Culture At Large

What's your favorite conversion story from fiction?

Andy Rau

Do you have a favorite fictional Christian conversion story--a story arc from a novel or movie that really captured the experience of coming to Christ?

I ask because I'm curious, but also because, judging by popular Christian fiction and film, "realistic" conversion stories must be extremely difficult to write. I'm sure that, like me, many of you have read or watched well-intentioned Christian stories that featured unrealistic, overly abrupt, and often cheesy conversions. You know--the character is plodding along through the story quite normally, when suddenly within the span of 500 words he has been hit by the Four Spiritual Laws and given his life over to God, and we move right back to the main storyline.

Not every conversion scene is that hokey (and hey, I'm not knocking sudden conversion experiences--it happened to the Apostle Paul!), but it seems strangely difficult for Christian writers, who after all have firsthand experience with religious conversion, to write conversion stories that feel authentic. This critique of a Left Behind conversion scene [caution: language] could apply to any number of Christian novels I've read:

[protagonist Rayford Steele's conversion] reads less like the testimony of someone falling in love than it does like the testimonial of someone who is very pleased with his new insurance policy.

Like many conversion scenes, this one is intrusively intimate, making the reader feel like a voyeur. It affords little respect for the idea that something transcendent might be occurring, and it offers no meaningful context suggesting that what we are peeking at through the blinds is ultimately an act of love. What keeps it from being purely a piece of spiritual porno is the authors' earnest hope that this scene should also serve as a kind of instruction manual.

Left Behind is a few years old, but for a more recent example, here's an excerpt from a review of the new faith-friendly film The Last Sin Eater:

...what’s really unconvincing about the picture is its portrayal of the process of conversion. I leave it to others more theologically adept to discuss the doctrinal issues involved. What’s dramatically disastrous is the ease with which character after character--Cadi, Fagin, Miz Elsa, and slews of others (apart from Brogan, of course)--immediately react positively to the mere mention of Jesus’ name. That’s not just implausible; it makes the whole message the picture’s trying to convey simple-minded.

With all this in mind, I'd love to hear your thoughts about the following two questions:

  1. Why is it so hard to write a convincing conversion story? Are cheesy conversion stories the result of lack of artistic talent, or is there something inherently extra-challenging about conveying such an experience in fiction?
  2. What writers or filmmakers are doing it right? What stories of Christian conversion have struck you as both true-to-life and Biblically accurate? What makes those scenes work?

(OK, I sneaked more than two questions into that list.) What's your take?

Topics: Culture At Large, Arts & Leisure, Books, Art, Theology & The Church, Faith