Thursday, June 19, 2008

Striving After Conversion

I need some help thinking through something.

When I read the Puritans, I am often amazed at how they fought for salvation. Take Bunyan. In his autobiography, he recounts his struggles with salvation for page after page after page. He searched his heart, read through the Scriptures, sought counsel from Christians, and was not converted. He speaks about how he longed to know if he was elect and how he wanted to believe the promises but could not.

I have never heard a modern testimony even similar to this. Today, people call themselves Christians who never search their heart, read through the Scriptues, or seek counsel from others. I have never talked to an unbeliever who was troubled by the thought of not being among the elect.

Those of you who read old books:
Have you ever noticed this? Can you think of other examples?
Why is this so?
Why is there no striving, fighting, and longing for salvation today when there seemed to be so much of it a few hundred years ago?


Aaron said...


I'm certainly no authority, but I'll throw in my two cents from the bleachers.

I think it's a change in worldview. You can see this in secular writing as well. Compare the worldview present in a book like Moby Dick, where the reality of Hell was obvious in Melville's writing, with that of Huckelberry Finn, where Heaven and Hell are compared to fables and bedtime stories.

I think these two books represent a shift from an early American puritan worldview to a more "enlightened" pluralistic one.

Even 50 or 60 years ago people had certain assumptions built in about absolute truth and God that were simply not questioned as they are today. Now, I am certainly not making an argument for the good old days here (I was born in '78), but I do think the older our country becomes, the more pragmatic we are, to the point that it is the ruling philosophy of the day. And with pragmatism, the question of God, Heaven, Hell, and salvation are irrelevent.

I'm sure it's either that or rock 'n roll. ;o)

Anonymous said...

Aaron makes an excellent point. I would add that a few hundred years ago that people didn't have the technology that we have today. Back then faith and family meant something. Today faith and family are what we do when we have nothing better to spend our time on.

Brian said...

I for one struggle with assurance from time to time. When I see my sinfulness, I often wonder if I'm elect. It can be very tough to deal with sometimes.

I think the issue that plagues American evangelicalism is the belief that our salvation is ultimately our decision. Why would anyone struggle with conversion if all they are taught from the pulpit is that God is simply waiting for them to invite him into their left ventricle. Once they've said this magic prayer, they're told they are good to go...they've got their ticket. They've never been confronted with the holiness of God and his justice.

My two cents.

pastor justin said...

I do think culture has something to do with this.

Today, we fill every waking moment with gadgets and food.
In Bunyan's day, you actually thought about life, death, and truth.

Justin Nale said...

Bunyan's story is representative of the common testimony during the 17th and 18th centuries. The difference between them and us has to do with their understanding of saving faith.

The Puritans understood that

1) saving faith is a gift given to us, not something we can create in ourselves

2) it is possible to have a counterfeit kind of faith that does not save (i.e., a faith that does not work, a faith that does not endure, etc.)

3) the heart is deceitful and can fool a man into believing he has genuine faith when he does not

So the Puritans understood that constant heart-examination was needed to discover whether they had truly received saving faith or not. They also understood that it was better to spend months or even years in anxiety over their salvation than to have a false assurance.

They also understood that no pastor, parent, or friend should be the ultimate grounds of their peace. If their own hearts could not testify that they were children of God, then it was necessary that they continue to cry out to God until He provided the assurance they needed.

Finally, they also understood that 2nd Peter 1:10 ("Make your calling and election sure") is a command to be taken seriously and that it cannot be obeyed in a matter of minutes.

No one has done more to try and bring us back to the Puritan understanding of salvation (including, for some people, long periods of anxiety over it) than Paul Washer over at the HeartCry Missionary Society.

Brian said...

The pendulum can also swing too far towards self examination that we look within ourselves for salvation more than we ponder, value, meditate on, and believe the gospel. I believe it was Luther who stated that our faith was assurance. If you believe the objective truth of the gospel, then you have assurance of salvation which will be evidenced by a life of fruit.

Rob Tombrella said...

i agree with everyone--

but i do see some problems with the puritans disconnection at times with assurance from faith. Heb 11:1 seems to point to it as a fruit of faith and not something we should think about as a blessing that should be sought any other way than how faith comes (rom 10:13). Luther (and calvin i think?) taught that assurance is a fruit of faith--as faith ebbs and flows, rises and falls, so will assurance.

So to get assurance, we must get faith and see unbelief as the enemy.

Times when i've doubted my salvation in the past it always come down to an issue of faith. Do i believe what those words in that book say? When, by His Spirit, i believe and stop doubting (James 1:6)assurance immediately follows--being its necessary fruit. said...

I think it is because we refuse to be afflicted. We self medicate and do not yearn for or see our need for anything beyond ourselves.

pastor justin said...

Thanks for these thoughts. I do think assurance comes down to taking God at His Word.

However, as I'm reading Bunyan, I think that his struggle was not whether or not God's Word is true. His struggle with salvation was because he believed God's Word was true. He wondered whether he was elect. He wondered whether he had committed the unpardonable sin. He knew faith was a gift from God and wondered whether he had been given faith.