"The Keller interview made me wonder whether I need to put a different theological spin on my conversion experience when I was sixteen. Here are my thoughts...Is it perhaps, that what I thought was my experience of the new birth may have been more of an awakening to the reality of sin as a consequence of discovering there was such a thing as God’s law (and such a person as God who gives the law). My conversion at that time was from a conscience free enjoyment of all the usual sins of teenage hood, to a panic about sin and judgment and an anxiety that somehow my wickedness would make me end up in hell. Fear got me running into the local Baptist church, into manic bible reading and salvation by works. Every day I would ask for forgiveness from this celestial law-giver for my catalogue of sins, none of which I wanted to stop, or could prevent myself from doing. At the time, and for many years afterwards, Jesus seemed to be no more than a confusing theological appendage to the whole business of my own works righteousness campaign.
I had assumed this new God/law consciousness that I experienced and my efforts to please him through not sinning combined with lots of cries for forgiveness was my conversion experience, but on reflection (or at least reflecting on Keller’s comments) perhaps it was more of an awakening experience. A necessary preliminary to the real work that was to come. A kind of setting up the tee for the later hit of grace. On reflection, it seems that for years I was doing little more than week in and week out circling Mount Sinai, locked up as a prisoner under the law, experiencing all the misery of failure which only heightens the alternative attraction of sin. Classic Galatians/Romans territory.
It took me years before I even began to experience the release of grace through faith.
So was I converted at aged sixteen? Had I experienced the new birth? I wonder whether Keller’s musings on his own conversion to a proper understanding of grace is generally applicable. I think I would be a little cautious in imposing the template of his own understanding on my own experience or anyone else’s. Keller would never in a million years suggest a works based gospel. But the problem with using the annotations of his experience on our own is that it may in the end reduce the extraordinary extravagance of God’s grace. The question mark I have against this is that God is too generous to wait for our human understanding before he saves us – I hope! There is a danger that we build a general theology out of Keller’s individual experience. Isn’t it that God does the saving and our language, understanding, experience always catches up with a deeper appreciation of the work of grace later on?
The problem with linking salvation with a proper intellectual understanding and emotional experience is that whether or not you have received God’s grace becomes dependent on my own cognitive ability to grasp the doctrine, and then the proper emotional wiring required to feel it. Both of which (and anyone with any pastoral experience will affirm this) have been wrecked by the fall. And a dependence on our own understanding gets us back – all be it very subtly - to works; have you understood enough or experienced enough in order to know you are saved. Back to works, law, anxiety and fear... unless you work at your understanding of grace you can’t have been saved by grace!
Keller’s awakening to God’s grace may well have been the moment of his conversion, but I don’t think I am yet ready to rewrite my own journey with the Lord. I think I was converted at sixteen through grace, and through grace understood grace more richly many years later."