October 1980 · Vol. 9 No. 4 · pp. 39–40 

Book Review

Christian Conversion in Context

Hans Kasdorf. Scottdale, PA: Herald, 1980. 217 pages.

Reviewed by Eric Mierau

The aim of this well-researched and carefully written work is to show that “Christian conversion does not follow a stereotyped pattern but may take a variety of forms both personal and multipersonal.” The entire discussion of the subject is punctuated with interesting, detailed case stories that are in themselves eminently worth reading and pondering. The focus is broad, including theology, anthropology, history, and psychology, all seen from a biblical perspective and integrated under the rubric of “ethnotheology,” embracing people in first and fourth world alike and dealing not only with the religious, but the economic, social and cultural milieu.

In the first two chapters the author takes a word study approach to show how widespread the concept of conversion is in both Old and New Testament. The key term is turn or change the mind, and that is then connected to a number of related concepts.

Chapter three deals with conversion on the psychological level. Three types of conversion are documented and analyzed: gradual volitional, sudden self-surrender, and (a series of) peak experiences. All three are unique processes, but the end result of each is the same: a new creation in Christ.

Chapter five deals with the theological question of reconciliation, using the illustration of the Sawi people of New Guinea. Kasdorf goes on to show that reconciliation is both God-ward and man-ward: it is a call to responsibility in the church and toward one’s neighbor. That call is formalized “by the biblical ritual of believers’ baptism.”

In chapter six the author takes up the very important mission question of individual and group conversion, again with an illuminating New Guinean illustration. Western individualism is shown to be quite inadequate for an understanding of the church as a converted community rather than a collection of converted individuals. Conversion is indeed personal, but not individualistic. But even more than personal, it is relational in natural, human, and divine dimensions. And that is the historic Anabaptist position in sharp contrast with both the Catholic and the Protestant. One wonders how the Anabaptist multi-personal model can fit into a philosophically individualized, privatized Western culture. Kasdorf implies that it must, but does not elaborate.

In different cultures there are different psychological realities crucial {40} for conversion. These must be taken into account if the gospel is to be preached effectively. In Western culture people are conscious of guilt and fear (individual) more than shame (relational), which predominates in many non-Western societies. The gospel is the good news of freedom from evil and sin however conceived in whatever culture, but not apart from a particular culturally-bound Weltanschauung. Kasdorf admonishes Western Christians to view multi-personal conversion as a strength rather than a weakness.

Chapter seven deals with conversion as revitalization and renewal. The former concept is carefully delineated and shows the profound effect that conversion can have in transforming an entire culture. This is not difficult to see in relation to a relatively simple tribal culture, but it is not so easy to see in our complex Western culture. In fact, the latter situation lends itself to a different process, the process of renewal within either a nominal or post-Christian context.

The author next addresses the problem of conversion from a generational point of view. He analyzes the tendency that every second generation of Christians faces to make “a learned confession without an experienced conversion.” A deeper understanding of conversion is imperative as the generations go by, an understanding that is open to a different form than first-generation conversion and that is concerned enough to provide the necessary nurture that succeeding generations need in order to avoid the road to neo-paganism.

Finally, Kasdorf discusses in two short chapters the relationship between the convert and the church. Without conversion there is neither church nor mission, and the responsibilities between church and convert are mutual.

Christian Conversion in Context should prove helpful and stimulating in Christian education, in the church’s definition of itself, in the understanding of mission, and in a deeper awareness of how commitment to Jesus Christ takes place and what it means in the life of the church world-wide.

The addenda to this book include a comprehensive bibliography of over 150 items plus an index of names, scripture passages, and subjects.