18 February 2009

on conversion

As a fan of urbanity, few things excite me as much as a downtown building conversion. Usually, these come in the form of an antiquated, high-rise office building being re-imagined and re-purposed as vintage condos. Walls come down, incredible views are rediscovered, and a structure that was intended for great things again gets the opportunity to fulfill that vision.

The Christian use of the term “conversion” has fallen out of favor with folks in recent times. Somehow, though, it seems more accurate than the others that have risen to take its place.

Let’s think about it. Jesus repeatedly asked people to follow Him, to commit to the new “way”. He invited them on a journey, a re-purposing. There was no signing of a contract or awkward formality involved. It was as if he said, “Follow me wholeheartedly or don’t”. And following meant ascribing to the new way. It meant holding mercy instead of vengeance, grace instead of judgment, and selfless sacrifice instead of self-determined righteousness.

He asked people to make a lifestyle conversion. He asked them to re-imagine and re-purpose their lives. Where they once lived hoping to attain righteousness through religiosity, He invited them to live lives that leaked love and grace, relying on His overflowing righteousness.

We have (shamefully) made Christianity a transactional process. Bow your head, say a prayer, raise a hand, and walk away saved. Swipe the credit card and take home the merchandise. It just doesn’t ring true to me.

So then, if it is indeed a process, what kind of process is it…?

Maybe it is more like a high-rise conversion. An acknowledged history is released and a new identity can take hold. Walls come down. And construction takes place. Years later, the evidence of what the building once was still remains. Yet somehow, it is tangibly different. When exactly it changed over isn’t quite clear, but it is known to have happened. The evidence is unmistakable.

I don’t know, really. Next time I see a downtown building in the process of conversion, I will certainly take a longer look.



  1. The change in direction is transactional, but the distance comes over time.

  2. I think "renovation" is a better word. Taking an old shell and making it new. I wouldn't have wanted Christ moving into the house I'd built out of myself. I wasn't converted, I was renovated.

  3. bret -

    renovation is an interesting idea. renovation, though, holds onto the original identity. for example, a renovated house is still a house. identity is improved, but fundamentally the same.

    total depravity is a concept that would require more - maybe more than conversion. perhaps we need a copmlete demolition/rebuilding.

    that would be fun to say "i was demolished in 1996" instead of "i was saved in 1996".

    i like it.


  4. jay -

    how is the change in direction transactional?


  5. The moment that we admit our sin, ask forgiveness, and to be changed, God changes our direction. We are then able to (and obviously willing) to move toward God's plan for us.

  6. when jesus asked the 12 to follow him, to make him their king, they certainly had to unlearn a lot.

    weren't they converted? from fishers to fishers of men? wasn't their some work that took place? or were they immediately capable and fully devoted followers?

  7. They did not yet have the Holy Spirit to guide them, and indeed it wasn't until they did that they finally understood completely.

    "Therefore, if anyone is in Christ, he is a new creation; the old has gone, the new has come" 2 Corinthians 5:17

    While the ability to move toward God's path for you comes in an instant, the relationship comes over time.

  8. the deed on the building changes hands? or the building is rezoned? commercial to residential? then the actual conversion takes place?

  9. A dominant movement of the entire Bible is God's restoration initiative - a campaign against death, rebellion, sin and corruption to re-establish a dominion of shalom with mankind...one man at a time if necessary. Restoration, redemption, rebirthing, all bear appropriate imagery. Perhaps that's why Jesus used multiple descriptors? To Nicodemus it was a rebirthing (certainly could be a kind of renovation?), to others it was giving life to death, etc...

    Is there a chief word necessary or a correct depth of conceptual agreement? Most metaphors and analogies have limited elasticity. hence the I AM...