Reading Jim Wallis’ powerful new book, “The Call to Conversion,” one can’t help but wonder if it’s possible for any American, except perhaps the most countercultural, to rightly consider himself or herself a Christian. Our materialistic culture is completely at odds with the teachings of Jesus. We value competition and success, and our social and economic system favors the wealthy over the poor. Jesus, of course, taught that the first shall be last and that the meek and the poor will inherit the earth. To really be his followers, we’d have to reject ambition, aggrandizement, and aggression—basically the American way of life.
And as Wallis points out in his book (which is actually a revised and updated edition of his 1981 classic), our personal religious beliefs and experiences alone can’t save us, nor do they make us followers of Jesus. The gospel message is not about personal salvation, which most evangelical ministers preach, but about a wholeness that’s possible only in the realization of a new, radically egalitarian social order, a.k.a. the kingdom of God—“the integrating and central core of the gospel.”
Our only hope, Wallis says, is to convert—to change every aspect of our lives and commit ourselves unreservedly to the values of the kingdom of God, recognizing that it’s the sin rooted in our social institutions, as much as it is any personal sin, that “destroys others’ lives and eats away at our own humanity.”
The biblical call to conversion is daunting, and it’s not an end in itself. Conversion is a call to change the world. “No longer preoccupied with our private lives,” Wallis writes, “we are engaged in a vocation of the world. Our prayer becomes, ‘Thy kingdom come, thy will be done, on earth as it is in heaven.’ If we restrict our salvation to only inner concerns, we have yet to enter the kingdom.”
To read “Betraying Jesus,” an excerpt from “The Call to Conversion,” click here.
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