Saturday, June 7, 2008

Conversion: Alma vs. McConkie

In our Sunday School discussion this week the lesson manual asks the following: "Throughout his address to the people in Zarahemla, Alma spoke of experiencing a “mighty change” of heart and being “born of God” (see Alma 5). We often use the word conversion when we speak of this experience. What does it mean to be converted? Is conversion a single event or a process?" Our class was unable to come to a consensus on this question. What do you think? Have you experienced conversion? For you, was it a single event, or a process?

When I read Alma 5, it seems to describe a born again experience much like that extolled by the evangelical Christians. I myself had a "born again" experience at age 18. Though I was raised in a Christian home with a father who was a Protestant minister, this was an experience during which I came alive to the things of the Spirit. For me it was a single event, though there has been a process of sanctification including my decision to join the LDS church and the development of testimony of several aspects of the Gospel.

Elder Bruce R. McConkie taught:

“Except in … unusual circumstances, as with Alma (Mosiah 27), spiritual rebirth is a process. It does not occur instantaneously. It comes to pass by degrees. Repentant persons become alive to one spiritual reality after another, until they are wholly alive in Christ and are qualified to dwell in his presence forever” (Lesson 22: “Have Ye Received His Image in Your Countenances?”, Book of Mormon Gospel Doctrine Teacher’s Manual, (1999),98)

When this quotation was read during our class, I felt that it referred more to the process of sanctification than what Alma is describing in Alma 5. Somehow I doubt that my spiritual rebirth is "unusual." I've heard many Mormons, converts and lifelong members, describe a mighty change as a single experience which they can pinpoint.

But I wonder if McConkie deserves more credence than I have heretofore supposed. In a recent FHE, we were speaking to our teenaged daughters about their testimonies of the Book of Mormon. They felt uncomfortable with the admonition of Moroni to pray about the book. They insist that as long as they have been aware, they have known the Book of Mormon was a true scriptural record, and that to pray about it would be a lack of faith. They relate better to a process-oriented approach, where they continue to learn more about the scriptures and develop more skill in applying them to their lives. In their case, and in that of many life-long members, is "conversion" unnecessary?

I continue to worry about this, for the Lord told Alma:
Marvel not that all mankind, yea, men and women, all nations, kindreds, tongues and people, must be born again; yea, born of God, changed from their carnal and fallen state, to a state of righteousness, being redeemed of God, becoming his sons and daughters; And thus they become new creatures; and unless they do this, they can in nowise inherit the kingdom of God.


S.Faux said...

Dear Bored in Saudi Arabia... er... I mean Vernal:

I love your countdown clock.

I don't have a grand theological theory to propose. I only know what I observe. Some people convert fast and others convert slow. My prodigal son was belted over the head by the spirit, resulting in a rather fast and unexpected conversion. For me, I have always been a line upon line, precept upon precept kind of McConkie guy -- slow and steady. So, in my family there are both kinds. I don't argue with the way, as long as the job gets done.

Doc said...

I don't see why both can't be correct. One can have the spiritually born of God experience and still make a carnal mistake or two later in their lives. I don't think there is any denying this. Perhaps calling sanctification something different is misleading. I think they are different sides of the same coin. The born again experience may be an anchor, but it is Alma who also asks that if we have felt to sing the song of redeeming love before, can we feel so again now.

Floyd the Wonderdog said...

I also had an Alma-like experience. In a talk I said that we all need to be converted and that there are three kinds of converts that I've been able to discern. There's the cradle Mormon. That person (like my wife) who was exposed to the gospel at a very early age and gained a testimony quite young. Often it is so young that they cannot ascertain when they did not have a testimony. Some of those kids getting up on Fast Sunday actually ahve a testimony and are not merely parrots.

The second group are the converts. Either through an Alma-like conversion or over the course of time. To some the realization that they have a testimony does not come as an epiphany. I am uncomfortable sharing how I obtained my testimony because it was rather dramatic. But then again, I may have needed a larger rock to anchor too because the storm around me was raging so strongly.

The third group are the re-verts. Those who have fallen away and then come back. My experience is that they have to be reminded that they have a testimony and how to make it efficatious in their lives.

Ayla said...

I know my conversion was a 5 year process but can be boiled down to a single day when I prayed, went to sleep and awoke with a softened heart. That morning upon waking was really the instant of conversion.

Bookslinger said...

I think testimony and conversion are two separate things, and both of them, individually and separately, can fall somewhere along the event-versus-process continuum.

The scriptures do mention a "baptism of fire" which seems to correspond to the Holy Ghost "falling upon" or "filling" a person. That can be a dramatic life-altering event, but also, for those who are literal descendents of Abraham, it may not be so dramatic, and the person may not know it, like in one occurance with the Lamanites mentioned in the BoM, where it says they were filled with the Holy Ghost (or baptized with fire, I forget) and "didn't know it."

Of course, one can be filled with the Holy Ghost on multiple occasions, as many of the main actors in the BoM were. But the "baptism of the Spirit" or actually _receiving_ the Holy Ghost, does seem to me to be some kind of required thing needed to happen.

It wasn't until I fell away from the church and the gospel that I realized that testimony and conversion are separate things. One can be "un-converted". And one can lose one's testimony.

However, I do have to agree with Page 38 of Gospel Principles, that when the Holy Ghost "weaves" or "burns" something into your soul, it is very hard to erase.

You can stop believing something, but it is very hard to "un-know" something once you know it by the burned-in knowledge that the Holy Ghost sometimes provides.

Mormon Heretic said...

I agree with the sentiments that conversion can be either a slow process or miraculous conversion. My take on McConkie is that many church members think Alma experiences should be had by all, but often it is a process. In that sense McConkie is really speaking to those who don't have an Alma experience.

I remember in the MTC hearing other missionaries proclaiming how wonderful the spirit was there. I didn't feel that much different, and began to wonder if I was doing something wrong. So, McConkie's talk was aimed more at someone like me.

Like I said, I don't deny that other people have miraculous experiences, but it sure seems like I do not, and many people fall into this category.

I also agree that many have miraculous conversions.

What is my user name again? said...

I want to say something that may be a little contentious.
First, I want to preface that all spiritual experiences whether processes or “Alma-like” in scope are valid and just plain good things. The small things that bring us to God should in no way be under-minded or marginalized.
However, I must propose that both are essential to conversion and that without a sure knowledge communicated spirit to spirit the “steps” are only that…steps
(I’m thinking Peter and “when thou are converted” here.)
I would be interested to know when Elder McConkie made that statement, because in 1980 he boldly stated “It is true that you can reason about doctrinal matters, but you do not get religion into your life until it becomes a matter of personal experience…Now I say that we are entitled to revelation. I say that every member of the Church, independent and irrespective of any position that he may hold, is entitled to get revelation from the Holy Ghost; he is entitled to entertain angels; he is entitled to view the visions of eternity; and if we would like to go the full measure , he is entitled to see God the same way that any prophet in literal and actual reality has seen the face of Deity…Salvation cannot come without revelation (if that’s what you define as being saved then there you go)…What is means is that we need religious experience, we need to become personally involved with God.” (New Era Jun 1980, 46)
Now it can be argued what exactly spiritual experience is. However, we seem to be entitled to more than a lukewarm version (and Peter walked everyday with Christ!).
I was born in the church and I understand the journey vs. event perspective quite well, however, to each of us who are blessed to have that foundation, we must ask ourselves very seriously if we really have been sufficiently converted by our steps? Or is that us playing it safe? Do we truly desire with ALL our hearts to see God face to face? Or is the slow way our excuse for not “dreaming dreams” and seeing visions? I feel mighty uncomfortable when I hear “it’s not necessary for me to see God” because well, it’s been promised that we can! (D&C 93:1; 2 Ne 32:6) And on top of that, faith’s ultimate purpose is knowledge…to know with a surety, that doesn’t seem to be something that you would “know not”. Once again, I know that this can be justified and excused away as anything in our religion can, but isn’t essentially what Alma asks in 5th chapter if we want with everything we are to be in God’s presence? So, yes, of course the steps are essential in gaining and maintaining the witness…but the witness is absolutely crucial and if you’ve had it you know; and that witness is entirely personal, but it is equally sure and large in scope to every person that receives it. So to anyone who feels that they haven’t had an “Alma experience”, I urge you to ask yourself why not?

Why do I always forget my name on this thing? said...

P.S. Hey mom it's interesting that the younger kids feel that way...I don't think the older ones would agree.

... said...

oh and i just read that he said that in 199whatever.

Ann said...

Dear friend, are you going to blog about your plans? Please?

Joe said...


I would suggest that the gospel is explicitly defined in four places in the latter day scriptures. All four of them refer to either sanctification or baptism by fire and the Holy Ghost. Here is an example from D&C 33:

"11 Yea, repent and be baptized, every one of you, for a remission of your sins; yea, be baptized even by water, and then cometh the baptism of fire and of the Holy Ghost.
12 Behold, verily, verily, I say unto you, this is my gospel; and remember that they shall have faith in me or they can in nowise be saved;"

I would also suggest that if the baptism by fire is defined as a main part of the gospel, we should strive to understand what it means.

My experience tells me that sanctification is singular event. We are sanctified when we receive a remission of our sins through baptism by fire and the Holy Ghost. I draw that from 3 Nephi 27:20 and 2 Nephi 31:17.

Bookslinger mentioned that Lamanites as being an example of not knowing that it had happened. In my opinion, it is just the opposite. This comes from 3 Nephi, chapter 9:

"...And whoso cometh unto me with a broken heart and a contrite spirit, him will I baptize with fire and with the Holy Ghost, even as the Lamanites, because of their faith in me at the time of their conversion, were baptized with fire and with the Holy Ghost, and they knew it not."

Before the 1981 changes to the footnotes, the footnote of this verse pointed to Helaman 5:45 and the story of Aminadab explaining to the lamanites what was happening to them. There is still a footnote reference in Helaman back to the verse in 3rd Nephi, chapter 9. Did the lamanite know what was happening to them? Yes, when it was explained to them. Was it noticeable? absolutely!!!

The doctrine of Christ found in 2 Nephi chapter 31, tells us that we all must be baptized by water, then baptized by fire and the Holy Ghost. Moroni 6 tells us that we must be 'cleansed by the power of the Holy Ghost' BEFORE we can be numbered with the church of Christ. I believe this cleansing is the same baptism by fire.

The example of the people of King Benjamin, Alma, Enos and the lamanites are to teach us the real meaning of baptism by fire.

One last point. Cornelius, the first gentile to be converted to the gospel was baptized by fire in the same manner as the apostles at Pentacost (see Acts 10:44-45, 11:15-16). I don't see any difference in how a Gentile was 'changed' according to this scripture. Peter acknowledged such.

In my opinion, taking all the relevant scriptures into account, the evidence is strong that baptism by fire, being born again, is a singular event of incredible impact. My personal experience is aligned with these scriptures.