I love any chance to listen to or read William Willimon, and his most recent blog post on conversion was striking to me. He writes:
Deep in my Wesleyan once warmed heart is a story of how a priggish little Oxford don got changed at Aldersgate and thereafter. John Wesleyâ€™s life was well formed, well fixed by a host of positive Christian influences upon him before the evening on Aldersgate Street. Yet what happened afterwards has led us Wesleyans to see his heart â€œstrangely warmedâ€ as nothing less than dramatic ending and beginning, death and birth, a whole new world.
Such a story, fixed deep in our souls, challenges a church that has become accommodated to things as they are, the cultural status quo. It stands as a rebuke to a church that has settled comfortably into a characterization of the Christian life as pleasantly continuous and basically synonymous with being a good person…
A conversionist faith is so disconcerting, particularly to those for whom the world as it is has been fairly good. Those on top, those who are reasonably well fed, fairly well futured, tend to cling to the world as it is rather than risk the possibility of something new. For all these economic, social, and political reasons we pastors tend toward the maintenance of stability rather than the expectation of conversion.
I have some good friends who have never known what it means to live “on top” in their lifetime. They have struggled and suffered and sinned generously, and have experienced much of life as objects of pity and shame. They are people who have encountered a living, healing, transforming God, and oh how I see the truth in Willimon’s words about the power of conversion.
Just the other day, I was talking to one of these friends, and she shared with me how because of knowing Jesus and having his spirit alive in her, she did not become violent in a recent situation where previously she would have. Her words and her body operated under new lordship, she said, and with tears she spoke of how this change felt for her in that moment. I later wept when I considered the darkness I am confronted with inside my own heart right now. My lack of generosity, failure to love, dwindling compassion, whatever… As one who has lived a much more “on top” life than my friend, I marvel at how easy it is to subvert conversion, cling to the old flesh, and miss out on the truly new thing that God would do.