Saturday à Machen: The Meaning of Conversion

“Paul’s conversion shows that Christianity is a supernatural thing. Up to the conversion Paul’s life had been a natural development, but the conversion itself was a sudden blaze of glory. It is very much the same with all of us. True, the form of Christ’s appearing is very diverse. We do not see him with the bodily eye. We do not, like Paul, become witnesses to the resurrection. Many of us do not know when we first saw him. It is a great mistake to demand from every man that he shall be able, like Paul, to give day and hour of his conversion. Many men, it is true, still have such a definite experience. It is not pathological. It may result in glorious Christian lives. But it is not universal, and it should not be induced by tactless methods. The children of Christian homes often seem to grow up into the love of Christ. When they decide to unite themselves definitely with the Church, the decision need not necessarily come with anguish of soul. It may simply be the culmination of a God-enriched childhood, a recognition of what God has already done rather than the acquisition of something new.”

(J. Gresham Machen, The New Testament: An Introduction to its Literature and History [Carlisle: Banner of Truth, 1990], page 82.)

And a supplementary anecdote from Father Georges Florovsky’s time at Princeton:

“In the course of a certain lecture, a seminary student—frustrated, I suspect, at the philosophical depth of Father Georges Florovsky’s discussion of a certain Patristic point (in fact, he was, as I recall, discussing Origen)—raised his hand and rather boldly asked, ‘What does all of this have to do with accepting Jesus Christ as your personal Lord and Savior?’ There was a long pause, after which Father Georges, with a piercing glance, looked up at the student and said, with the frail voice that in those days betrayed his advanced age: ‘Young man, I was converted to Jesus Christ, not to Protestant Evangelical piety’. He then continued his lecture, without another comment. He no doubt thought that the matter was closed; his clumsy student, no doubt, understood nothing of what Father Georges had said.”

(From Archbishop Chrysostomos of Etna, Person and Personality in Orthodox Teaching: Concerning the Concept of a “Personal Lord and Savior” [Orthodox Tradition, Vol. XVII, Nos. 2 & 3 (2000), pp. 28-34]; emphasis mine.)

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