Turning to God, Reclaiming Christian Conversion as Unique, Necessary, and Supernatural

I have appreciated David F. Wells for many years. We have reviewed many of his books in our publication. When I received a copy of Turning to God, I began with interest to read about a topic that I believe is not as understood, emphasized, and appreciated that the Christian faith requires. Turning to God deals with conversion. Wells’ emphasis centers around the reality that when a person is converted to Christ, there is not simply one part of his or her life that is converted. Conversion, as we have taught, impacts every area of life, though that is not often understood or highlighted as it should be. As a result we fail to see the results in people’s lives that we should.

S. Douglas Birdsall, of the Lausanne Movement, wrote in the foreward, “Many books have been written about conversion. However, David Wells’s work, Turning to God, is unmatched in terms of its theological scope and richness, its cultural-anthropological perspectives, and its well-informed psychological insights.” He is right! As we have focused our ministry on “making Kingdom disciples” we have focused on transformation and have regularly underscored that if we really understand conversion, transformation really underscores what happens with conversion. As a result of failing to understand conversion and its transforming results, we have quite a number of people who profess to be Christians but whose lives do not reflect real spiritual and life changing results.

Wells points out that within evangelicalism today there is such a distaste for doctrinal understanding, appreciation for the place of the local church, and for seeing and understanding biblical norms and absolutes, change is not evident among so many. It seems to be harder and harder to distinguish professing Christians from non-professing ones. This is while there seems to be a new spirituality movement especially in North America but lacking a biblical understanding of what it means to be truly spiritual. If Wells is right, and we believe he is, that while conversion is supernatural, if those claiming to be converted are not being transformed, then what are they really experiencing?

Wells underscores that true conversion is a movement towards God that expresses itself in growing in Christ, growing is biblical understanding, and knowing how to discern truth from error. You will find the author’s treatment of the “insider” conversion, those within the Christian community, the covenant community as we say, and the “outsider” conversion, those coming from other than a Christian context.

Wells reminds us that while conversion is a supernatural experience, how that comes to expression and experience in people’s lives will differ, as with the insiders and outsiders. Some may experience an instantaneous conversion while others may grow into conversion as they are discipled early on in their lives. I remember my own conversion, the night, time, and place where I turned to the Lord, but then I realized that much had gone on in my life before I came to that turning point.

So while, as Wells observes, the church’s teaching on conversion has not been exactly the same in every generation and we can see the results of what the church has taught, there has to be an awareness in one’s life, that he or she has turned to God.He refers to what he calls St. Augustine’s intellectual conversion, followed by a moral conversion.But such was not complete for him until he experienced an ecclesiastical conversion. Augustine wrote, of the last part of conversion, “We were baptized and all the anxiety as to our past life fled away.”Up until this ecclesiastical conversion, he believed that the other parts of his conversion were not complete.When that was coupled with Augustine’s understanding that conversion was seen as a totality of God’s sovereign initiating grace through faith working through those other aspects mentioned above, he received a more wholistic picture of what conversion is really all about.

In concluding his writing, Wells underscores that we need to see conversion as a deep and all-encompassing work of God that involves the whole person. “What happens then, in a biblical view of conversion is that faith comes to life in the mind as the reality of the truths about Christ, read or heard, begin to take life and to be felt” (page 174). What that basically means, he explains, is “the test of conversion is a life of convertedness.” That is, he says, “the only way faith is evidenced is in the presence of works. The test of conversion, then, is whether a sinner continues to see sin as displeasing to God and continues to turn from it, continues to seek Christ and trust him for life, forgiveness, grace and guidance. It is whether believing in Christ leads to following him by denying ourselves and daily taking up our cross and following him” (page 177). You will be blessed by your reading and application of the truth of this book. Read it, teach it, and share with your friends.

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Charles Dunahoo pastored churches in Georgia and Alabama before being called to his present position as Coordinator for the PCA of Christian Education and Publications (CEP).

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