The word “Evangelical” evokes a wide variety of responses these days. Some view the term in a very positive light. Others view it much more negatively.
In this chapter, Sittser explores the beginnings of the evangelical movement.
The evangelical movement believes that a conversion to Jesus is needed for faith; a going from death to life, from the old to new, from lost to found. This movement emphasizes the personal experience of God in one’s life as the catalyst to live a completely changed life.
“The Puritans believed that conversion sometimes happens in a moment of time…But they also affirmed that conversion is a process that God uses to draw us ever closer to himself and to make us ever more like himself.” (Sittser 241)
What has been your own experience with conversion?
Did you have a sudden moment of change in your life toward God? Or was it more of a slow process of growing in relationship with God?
Jonathan Edwards is an American pastor and theologian who wrote extensively on the topic of conversion. He believed that God was in complete control over a person’s conversion. His own church received an “awakening” when hundreds of people were converted in a short amount of time. Edwards believed that “he did not in any way plan or cause the awakening that swept through his church. He did nothing different in 1734 from what he had done in 1730 or would do in 1745. Yet something happened in those six months that transcended mere human effort. It was, as he said, a surprising work of God, the result of divine, not human, intervention.” (Sittser 248).
Other evangelicals placed more of an emphasis on the human role in conversion. Strategies were developed to ‘reach the lost’ and provide opportunities for conversion. Traveling preachers went from town to town to host revivals and gain converts. George Whitefield and John Wesley were some of the most well known preachers from this camp.
Wesley wrote of his own conversion experience. Ironically, it occurred years after he spent time as a missionary. Even in the midst of his missionary work, Wesley never experienced an assurance of faith. He was still wrecked with self-doubt and inner battles.
After listening to a sermon based on Luther’s preface to the book of Romans, Wesley wrote: “I felt my heart strangely warmed. I felt I did trust in Christ, Christ alone for my salvation: And an assurance was given me, that he had taken away my sins, even mine, and saved me.” (Sittser 251).
This conversion experience changed Wesley’s life and empowered him to live confidently for God.
The main takeaway from the evangelical movement is that there should be a change in one’s life when they come to experience the grace of God. In some way there must be a response to the good news of the gospel.
As Sittser concluded, true conversion “demands that the whole of our lives- our marriages, our families, our minds, our pocketbooks, our schedules, our relationships, our jobs, our recreational interests, our struggles, our politics- be surrendered to God.” (Sittser 254).
As the apostle John wrote, “From his fullness we have all received, grace upon grace.” (John 1:16).
How should we live in response?