Jesus answered him, “Truly, truly, I say to you, unless one is born again, he cannot see the kingdom of God.”
 “For God so loved the world, that he gave his only Son, that whoever believes in him should not perish but have eternal life.  For God did not send his Son into the world to condemn the world, but in order that the world might be saved through him.
 Truly, truly, I say to you, whoever hears my word and believes him who sent me has eternal life. He does not come into judgment, but has passed from death to life. (ESV)
 For we ourselves were once foolish, disobedient, led astray, slaves to various passions and pleasures, passing our days in malice and envy, hated by others and hating one another.  But when the goodness and loving kindness of God our Savior appeared,  he saved us, not because of works done by us in righteousness, but according to his own mercy, by the washing of regeneration and renewal of the Holy Spirit,  whom he poured out on us richly through Jesus Christ our Savior,  so that being justified by his grace we might become heirs according to the hope of eternal life. (ESV)
This post is Part II in my review of what it means to be Evangelical and what it does not mean to be Evangelical. As a standard I will be using David Bebbington’s Evangelical Quadrilateral which gives the four elements which make up the fundamentals of Evangelicalism which are:
1) Biblicism—a high regard for the Bible as the Word of God and source of all spiritual truth; 2) Crucicentrism—the centrality of the atoning work of Christ on the
cross for salvation and as the centre of all evangelical teaching and preaching; 3) Activism—the belief that faith in Christ’s work compels one to share the faith with others in both word and deed; and 4) Conversionism—the conviction that every individual must turn to Christ through a personal decision in order to be saved from sin.
The question that many Evangelicals give to people is “if you died tonight, do you know where you would end up, or if you died tonight, would you be with God in heaven, or in hell?” Another question that many Evangelicals as would be is “do you know how much God loves you and are you experiencing God’s love?” At the heart of Evangelicalism is bringing people into a personal relationship with Jesus Christ. From a Biblical Worldview, there are those that are outside of God’s Kingdom and do not know Jesus as Lord, and those inside the Kingdom that have made a personal decision to follow Jesus as Lord and Savior. These questions that I have given which I have heard over the 30 years by which I have been a Christian would be under what Bebbington would classify as Conversionism.
My Own Conversion
My parents raised our family in different sects of Protestantism. They were both raised Methodist, so I was baptized (Christened) as a baby into the Methodist church. Yet, during my elementary school years, my parents chose to worship as Episcopalians because my father used to coach swimming and tennis at an Episcopal College in Gambier, Ohio. Most of the emphasis of being Episcopal was learning how to take Communion (one of the Christian Sacraments), and being an altar boy. During my teenage years, my parents took us to an Evangelical Lutheran Church, Upper Arlington Lutheran Church. This church had a strong youth ministry and held to the elements listed above such as a strong regard for scripture as the Word of God, a belief that Jesus died for our sins as an atoning sacrifice, we needed to accept God’s grace through Jesus death on the cross, and a plug to invite our unchurched and unsaved friends to Youth Group.
With my own conversion, it happened at a youth retreat when I was junior in high school. The Youth Pastor’s wife went through a small booklet called “My Heart, Christ’s Home.” I knew when she was describing Jesus cleaning out the basement and the hall closet she was talking directly to me. At that point, I made decision to ask Jesus into my heart and be my savior (Rev. 3:20).
Like any good Evangelical, when I went to college I was involved in both Campus Crusade for Christ (Crew), and with the Navigators. Both organizations were very active (Bebbington’s Activism) in sharing the gospel to those that were our neighbors. Neighbors would be those that lived in the same hall as we did in our dorms, our roommates, family members, and people we went to classes with. Both groups used different methods and strategies in sharing the gospel. Campus Crusade used a sale’s strategy with booklets and pamphlets called the four spiritual laws. the Navigators used their Bridge Diagram. I believed that I wasn’t a good Christian if I wasn’t bringing people into God’s Kingdom.
But, later life I realized it wasn’t up to me to determine who would make a decision to be “saved” or not. That work belonged to God (John 6:44). My role was in making disciples and being a witness for Jesus in the arena’s that God placed me in (Acts 1:8, Matt. 28:19-20).
Problem with Conversionism
According to David Guretzki:
Ultimately, evangelical insistence upon making a decision for Christ reveals a deeper theological assumption that someone is either ‘in’ or ‘out’ of the kingdom of God and that there is no ‘sitting on the fence’ between the kingdom of darkness and the kingdom of light. Evangelicals will readily admit that it may be ambiguous to an onlooker whether a person is truly a believer, but theologically they believe that a person either really is or really is not a true believer; that is, evangelicals are convinced that someone really is or really is not ‘saved.’
One of the problems that I see with Evangelicalism is that it can be discriminatory between those that are saved, and those that are not saved. Because it makes such a large emphasis on the element of conversionism, those outside of the church feel slighted, discriminated against, and are shamed into making a decision to follow Jesus against their will. Many Christians will use “fire and brimstone” methods to preach the gospel and to make new converts. These methods are not loving and can turn off many to the basic beliefs and fundamentals of the faith.
On the other hand since Evangelicals make such a large deal about people coming into saving relationship with Jesus, it does not matter how one worships God regardless of the sect that they belong to. David Guretzki uses an example of someone who worships as a Roman Catholic:
In such cases, evangelicals will sometimes say something along the lines of the following: ‘Joe is a Roman Catholic [or Orthodox, or Lutheran or Anglican, etc. etc.], but he is evangelical,’ which when theologically translated means, ‘It doesn’t matter what denomination you are [transdenominational] as long as you have made a personal decision [conversionist] to believe in Jesus Christ for the forgiveness of your sins [crucicentrist] and to follow Christ with your life [activist].’
Next week, I will discuss what it means to believe the bible as the sole authority (Sole Autoritas) as the means by which people choose to follow Jesus as Lord.