Sunday, December 03, 2006

Conversion, Covenant, and the Communication of the Faith

The next question in our ongoing comparison of evangelicalism to Reformed theology addresses the issue of the faith's communication from one generation, or one person, to another.

In the thinking of most of our evangelical brothers and sisters, the passing on of religion is almost invariably supernatural and miraculous rather than natural and ordinary. Now, I'm not suggesting that the miraculous element is absent from or de-emphasized in Reformed circles, but what I am saying is that, in the evangelical mindset, the threshhold through which a sinner-turned-saint passes is conversion, and this conversion is usually a cataclysmic and powerful experience.

To believers coming from the Reformation tradition, on the other hand, this is not necessarily the case. While adults coming out of pagan backgrounds may indeed experience such a seismic shift in loyalties, this ought to be the exception rather than the rule. The Christian faith, normally speaking, is passed on from parent(s) to child by means of the baptism of infants. When the child is thus initiated into the covenant community, she is then nurtured in the faith by parents and pastors who treat the child as a believer unless given a reason to do otherwise.

Is it unfair to say that the evangelical insistence upon miraculous conversion experiences demonstrates a latent suspicion of the natural and ordinary means through which God often works? And turning the tables, can Reformed believers legitimately be accused of minimizing the supernatural work of the Spirit?