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October 1980 · Vol. 9 No. 4 · pp. 37–38 

Book Review

Conversion: Doorway to Discipleship

ed. Henry J. Schmidt. Hillsboro, KS: M.B. Publishing, 1980. 135 pages.

Reviewed by Vernon E. Janzen

Henry J. Schmidt, assistant professor of world mission at Mennonite Brethren Biblical Seminary, has edited a significant paperback on Christian conversion. This work was done with the conviction that some important aspects of Christian conversion are not being addressed adequately in current conversion literature or in today’s popularized “born again” movement.

In the Introduction, Myron S. Augsburger, recent president of Eastern Mennonite College, commends the interpretation in this book of “conversion as the doorway to a discipleship in costly grace.” He emphasizes the book’s position that faith in Christ is relational as well as conceptual and warns of Christianity moving away from “salvation by faith” to “salvation by belief.”

Schmidt affirms conversion as central in the Christian experience. He then proceeds to deal with questions revolving around an adequate biblical understanding of conversion. Conversion includes a personal encounter with Jesus Christ who becomes both personal Saviour and Lord resulting in a radically changed life of discipleship.

Six other Mennonite Brethren writers join the editor in addressing the subject of the book: Hans Kasdorf on biblical teaching about conversion, J.A. Toews on the theology of conversion, John Regehr on conversion as human experience, John Unger on child conversion, Werner A. Heidebrecht on conversion in the church context, and Paul G. Hiebert on conversion in cross-cultural perspective.

The book does a great service in calling our attention to what the scriptures say regarding the essential elements of genuine Christian conversion. There is basic agreement among the writers that conversion is a response of the total person (including mind, affections, and will) to God’s divine offer of forgiveness through Christ and His call to be Christ-committed. This includes repentance and turning from sin and self-centeredness to a life of obedience and discipleship under Christ’s lordship in fellowship with believers in Christ’s church and as channels of Christ’s impact on unbelievers. With the popularization of the individualistic {38} “born-again” experience, this book is invaluable in clarifying the biblical standard by which the validity of contemporary conversions can be tested.

Especially helpful with regard to child conversion are Unger and Regehr’s discussions on childhood development and readiness for conversion. The manner in which children can genuinely respond in obedience to Christ is discussed with clarity and within a biblical framework. Hiebert’s suggestion that Christians be defined in “centered sets” rather than “bounded sets” is particularly insightful. His case for defining conversion and change on the basis of direction, movement, and focus toward Christ (centered set), rather than on definitive characteristics such as particular beliefs and practices (bounded sets) is convincingly stated.

Anonymous accounts of actual personal conversion experiences are inserted at the close of chapters. Though these are inspiring and interesting, I failed to see how they connected with the particular chapters preceding them. They served a useful purpose in portraying conversion as it is being experienced; however, it would have been more useful to analyze these so we could more clearly see what essential elements of conversion were present and which were lacking.

In both chapters 1 and 8, Henry Schmidt argues that radically converted persons should influence change in this world’s systems and social structures. Here further clarification is needed. First, a stronger biblical explanation is needed to support this position. Second, what and whose specific systems and structures is the believer to change and through what means?

The purpose of this volume is to treat important aspects of Christian conversion not being treated in current conversion literature and perhaps even being disregarded in evangelical circles. This is done effectively!

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