MASTER'S SEMINARY JOURNAL

BOOK REVIEW

Conversion in the New Testament: Paul and the Twelve


By Richard V. Peace
Grand Rapids : Eerdmans (1999). xv + 397 Pages.

Reviewed by Dr. Cecil Stalnaker
11.2 (Fall 2000) : 262-263

The author is the Robert Boyd Munger Professor of Evangelism and Spiritual Formation at Fuller Theological Seminary. Building on his doctoral dissertation, he has made a significant contribution to the discussion on conversion by attempting to weave NT studies with practical theology, namely that of evangelism. His purpose was to investigate the nature of conversion in light of the Apostle Paul’s and that of C hrist’s disciples w ith respect to current evangelistic methodologies. He maintains that people convert under the same theological understanding, but each person may differ in his conversion experience.555555 The book appears in three sections. Section I is an integrative study of Paul’s Damascus road conversion experience, which is based on a study of the book of Acts and Paul’s epistles. From Paul’s turning to Christ, Peace views conversion to consist of three elements: (1) Insight, that is, gaining truth and understanding; (2) Turning to God or repentance; and (3) Transformation, which results is a new way of living. According to the author, the apostle’s conversion was a point-in-time event. Section II argues that the conversion of the twelve disciples is the “organizing principle” of the Gospel of Mark, maintaining that there are six units to the Gospel, structured around six main titles for Jesus—a Great Teacher, Powerful Prophet, Messiah, Son of Man, Son of David, and Son of God. Although he believes that Mark had several purposes, he feels that conversion is a major theme. Even though the disciples’ conversion is examined in light of Paul’s, he describes their conversion as gradual by nature, rather than immediate. He attempts to trace this gradual understanding of Jesus through the above six titles, whereby they come to know Jesus step-by-step in their spiritual journey.555555 The strengths of this work are many, especially Peace’s attempt to create a practical theology w hich arises out of biblical and theological foundations. An added benefit is that Peace attem pts to handle a number of insights on conversion from psychology, but concludes that they have little to offer other than describing what happens during the so-called conversion experience. His critiques of encounter evangelism, principally that of mass or crusade, of personal confrontation, and of media evangelism, are helpful. He finds these approaches lacking in many ways; yet he is not ready to eliminate them from today’s evangelistic scene. He is an advocate of “process” evangelism, which makes understanding of the gospel and Christ essential prior to commitment in salvation to God. He briefly examines the approaches used, whereby evangelism takes place in small, growth, and worship- oriented groups. However, he believes that both approaches—process and encounter—are necessary to reach mankind for Christ. His footnotes are extensive, as is his bibliography. The writer’s addition of scriptural, subject, and author indexes is very helpful. Additionally, his lexical summary study on conversion is an added feature.555555 Although the structural analysis of the Gospel of Mark in Chapter 6 is important to his argumentation, it may be viewed as parenthetical rather than central by some readers, for it is very detailed and possibly even distracting from the central purpose of the book. A brief overview would have been sufficient. A second weakness concerns the book’s lack of emphasis on sin. Even though the writer views the importance of repentance and turning from evil, the emphasis on the latter was less than this reviewer expected.555555 Because the author has examined the NT and applied his findings to today’s evangelism approaches, his contribution is significant. This book will encourage further reflection on methods of reaching people for Christ today, especially as readers contemplate the role of process evangelism in conversion. Evangelistic approach

The author is the Robert Boyd Munger Professor of Evangelism and Spiritual Formation at Fuller Theological Seminary. Building on his doctoral dissertation, he has made a significant contribution to the discussion on conversion by attempting to weave NT studies with practical theology, namely that of evangelism. His purpose was to investigate the nature of conversion in light of the Apostle Paul’s and that of Christ’s disciples with respect to current evangelistic methodologies. He maintains that people convert under the same theological understanding, but each person may differ in his conversion experience.

The book appears in three sections. Section I is an integrative study of Paul’s Damascus road conversion experience, which is based on a study of the book of Acts and Paul’s epistles. From Paul’s turning to Christ, Peace views conversion to consist of three elements: (1) Insight, that is, gaining truth and understanding; (2) Turning to God or repentance; and (3) Transformation, which results is a new way of living. According to the author, the apostle’s conversion was a point-in-time event. Section II argues that the conversion of the twelve disciples is the “organizing principle” of the Gospel of Mark, maintaining that there are six units to the Gospel, structured around six main titles for Jesus—a Great Teacher, Powerful Prophet, Messiah, Son of Man, Son of David, and Son of God. Although he believes that Mark had several purposes, he feels that conversion is a major theme. Even though the disciples’ conversion is examined in light of Paul’s, he describes their conversion as gradual by nature, rather than immediate. He attempts to trace this gradual understanding of Jesus through the above six titles, whereby they come to know Jesus step-by-step in their spiritual journey.

The strengths of this work are many, especially Peace’s attempt to create a practical theology which arises out of biblical and theological foundations. An added benefit is that Peace attempts to handle a number of insights on conversion from psychology, but concludes that they have little to offer other than describing what happens during the so-called conversion experience. His critiques of encounter evangelism, principally that of mass or crusade, of personal confrontation, and of media evangelism, are helpful. He finds these approaches lacking in many ways; yet he is not ready to eliminate them from today’s evangelistic scene. He is an advocate of “process” evangelism, which makes understanding of the gospel and Christ essential prior to commitment in salvation to God. He briefly examines the approaches used, whereby evangelism takes place in small, growth, and worship- oriented groups. However, he believes that both approaches—process and encounter—are necessary to reach mankind for Christ. His footnotes are extensive, as is his bibliography. The writer’s addition of scriptural, subject, and author indexes is very helpful. Additionally, his lexical summary study on conversion is an added feature.

Although the structural analysis of the Gospel of Mark in Chapter 6 is important to his argumentation, it may be viewed as parenthetical rather than central by some readers, for it is very detailed and possibly even distracting from the central purpose of the book. A brief overview would have been sufficient. A second weakness concerns the book’s lack of emphasis on sin. Even though the writer views the importance of repentance and turning from evil, the emphasis on the latter was less than this reviewer expected.

Because the author has examined the NT and applied his findings to today’s evangelism approaches, his contribution is significant. This book will encourage further reflection on methods of reaching people for Christ today, especially as readers contemplate the role of process evangelism in conversion. Evangelistic approaches that encourage “customer” or “selling the gospel” methods must be reconsidered as to their eventual effectiveness. Commitment and following Christ, not decisions, are the needs to be emphasized today.

es that encourage “customer” or “selling the gospel” methods must be reconsidered as to their eventual effectiveness. Commitment and following Christ, not decisions, are the needs to be emphasized today.