D. G. Hart on Conversion

On my way to work this morning I listened to the first of a three part series called “Recovering Mother Kirk” by church historian Darryl Hart. The title of the lecture is “The Crisis of Reformed Identity.” He makes a point about older Reformed Christians on conversion that I thought strange. Hart claims that Reformed theology historically has not viewed conversion as an instantaneous event that occurs once in the life of the believer, rather it is a lifelong process. He said that conversion is akin to sanctification. Sadly, he only alluded to some of the earlier Confessions but did not point to anything or anyone in particular. The statement is made around 40-45 minutes into the lecture. Would any of you who may read this blog have any thoughts as to who would have articulated this? Do you agree with Hart on this? It is a very interesting statement to make.


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5 responses to “D. G. Hart on Conversion

  1. Mark


    I can’t think of any reference where that would come from.

    I agree, it is a strange statement.

    In my opinion, the word “conversion” leaves no room for a process. The English word “salvation” may lean more in that direction, because of the different tenses it is used in in the Bible (past, present, future salvation).

    I think “conversion” is binary, from darkness to light. While some aspects of our salvation involve a bringing us to perfection in the end, I don’t believe “conversion” has an aspect like that. I see it as a temporary event (but of course involving a decisive and permanent change). Any so-called process of conversion would then really have to be rather a series of conversions. (ie. Like those who say we can be lose and regain our salvation continually.) For if conversion is from darkness to light, no gradations from darkness will ever get us to light. It must be decisive for any of the other things that follow it to be possible.

    Maybe, though, there is still some ambiguity in what different people mean when they say “conversion”. And I think I can remember times when I used the word in different senses.

    Still, even accounting for that, I don’t think I agree with what that speaker said. And I don’t think it is really in the Reformed theological movement, although I can imagine that maybe he is try to point to Reformed theology’s strongemphasis on repentence.

  2. Rileysowner

    If he is using “conversion” as a synonym for “repentance” that would make sense to me. The first of Luther’s 95 Theses states, “Our Lord and Master Jesus Christ, when He said Poenitentiam agite, willed that the whole life of believers should be repentance.” (found here )

  3. Anonymous


    The references are more likely linked to the Puritan’s and not the Reformers. See Marsden or Murray on Jonathan Edwards. He corrects this faulty view of conversion taking place over a long period. Though I have not heard or read anyone claiming it to be similar to sanctification.

  4. Darryl Hart

    Heidelberg Catechism Q & A 88:
    Q. What is involved in genuine repentance or conversion?

    A. Two things: the dying-away of the old self, and the coming-to-life of the new.

    Me: this is something that Christians do their entire life.

  5. David

    Conversion, in Reformed doctrine, means faith and repentance. Regeneration is prior and is the more instantaneous (sort of, but certainly is not a conscious process). In that conversion involves faith and repentance it involves the acquisition of knowledge and understanding of what one is to have faith in and what one is to repent of. This is the process part. Regeneration gives one a desire to engage the Word of God and turn towards God, then the process is a conscious one of gaining knowledge (of doctrine) and understanding and so on.

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