19 September 2007

Althaus: Conversion

Found this wonderful statement from the German theologian Paul Althaus (1888-1966) while working on my German, from the first volume (1959) of Zeitschrift fur Systematische Theologie. It ties in to two projects I'm working on, one on motivation and one on Paul's understanding of zeal in Rom 10 and Phil 3. The title of the article is "Die Bekerung in reformatischer und pietischer Sicht" ("Conversion in the Reformational and Pietistic View"). Describing the Reformation's understanding of conversion, Althaus says:

Conversion is therefore much more than an ethical turning or reversion, for example the turning from ethical looseness or neglect to moral seriousness, from contempt of the commandments of God to obedience to them. Such an ethical conversion is also possible without Christ and the gospel and is not uncommon—for this one does not need Jesus Christ. Conversion in the Christian sense will also include concrete instances of ethical conversion, but certainly not in every case, as the example of the Apostle Paul demonstrates: conversion can also be for a "good man," a Pharisee, therefore an ethically superior person. Here too is it conversion of a sinner. But the sin is in this case not the lack of an ethic, but on the contrary the empty noise of morality, precisely in one’s height, the "erecting their own righteousness" (Rom. 10.3), and so the sin is against the first commandment. Conversion in this sense has a meta-ethical character, and so in this way it is a wholly "becoming new" of a man, a new birth. The man has now come out of unbelieving into believing, out of either unethical or ethical self-glory and security into the humble foundation of grace alone; out of reliance upon his own morality into the vibrant desire of God’s favor only in Christ. This means a transformation of life in the very depth of who he is. It is not to understand growth or development as simply a new step, not as simply a breakthrough into greater depth, stronger earnestness; it leaves its only mark as a break, as a total turning out of spiritual death into life.

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