I am at North Park Theological Seminary's Symposium on the Theological Interpretation of Scripture. The topic this year is conversion.
Last night was the opening session and Scot McKnight presented a paper on "Was Paul and Convert."
My take on the presentation is that the question is a matter in part of how one sees the category of "conversion" Scholars have been calling into question using the category of convert and conversion for Paul because as we have become more aware of first century Judaism it has become increasingly clear that not only was Jesus a Jew but so were his immediate followers the apostles, and so too is Paul even after his conversion. Paul did not become a Christian on the Demascus Road, if by Christian one means not simply someone who believes in Jesus as the Messiah but someone who belongs to a religion completely distinct from Judaism.
Yet while McKnight agrees that Paul did not convert to Christianity as a completely distinct religion, McKnight is troubled by a Paul who does not have a conversion. Something is missing. So he looks to sociological explorations of conversion specifically Lewis Rambo (who is at the symposium). What sociology teaches us is that there are various types of conversion, and that a sign of conversion is a revised autobiography based in and on the master story of the group into which one converts.
McKnight uses these categories to allow us to see that in Paul's own writing's there is evidence of a revised autobiography based on a movement from one group to another. This movement or conversion was within Judaism but still was a conversion.
In the discussion this does bring up some interesting issues, it broadens conversion, but also leaves open questions of authenticity, and does not answer convert to what, and from a Christian perspective don't we want to say more than the sociologist about conversion, like change of heart, actual encounter with Jesus Christ.
For the session on Peter's conversion go here