“Given new life”: converted buildings and converted people

8, March 2024

By James Kennedy

I was doing my regular browse of the daily news when I spotted a neat little headline on the BBC news website: “The converted landmark buildings given new life”.

If you’re a Christian, that’s the sort of headline that might have jumped out to you too. “Given new life” is exactly how we often talk about conversion in Christianity.

It is hardly the same when God transforms a person, but there is a parallel when buildings are taken over and turned into something new. It makes perfect sense in both cases to talk of a new lease of life.

The disused Battersea Power Station fell into serious disrepair before successive developers planned to repurpose the Art Deco building. Its prime location and well-loved looks made it a perfect site for a destination development.

It took ten years, the BBC tells me, to turn it into a shopping and leisure complex. Clearly, it wasn’t straightforward. It had to be pulled apart and meticulously rebuilt. Apparently, they went to extraordinary lengths: “Two firms that made bricks for the original buildings were called on to supply 1.75 million matching replacements.”

The news article offers a few more examples: HM Prison Oxford, for instance, has been transformed into a boutique hotel.

For over a hundred years it was used for incarceration, and now, still retaining many of its original features, it has become a luxurious destination for a few nights.

So, what is so surprising about these buildings that the BBC has put them on its front page? What is newsworthy about them that makes us want to read and find out more?

Well, they’ve been transformed, and not just a little change like a loft or a garage conversion, but a total transformation from something derelict, useless and empty, into something exciting, interesting and purposeful. A total conversion, even “given new life”.

Isn’t that what the Bible tells us happens to people? Well, yes and no. It’s not that we were made to be one thing, but now need to be repurposed. In many senses, Christian conversion is more like an old hotel that has fallen into total disrepair, and now taken brick by brick and room by room and put back to its full glory. Because sin has so affected the human condition, it is a change from ‘death’ to ‘life’. We are ‘the converted people given new life’.

And unlike the buildings in the BBC article, Christians aren’t the finished article yet. One day we will be like Christ, but for now we are rather still a construction site, a rebuild project going along brick by brick.

Being transformed by the Creator of the Universe to be what we were always meant to be – that’s quite a compelling vision.

If you’re a regular reader of the Let Us Pray blog, you’ll know where I’ve been going with all this. Because, there are many in our society who are really rather uncomfortable with the idea of people being ‘converted’. Even in some churches people are touchy on the subject.

I wrote some time ago about a comment by Anglican LGBT campaigner Jayne Ozanne. She said that in a Christian setting the word “transform” is a “trigger word”. She claimed that it is “code for ‘go through conversion therapy’”.

She argues that we need a new law on ‘conversion therapy’ to tackle “gentle, non-coercive prayer”. She chairs the leading campaign group on the issue, which claims “casual conversations” and “private prayer” must be part of the law.

You can see what is happening here. The term ‘conversion therapy’ is being used to conflate strange, out-dated and now illegal medical practices, with genuine Christian practice. It is an attempt to frustrate and even criminalise those who encourage people to uphold the Bible’s teaching on moral ethics. An effort to stifle and prevent two-thousand-year-old Christian beliefs about transformation.

As with the Battersea Power Station and HMP Oxford, ‘conversion’ in name only would mean no conversion at all. You cannot shop in an abandoned industrial building; you cannot get good rest in a deserted prison. And you absolutely cannot find eternal hope and forgiveness in your “old self”. No, we must repent – turn from what the Bible calls sin – and turn towards new life in Christ.

Any law which stops Christians teaching this message of conversion – of repentance, forgiveness and new life – is an attack on the basis of all Christian beliefs, and an attack on the Gospel itself. And that is why Let Us Pray exists.

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