It’s been nearly four decades since I first wrote the date in blue ball-point pen on the opening page of my red leather Bible: August 24, 1974.
As a wayward 15-year-old, stumbling from my freshman to sophomore years in high school, I was downright belligerent about the prospect of spending a week of my summer vacation with a bunch of boring church kids at a camp in California’s San Bernardino Mountains. I was way too full of myself to waste my time at church camp when I could be making money mowing lawns, or spending time going to the beach and working on my tan.
Somehow, someone convinced me to go and give it a try. It was only six days, they reasoned. How bad could it be? Little did I know it would be a week that would change my life forever.
What happened at Mile High Pines that summer was the miracle of God wrestling into submission my youthful, rebellious nature, and breathing into its place His life-giving Spirit. I wandered out of the last teaching session that balmy evening so dissatisfied with my life, so at the end of myself, that I found myself falling into God’s loving arms under the spreading branches of an old oak tree out next to the ball field.
It was a beautiful summer night: August 24, 1974.
What happened to me that evening was a profound, personal, heartfelt conversion, a new birth—the very same experience the first Brethren in Christ encountered when they embraced the teachings of Pietism and set out to found a new church 200 years prior to my trip to summer camp.
In many ways, Pietism represented to the first Brethren a sincere quest for a more holistic vision of what it meant to be a Christian. It taught that there was a definite point in time when a person made a genuine, individual decision to become a follower of Jesus.
Today, we seem to be shying away from this kind of conversion language, mostly because it seems too canned and too formulaic. Our appeal to those who don’t know Christ tends to be more relational, more process-oriented, and less of a call to make a decision. In many ways, conversion just isn’t cool anymore and seems to have given way to a more user-friendly, relational approach of inviting people to enter into a non-confrontational dialogue with Jesus.
I’d like to challenge us to recapture the dynamic of our Pietistic heritage that emphasizes the point in time when non-believers take that decisive step in saying “yes” to God and are truly born again.
I certainly appreciate that not everyone will be able to identify a date when they chose to follow Jesus. Yet I would argue that most commonly the new birth is an occasion when someone determines that Jesus is first among all other loves and embraces a lifelong journey of discipleship.
Every few years, as my Bible begins to wear out and I need to replace it, it’s become my habit to transfer the date from my old book onto the first page of my new one. This act reminds me of that warm August night nearly 40 years ago, when I initially said “yes” to God and received His wonderful promise as my own—that He who began a good work in me would carry it on to completion until the day of Christ Jesus.