I don’t remember the date of my conversion. Some people have tremendous stories of how they came to believe in and know Jesus. They have dramatic examples of God meeting and rescuing them, but that is not my story. I don’t remember the date, and even if I could, I wouldn’t know which date to give you.
I do remember being eight-years-old, sitting on my father’s knee, and trusting him when he told me that I needed to accept Jesus. I may have understood some of what he said, but I think I prayed that prayer more out of trust and respect for my father than a personal understanding of my need for God’s grace. I did, however, from that day on consider myself a Christian.
Some time later, after years of professing faith, reading Scripture, and attending church, I was at a Christian concert. If you attended a Christian concert in the eighties, you know it just wasn’t a Christian concert without an alter call. At this particular concert I had a deep sense that I should answer the call, so I snuck away to join the prayers of the soon to be sanctified souls. I don’t remember the date. It didn’t feel like a momentous decision. I was confirming, to God and myself, that the life I had been living the last few years was genuine, that it was my choice.
It wasn’t until my senior year of high school that I became active in a church. For the first time I experienced a consistent community of Christians, and in that community I began to realize that my faith was more than a set of intellectual beliefs. I realized it was pointless if my relationship with Jesus was just one part of a segregated life.
Later that year one of my best friends asked me an odd question. You’ll understand the question better if you know that we were both ridiculously stubborn, and we would fight… often. As we sat on the stairs outside our high school gym he asked if I had been seeing a psychologist. I wasn’t, and I didn’t understand what made him ask that question. Of course I realize now that he saw a change in my life, and the only way he could explain it was that I was receiving professional help.
So help me out. Which of these moments is my date? Is it the first? That was when I started calling myself a Christian? Is it the date of the concert? That was clearly a response to God and not my father? Or was it the realization that Christ must be the center of my life? This was the experience that brought the most obvious change in my life?
I share my story to ask this question. Why do we assume that everyone must have one seminal conversion experience? I like to think of my conversion experience as ongoing. Each experience paints a picture of my salvation, and what if that picture is still being painted? I wonder if our emphasis on pinpointing the exact moment of salvation has caused us to elevate the conversion experience to such a level that it is the reason for the alarming lack of disciples in the church today? What if our view of salvation has become so influenced by the idea of a moment that we have unintentionally communicated that conversion is the peak, and it’s all downhill after that?
I wonder if this is why American Christianity has become a spiritual kiddie pool, very wide and very shallow. Do we devote so much effort to help people cross the line that we have neglected what comes after? Has our poor understanding of what comes after conversion has led to a lack of depth in practical theology, and therefore created a faith that has very little influence on our behavior?