Hear, O Israel, the Lord our God, the Lord is one.
Love the Lord you God with all your heart,
with all your soul,
with all your mind, and with all your strength.
The second is this: Love your neighbor as yourself.
There is no commandment greater than these.
This is a series of reflections on Scot McKnight’s book, The Jesus Creed: Loving God, Loving Others. It’s a book I unequivocally recommend for anyone. Each chapter opens with recommended Gospel readings. The reading for this chapter is: Luke 5:1-11.
Conversion, like wisdom, takes a lifetime.
McKnight has a whole lot more in depth on conversion in his book, Turning to Jesus. Nevertheless, Peter is a good story to explore. He’s nice and complex.
For some, conversion is like a birth certificate while for others it is like a driver’s license. For the first, the ultimate question is ‘What do I need to do to get to heaven?’ For the second, the question is ‘How do I love God?’ For the first, concern is a moment; for the second, the concern is a life.
The Jesus Creed is more like a driver’s license than a birth certificate.
The Jesus Creed is about the totality of life, and so conversion to Jesus and the Jesus Creed is total conversion — heart, soul, mind, and strength.
I think the present-day American church has failed to grasp that, for a lot of us, the question of ‘how to get into heaven‘ just isn’t particularly interesting or compelling. It’s not much of an incentive for conversion. And if you ask any sort of more complicated question, it becomes much harder to pinpoint an instant of conversion. Peter is a good example. Let’s start by asking what should be a simple question: When was Peter converted?
- Was it when Shimeon was introduced to Yeshua and Yeshua tells him that one day his name will be Kephas? His brother told Peter that this man might be the Messiah.
- Was it when Peter confesses he is a sinner? Remember? That’s the odd conclusion to the fishing story. I never have quite figured out how a big catch of fish prompts the declaration, ‘I am a sinful man!’ But there you go. Is this when he’s converted?
- Or is it when Peter confesses Jesus is Messiah? Peter does get it right when Jesus asks, but then almost immediately screws up again.
- Or is he only converted after the death and resurrection of Jesus? After all, Peter had flatly denied even knowing Jesus and had had to be restored by Jesus after the resurrection.
- Or is his conversion only complete when he and the others receive the Holy Spirit at Pentecost? After all, it wasn’t until then that Peter was willing to publicly proclaim Jesus to others.
Two other events are of note. Peter receives a vision that converts him to the reality that the church will include Jews and Gentiles. And finally, there is the Peter who writes the letters to the churches. He’s surely converted by the time these occur, but they are still noteworthy.
Still, a credible case can be made for any of the first five as the point of Peter’s conversion. And then Scot McKnight says this.
No one doubts that Peter is converted, but we may not be sure when the ‘moment’ occurs, when he gets his birth certificate. And therein lies the mystery of conversion. Conversion is more than just an event; it is a process. Like wisdom, it takes a lifetime. Conversion is a lifelong series of gentle (or noisy) nods of the soul. The question of when someone is converted is much less important than that they are converting.
That was a very freeing statement for me. Of course, I could shape my story to fit many boxes, but none of them ever felt quite right. There were many points of ‘decision’ and all of them were legitimate and authentic. They were also mostly of the ‘noisy’ rather than the ‘gentle’ variety. McKnight was the first Christian voice I heard who basically said my story of conversion could be my story, whatever it looked like. I didn’t have to have a singular Pauline experience. I didn’t have to have a point where I turned and was forever different. It’s not that there’s anything wrong with that, but “There is no reason to think Paul’s is the definitive model.”
Moreover, even Paul doesn’t seem to fit within the context of what many today seem to mean by a Pauline experience of conversion. Paul, after all, still had a race to complete, a mark to keep before him, a finish to achieve. The thief on the cross seems to be the sort of conversion that many evangelicals really seem to have in mind. And while God can do all things, that was clearly an exception, not the rule. After all, most of us aren’t in the process of being executed.
McKnight outlines the seven stages that we see in Peter’s story as follows:
- Peter suspects Jesus might be Messiah.
- Peter recognizes Jesus as someone profoundly superior.
- Peter confesses Jesus as the Messiah. [But Peter disagrees with the Messiah on whether or not the Messiah ought to suffer.]
- Peter perceives the Messiah must suffer.
- Peter confesses Jesus is Lord.
- Peter realizes that Jesus is not just the Lord of the Jewa, but the Lord of all. Here Peter sees that the Jesus Creed is about loving all others.
- Peter embraces Jesus’ life as the paradigm of Christian living.
Peter illustrates a progression of conversion. And I would hazard that his example is more common than Paul’s.