David Wells believes the biblical understanding of salvific conversion has been distorted in modern times and needs to be reclaimed by the church. From at least the Reformation on, evangelicals saw conversion as a supernatural act of God due to the depravity of human nature (pp. 18-20, 173-174). However, during the Second Great Awakening (1772-1850) a shift took place in which many began to believe that through use of the right means sinners would naturally turn to God. During that same era truth was replaced by experience as the evidence of salvation (pp. 106-108). Evangelicals need to take a fresh look at this distortion and return to the teachings of Scripture. This slim volume is an attempt to do this very thing.
Wells defines conversion as “turning to Christ from unfaithfulness and sin to receive God’s grace” (p. 42), and “Conversion” denotes a transformation from self-dedication to dedication to God (p. 27). He rejects the popular notion that one can turn to Christ as Savior but reject Him as Lord as having no basis in the New Testament (p. 23). The assurance of salvation comes through the Holy Spirit’s confirmation of our faith and a changed life (pp. 43, 176-177). Since the role of repentance is much debated today Wells devotes considerable time to its study. He examines the key words (pp. 33-34), traces its meaning through both the Old (pp. 31-33, 38-41) and the New Testament (pp. 33-38), and concludes that repentance from sin a necessary component of saving faith (p. 72). He writes, “Evangelical repentance is turning from sin, now recognized as ruinous, to a new life of following Christ in righteousness, now embraced as the only hope of life” (p. 72).
Recognizing that the experience of conversion differs among individuals Wells surveys various groups. He begins with “insiders,” unbelievers who already have a solid understanding of the gospel or at least a biblical foundation (pp. 53-68). These would include religious people such as Paul (pp. 57-64), and children brought up in a Christian home or church (pp. 64-68). Several types of “outsiders” are also discussed including Muslims (pp. 113-124), Hindus and Buddhists (pp. 129-138), Western secularists (pp. 140-158), and Marxists (pp. 152-158). Stumbling blocks for each of these groups and how to present the gospel to them are helpfully provided.
Turning to God is readable, insightful, challenging and biblical. It would be valuable for anyone desiring a thorough, yet not overwhelming, study of conversion of the unbeliever to Christ.
Turning to God, Reclaiming Christian Conversion as Unique, Necessary, and Supernatural by David F. Wells (Grand Rapids: Baker Books, 1989, 2012) 189 pp., paper $13.99
Reviewed by Gary E. Gilley, Southern View Chapel