Ask RC: Is it true that “if you don’t have a conversion story you don’t have a conversion”?
Sure it is. As long as what we mean by “having a conversion story” is broad enough to include, “I have loved and depended on the finished work of Christ as far back as I can remember.” Sadly, it is unlikely this is what people who say such things mean.
There are at least two different kinds of believers. Some are what we call cradle Christians, others might be called crisis Christians. And because both groups are composed of sinners, it is not at all unusual for them to fuss and fight with each other. In the first instance we have those who have been raised in the nurture and admonition of the Lord. They have been taught the things of God from their youth. Indeed they may have been, as John the Baptist appears to have been, converted in their mothers’ wombs. (Remember that even before he was born John leapt to be in the presence of Jesus, who likewise was still in utero (Luke 1:41). Remember also that this is not a denial of the need for conversion. Even cradle Christians were once children of their father, the devil.
In the second instance are those who have more dramatic conversion stories. They remember a time not believing, and have in turn experience in that unbelief. That is, it is not uncommon for these folks to be profoundly conscious of their lost state before their conversion, sometimes via a life of peculiar licentiousness, others via the memory of a gnawing emptiness/fear despite a relatively upright lifestyle. These folks are well aware of when they walked out of the darkness into the marvelous light.
The Bible is chock full of both kinds of conversions. Paul’s conversion was rather dramatic, as was that of the thief on the cross. The Philippian jailer, the Ethiopian eunuch both would be able to look back on a particular hour in a particular day and give thanks. Who though in the Bible is a cradle Christian? Virtually every believer in the Old Testament. Indeed one would be hard pressed to even find a conversion at all among the sons of Abraham. David, though conceived in iniquity (Psalm 51:5) trusted from his mother’s breast (Psalm 22:9). While we see many faithful men of God, we do not witness “conversions.” These trusted in the coming work of Christ, and so became the friends of God, even with no conversion stories.
Those who argue that without a conversion story we are not converted are admirably seeking to guard against the danger of presumption that can come from those who grow up in Christian homes. It is all too easy to think of oneself as a heavenly “legacy,” one who is almost due salvation by virtue of being the child of a believer. I appreciate the concern, but fear this kind of language throws the baby out with the baptismal water, and ironically adds works to our faith.
That is, eager to deny that we are saved by baptism (which is a good thing to deny) they then add to the biblical necessity of trusting in the finished work of Christ for salvation this- remembering when you first started to do so. That is, we end up teaching justification by faith plus remembering when your faith started. It is an odd form of the Galatian heresy. Perhaps worse still it makes our perseverance dependent on our memory. I wonder how many people taking this position will one day, in old age, lose their memory, and therefore lose their story and if this claim is true, lose their salvation.
We are not saved from God’s wrath by remembering when we were saved. We are saved by remembering by Whom we are saved, by trusting in His work alone, adding neither the faith of our parents nor our memory of being given that faith.