Questions about Getting Saved in America

Praying before CrossIn “Getting Saved in America: Conversion Event in a Pluralistic Culture,” Bill Leonard outlines the history of the salvation conversion experience in the American context, more specifically the history of the eastern “evangelical protestant”[1] conversion experience. Tracing the event from its Puritan beginnings in the New World to its current usage among American church people, Leonard writes in such a way as to both describe and problematize the process and actions of the current “conversion experience.” As a result of this article, a number of important questions need to be asked regarding the history of the experience.

First, we need to consider the implications of the transitioning forms of American conversion experience. Transitioning from one form of normative experience — for example the early Puritan process of a time-involved conversion — to another form of normative conversion — such as the moderately fast experiences invoked by the preaching of Jonathan Edwards — undoubtedly impacted the average understanding of and implications for the conversion experience. What impact did that transition have on the practical life, faith, and theology of an American Christian? Further, we must consider the impact of the transition when the conversion process becomes even more immediate with the rise of the practically instantaneous invitation and prayer as an integral portion of the conversion event.

Bill J. Leonard
Bill J. Leonard

Second, we need to consider the increased linkage of the conversion event with the concept of salvation. Leonard notes that we must consider the implications of the modern method with regard to ‘cheap grace’ and pluralistic confusion, and rightly so. We also must consider the potential results of not reversing the common American perspective that links so closely an event with the entire salvation of the individual in such a way that nearly all sense of community, ethics, discipleship, and Christian love has been lost. We must genuinely ask where the experience of the Kingdom of the Risen Christ has gone in Christian salvation if all that remains for the core of Christian life involves walking an aisle and praying a prayer.

Third (and finally here), we ought to ponder the historical ecclesiastical implications of the process and histories that Leonard has outlined. Aside from a purely conversion and salvation based conversation, what wider impact did the transitioning of conversion methodologies have on the American Church? What personal and corporate effects does the transition from a relatively object criteria of salvation verification, such as Luther’s baptism or Calvin’s election, to a highly subjective evidence of religious feeling or experience entail? Additionally, we should concern ourselves with the possibility that the processes detailed here, especially the transition to a highly individualized form of conversion experience, caused certain adherents to transition to a more ‘objective’ form of Christian religion, namely, the great liberal mainline denominations of the late 19th and early 20th centuries.


[1] If we be allowed to use such an amorphous term here.


Published by Jacob J. Prahlow

Husband of Hayley. Dad of Bree and Judah. Lead pastor at Arise Church. MATS from Saint Louis University, MA from Wake Forest University, BA from Valparaiso University. Theologian and writer here and at Conciliar Post. Find me on social at @pastorjakestl

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