12.08.2007

Call to Conversion

Have you all heard of Sojourners? The intentional Christian community in Washington, D.C.? Where Jim Wallis, author of God’s Politics: How the Right Gets It Wrong and the Left Doesn’t Get it, is one of the founders?

I wasn’t religious enough when I lived in DC to pay much attention to them but now I wish I had. I subscribe to their SojoMail online. I’ve read their magazine a few times. And last week, I discovered that we had Jim Wallis’s second book, The Call to Conversion: Recovering the Gospel for These Times just sitting there on our shelf. It’s a thin little paperback. It was first published in 1981, and while some of the examples might change if he wrote it today, the basic premise is just as valuable 25 years later.1

It is addressed to people who are re-examining what it means to live in the Way of Jesus. I think that Wallis had in mind evangelical Christians who were trying to get back to their roots. However, it could be just as stirring a text for the convergent Friends/Quaker renewal movement. Or emergent church folks of any denomination.

Wallis explains a little about the Biblical history of prophets calling people to turn from their ways of idolatry and oppression to God’s ways of justice, peace and love, in the Old and New Testaments. Then he lays out two of the great imperatives of his times, two of the most urgent examples of how and why conversion of the human heart was/is necessary. He labels them “The Injustice” and “The Peril.”

By “The Injustice,” he means the incredibly inhuman levels of poverty and inequality in the world. He emphasizes the tragedy of Christians' complicity in the economic system and the hollowness of the re-emerging “prosperity gospel” in the U.S. This situation, of course, continues unabated.

By “The Peril,” he means the threat of nuclear war. In 1981, I think that the fear of the threat of nuclear weapons was higher than it is now.2 Today we might use global climate change and the threat of environmental collapse as our example of grand peril. For better or worse, we have seen that countries can still wage conventional wars without resorting to nuclear weapons. Perhaps we have become somewhat complacent about the omnipresent nuclear threat. But the human propensity to escalate conflict has not diminished. Our government has continually shown a tremendous willingness to use military means to address a variety of problems. And war is still draining our country’s (all countries’) ability to care for their own people or those suffering in other parts of the world. Wallis is especially critical of evangelical Christians’ acquiescence to the nation’s government and to violence in general.

The chapter entitled The Vision looks at answers to these problems. It’s about how ordinary men and women can heed the call to conversion. We must start with individual and corporate repentance for the ways that we fail to live up to the Light we’ve already been given. We will find that real (that is, messy, difficult and joyful) community life will be both a fruit and a cause of further turning of our own hearts and minds towards God's ways. We will find that worship and communion will also be more necessary, more vivid and more powerful, the deeper we turn to right living in the kingdom of God.

In the end, Wallis believes that all of this is possible through God’s grace and the love exemplified by Jesus’ death and resurrection. Perhaps my favorite sentence in the whole book is this: “We are invited to experiment with its truth [of Christ’s victory over death and sin] by risking our security, comfort, resources, time, energy and our very lives for the sake of his victory.”

If George Fox had lived in 1981, he might have written a sentence like that. I think this is where the RsoF at its best is headed again. We may or may not name the force that enables us to do it as “Christ.” We are nonetheless hearing the call to conversion. We always have. The early Friends used the term “conversion of manners” to describe the changes in how we live when we heed God’s call. Postmodern Friends are using the words “sustainable living” and rediscovering terms like “plain”, and “faithful obedience.”

Friend like to quote, “Live up to the Light thou hast and more will be granted thee.” (Caroline Fox, 1841) My Friend Carl Magruder (link to his speech at OVYM in 2006) talks about how Quakers are in so much pain because we have seen the Light shining before us and we are not living up to it. We know so many things we ought to do or not do and yet we feel stuck. I don’t think that George Fox felt stuck. I think he felt free. What has changed for Friends today?

Is there something about how liberal Friends refuse to call on Jesus for help that gets in our way?

What about evangelical Friends who use the Lord’s name often but in vain – I don’t mean cussing but failing to follow through on what Jesus teaches us?

Joel Bean, grandfather of Pacific Yearly Meeting, wrote in 1880, “Our society has had opportunity to learn, by sorrowful lessons, the danger of exalting too exclusively the Christ within, on one hand, and Christ without, on the other. We have need ever to guard alike against that refined and emasculated spirituality, which undervalues the Bible and the outward means of grace, and even the incarnation and sacrifice of the Son of God, and that no less fatal outwardness and superficiality which would substitute profession, and prescription, and ritual, for saving faith and all the soul-renewing and life-transforming verities of Christian experience, realized through the imparted energy of the Spirit of Christ within.” A hundred years ago, he knew this. I can say that more and more this quote speaks to my condition.

Today, what will it take to get us to take the risks before us?

In 2008, how will I respond to the call to conversion?

To whom will I turn for assistance?




1 After I wrote this book report, I found this link to his 2005 revision. I don’t know how much it differs from the original.

2 In 1981, I was thirteen. My perspective is limited. For more history. see the Wikipedia entry for nuclear disarmament and related links.

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11 Comments:

Blogger C. Wess Daniels said...

"If George Fox had lived in 1981, he might have written a sentence like that. I think this is where the RsoF at its best is headed again. We may or may not name the force that enables us to do it as “Christ.” We are nonetheless hearing the call to conversion. We always have. The early Friends used the term “conversion of manners” to describe the changes in how we live when we heed God’s call." That gets a hearty amen from me. Great thoughts Robin, and I for one really appreciate Wallis and his crew, I think he's done a pretty good job of not being found on one side or the other when it comes to Evangelicalism/Liberalism.

12/09/2007 10:54 AM  
Blogger Bill Samuel said...

For a fuller and more contemporary discussion, see Brian McLaren's (Sojourners Board Chair) Everything Must Change: Jesus, Global Crises, and a Revolution of Hope, Published in October. And it's ore than a book. You can participate in the ongoing discussion. See Deep Shift, including the Everything Must Change tour.

12/10/2007 9:34 AM  
Blogger Johan said...

This entry is like clear water in the desert.

12/11/2007 10:03 AM  
Blogger Robin M. said...

Thank you all.

Here's the problem. More and more, I feel pursued by the Hound of Heaven. (just to use an old metaphor) This feels good. Like being courted by a desirable lover. (to use another old, maybe more apt image) But I feel stuck. I don't know how to respond. Awkward, like a virgin who wants to say yes, but doesn't really know what to do next. Like the bride who already said yes, in front of everybody she knows, with full awareness and willing commitment, but is still nervous about what comes next.

Perhaps I just have to say yes and smile. God will know how to guide me on. In fact, I think that's what Hannah Whitall Smith was talking about.

12/11/2007 12:15 PM  
Anonymous Raye said...

Robin,

I agree with the others that it is good to read your thoughts on conversion. It is a great encouragement to me.

Your candor about the nervousness when we say, or want to say "yes" to a real, live, serious relationship with the Holy One is also a gift. Thanks.

This all reminds me of the sixth chapter of the Gospel of John. Read as a whole it explores this. It contrasts Jesus' invitation (to have that real, intimate relationship with Him) with the people's reaction. They wanted a sugar daddy (of course, this is my take on it, and paraphrase), lots of gifts from Him and little or no commitment from them. When they realized that was not what He was talking about, many of them walked away.

One of the more courageous sentiments I have come across this year was a lovely framed phrase hanging on the wall at a retreat center:

"For all that has been, Thanks.
For all that will be, Yes."

May you continue to be blessed and guided.

12/13/2007 8:05 AM  
Blogger Robin M. said...

Thank you Raye. I am still nervous about using sexual imagery in writing. I think my mother wouldn't approve. But hey, I know I'm not the first to make that comparison.

Chris and I have been reading through the book of Mark together, in little snippets before bed. But I think that I will take up the sixth chapter of John to read for myself, when I am more awake.

12/13/2007 11:43 AM  
Anonymous markleym said...

Robin, I agree with you when you say, "In 1981, I think that the fear of the threat of nuclear weapons was higher than it is now." The ironic thing is that the nuclear threat is probably greater than it was back then - thanks to the collapse of the Soviet Union, the continuing Mideast crisis, the India/Pakistan situation and so on.

12/14/2007 11:04 PM  
Blogger cubbie said...

i fixed my links. i read your blog from a different list than i read all the other blogs (i have it rss-ed on my livejournal friends list), and i didn't process that yours wasn't on there, and then was only aware that i'd gone through the whole list... um yes... it's there. i finished the rest of the list only about 2 hours ago, you weren't missing long. :-)

12/17/2007 1:11 AM  
Blogger Robin M. said...

Thanks Markley. It's good to hear from someone who was really paying attention then (and now).

cubbie, thanks. I'm glad we're still friends... :-)

12/17/2007 1:17 AM  
Blogger Robin M. said...

Oh and Bill, I just got McLaren's book from the library and I'm starting to read it. I went to the deep shift website and agreed - I need to read this.

12/17/2007 1:18 AM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

"Quakers are in so much pain because we have seen the Light shining before us and we are not living up to it. We know so many things we ought to do or not do and yet we feel stuck."
This truly speaks to my condition!

"I don’t think that George Fox felt stuck. I think he felt free. What has changed for Friends today?" George Fox certainly was free. I honestly think what has changed is that we fail to live up to the testimony of simplicity, or at least I think that is my conflict. On the one hand I know I am wealthy, and thus oppress the poor, but on the other hand I am attached to my privledged way of life and don't want to give it up.

1/05/2008 6:01 AM  

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