Deconstructing Conversion

Have you ever reflected inherently monotheistic much our ‘conversion’ language is? Often we tend to think of conversion as turning towards a new belief system, but in my mind the more important aspect in our culture is the turning away from alternatives.

If you hang around polytheists and/or pantheists for any length of time, whether they are migrant Hindus, resident Neo-Pagans or DIY folk religionists, it becomes quickly apparent that the aspect of Christianity they find most objectionable is the insistence that you can worship no other gods. They are quite ok with adopting Jesus as one image of divinity among many. It’s the exclusivity that raises the hackles.

This raises an interesting issue, many Neo-Pagans and Hindus would deny they engage in conversion activity because they never ask people to turn away from their old gods even if they do decide to adopt new understandings of deity. You don’t have to leave Jesus behind to worship the triple goddess or Krishna, they can be incorporated into these ‘generous’ understandings of religion. So there is no conversion in the Christian sense of the word. At best we can speak of de-conversion from a Biblical / Trinitarian view of deity.

This universalism plays havoc with census statistics, because if such seekers are asked quizzed on whether they identify with a Christian denomination and see Jesus as divine then many can truthfully answer ‘yes’ even though an evangelical would baulk at any suggestion they were Christian.

And it raises interesting implications for mission. It shows that the typical revivalist plug to turn from your sins and accept God/Jesus is thoroughly inadequate in a multi-cultural society where monotheist cosmologies can no longer be presumed amongst your audience. It is not enough to call people to worship ‘God’, we must also call on them to leave behind the worship of other Gods (see Acts 17:29-30). We must be gentle and humble as we do this, accepting that the Spirit does indeed work through other religions in a limited capacity, but honest about the full implications of the gospel as well.

This also highlights what a see as a significant deficiency with much ‘contemporary’ Christian worship. Conversion to religious sentimentality is not enough. Gushing about worship of some vague ‘God’ is not enough. Worship of God, if it is to be Christian in an authentic sense, must also entail a turning away from all other ‘gods’ and lesser understandings of ‘God’. The removal of resurrection and crucifixion language from much contemporary worship, and its replacement by Jesus-is-my-boyfriend style sentimentality, leaves the door wide open to syncretism and frankly I find the indifference of many ‘contemporary’ worship musos to such missional issues to be quite disturbing.

Warming to contemporary Christian worship does not automatically make one a Christian worshipper. Wanting Jesus in ones life does not automatically make one a convert. We need to be discerning of these realities. We need to see conversion for what it really is – inherently monotheistic and therefore not to be assumed. Just as marriage involves a forsaking of all others, so does Christian conversion, and Emerging leaders can least of all afford to forget this or fail to communicate it.

2 thoughts on “Deconstructing Conversion

  1. hallo,
    Matt, you may have seen my comment on the ‘jesus’ website, and i wanted to know what you really thought of wicca.. honestly. Do you think it is a load of bull, or believable?
    By the way, i’m wiccan, but i really want to see what a Christian thinks.. or are you Catholic? meh, both similar.
    ok cheers
    Aleskiea Liara

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  2. Aleskiea
    No, I don’t think it a load of bull. I suggest you refer to my bio at http://mattstone.blogs.com/about.html.
    I began my own experimentations into the occult when I was around your age. Not Wicca specifically, though I did have a few books by Raymond Buckland, Colin Wilson and others on my shelf. Similar to yourself, my mother was Anglican, my father was Catholic (note: just different varieties of Christian as far as I’m concerned) and I didn’t take crap from narrow minded zenophobes. I experimented with some spells, tarot and ouija boards and other forms of divination but not in a particularly serious way. In the general course of things I was drawn more towards a mystic path with liberal dashes of eco-spirituality – which I was more serious about. Zen was a major influence.
    Eventually I was reawakened to the Christian path but I want you to understand a few things. Firstly, this faith I have now is an informed confidence based on experience and evidence, not blind adherence to dogma. Secondly, I never bought into any particular tradition and have sought to integrate the keenest insights of eastern orthodox, catholic, evangelical, celtic, charismatic, social justice, indian and esoteric Christianity into my understanding of Jesus spirituality. My strongest connections with the formal church at present are Baptist but it would be a gross misunderstanding to box me into that tradition. Thirdly, I have chosen to follow Jesus because I think he offers a surer hope than the alternatives, not because I think the alternatives are bullshit or that we can’t learn from them. And fourthly, I think love is at the core of Jesus’ way, and consequently hate crimes against Wiccans or people of any other religion are repulsive and against his way of love.
    I can understand the attraction of Wicca and seek to learn from it. I do think it stirs up some very important issues that people seeking to follow Christ ignore at their peril. But I also offer critiques of some aspects of Wiccan practice, some of which I have penned down at http://mattstone.blogs.com/ekstasis/. I would be interested in your response to some of the specifics, both positives and negatives. Two thousand years ago Jesus, a Palestinian Jew, walked amongst Samaritans and befriended them even though it was taboo in his culture. I believe that Jesus would want Christians to be friends with Wiccans today. This isn’t lip service. For the record, I’ve met Fiona Horne, Stacey DeMarco, David Garland and various other Wiccans in the course of my Christian journey and found them all to be decent human beings. As a matter of fact I was at a pub in Neutral Bay sharing a Crown Larger with a bunch of Wiccans only last night. I pray that the Spirit of God will guide you and protect you in your journey. Blessed Be.

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