Yesterday I wrote a story about the fascinating and compelling account of former atheist Nicole Cliffe’s conversion to Christ. I found her testimony extremely encouraging, particularly when put against the darkness and hopelessness that surrounds us in a world that thinks politics and power can bring fulfillment. Unsurprisingly there were those who took it as a challenge to bring that hopelessness into her story.
One emailer responded by telling me I should stop picking on atheists (I wasn’t). Another informed me that I clearly hadn’t done my research given that Nicole was not the “kind” of Christian I would like based on my previous writing.
I’m not entirely clear on what that latter response meant, but if I was guessing, I think it would be a reference to this part of her piece that I not only read, but that I recommended everyone read:
“I have been dunked by a pastor in the Pacific Ocean while shivering in a too-small wetsuit. I have sung “Be Thou My Vision” and celebrated Communion on a beach, while weirded-out Californians tiptoed around me. I go to church. I pray. My politics have not changed; the fervency with which I try to live them out has. My husband is bemused by me, but supportive and loving.” (emphasis mine)
Nicole is a writer for Slate, Vulture, and other left-wing publications. Any superficial survey of her writing indicates someone who is comfortable with coarse language and holds views that many other Christians might find objectionable. Without knowing for certain, I’m guessing that is what the emailer was suggesting should have deterred me from writing about her conversion.
If so, all that indicates to me is that the emailer suffers from a fairly keen misunderstanding of what a conversion to Christ is all about. Perhaps a specific example or two would be helpful to illustrate this point:
- Whenever I address the specific sin of homosexual romantic and sexual relationships, I never encourage Christians to try to convert gay people to straight. I believe we should convert people to Jesus.
- Whenever I address the specific sin of pornography and fornication, I never encourage Christians to try to convert those with sexual addictions to celibacy. I believe we should convert people to Jesus.
- Whenever I address the specific sin of greed, I never encourage Christians to try to convert the self-indulgent to altruism and generosity. I believe we should convert people to Jesus.
We shouldn’t be trying to fix people so that they can come to Christ. We should be trying to introduce them to Christ so that He can provide them the only fix that matters and that will truly change them.
Cliffe’s own testimony bears witness to why this strategy is the only wise one for Christians. As I pointed out in my piece yesterday, Nicole herself acknowledged,
“No one could have in a billion years of their gripping testimony or by showing me a radiant life of good deeds or through song or even the most beautiful of books brought me to Christ. I had to be tapped on the shoulder. I had to be taken to a place where books about God were something I could experience without distance. It was alchemical.”
The vilest offender, the most sexually immoral, the greediest miser who surrenders their heart to Christ, follows His plan of salvation laid out in Scripture, is saved – not by anything they have done or earned, but by the grace of God alone. The great Apostle Paul himself was on his way to persecute Christians when he encountered Christ, albeit in a bit more intense fashion than Nicole’s gentle tap on the shoulder.
It is after our conversion that our mind begins to transform to His, our fleshly desires lose their luster in light of what He offers, and our belligerent will conforms to His perfect mind.
It is distinctly possible that Nicole and I will always have points of theological disagreement and political quarrel. I tend to believe that if the Apostles found themselves in occasional conflict, it’s not likely believers today will escape it. And it may be that I will one day find Nicole’s teaching in error with the Word of God, earning her an appropriate and necessary rebuke. I would like to believe she would not deny me the same should it be warranted.
But none of that changes or alters what I wrote about: the glorious and beautiful nature of God melting the heart of unbelief and adopting a once rebellious son or daughter into His inheritance. Those who don’t comprehend that fact need only to experience it.