Conversion as a Process

Author: Stephen Smallman

As part of the C.S. Lewis Institute’s Fellowship program, the month of July was dedicated to understanding true conversion and what it is. One of our assigned readings was Stephen Smallman’s Beginnings: Understanding How We Experience the New Birth. Throughout Beginnings, Smallman examines the misnomer of conversion as a singular event: a once and done experience. Traditionally, in Christian culture, conversion is seen as a literal come-to-Jesus moment, usually a grand event, brought on by some sort of action, such as saying a prayer. But, Smallman argues, this is selling conversion short. Conversion is a process and our job as Christians is not to bring people to one fancy moment, but to assist the process, wherever someone is on their journey to God.

Smallman breaks it down into something he calls the birth timeline. Being born is not the only moment in life – it is not even technically the beginning. It is an event along a process. A defining moment, to be sure, but not the only one that matters. There is the pregnancy, as the child grows and gets ready for birth, then the birth, the cry of the infant, and the life that follows. Smallman argues that conversion is the same. It is not something that we decide to do; it is something God calls and readies us for, and part of this readying involves a time of spiritual pregnancy – or getting ready – as it were. For some, there is a defining, memorable moment, for others who have grown up in a Christian home, that “birth” moment may be less singular, harder to point out. And then, there is the life in Christ that follows. The process does not grind to a halt with the declaration – the birth – but continues as a person grows and matures in Christ. This is the gist of the entire book, and it is supported both by scripture and specific case studies that Smallman endeavors to share with us. The conclusion of the book also has an outline for anyone interested in hosting a group study/

Image by Tep Ro from Pixabay

Beginnings is quite simple, and it does have a tendency to repeat, but the concept is critical and makes good sense. Most of us are used to thinking in the form of that traditional grand event, forgetting that coming to and living with God is lifelong process that should involve growth. Smallman does a good job pointing out how this understanding then is critical to the way that we evangelize, understanding that we are not trying to bring people to some grand moment, but to act as spiritual midwives who give other people the help they need wherever they are in the process. The spiritual pregnancy – the moment before the conversion/birth – is just as important as what comes after. The entire process cannot be forced by a human, but only brought to fruition by God’s call.

Beginnings gives readers a lot of good food for thought. It’s a short read and, as I said, a bit on the repetitive side, but it’s spiritually edifying, especially for those who are just beginning their studies and working to understand what a life in and with God really means. Recommended.

– Frances Carden

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Frances Carden
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