It’s hard for me to think of a doctrine the church needs to recover more than the doctrine of conversion.
So many issues abound from a lack of clarity on conversion: we consider those who attend church believers strictly because they are nice, we try to disciple someone we should actually evangelize, we count conversions at evangelistic rallies but see no fruit of repentance, we dilute the gospel and sow confusion amongst church members—I could go on and on.
In Conversion: How God Creates a People, Pastor Michael Lawrence provides a corrective. “Too often we treat the symptoms,” Lawrence writes. “But what we really need is to go after the underlying disease. And that’s what this book aims to do.”
Lawrence shares a biblical doctrine of conversion and works out how conversion should impact various aspects of the church like evangelism, membership, discipleship, etc.
“Show me someone’s doctrine of conversion, and I can tell you a lot about his church. Or rather: show me his church, and I will describe his functional doctrine of conversion, regardless of what he might say in pen and ink. Our churches embody our doctrine.”
Like others in the 9Marks Building Healthy Churches series, this book is clear and practical. It also overlaps in many ways with other ‘marks’ of a healthy church (membership, discipline, evangelism, the gospel, etc.). Lawrence writes from a well of pastoral experience and knows how conversion applies to common situations in evangelical churches.
If you’ve never thought deeply about conversion before, you’re in for a lot of light bulb moments about both conversion and also the church: too often we forget the corporate purpose of conversion in our individualistic society. My temptation for books I enjoy is to rewrite the book with a lengthy summary. I’ll save myself time and jump to a recommendation.
If you serve in your church as a youth leader, small group leader, or another area ministering the gospel, I can’t think of a more important book to read. Too quickly we assume salvation for the “nice” people who know the right lingo, even if they aren’t saved. We don’t want goats thinking they’re sheep; we want them transformed by the Spirit into sheep. Conversion caused me to rejoice at the beauty of new birth and long to see many on my prayer lists convert.
While I think every Christian would benefit from reading this book, I would recommend Mike McKinley’s Am I Really a Christian? (another 9Marks title) for those wanting an answer to that question (a la 2 Corinthians 13:5) with an individual focus rather than focus on the church.
My prayer is that this book would revolutionize churches. Pastors should consider reading it with elders and thinking through how to shape the church’s ministry and language around a biblical view of conversion. It might mean eternal life for many in their church.
Title: Conversion: How God Creates a People
Author: Michael Lawrence
Rating: 5 Stars
A Conversation about Conversion on the Pastors’ Talk Podcast (listen)
Helpful Quotes from Conversion: How God Creates a People
“When we separate repentance from conversion, either because we think it can come later or we fear scaring people off, we reduce conversion to bad feelings or moral resolve. Worse, we risk assuring a “convert” that he is right with God when in fact he is not. It’s almost like giving someone a vaccine against the gospel.”
“But how does the New Testament describe a genuine Christian? According to 1 John, the genuine Christian is someone who loves fellow Christians and the local church because he or she loves God (5:1); desires fellowship with God, and not just ease in heaven (1:6–7; 5:1); understands that following Jesus means discipleship (1:6); obeys God out of love for God (5:2–3); is eager to confess and turn away from his or her sin (1:9); holds grace costly and his own desires cheap (1:7, 10).”
“I once had the opportunity to help with a major evangelistic crusade. In our training, we were taught to tell people that if they would simply say the prayer printed on the card we gave them, they could be assured that they were born again and would spend eternity with God, and to never doubt that truth. My concern with this strategy is twofold. First, it encouraged people to find their assurance in their decision and prayer on that day. But the Bible doesn’t instruct us to look back on some decision we once made. It instructs us to examine our lives today, to see if we are in the faith (2 Cor. 13:5). Is there ongoing repentance and faith? To paraphrase John Piper, I don’t know I’m alive because I have a birth certificate. I know I’m alive because I’m breathing.”
“Saving faith clings to Christ and doesn’t let go. And like repentance, it leaves evidence throughout a believer’s life.”
“It’s not that the church isn’t a community of sinners. It is. It’s that the church is a community of a particular kind of sinners—repentant sinners. Another word for that is disciples.”
“Be especially careful before you assure children of their faith. An untimely or unwarranted assurance can act like a vaccine against true faith.”
“Our theology of conversion matters, because it reorients our understanding of the purpose of our assembly and the meaning of our membership. If our churches aren’t filled with believers, then God is robbed of the praise he desires and deserves.”
“Our theology of conversion matters in our churches’ discipleship, gospel counsel, and even church discipline, because the presence of sin remains, and we are the walking wounded. We need each other’s help in churches filled with people who will battle with us.”