I recall from my late high school days a presentation by Moody Bible Institute about its school for missionary aviators in Tennessee. It has stuck with me for something like 55 years now that applicants who already had pilots licenses were not ahead of the game: “We have to un-teach them everything they’ve learned.”
Moody was quintessentially Evangelical, so it’s a bit ironic that Evangelicals must now unlearn what they’ve been taught in order to become better, more historically-rooted Christians.
Take conversion, for instance (a topic I began last night, not knowing I’d be continuing).
“Saints are made by good conversions.” In this challenging and provocative book, Gordon T. Smith contends that a chief cause of spiritual immaturity in the evangelical church is an inadequate theology of conversion. Conversion, he says, involves more than a release from the consequences of sin–the goal is spiritual transformation. But there is little transformation without a complete and authentic conversion. The key is beginning well. In this age of false starts and stunted growth, maturing Christians need help reflecting on and interpreting their own religious experience. Christian leaders need to rethink the way that conversions happen. Beginning Well is a catalyst toward this end. Surveying Scripture, spiritual autobiographies and a broad range of theologies of conversion (Protestant and Catholic, Reformed and Wesleyan), the author seeks to foster in the Christian community a dynamic language of conversion that leads to spiritual transformation and mature Christian living. In the process he moves us from a short-sighted “minimalist” view to one that recognizes seven elements necessary for good conversions. This book–a stirring call to rethink the relationship between conversion and transformation–is a must read for pastors, evangelists, spiritual directors, seminary professors and others who are concerned about the nurture and development of Christian converts, and the nature of authentic religious experience.
Book notes for Gordon T. Smith’s Beginning Well: Christian Conversion & Authentic Transformation.
Evangelicals are known for their emphasis on conversion. But what about life after conversion and beyond justification?
Desperately needed is a comprehensive theology of the Christian life from beginning to end, along with the means of formation and transformation. In Called to Be Saints, Gordon Smith draws on a distinguished lifetime of reflecting on these themes to offer us a theologically rich account of our participation in the life of Christ.
Both profound and practical, this book is a trinitarian theology of holiness that encompasses both justification and sanctification, both union with Christ and communion with God. Smith unfolds how and why Christians are called to become wise people, do good work, love others and enjoy rightly ordered affections.
If holiness is the ongoing journey of becoming mature in Christ, then there is no better guide than Smith. Christians in every walk of life will find this a rich resource for learning what it means to “grow up in every way . . . into Christ” (Ephesians 4:15).
Book notes for Gordon T. Smith’s Called to Be Saints: An Invitation to Christian Maturity, which was Evangelical enough to win a book award from Christianity Today.
This volume offers much-needed theological reflection on the phenomenon of conversion and transformation. Gordon Smith provides a robust evaluation that covers the broad range of thinking about conversion across Christian traditions and addresses global contexts. Smith contends that both in the church and in discussions about contemporary mission, the language of conversion inherited from revivalism is inadequate in helping to navigate the questions that shape how we do church, how we approach faith formation, how evangelism is integrated into congregational life, and how we witness to the faith in non-Christian environments. We must rethink the nature of the church in light of how people actually come to faith in Christ. After drawing on ancient and pre-revivalist wisdom on conversion, Smith delineates the contours of conversion and Christian initiation for today’s church. He concludes by discussing the art of spiritual autobiography and what it means to be a congregation.
Book notes for Gordon T. Smith’s Transforming Conversion: Rethinking the Language and Contours of Christian Initiation.
* * * * *
Secularism, I submit, is above all a negation of worship. I stress:—not of God’s existence, not of some kind of transcendence and therefore of some kind of religion. If secularism in theological terms is a heresy, it is primarily a heresy about man. It is the negation of man as a worshiping being, as homo adorans: the one for whom worship is the essential act which both “posits” his humanity and fulfills it.
Alexander Schmemann, For the Life of the World, Appendix 1
[O]nce you say you are ashamed,
reading the page they hold out to you,
then such light as you have made
in your history will leave you.
They will no longer need to pursue you.
You will pursue them, begging forgiveness,
And they will not forgive you.
There is no power against them.
It is only candor that is aloof from them,
only an inward clarity, unashamed,
that they cannot reach ….
Wendell Berry, Do Not Be Ashamed