Jesus said: Except ye be converted, and become as little children, ye shall not enter into the kingdom of heaven” (Matthew 18:3 KJV) Rabindranath Tagore, the great Indian poet and philosopher, said this passage was the most beautiful passage in the bible. But what is conversion? Converted comes from “con”, with, and “vertare”, to turn – “to turn with.” The big question in life is, is my face or my back toward Christ? The first step in the new life is to turn your back on the old life and face toward Christ. You do not do that alone – there is the “with”. The moment you throw your will in His direction, He is there with you. He helps you to do what you can’t do – to break with the old life – but that decision to turn around is your decision. There you stand alone and as a free moral being you make the decision alone, severely alone. The moment you make it, however, He is “with” you.
“Except a man be born again, he cannot see the kingdom of God.” (John 3:3) What did Jesus mean by this verse? E. Stanley Jones believed Jesus divided all mankind into those who had been born again and those who had not. The act of conversion is as integral to Jones’ theology and his life as it was, according to the scriptures, to Jesus. There was scarcely a book, a sermon, or a conversation with Jones that did not inevitably return to and dwell upon this subject. He believed the human need for conversion was everywhere. According to Jones, “Conversion is the penitent, receptive response to the saving divine initiative in Christ, resulting in a change, gradual or sudden, by which one passes from the kingdom of self to the Kingdom of God and becomes a part of a living fellowship, the church” (Jones, Conversion, 55). Here is an account of E. Stanley Jones’ own conversion. My religious experiences and expression began at age five when at church I tried to call attention to myself – all dressed up in a fine CONVERSION new suit – by passing around a collection plate to the adults chatting after service. In retrospect, I realized that I had ‘unwittingly run into the central problem in religion, the problem of the self-assertive self’(Jones, A Song of Ascents, 26).
At about the age of 15, I was in the gallery of Memorial Church in Baltimore, with a group of friends…The speaker was an Englishman, a man of God and at the close of his address he pointed his finger to where we were seated and said, “Young men, Jesus said, ‘He that is not with me is against me.’” It went straight to my heart. It shook me so I took my place among the seekers. I wanted the Kingdom of God, and I wanted reconciliation with my heavenly Father, but I took church membership as a substitute. I felt religious for a few weeks and then it all faded out and I was back again exactly where I was before, the springs of my character and my habits unchanged. I had been horizontally converted, but not vertically. As I look back, I am not sorry that I went through that half conversion which was a whole failure. For the fact that I got out of that failure into the real thing may be used to encourage those who have settled down to a compromised stalemate with no note of victory. The real thing came two years later. An evangelist, Robert J. Bateman, came to Memorial Church. I said to myself, “I want what he has.” This time I was deadly serious. I wanted the real thing or nothing. I found myself running the mile to the church. I went into the church and took a front row seat. But I was all eagerness for the evangelist to stop speaking, so I could get to that altar of prayer. When he did stop, I was the first one there. I had scarcely bent my knees when Heaven broke into my spirit. I had him — Jesus — and He had me. We had each other. I belonged. This was a seed moment. The whole of my future was packed into it (Jones, A Song of Ascents, 26ff). Jones second conversion at the age of seventeen changed the course of his life. From that day until the day of his death, Jesus was his unrivalled focus. Jones made conversion the central issue in the life of a follower of Jesus.
In conversion, according to Jones, Christianity asks us to take the one thing we own (the self) and give it back to God. In surrendering the self, we may naturally fear nothing will be left. We may wonder how we are to live without the self, the part of us where we keep all our identity, value, and worth in this world. The response seems paradoxical, for it is in the total surrender of one’s life that one finds the true meaning and joy in life: “Conversion is Life (Jesus) impinging on life, awakening it, unifying it, making it care, and making it love” (Jones, Conversion, 61). But the surrendered self no longer accommodates to the pattern and values of this world, for it has been liberated from these demands and placed in the hands of Jesus. The self is now free! Jones affirms that the fruits of conversion are the best things to happen to society since the beginning of the human race. (Jones, Conversion, 145). Conversion produces, according to Jones, an “altered relationship with God, which produces an altered relationship with yourself, with your neighbor, with nature, and with the universe. You are no longer working against the grain of the universe – you are working with it” (Jones, Conversion, 147). The Rev. Dr. Joon-Sik Park, the E. Stanley Jones Professor of World Evangelism at the Methodist Theological School in Ohio writes,”For Jones, every moment and every encounter held the potential for conversion and his task as a missionary evangelist was to preach Christ with the assurance that “it is possible for anybody who is created in God’s image to be re-created in that image.” Park adds that the church must take to heart these words of warning from Jones: “When the church loses its power to convert, it loses its right to be called a church;” and unless it is transforming people’s life into the likeness of Christ, “it is failing as a church of the living Christ.” (Park, E. Stanley Jones & Sharing the Good News in a Pluralistic Society, 58). In the mid-1950s Jones decided to write a book on Conversion. He felt such a book was needed because only a third of church members knew what conversion was through first-hand experience. This is the book you now hold in your hands. This edition would not have been possible without the assistance of the Rev. Shivraj Mahendra whose publishing, editing and theological skills were essential to the project’s success. I don’t know how Shivraj finds the time to move these E. Stanley Jones reprinting projects forward with his customary speed, expertise, and precision. I am deeply grateful to him. Nicholas Younes contributed his considerable editing expertise to ensure that the text is clear and doggedly pursued the needed annotations. Veronica Henry has beautifully created a YouTube sharing video about this book which contributes to its dissemination. I am surrounded by gifted people and am truly blessed because of them. I trust in turn you will be blessed by this book.
ANNE MATHEWS-YOUNES, ED.D., D. MIN.
President, The E. Stanley Jones Foundation