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.