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2. evangelical conversion and the logic of belief

the effect of conversion

Writing about his conversion, the great American philosopher and theologian Jonathan Edwards says, "after this [my conversion], my sense of divine things gradually increased, and became more and more lively, and had more of that inward sweetness. The appearance of everything was altered; there seemed to be, as it were, a calm, sweet cast, or appearance of divine glory, in almost everything." (1) Similarly, St. Paul describes the conversion experience of Christians by saying "if anyone is in Christ, he is a new creation; the old has gone, the new has come" (2 Cor. 5:17). John Wesley sums this up in his hymn "And Can It Be," in which he expresses the emotions of the convert as follows: "my chains fell off, my heart was free; I rose, went forth, and followed thee." These descriptions, and many more, portray Christian conversion as an experience that may be aptly described as being "born again." Converts undergo a change that results in their seeing the world in a new light ...

the making of the modern world In the sixteenth century the Christian God-centered vision of life was shattered by a series of events and new ideas that gave birth to the modern world. Copernicus challenged the notion that the earth was the center of the universe. More significantly, Galileo used his telescope to show that the heavens, the moon and planets, were material realms subject to change and decay just like the earth. The cosmological basis of the old order was dealt a death blow from which it never recovered. (11)

Martin Luther (1483-1546) and John Calvin (1509-1564) cast serious doubt on the claims of the Roman Catholic Church and thus undermined the intellectual authority of the old order. By insisting that all people read the Bible for themselves and act according to their conscience as directed by Scripture, the Reformers initiated serious questioning of the social order. Questioning began with religious institutions but soon embraced secular structures as well. Once the Roman Catholic Church lost its religious authority, secular institutions that it legitimated were open to criticism. Calvin's followers the Puritans began criticizing church government and ended by doubting the judgment of kings.

The rapid development of religious criticism into philosophic and political criticism is discussed in numerous works on the sixteenth and seventeenth centuries. Michael Walzer's Revolution of the Saints and Christopher Hill's Intellectual Origins of the English Revolution do a particularly good job of vividly illustrating the change in basic assumptions. (12) Thomas Kuhn addresses the theoretical importance of changing assumptions and paradigms in his classic study The Structure of Scientific Revolutions. (13) These works among others show how a view of the world as ordered and hierarchical as that which had existed since Roman times was replaced by a new worldview based on radically different assumptions. Democratic thinking replaced hierarchical authority, and the vision of nature ordered by spiritual beings gave way to a universe governed by God's law. A renewed Christian ethic, based on a perception of God as transcendent and exemplary, enabled the unleashing of human creative powers. The anxieties about the envy and jealousies of one's neighbors generated by belief in witchcraft were conquered by the moral message of Christianity ...