As I was skimming through my Twitter feed yesterday I noticed a post from Relevant Magazine that looked as though it was a bash on turning non-Christian friends into "Religious Projects". I didn't read the article because (to be honest) Relevant Magazine is about the least relevant thing to me (not sure why I still follow them?). Anyway, the title got me thinking a bit about why there is even a discussion about turning people into "Conversion Projects".
You know what I'm talking about. You've probably been in one of these discussions before, most likely in a high school or college ministry Bible study or something.
It's prayer request time and someone in the group wants prayer for a friend they want to become a Christian. Someone usually responds to this prayer request by saying "You don't want to turn the person into a project. You just need to love them." Then someone else in the group usually pipes in saying, "Isn't getting them to accept Jesus the most loving thing you can do?" The group then veers into a 15 minute long discussion as to whether or not Jesus "Treated people like 'Religious Projects.'" In the end, prayer request time was cut short.
The problem with this sort of discussion stems from a very truncated view of conversion and salvation that we have adopted in Modern Evangelicalism. More often than not, "Salvation" is viewed as some sort of substance to be gotten or obtained. Therefore, those who "have" this "salvation substance" attempt to dole it out in some form or another to those who don't have it. Depending on the circle or "tribe" you're talking about, the way people attempt to dole out this substantiative salvation takes many different forms.
In Relevant "tribes" you will try to secretly slip "salvation substance" to a non-believer by getting them to come to your church that's subtly disguised as a concert or, better yet, you could slip some salvation into their non-fat latte they are drinking when you tricked them to come to your "Bible study" disguised as a coffee shop hangout.
In openly Baptistic "tribes" this "salvation substance" is doled out in a much less covert manner. The "salvation substance" is waved about furiously and those who do not partake are often guilted into obtaining their ration of salvation by being made an example in front of the rest of the congregation who already has their "salvation substance."
In Reformed "tribes" this "salvation substance" funneled through a direct tube from heaven to the individual's mind. In order to get the substance to others this ethereal tube of "salvation substance" must be properly attached to the non-believer's mind.
The problem with all of these approaches is a view of conversion that views salvation as a noun instead of an adjective (Thanks to Peter Leithart to pointing this out in his book Against Christianity). When we view salvation as a noun we believe that it is some sort of static substance we have to get inside of people. When we view salvation as an adjective we see salvation as dynamic and directive. Another way to put it is by saying that salvation is "creation restored to God." In this view we are the noun and salvation is describing what kind of noun we are; restored.
Moreover we see this embodied in the resurrected LORD who is our salvation. Jesus is salvation because he is the "creation restored to God." Jesus is the New Creation and "behold he is making all things new."
When we view salvation in this light then it is no longer possible to view people as projects at all. Instead people are a part of God's creation who are either apart of King Jesus' restoration of creation or opposed to it. With this view of salvation we no longer try to get salvation in to people but instead inform them that salvation is at hand.
Conversion then becomes a matter of allegiance rather than a matter of ethereal introspection. Conversion then becomes a matter of becoming a citizen of a new world, the world to come, rather than a matter of accepting Jesus into your heart or getting right doctrine in your head. When conversion is viewed in these terms then citizens of "the world to come" will necessarily rub against citizens of this world. This removes the possibility of making people projects because now the citizens of this world are put on defensive because citizens of the world to come are bearing the new age down upon this one and calling those in this world to change their allegiance or perish.
Food for thought.