Christian conversion means the coming to conscious acceptance of the claim of Jesus Christ on one’s life. In my own case, this acceptance was a very slow and gradual process, more like drifting in and out of sleep, rehashing dreams, making coffee in a grouchy mood, and so on.
But there are many reports from reliable Christian writers of such an experience having the phenomenology of an abrupt awakening to a new way of seeing the world. I am not referring here to the far more numerous examples of ecstatic ‘coming to Christ’ in settings where the reaction is more likely due to mass hypnotic suggestion. There are presumably a percentage of these that are genuine conversions, but I suspect the percentage is small. I’m referring to those cases where, without tribal psychological pressures, the converts report some experience like suddenly seeing the light or the scales falling from my eyes, or something else along those lines. And I would like to say three things about that kind of experience.
The first is that there is no way of gauging how common it is. The reports we hear about are almost entirely from people who recorded it in writing – so, for example, C. S. Lewis, Martin Luther, Charles Spurgeon, Saint Paul – but these are perforce the ones we would know of, by virtue of the public histories of those who underwent them. Left unreported are those whose lives are conducted away from the public eye, and they are presumably a good deal more numerous than the famous few.
But second, whether a matter of public record or not, such transcendent moments are themselves the fruit of prior and deeper processes. Jesus makes this quite clear in the parable of the seed growing quietly and under God’s nourishment, before thrusting itself above ground. We must remember that Jesus was not a soothsayer, foretelling how worldly events will transpire. His audience is always one person. His audience is always and only you.
And so, last, the moment attested to by these good witnesses of wrenching personal transformation was only one step in their own conversions, preceded and followed by many others. Had their lives not continued with additional steps in the same direction, these dramatic moments would never have acquired any public significance. It was because he posted the ninety-five theses that we are particularly interested in how the lightning strike affected Luther. And the lightning strike only affected him then, there, because of the many steps of conversion that had preceded it.
The reality is that Christian conversion begins the moment human life begins, and lasts as long as human life lasts.
That is to say, conversion never ends.