Thursday, February 18, 2010

The Problem of Emotional Conversions

Biblical Salvation
Evangelist John Nordstrom
AAA Ministries:  Gospel Sowing to Anyone, Anywhere, Anytime

Biblical salvation becomes a reality when three components of the human body become interactively engaged: The mind, the heart, and the will (Romans 6:17). The gospel sower initiates the process of regeneration by delivering the doctrine of salvation into the prospect's intellect. The sower who dares pass beyond his jurisdiction and tries to also manipulate the heart, goes too far. The heart’s inner sanctum, is reserved for God alone. Truth delivered by the sower becomes a hammer in the hand of God, breaking down the fortified walls of the heart (Jeremiah 23:29). The final outcome is man’s will yielding to God’s will. True salvation takes place in the heart, not the intellect. It takes place after God has done his convicting work and not without it. God is the soul winner, not man (1 Corinthians 3:7).

There is nothing a gospel sower can do to cause the prospect to mean business with God.  The sower must focus on giving a correct gospel in an understandable way. The rest is up to God and the individual. When they die, their sincerity is between them and God.

I agree with much in the letter, but not with all. It draws a picture of intellect, heart, and will, to the exclusion of the spirit. This picture shows God pounding on the heart and the will, but ignores God giving life to the spirit and understanding to the intellect. Any Calvinist would offer tons of Scripture references that tear the letter to shreds.  (By the way, in interest of full disclosure, I triangulate somewhere above and between Arminians on my far left and Calvinists on my not-so-far right.)

Before I go on, I should point out that, while God ultimately wins souls, God delegates the privilege and duty of engaging in soul winning to believers. Somewhere, the Old Testament says, "he that wins souls is wise." Soul winning is a partnership between God and his ambassadors -- us. True soul winners give the glory to God and will one day cast their bejeweled crowns before His feet; yet it is God who places those jewels in their crowns and calls them soul winners. Therefore, I'm not following the false modesty of abandoning the term.

People sometimes claim to have had a head conversion without a heart conversion. The letter says that True salvation takes place in the heart, not the intellect.  This is false.  Both the intellect and the heart must be involved -- and the spirit, too. More often, I think, people have heart conversions without head conversions (especially in Charismatic circles). Perhaps legalistic sects such as Catholicism have will conversions without either head or heart conversions. (I'm not sure we should isolate "the will" as a separate function like intellect and heart. I think of it more as a verb -- to will -- resulting from the majority vote of the intellect, the heart, and the spirit.) The letter implies that people can even have head, heart, and will conversions based on the gospel and the emotional appeal of the soul winner, but accomplished without the work of the Spirit. Examples might include Judas in the gospels and Simon the Sorcerer in Acts.

The letter does not imply that an emotional appeal excludes the work of the Spirit. It is possible for God to quicken the sinner's spirit even if the gospel presenter includes an emotional appeal.

What a frustrating idea, that a fraction of those converted through emotional appeals are saved, and the rest are not. Between the intrusion of the world into the church and its saturation with unconverted souls, it becomes no wonder that "Christians" stand so undifferentiated from their neighbors. I must think, however, that all those false conversions represent a great lessening of coals upon those souls' heads and a great preservation of the societies in which they live.

On the other hand, might there be people who whose decision or act of will as a result of emotional appeal lead to greater things? Could the gospel with a God-prepared spirit result in an authentic conversion that lacks devotional energy because the soul winner left the person to cross the threshold alone? If we all did all things because we had the right information and the work of the Spirit upon our spirits, when would we need exhortation, encouragement, and provocation? Why would Paul and John have included such emotional appeals in their epistles? I conclude that the soul winner needs wisdom, caution, and balance (as do we all), since scriptures do not preclude the use of emotional appeal along with the preaching of the gospel.

What disadvantages do we find in false conversions? One is that false converts besmear the name of Christ when they stumble or fall away. The banner held high by remaining true converts ought to restore Christ's honor, but that brings us to the real danger. When false converts wander off, they discourage us. We feel betrayed because we put more trust in each other than we do in God. Sometimes, after times of failure, we question our own conversions because we know that things like what we did have also led to the revelation of others' false conversions. It hurts, especially when you were the person who "led them to the Lord." You wonder what you did wrong when, in truth, false conversions happen regardless of the soul winners' methods.

So we look for reasons why. In some churches that use strong emotional appeals, it's easy to blame the emotional appeal. We might conclude that all emotional appeals are wrong because the work on the heart and the will belong to God. That's an unreasonable extreme. Banning the emotional appeals makes about as much sense as banning the teaching of the gospel. After all, head-without-heart conversions are just as doomed as are heart-without-head conversions; and when false converts fall away, it hurts us just as much either way. What comes next, ban both the attempt to make the gospel plain and the attempt to appeal to the heart?

The first half of the answer lies in the wisdom to find appropriate proportions of intellectual and emotional appeals. At the same time, I'd like to acknowledge that God makes us with unique capacities. Some personalities have no capacity for emotional appeal, and it would be a mistake to force them to conduct altar calls with two dozens verses of Just as I Am at every service. Other personalities have little capacity for intellectual appeal. Let each man serve according to his gifts without rejecting others' gifts.

The second half lies in a wise response when false converts fall away. Some "false" converts are weak or misled believers who will later return, or they are believers whom God will call home prematurely for the preservation of their souls. A soul winner who judges such converts "false" takes on needless disappointment. Our disappointment indicates trust due God but misplaced in man and, even worse, in ourselves. Aside from sanctions prescribed by the Bible, we should leave judgment to God who alone sees our hearts.

No comments: