Archive for the ‘Conversion’ Category

Testing the Spirits

May 16, 2008

One of the great needs of our day it seems to me is the need for us to consider the nature of religious experience. For an age that is so taken with the idea of religious experience there is comparatively little examination of such experience. Instead it seems to increasingly be the case that all religious experience is considered to be authentic religious experience. Previous generations took the task of examining the nature of religious experience much more seriously. And whilst lacking the tools of modern psychology they also understood it remarkably well.

One example of this is found in the work of Archibald Alexander in his 1844 work ‘Thoughts on Religious Experience.’ In this work Alexander gives detailed consideration to true and false religious experience. As someone who lived through times of revival offers many wise words that all who are interested in the true work of God in their own lives and in the lives of others would do well to read. This work offers a helpful antidote to the superficiality that afflicts the contemporary church. And where sadly many are deluded with regard to the true nature of religious experience. Alexander’s work touches upon issues of eternal consequence which we would all do well to heed. He covers many helpful topics including dreams, true and false conversions, the effects of age on spiritual vigour, the variety of conversion experiences, the relationship between sin and dreams and draws on many historical illustrations of his points.

Blair Moves Next Door

December 22, 2007

So at last the much predicted conversion of Tony Blair to Catholicism has happened. Much has been made of the timing of his conversion- after leaving office rather than before. Anyone who has observed Mr Blair’s behaviour over the last decade will not be surprised. Despite his repeated talk about his faith such faith has always taken second place to political expediency. Despite the rhetoric his policies have not been driven by genuine convictions but by what he can get away with in the court of public opinion. Once again his conversion to Catholicism has reflected the fact that political gain always comes before convictions. This is something that he has already admitted by his acknowledgement that he refrained from speaking publicly about his faith for fear of being called a ‘nutter.’ His knowledge of what it means to follow Christ has obviously not be shaped by Jesus teaching in the gospels.

The news of his conversion has also re-ignited the debate about how he led us into the Iraq war. Here he stated that he prayed before taking this momentous decision. It is a typical Blairism- the public are expected to accept what he has done rightly or wrongly because he claims to be sincere. There is no need to enter any kind of debate because he says he is sincere. But the reaction to this statement has been fairly typical- what was a Christian doing leading the country, we should have had an atheist! Of course the argument is that atheism is rational based on neutral reasoning, unclouded by any external factors and moral(!?) Its a view of atheism that is a much a caricature of atheism as it is of Christianity.

If Blair has been guided in his politics by Christian faith it is not a Christian faith that I recognise or would want any part of- all rhetoric and no substance.

How the British Become Christians

October 4, 2007

In a recent sermon Melvin Tinker quotes the following statistics for the single most decisive factor in people becoming Christians in Britain today.

  1. The influence of a particular church over a period of time -27.8%
  2. The influence of other members of one’s own family- 25.8%
  3. The influence of a Christian friend or friends- 19.9%
  4. A specific evangelistic event or activity-13.2%

I’m not sure what happens the other 13.3%! The figures seem to reflect what others are saying that reaching our post-modern generation with the gospel is a long process, where people are influenced not only by the gospel message but by the integrity of Christian living. It perhaps also backs up another statistic I have heard that from a person first hears the gospel until they become a Christian is on average 4 years.

I also found statistic 4 interesting with regard to the huge claims that some are making for the Alpha course. Might it not be making the impact that some claim- assuming it is incorporated in this fourth figure.

‘The wind blows where it wishes…’

August 7, 2007

I read an interesting piece in the Washington Post today about how the World Council of Churches is moving towards a code of practice on religious conversion. The movement towards this statement involves the the WCC and the Vatican. It seems particularly concerned with the issue of conversion in South American. It is of course well known that the Catholic church is concerned about the haemorraging of its numbers in South America.

It is interesting to note that amongst the participants in this process are not only the WCC and Vatican but also Buddhists, Hindus, Muslims and Jews. Can you imagine Paul sitting down in such company to draw up a code on conversion? Also the boast is that there is also participation by evangelicals. What kind of evangelical worth his salt is going to draw up a code on conversion?

A report makes a recommendation that ‘all should heal themselves from the obsession of converting others.’ Its some way short of Paul saying ‘Woe is me if I do not preach the gospel’ or ‘I have become all things to all men that I might win some.’ Or even Henry Martyn saying, ‘Give me India or I die.’

The whole exercise smacks of the religious imperialism that it is allegedly seeking to avoid. For it takes religious expression and conviction out of the hands of individuals and puts it in the hands of those religious establishments who want to protect their own turf.

Its all a far cry from Jesus own explanation of conversion not as a human endeavour but as a sovereign action of the Spirit of God, ‘The wind blows where it wishes and you hear its sound but you do not know where it comes or where it goes. So it is with everyone born of the Spirit.’

True Conversion

June 8, 2007

I’ve just been reading John Owen’s Pneumatalogia, his treatise on the work of the Holy Spirit.¬† He notes in the course of the treatise that there is often a preparatory work of the Holy Spirit that some view as true conversion but which reality falls some way short of true conversion. He notes the following five marks of true conversion through the regenerating work of the Holy Spirit-

  1. Our will is changed so that we are now inclined to obey God
  2.  There is a new sense of excellency in the truth revealed in the gospel
  3. Our conscience is now purged of dead works
  4. The Holy Spirit fills us in every part and fixes our affections upon Christ
  5. That the work of the Holy Spirit touches every faculty

In an age when there is little self examination of ourselves as Scripture exhorts us to do and the idea of being Christian sits lightly with many, Owen’s marks of true conversion are well worth our consideration.