CREEDE HINSHAW: Writers attempt to discuss indescribable conversion

FAITH: There's no single pattern of conversion



Have you been converted? Are you converted? Are you in the process of being converted?

This question, which can be asked and understood many ways, can be vaguely intriguing, mysteriously appealing or strongly off-putting.

Few people in the church talk about conversion any more and those who do most of the talking imply there is only one authentic method of conversion: dramatic, sudden and permanent.

For those who want to explore the concept of conversion, to feel more confident about the process or to go deeper into this vital, necessary aspect of the Christian faith I recommend the 1984 book Conversions: The Christian Experience, edited by Hugh T. Kerr and John M. Mulder.

Mulder and Kerr have abridged the first person conversion experiences of 50 men and women who encountered the living God over the span of Christianity. Prior to each autobiographical selection the editors provide a brief synopsis about each convert, especially helpful for readers who will not be familiar with some of these persons. The editors draw no conclusions and make no judgments. The first person accounts speak for themselves.

I decided to read one selection per day, but considering that I missed a few days and that some of the selections took more than one day to read, I spent 3-4 months with the book, finding inspiration from converts as familiar as St. Augustine, John Calvin, John Wesley, and C.S. Lewis to those far less known: Elizabeth Bayley Seton, Henrietta Gant and Ignatius of Loyola. (Charles Colson and Eldridge Cleaver are the two most modern selections; this book is now 30 years old and an updated edition with contemporary accounts would be welcome.)

The reader soon grasps that there is no single pattern of conversion. Some converts were smitten in an instant. Others were converted over a period of weeks or months, unable to identify a specific time and location. Some were overwhelmed by God in surprise attack; others set out to win their conversion with the skill and energy of a professional athlete. Many described a prior period of introspection and disaffection that provided fertile soil for the work of God. Some wrote their account immediately after it happened; others wrote decades later.

Many of the authors struggle to put into words something that is essentially indescribable. How does one explain the work of God logically, sequentially, rationally? The passages are uniformly reverent. The reader will naturally gravitate to some accounts more than others, but each selection will provide an opportunity to explore how God is working in your life.

Conversions is still for sale on the Internet. At $4 you’ll pay less for it than I did 30 years ago. If you’re not interested in reading, here’s a different suggestion: try writing your conversion experience or your own understanding of what conversion might be or how you are trying to come to terms with God in your life today.

Creede Hinshaw is a retired Methodist minister living in Macon.