David Wells is one of my favorite authors. His four-volume series on the state of evangelicalism in the United States was mind changing and life altering for me. He is a candid, thought-provoking writer.
His book Turning to God is another helpful book. He examines the doctrine of Christian conversion and how the Church of Jesus Christ has emphasized conversion throughout her centuries. Wells insists that conversion to God is absolutely necessary for one to become a Christian and Christianity ceases to exist without the doctrine of conversion. I could not agree more.
One of the more helpful discussions throughout the book deals with the conversion experience for the “insider” in contrast with the “outsider.” What does the conversion experience look like for those who are familiar with Christian doctrine and the believing community, for those who are insiders like children who grow up in Christian homes or for Jewish believers in the early church like Paul? This is an important issue for Christian families to consider. How should we evangelize our children? Should we press for a conversion decision very early in life, before a child could possibly understand the claims of the Gospel or when he or she is still eager to please a parent and wiling to do almost anything a mother or father would suggest? Wells does not make any concrete suggestions as to what the conversion experience should look like, but he does encourage Christian parents to be methodical and consistent in the evangelization of their children as they give their children time to inculcate the Gospel’s claims. It may be that such a child will never actually know the precise date of his regeneration, and that is an acceptable although not a desirable scenario.
On the other hand, what does this experience look like for those who are distant and outside the Christian community? For example, the Philippian jailor new very little, we assume, about the Gospel when he was confronted with the claims of the lordship of Christ in Acts 16. What was his experience like and why was it so sudden and dramatic? What really happens when someone hears the Good News for the first time as an adult and immediately responds by converting to God?
The subjective experience of conversion is not the main issue Wells discusses though. It is the objective nature of conversion, an emphasis on the person and work of Christ, which both the insider and the outsider share regardless of their experience in conversion. This, Wells insists, is what we should emphasize in evangelism. The Gospel, not the experience of conversion or the felt needs of the listener, should be the theme of our song. If we fail to preach a clear Gospel, then to what or to whom is the individual actually converting?
Wells discusses how Christians should evangelize Jews, Muslims, Buddhists, Hindus, and the typical Western secularist whether that person might be coming from an “insider” or “outsider” perspective. Most people today, besides those who’ve grown up in Christian homes, would be coming to Christ as outsiders. Therefore, we must be clear, precise, and patient when sharing the Gospel. The Gospel assumes a particular worldview, and fewer and fewer people are growing up with a worldview that would be amenable to the Gospel. While the power of God might do something immediate and dramatic, it will most likely take a significant amount of time for such people to convert.
Please consider adding this book to your reading list. There are others that are more enticing to read, but there are very few that deal with a more important subject.