In a day and age where the idea of radical discontinuity implied in Biblical conversion seems to have fallen on hard times, one would do well to interact with R.T. France’s 1993 study entitled “Conversion in the Bible“.

As much as R.T. France uses the word ‘insider’ and ‘outsider’ conversion, he employs them in a much different light than the Insider Movement which has demonstrated a strong allergy to breaking with one’s old religion.

These quotes give a sketch of France’s argument:

A full ‘outsider conversion’ meaning for epistrepho is spelled out particularly in three of the above passages. The Thessalonians have ‘turned to God from idols, to serve a living and true God’ (1 Thess. 1:9), the Lycaonians are called on to ‘turn from these vain things to a living God’ (Acts 14:15), and Paul’s mission to the Gentiles is ‘to open their eyes that they may turn from darkness to light and from the power of Satan to God, that they may receive forgiveness of sins and a
place among those who are sanctified by faith in me’ (Acts 26:18). All these passages specify what is implicit in all such uses, that conversion is both ‘from’ and ‘to’, replacing an old way of life and an old loyalty with a new and opposite allegiance. (p. 295)

Thus what had begun as a movement calling Jews to return to God (‘insider conversion’) eventually came to demand not only a new experience of God but also a change of religious affiliation (‘outsider conversion’). This development was due not to any change in the nature of the gospel or in the basis of a saving relationship with God, but to the recognition both by the Christians themselves and by the Jewish community from which they derived that a new community had come into existence, which demanded a loyalty incompatible with continuing adherence to the parent group. (p. 301)

Once the true coin of Biblical conversion is known, the counterfeit will be easy to spot. Back to work, studious Bereans who “receive[..] the word with all readiness of mind, and search […] the scriptures daily, whether those things were so. ” (Acts 17:11)

* The article by R.T. France originally appeared in Evangelical Quarterly 65:4 (1993), pp. 291-310.


1 Comment

  1. Thank you for pointing to this thought provoking study! I have not given this consideration previously.

    Of course, one has to define “religious” affiliation, which is exceedingly difficult today, especially given the number of “Christians” in the world who are not regenerate believers of Christ (i.e. have not been ‘converted’). That the NT believers universally identified as “Christians” or desired to be is far from clear. We therefore need to be humble and tentative in our application of “religion” to Biblical conversion. (Disclaimer: I am not an IM proponent.)

    The deeper issue is that Biblical conversion is not individualistic (it IS personal), but the communal aspects of conversion mean that we are to be part of the community of Jesus (“outsider conversion” as France puts it). And that takes various forms in various contexts. Sole allegiance to Christ and then affiliation with his body (Biblically defined ekklesia) is where the Gospel aims, and then social identity and labels flow from that, but not vice versa.

    This post might be of interest:

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