As I've been pondering this sort of "ecclesiological evangelicalism" that I partially fleshed out in my last post, I began to think about the role of conversion language. In a world where we're all evangelized and evangelizing, what does it mean when a Muslim, for example, starts to call him/herself a Christian? I believe this is an important question to address. What does that mean? Have they crossed the "line of faith?"
I believe this is simple but profound. We, who've been trained in classical evangelicalism, have been trained to think of conversion as synonymous with salvation, thus giving us our salvific goal in evangelism. Of course, in this ecclesiological view where we aren't to think in terms of "saved" and "unsaved," there has got to be some other way of thinking about conversion. I believe there is a point to which we should look, within this evangelistic conversation, where someone "enters" the church--where they are Baptized into the community of God.
Conversion is not the point of salvation, necessarily. Salvation, once again, in terms of going to heaven after death remains a side-note in the evangelism conversation. Therefore conversion should be celebrated not as salvation, but as an individual's unique induction into the church. This is celebrated in baptism and other practices. I do not wish to reduce conversion, but we should not treat it as a goal or a finish line of any kind. We should see it as an awakening in the middle of an ongoing conversation. Someone who has entered the church has awakened to a new self-identity--as someone who is part of the continuously shaping community of God. This is something we should indeed celebrate. It doesn't make it any more important to evangelize somone who has not converted, but both the converted and unconverted remain equally and excessively important in the evangelism conversation. Neither is "further along the path" than the other (that's a major flaw in my diagram... it stays linear... I should make a new diagram where there's not a line with arrows but like... something else) because there is no real "line of faith" that we can know about.
All this is to say that conversion should be celebrated as seriously transformational (and in that way it's salvific) but not "salvific" (meaning the going-to-heaven-when-you-die model is not in mind). It's transformational insofar as you are covenantally part of the family of the church, the community of God. We're still free from constantly asking the question: "is she 'saved?' 'cause I don't want her to die and go to hell." We are still free from the anxiety of trying to take control of someone's eternal salvation. The urgency should remain but, hopefully, some of the wrong kind of anxiety is gone.
Did I say anything?