus Christ.” (The Speeches in Acts: Their Content, Context, and Concerns, by Marion L. Soards. Louisville: Westminster/John Knox, 194). The relationship between Christian mission, conversion and expansion continue through the history of the church. Individuals stand in church to testify to finding faith in Christ and the transformations that result from conversion. Mission agencies draw on accounts of conversion in seeking prayer and financial support. In each case, the assumption is that conversion and transformation are intrinsically linked to Christian mission.

Equally, the historical record, in both Josephus and the Christian Gospels, is that Jesus’ announcing of the Kingdom was met with both receptivity and resistance (Luke 9:51-55). Essential to a non-coercive invitation is the freedom for conversion and transformation to be resisted. The theological challenges that result must be considered in constructing a missiology that is equal parts robust and realistic. Indeed, amidst the expansive narratives of Acts, is the reality that individuals resist the Gospel. It is easy to celebrate the thousands in Acts 2 and 4, but in many of the cities in which the Apostle Paul preaches, there is a refusal to convert and resistance to the transforming announcement of Good news of Christ. Hence study of the nature and dynamics of Christian witness must, in the search for truth, engage with the realities associated with resistance to conversion.

A robust and realistic missiology must include not only the possibilities that surround a lack of conversion. It must also examine the human desire to deconvert. In 2014, in the United Kingdom, National Secular Society supporter John Hunt made headlines when he sought to be “debaptised.”. Adams reports that over 100,000 Certificates of De-baptism were downloaded in five years from 2004 to 2009. While uncomfortable, it is an area that any study of conversion must consider. Who is God and how might conversion and transformation be understood, if there is no conversion? What is the nature of Christian mission given the reality of deconversion? How to narrate Christian witness when expansion is not the entirety of the Christian story?

In the writing on Tuesday, and the rewriting today, things become clearer. It is still draft. But in reaching for words, key points emerge.

Posted by steve at 06:04 PM | Comments (0)

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