Conversion in the New Testament, Paul and the Twelve, by Richard V. Peace (Grand Rapids: Erdmans, 1999) 397 pp. plus XV, paper $33.75

Conversion in the New Testament is an exacting, thorough and valuable study of the conversion experience. Recognizing substantial differences between the sudden conversion of Paul in Acts and the gradual experience of the apostles in the Gospels, Richard Peace seeks to evaluate and harmonize the two. His aim is “to demonstrate that while there is such a phenomenon as Christian conversion and that it has specific characteristics, it occurs in different ways in the lives of different people” (p. 10).

Drawing first from the life of Paul, Peace deduces that there are three elements in all conversion experiences: insight, turning and transformation (pp. 25-27, cf. pp. 49-50, 54, 93, 298-307, 346-353). Insight is the “aha” moment when one sees their spiritual condition and need and the truth of the gospel. Turning is a turning from sin and our former beliefs about Christ and a turning to the Lord for salvation via faith. Transformation is the result of repentance and faith. Unless there is transformation there has been no conversion (p. 93).

Paul’s sudden conversion experience is often viewed as the norm and for that reason Peace deals with it first in Part I of the book (pp. 15-101). Good insight into Paul’s conversion is found here, and the author agrees that many come to Christ in similar rapid fashion (although not as many as is often thought—see his critique of mass and confrontational evangelism [pp. 285-308]).

In Part II (pp. 103-281), Peace studies the conversion of the Twelve by means of an excellent overview of the Gospel of Mark. The author demonstrates that the conversion of the Twelve was not sudden but progressive. It is not until after the resurrection that they fully turn to the Lord, but they have been, in process, slowly learning more about the person of Jesus for three years (pp. 150-151). Peace believes this type of conversion is more common than Paul’s experience. As a bonus, the study offered concerning the Gospel of Mark is invaluable.

Part III concerns practical application and Peace devotes one chapter to encounter evangelism and two to process evangelism. The author is on target when he warns of inviting people to Christ for the wrong reasons (e.g. personal needs) instead of following Christ (pp. 306-307). But he is in error in his belief that the unregenerate are not hostile to God but rather are open to Him (pp. 331-332). Peace also offers poor teaching concerning seeker-sensitive churches (pp. 332, 343-345). And his promotion of the spiritual disciplines is the low point of the book (pp. 343-345). Peace ends with a very helpful Appendix on a lexical summary of the biblical words connected with “conversion” (pp. 346-353; cf. pp. 244, 251, 264).

Except for the final applicational chapters, Conversion is a solid, very helpful study.

Reviewed by Gary E. Gilley, Pastor-teacher, Southern View Chapel