Beginning Well: Christian Conversion and Authentic Transformation by Gordon Smith is one of those books that has slipped under the radar (I had never heard about it until a few months ago), but it really should be widely read. We would do well to think about conversion and the impact the type of conversion can have on transforming the individual.
Many of us have seen individuals who go through a Christian conversion experience only to see little evidence over a number of years that any conversion has taken place. This book helps the reader to think more deeply about what is a Christian conversation and the ways in which we discuss conversion.
There are 2 main arguments made in this book:
- Conversion is a process of working out one’s conversion, not necessarily a single, conscious moment of conversion. Paul exhorts us to “work out our conversion in fear and trembling”. Smith writes that the “punctilear moment” model of conversion does not jive with the honest experience of most Christians, for whom it is more like flying over mountains; there is a moment when the plane has crossed the mountains, but the passenger does not know exactly when it is. Rather, conversion is an often lengthy process of transformation and of understanding the work that God has done in one’s life. Testimonies, Smith writes, are as a result hugely important, because they provide they structure within which Christians learn to work out their own conversions.
- One cannot work out one’s conversion within a single denominational tradition. This is fascinating. Smith, far from being a “non-denominationalist” or a superficial ecumenicalist, writes that the major denominational traditions each emphasise something critical to a complete conversion – e.g. faithful reliance on God’s sovereignty, taking responsibility for one’s spirituality, and being filled with the Holy Spirit – such that Gordon Smith’s brand of ecumenicalism relies heavily on appreciation of various denominational traditions.
This is a book that I’d encourage church leaders, and especially youth ministers to read. I don’t agree with everything Gordon Smith wrote, but he certainly got me thinking more deeply. For example, I am skeptical of his assertion that a rebellious period is almost necessary for adolescents raised in Christian homes, but it was helpful in challenging me to think more deeply on this theme.