Rosaria Butterfield on True Conversion & Repentance

“The purpose-driven movement makes conversion a simple matter of saying the magic words, a mantra that makes Jesus the Mr. Rogers of the conscience. In his popular book, The Purpose Driven Life, author Rick Warren represents conversion in these words: ‘Jesus, I believe in you and I receive you” (p. 59). There is a pit of false hope in placing our faith in our words rather than in God’s compassion to receive sinner to himself. Warren falsely (and dangerously) assures us of our salvation. He writes: ‘If you sincerely meant that prayer, congratulations! Welcome to the family of God!” (p. 59). How do I judge my own sincerity? The saving grace of salvation is located in a holy and electing God, and a sacrificing, suffering, and obedient Savior. Stakes this high can never rest on my sincerity.

When I read something like this, I do not recognize Jesus, the Holy Bible, my conversion or myself at all. Recently, on a vacation in South Carolina, my husband and I went to a ‘community church.’ My conservative Reformed Presbyterian pastor and husband noted when we got back to the hotel room that we had just witnessed a service that contained a baptism without water, preaching without scripture, conversation about disappointment and pithy observations about financial responsibility without prayer, the distribution of flowers and trinkets without grace, and a dismissal without a blessing. Everyone was smiling, though, when it came time to walk out the door. This church’s conversion prayer was printed in the bulletin. It read like this: ‘Dear God, I’m so sorry for my mistakes. Thanks for salvation.’

These misrepresentations of the gospel are dangerous and misleading. Sin is not a mistake. A mistake is taking the wrong exit on the highway. A sin is treason against a holy God. A mistake is a logical misstep. Sin lurks in our heart and grabs us by the throat to do its bidding. . . . In accepting misrepresentations of the gospel that render sin anything less than this, you will never learn the fruit of repentance.”


Rosaria Butterfield, The Secret Thoughts of an Unlikely Convert: An English Professor’s Journey into Christian Faith. Crown & Covenant Publications, 2012. Pg. 35-36.

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