It never fails to amaze, when professional and/or tenured Seminary professors are publicly, easily wrong about the basics of Christianity. Today’s example is Patrick Schreiner, Assistant Professor of New Testament Language and Literature at Western University, Portland campus, who says we shouldn’t be suspicious about celebrity conversions.
I’m starting to think those Franciscan monks had a valid point with those bowl cuts and plain robes as a way of being visibly separate from the world. Background: M.Div and PhD from Southern Baptist Theological Seminary. He’s never left college. Never lived a normal life.
The New Testament Teaches Us Not to Second-Guess Surprising Conversions
By Patrick Schreiner, 30 October 2019
Actually, it does. 1 Timothy 3:6 in discussing the qualifications of overseers and deacons, “He must not be a recent convert, or he may become conceited and fall under the same judgment as the devil.” Very sensible. Also, Christ Himself said it’s hard for a rich man to enter Heaven, Matt. 19:23-24, so maybe we should take a rich man’s conversion with a grain of salt.
Another valid, if non-Scriptural reason to doubt a conversion is when the convert is married to a Kardashian.
Kanye West’s move from saying “Jesus walks” to confessing “Jesus is King” has divided Christians.
Those in a position to know are optimistic…
…but this Californian has seen too many celebrity conversions end up fraudulent. Here, best case scenario, Mr. West’s genuine faith will drive his wife Kim Kardashian to divorce him by Christmas. He’s got a damn hard road ahead.
Some are overjoyed that such a prominent figure has made public turn to faith. Others are more hesitant, taking the “let’s see if this sticks” approach. Kanye himself expected the latter, singing on his new album, “What have you been hearin’ from the Christians? They’ll be the first one to judge me. Make it feel like nobody love me.”
Man, if you don’t like judgment then you ain’t gonna like God.
While some believers want to wait and see whether his faith is genuine, we don’t find much evidence for this strategy in the Scriptures.
That attitude is a serious mistake. 1 John 4:1, “Dear friends, do not believe every spirit, but test the spirits to see whether they are from God, because many false prophets have gone out into the world.”
The early church in Acts had its share of surprising transformations and celebrity conversions, which stirred a range of reactions. But ultimately, the text points to acceptance over distrust. It also emphasizes the importance of perseverance for these unexpected converts.
These accounts suggest that with Kanye, there is room for the church to rejoice without suspicion, while also pleading for endurance and mentorship in the faith.
“Without suspicion” is the dangerous part. Let’s dig in.
Paul represents the first surprising conversion in Acts. He was killer of Christians, but then Jesus appeared to him. Understandably, Paul’s conversion is met with some hesitation and fear. Some readers today may take this response as a case for wariness when someone does an about-face. Ananias questions whether he should go to Paul when the Lord comes to him (Acts 9:13-16). The crowd in Damascus is amazed, wondering what has happened (9:21). In Jerusalem, the disciples were afraid and did not believe he was a disciple (9:26).
Each reaction is different based on context. But it helps to consider their concerns in light of the pattern we see throughout Scripture: Continually, God’s people are slow to God’s plan. They need help to catch up to his agenda. They need convincing when God’s plan is out sprinting ahead of them.
That is a vile teaching, that God’s people did wrong by not rushing to accept, in violation of common sense, a unique situation that would become clear only with years of hindsight. In no context did God fault believers for thinking what they did about Saul.
Note that Saul’s conversion broke him to the point of name-changing. One of the most dramatic displays of divine power in the New Testament, including witnesses, and after being struck blind Paul didn’t eat or drink for three days. That’s what it takes for most genuine, late-in-life conversions. God was as subtle with Paul’s conversion as a Trigglypuff passing gas at a chili cookoff.
We didn’t see Kayne West at death’s door for three days after his conversion experience. In fact, he’s already released his first gospel music album. Hmm.
In contrast to the skeptics, Barnabas testifies to those in Jerusalem on Paul’s behalf, and they listen to him (9:27). He is gracious and patient with their concerns and explains the change he has seen. (Maybe the “accepters” need to hear this as well and be gracious to “skeptics.”) The crowd moves from doubt to acceptance based on Barnabas’s testimony.
That is another dishonest teaching. Between Ananias’ healing and arrival in Jerusalem, Paul spent “many days” in Damascus, learning and practicing Christianity until he’d reached the point at which his former allies tried to murder him and his former targets helped him escape. To put it mildly, that demonstrated repentance.
Although Acts 9 does not specifically state this, Barnabas introduced Paul most likely because Barnabas knew about the events in Damascus. Paul was apparently known in Jerusalem only be reputation, and again, God faulted nobody for not taking Paul’s claim of brotherhood at face value.
I would be interested to hear anybody argue that Barnabas knew nothing about Damascus and was arguing for Saul of Tarsus’ acceptance strictly on Saul’s say-so.
This does not mean texts like the Parable of the Sower are out of the discussion. There is a place for watching for fruit and perseverance. However, waiting is put into the context of grace and hope, not concern and judgment.
Bullshit. Quoting Christ in Luke 6:43-44, “No good tree bears bad fruit, nor does a bad tree bear good fruit. Each tree is recognized by its own fruit. People do not pick figs from thornbushes, or grapes from briers.” You never know if someone is a legit Christian until their behavior proves it.
God does not expect us to act stupidly, accepting every claim of Christianity with the kind of gullibility that made P.T. Barnum a wealthy man. We don’t even have a precedent in Scripture for this kind of foolish behavior… certainly not with Paul for an example.
A next surprising conversion comes from Cornelius and his household in Acts 10–11. Once again, we sense a hesitation as the Jerusalem council gathers to debate Cornelius and his household among the earliest accounts of Gentile conversions (Acts 10-11,15).
However, their story is not example of “let’s see if it sticks.” In fact, Peter and the rest are quite quick to accept that a Gentile centurion, the last person they would expect, has come to the faith. They recognize right away that “the gift of the Holy Spirit had been poured out even on Gentiles. For they heard them speaking in tongues and praising God” (Acts 10:45-46).
Again, Patrick is not only wrong but misleading. Cornelius didn’t come out of nowhere. Acts 10:1-2 “At Caesarea there was a man named Cornelius, a centurion in what was known as the Italian Regiment. He and all his family were devout and God-fearing; he gave generously to those in need and prayed to God regularly.”
If Kayne West had had a history of self-discipline and charity instead of headline-making excesses, I would be much less suspicious about his conversion.
The God-fearers were non-Jews of the time who worshiped God as far as they could without actually converting to Judaism, which was a bad idea for many reasons… not least of which was Jewish arrogance towards outsiders. God responded to their devotion even though they didn’t expect it. God-fearers simply saw the rightness of Father God, perhaps as a stark contrast to the daily brutality of life in the Roman Empire.
That Jewish arrogance was so strong that God had to supernaturally convince Peter, who then used the event to convince the other Jewish Christians… and then backslid against his own divine revelation later on.
The Spirit has overcome their prejudices. The evidence is clear. The question in the Council is not if Gentiles are saved, but how and in what way they can enter the people of God. The council accepts the fruit of the Spirit.
Their prejudices were against non-Jews, not against young converts. Cornelius was absolutely not accepted on a “he said he’s Christian so he must be a real Christian!” basis.
The council concludes Gentiles don’t have to “act like Jews” to enter. This is an interesting example because the Spirit’s arrival and the evident fruit makes the conversion of Cornelius’s house widely accepted. They see fruit and move forward accordingly. This does not mean they move forward uncritically, but they move forward with open arms.
Had Patrick consistently argued this point, I would have blogged instead about a white mayor publicly disrespecting Blue Lives Matter in open favoritism towards Black Lives Matter. (If you’re interested in watching law enforcement’s reaction to a public snubbing on behalf of Negro thugs):
As it is, Patrick inconsistently claims “they saw fruit and moved forward” and in the next sentence, “they moved forward with open arms”. Which is it?
There is also a “celebrity conversion” in Acts: Simon the Sorcerer (8:4-25). This passage is notoriously difficult, and interpreters are divided about whether Simon’s faith is genuine to begin with. He “believed and was baptized” (8:13) and followed Phillip, but Peter refused to pray that Simon would receive the Holy Spirit, citing the condition of his heart.
It is not a difficult passage; notice Patrick answered his own question. The Holy Spirit baptism is separate from both repentance and water baptism, as is demonstrated in this very story.
Peter never refused to pray for Simon about anything. Instead, he ordered Simon to pray for forgiveness and to act out his repentance. That wasn’t something Peter COULD have done for Simon.
The only difficult part of this passage is that it leads into Christian mysticism, which is optional. As this story itself demonstrates, you can be a legit Christian without any fancy supernatural stuff. Why does Patrick have trouble with this story, I wonder?
Some are suspicious noting his discipleship to Philip is abnormal, and his fascination with signs and miracles will be his downfall. However, I think it is better to see Luke presenting this initially as a genuine conversion, though time will reveal the truth.
That would be why Patrick has trouble with this story. Modern clergy have great trouble with the concept that Christianity isn’t a stack of dusty old books to be translated from Aramaic. Simon was once a legit sorcerer, which the modernist cannot accept, who was so impressed with the supernatural acts of Christianity he saw that he wanted to become a Christian sorcerer, which puts the lie to Scripture being merely a useful guidebook for healthy living.
That’s good. I had feared that Patrick’s issue would have been the idea that God’s favor cannot be purchased with money. He did, after all, pay a lot of money to a seminary.
As Acts commentator Eckhard J. Schnabel writes, “There is no hint that Philip baptized Simon prematurely.” Simon follows Philip, like the disciples follow Jesus, and he is amazed at the signs of Philip like the Samaritans (8:6–7). It’s easy to doubt Simon’s conversion as genuine when we as readers already know the end of the story. But Luke makes a point present Simon’s conversion in a positive light before he reveals its spuriousness. This trains his readers to realize not everything is at it seems in kingdom ministry – like with Simon’s miracles. Some people might be attracted initially for the wrong reasons.
Luke SAID Simon BELIEVED. There is no doubt here except that you want to deny an eyewitness account of a believer watching Christians alter reality with the skill of a real-deal magician.
I’m honestly impressed with Simon the Sorcerer. He obviously abandoned a powerful ability in order to follow Christ. The insult he dealt Peter (and/or Holy Spirit) appears unintentional, seeing as Simon immediately sought to make amends.
We’re getting off the topic of Patrick’s bad teachings on acceptance of newly converted celebrities. Skipping several paragraphs of Patrick musing even more about Simon,
We see that conversions in Acts should be viewed initially with joy, acceptance, and baptism. However, Paul will also go around to the churches he planted and “encourage them all to remain true to the Lord with all their hearts” (Acts 11:23), to “continue in the grace of God” (13:43), to “remain true to the faith” (14:22). Paul urges his congregation in Philippi to “hold firmly to the word of life” because then he will be able to boast on the day of the Lord knowing that he “did not run or labor in vain” (Phil 2:16). Paul sends Timothy back to Thessalonica to find out about their faith fearing he had labored in vain (1 Thess. 3:1-5).
Encouraging perseverance is not the same as suspecting disbelief and doubt. Paul writes to these congregations as saints. He tells them they are loved by God. He encourages them by saying he remembers their faith, love, and hope. He says they have a great inheritance waiting for them: We need to hold fast to Christ, but ultimately he is the one who holds fast to us.
Patrick keeps blowing this kind of squid ink. Accept the new celebrity unquestioningly but encourage perseverance afterwards? When he’s already in the henhouse? I note that Patrick’s entire article has avoided any New Testament teaching on humility… perhaps the most relevant doctrine for a celebrity convert.
So what do the Scriptures teach us about how we are to respond to Kanye’s turn to Christ? They encourage rejoicing, acceptance, and support. They also call us to pray for his perseverance and for a mentor. To recognize that all of us can labor in vain. We shouldn’t rain on anyone’s Christ parade. We should fall to our knees asking the Lord of the Harvest to continue the work he has begun.
Blah, blah. He’s fluent in Christianese, hitting all the right notes without giving up any content. Windy words from a career academic whose awareness of God is limited to “a dead guy named Jesus“. (Acts 25:19)
We have reports of gospel musicians and pastors themselves who vouch for Kanye’s faith. My prayer is that Kanye would continue to be mentored, that a Barnabas would come into his life, that he would grow into an oak of righteousness.
My prayer is that when Old Scratch finishes deconstructing Kayne, when he’s friendless and impoverished and lost all, that he will be able to console himself with Christ’s salvation. If he manages that, he will no longer care if he has access to the halls of power, to cheering crowds, to fabulous wealth. He will be among the saints who have passed through the Valley of Death and therefore, have nothing left to prove.
Patrick chose an academic life so he’d never face that challenge. Perhaps he’s too weak. So be it, but it’s a terrible thing to wish health and prosperity on a new Christian. Such is not what we were promised.
Welcome to the Long War.
I won’t believe Kayne is a real Christian until he starts ordering Madame Kardashian to behave. And so it shall begin.