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What makes Christian conversion valid? Can it be explained psychologically?
Whenever a believer gives his or her testimony, there always seems to be someone who objects to this being used as evidence for the Christian truth-claim. They contend that it seems like everybody has some sort of conversion experience or religious testimony.
The Mormons talk about the burning in their heart; those in Eastern religions will talk about the peace and tranquility they receive; others will admit to a new joy or happiness.
Why is Christian conversion correct and the others incorrect? Can’t it be better explained by conditional responses or some type of self-hypnosis?
It is true that many today are testifying to religious experiences in which they claim to have met ultimate reality. At first glance, the Christian sounds like everyone else because he is also claiming to have experienced truth. The unbeliever or casual observer needs more than a mere testimony of subjective experience as a criterion to judge who, if anyone, is right. The difference is that Christians have that criterion.
Christian conversion is linked to the person of Jesus Christ. It is rooted in fact, not wishful thinking. Jesus demonstrated that He had the credentials to be called the unique Son of God. He challenged men and women to put their faith in Him, that they might know God and what life is all about.
Jesus said, "I am come that they might have life, and that they might have it more abundantly" (John 10:10, KJV). When a person puts his faith in Jesus Christ, he enters into personal relationship with God Almighty, which results in changes taking place in his life.
Christian conversion is neither self-improvement nor culturally conditioned. There are many who put their faith in Christ, and do it against the pressures of friends and family. The Christian’s experience ultimately depends on God and His work in the person’s life. This must take place. The experience is grounded in this fact, not in the person himself.
Besides the fact that Christian conversion is based upon something objective, the resurrection of Christ, there is also the universality of Christian experience that must be considered. From the time of Jesus until today, people from every conceivable background, culture, and intellectual stance have been converted by the person of Jesus Christ.
Some of the vilest individuals who ever walked the face of the earth have become some of the most wonderful saints after trusting Jesus Christ. This must be considered. Because of the diversity of the people, it cannot be explained away simply on the basis of conditioning.
Let’s say, for example, that someone approaches you and says that he has found the meaning of life, ultimate reality. He confesses that his life has undergone a drastic change. So you ask him what the key is to this major change. He responds by saying, "Ever since I started wearing a watermelon rind on my head, my life has been changed."
You check with this person’s friends, and they tell you that indeed he has been different since the day the rind was put on his head. Now you want to know if this experience is peculiar to this one individual, or if others have made the same claim. Thus you start looking for people with watermelon rinds on their heads.
You look far and wide, but cannot find anyone else with a similar experience. Thus you conclude this person is generating his own experience, and is not meeting ultimate reality.
Christian experience is universal, and though this in and of itself does not make it true, it does make it worth considering. What does make it true is that it is based upon the overwhelming evidence of the deity of Jesus Christ.
ADDITIONAL REFERENCE SOURCES
Josh McDowell, Evidence That Demands a Verdict, rev. ed., Here’s Life Publishers, 1979
Paul Little, How To Give Away Your Faith, Inter-Varsity, 1966
William Barclay, Turning to God, Baker, 1964
Norman Geisler, Philosophy of Religion, Zondervan, 1974