Spiritual Conversion: Pickles or French Fries?

By: Bored in Vernal
January 23, 2011

NT SS Lesson #5

It seems to me that whenever I’ve listened to a discussion of spiritual conversion in the Church, there have been two different and conflicting ways of describing the process. The first was made famous by Elder Bednar in his Conference talk of 2007, Ye Must be Born Again. In this talk, spiritual rebirth is compared to the long process of transforming a cucumber into a pickle. First it is prepared and cleaned, then it is immersed in salt brine for an extended period of time, and finally it is sealed into sterilized and purified jars. Elder Bednar quotes Mosiah 5:7 and then states:

The spiritual rebirth described in this verse typically does not occur quickly or all at once; it is an ongoing process—not a single event. Line upon line and precept upon precept, gradually and almost imperceptibly, our motives, our thoughts, our words, and our deeds become aligned with the will of God. This phase of the transformation process requires time, persistence, and patience.

In this description, Elder Bednar aligns himself with teachings of Bruce R. McConkie, who has said that being “born again” is an experience which will occur over a long period of time for most members:

Except in miraculous and unusual circumstances, as with Alma (Mosiah 27), spiritual rebirth is a process. It does not occur instantaneously. It comes to pass by degrees. Repentant  persons become alive to one spiritual reality after another, until they are wholly alive in Christ and are  qualified to dwell in his presence forever. (Doctrinal New Testament Commentary [1973], 3:402)

However, Mosiah 5:7, quoted above by Elder Bednar, reads “this day he hath spiritually begotten you.”  This, and the many miraculous descriptions of spiritual rebirth in the Book of Mormon as well as the Bible have led some Latter-day Saints to describe the “born again” experience differently. I think this type of conversion can more aptly be compared with the way potatoes are turned into french fries. It’s a quick and fiery immersion in hot oil, miraculously changing ordinary potatoes into a crunchy and irresistible treat.

In Alma 5, this “mighty change” seems to describe a born again experience much like that extolled by the evangelical Christians. I myself had a “born again” experience at age 18. Though I was raised in a Christian home with a father who was a Protestant minister, this was an experience during which I came alive to the things of the Spirit. For me it was a single event, though there has been a process of sanctification including my decision to join the LDS church and the development of testimony of several aspects of the Gospel.

In fact, I believe that more often, the “born again” or conversion experience will manifest as a single event. The “pickle process” seems to me to be a more apt description of sanctification, which takes place over a period of time.

But I see that our Sunday School manual disagrees with me on this. While teaching of the process of spiritual conversion, McConkie’s words have been excerpted to imply that spiritual conversion can ONLY happen through process of time, and not suddenly:

• Elder McConkie also taught that being born again “doesn’t happen in an instant. [It] is a process” (“Jesus Christ and Him Crucified,” in 1976 Devotional Speeches of the Year, 399). What can we do to continue this process throughout our lives? (See 2 Nephi 31:19–20.) How can we overcome discouragement or setbacks in our spiritual progress? What changes have you observed in yourself or someone else during the process of becoming born again?

What do you think? Have you experienced conversion? For you, was it a single event, or a process?  Somehow I doubt that my spiritual rebirth is “unusual.” I’ve heard many Mormons, converts and lifelong members, describe a mighty change as a single experience which they can pinpoint. I’ve also wondered how long spiritual conversion has been taught as a process in the Church. Is this another McConkieism which has been adopted as doctrine?

But then at times I wonder if McConkie deserves more credence than I have heretofore supposed. In a FHE, we were speaking to our teenaged daughters about their testimonies of the Book of Mormon. They felt uncomfortable with the admonition of Moroni to pray about the book. They insist that as long as they have been aware, they have known the Book of Mormon was a true scriptural record, and that to pray about it would be a lack of faith. They relate better to a process-oriented approach, where they continue to learn more about the scriptures and develop more skill in applying them to their lives. In their case, and in that of many life-long members, is “conversion” unnecessary?

I continue to worry about this, for the Lord told Alma:

Marvel not that all mankind, yea, men and women, all nations, kindreds, tongues and people, must be born again; yea, born of God, changed from their carnal and fallen state, to a state of righteousness, being redeemed of God, becoming his sons and daughters; And thus they become new creatures; and unless they do this, they can in nowise inherit the kingdom of God.

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21 Responses to Spiritual Conversion: Pickles or French Fries?

  1. Course Correction on January 23, 2011 at 8:42 AM

    Oddly enough, Elder Bednar’s description of a gradual spiritual rebirth fits my experience of losing faith in many Mormon teachings and finding spiritual growth in new places.

    I didn’t have any sudden reason to abandon my life-long Mormon activity–my feelings weren’t hurt. I didn’t cave into sinful behavior.

    The tedium of repetitious lessons and talks finally drove me to study on my own. Line upon line, I found many discrepancies between Mormon teachings and biblical sources
    I also realized that many teachings I’d gone along with for years didn’t make sense and weren’t working for me.

    Eventually, I found sources of spirituality outside Mormonism which give me a sense of rebirth. I think spiritual progress is a lifelong process and for many people, it is fascilitated by more than one religious organization.

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  2. Jared on January 23, 2011 at 9:07 AM

    There are three kinds of doctrine I am aware of:

    1. False Doctrine
    2. True Doctrine
    3. Incomplete Doctrine

    When it comes to the doctrine of conversion in the present day church,I suppose there is a mixture of all three, but predominantly of the incomplete kind.

    I have been trying to sort it out for a long time and have come up with a few thoughts.

    1. Prophets vary in their understanding of doctrine, therefore it is difficult to find them teaching it with consistency. The Lord reveals doctrine line upon line…

    2. The Lord requires us to diligently seek in order to understand his word. He could have given mankind a precise, encyclopedic book of scripture, but by design, that is not what we have.

    3. Doctrine cannot be correctly understood without the intervention of the Holy Ghost.

    4. A person can experience “conversion” and not be able to explain it adequately to others. Kind of like a parable.

    5. Words mean something. Conversion, born again, mighty change, remission of sins, fire and the Holy Ghost, becoming a son or daughter of Christ are all describing the same thing using different words.

    6. Apparently conversion can happen as an event or a process followed by process of sanctification until one is perfected. No long is perfected entirely in this life.

    7. Whether we’re converted in an event or by a process we are still subject to sin and in need of repentance.

    I need to leave. If there is interest in this post I’ll follow up.

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  3. CatherineWO on January 23, 2011 at 10:03 AM

    I can pinpoint what I would call my spiritual awakening to a single event (and accompanying time period) when I was sixteen, but also believe that santification, or what I would call the refining of the soul, is a never-ending process which, for me, began in that moment of spiritual awakening. Growing up in the LDS Church in Salt Lake City (50s and 60s), I understood that being “born again” was an event in most people’s lives, followed by a lifetime of ramaining constant (i.e. enduring to the end).
    Though my spiritual awakening occured within the context of the LDS Church, and I continue to be a relatively active member, my continuing process of sanctification is not circumscribed by LDS doctrine. In the past few years, I have looked to several other religions and philosophies to enrich my faith journey, adding to, not taking from, my LDS basis of spirituality.

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  4. Evelyn on January 23, 2011 at 10:38 AM

    I think the conscious realization that you believe may come suddenly, and often by surprise, but I don’t think many people are transformed from bad men to good or from infidels to saint in a sudden flash. I think the conversion process has been going on in the background, faith has been growing, lives have been changing so gradually that we aren’t aware of it until that sudden burst of recognition occurs.

    So I think it’s a matter of definitions, very often. Instant change, or instant recognition of the change that has been going on unawares?

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  5. FireTag on January 23, 2011 at 12:16 PM

    I think it’s tempura — pickles wrapped in batter and quickly stir-fried.

    Seriously, I know of “miraculous” experiences in my life, as well as in the lives of my parents, my grandparents, and in my wife’s family that have suddenly and dramatically changed thinking and relationships with the Lord. But even after those experiences, there was always a process of consolidation and interpretation in order to fit in new understandings and root out old behaviors.

    It’s the amount of processing the Spirit does within us that matters, not the speed, just as the time of labor doesn’t matter once the baby pops out of the womb. It’s still been born.

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  6. LDS Anarchist on January 23, 2011 at 2:48 PM

    Spiritual rebirth, or being born again, is patterned after real birth.

    When you tell people about your child’s birth, do you say she was born on a Wednesday, at 5:55 a.m. (when the baby came out), or do you say, she was born between 10:45 p.m. Tuesday night (when contractions first began) and 5:55 a.m. the following Wednesday morning? Will the child say, “I was born on a Wednesday,” or will she say, “I was born from Tuesday to Wednesday?” Is real birth a single event or a gradual process over time?

    The entire gospel is patterned after real things. The debate between process and event is the same as that between gradualism and catastrophism. Is our earth history one of gradual change over millions of years, or is it one of catastrophic upheavals with periods of equilibrium in between? Was the earth baptized with water gradually, over time, or in a single flood event? Will it be born again by fire gradually over time, or in a single event?

    The scriptures paint a catastrophisic view of all things, both physical and spiritual.

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  7. adamf on January 23, 2011 at 4:46 PM

    天ぷら大好き!

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  8. Bored in Vernal on January 23, 2011 at 4:52 PM

    Thanks to google translate, your comment makes perfect sense. I will certainly have to try tempura, but it sounds like something only a pregnant woman could love.

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  9. Conifer on January 23, 2011 at 6:27 PM

    BiV, it’s wonderful. It’s generally regular veggies that are battered, fried, and served with a delicious dipping sauce. Try it at least once. Don’t try pickle tempura, though (which probably doesn’t exist, though it could, I guess).

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  10. Bored in Vernal on January 23, 2011 at 7:57 PM

    OK, back to the post. Jared #2, I like your points, especially these:

    5. Words mean something. Conversion, born again, mighty change, remission of sins, fire and the Holy Ghost, becoming a son or daughter of Christ are all describing the same thing using different words.

    6. Apparently conversion can happen as an event or a process followed by process of sanctification until one is perfected. No long is perfected entirely in this life.

    So does everyone agree that the words “born again” more accurately fit “conversion” or “spiritual awakening” (as CatherineWO puts it) rather than “sanctification?” I’m fine with sanctification being a process, but I still don’t associate it with being born again.

    I agree with LDSA #6 — birth is always spoken of as a single event.

    CatherineWO, thank you for your insight into the climate of the 50′s and 60′s. This makes me even more suspect that McConkie’s ideas have been appropriated into the doctrine we have today, and that it wasn’t common to think of conversion as a process before this. I am open to correction on this if anyone can find some quote or teaching.

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  11. LDS Anarchist on January 23, 2011 at 9:56 PM

    BiV #10 asked:

    So does everyone agree that the words “born again” more accurately fit “conversion” or “spiritual awakening” (as CatherineWO puts it) rather than “sanctification?” I’m fine with sanctification being a process, but I still don’t associate it with being born again.

    I do not agree with that assessment. My understanding is that sanctification is not a process. It is an event. You either are, or are not, sanctified. You cannot be partially sanctified (holy) and partially not sanctified (unholy). The terms “born again” and “sanctification” are synonymous. Of what are we born again? Of the Holy Spirit.

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  12. Jared on January 23, 2011 at 10:09 PM

    All of the instances in the Book of Mormon where being born again occurs is an event. Another interesting point, none of those who were born again were actively seeking to be born again. It came to them out of the blue, so to speak.

    Biv–I enjoyed this post.

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  13. Bored in Vernal on January 23, 2011 at 10:24 PM

    #11 LDSA: OK, sanctification is an event, but you don’t get there all at once, do you? First you learn to pay your tithing, then you become quite good at doing your visiting teaching, forgiving others, etc. Don’t you have to improve little by little, until you are “there?”

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  14. LDS Anarchist on January 24, 2011 at 12:46 AM

    BiV #13, yes, you get there all at once. Sanctification has nothing to do with obeying all the commandments of God. It is not determined by your obedience. It does not indicate perfection. Sanctified people can still fall from grace.

    But there is a possibility that man may fall from grace and depart from the living God; therefore let the church take heed and pray always, lest they fall into temptation; yea, and even let those who are sanctified take heed also. (D&C 20: 32-34)

    Sanctification occurs before you start paying tithing, doing your visiting teaching, etc. It occurs prior even to being baptized. In fact, we all start out sanctified before we ever get baptized. (See D&C 74: 7.) And we are all to become sanctified again prior to baptism. (See D&C 20: 37.) And after our baptism we are to become again sanctified. (See 3 Nephi 27: 20.) Then comes enduring to the end, which means to remain in your sanctified state to the end of your probation. Permanent sanctification occurs when we make our calling and election sure, having gotten to the end (Jesus Christ – see 3 Nephi 15: 5, 8-9) in a sanctified state.

    Sanctification is determined by faith alone. (See Enos 1: 5-8.) Enos was made whole (sanctified) by his faith. (See also Moroni 8: 8 and Moses 6: 54.)

    I’d link all these scriptures but then my comment would go to moderation, so you’ll have to look them up on your own…sorry. [edited to link to scriptures :) ]

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  15. jks on January 24, 2011 at 1:17 AM

    In my case I grew up in a very wonderful (though not perfect) lds home. If it happened in one instance it must have happened before I have memory. But enough happened when I was 4, 5, 10, 12, 15, etc. so that I was 90-100% converted my entire life. Sure there weren’t spiritual experiences that strengthened me, there still are. How do I pinpoint one as changing me from before to after?
    As I raise my children in the church, I’m not trying to get them to have ONE BIG experience. They are young and they grow up. I assume the millions of little experiences will affect them very much.
    In thinking about your daughters, I would tell them that it isn’t seeking for signs. That there is much in the Book of Mormon and they should pray to have more faith, that they should pray to understand more truths, that they should pray for a greater knowledge. I would compare it to praying for “thy spirit to be with us” when you have a meeting. Compare it to praying to “love my sister” when you are less than happy with her. Of course you know you love your sister, and because of that love you want to improve it so you pray for it.
    But I understand a little about already knowing stuff. You have to balance not discounting their experience with not letting them be lazy and not push just a little so their testimony will be solid.

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  16. Jared on January 24, 2011 at 9:41 AM

    This post didn’t attract a lot of comments. So I’ll just add the following quote. I think it is worthwhile in that it covers some important aspects relating to the post. It is written by an apostle who was uniquely blessed with the gifts of the Spirit:

    To gain salvation in the celestial kingdom men must be born again (Alma 7:14); born of water and of the Spirit (John 3:1-13); born of God, so that they are changed from their “carnal and fallen state, to a state of righteousness” becoming new creatures of the Holy Ghost. (Mosiah 27:24-29.) They must become newborn babes in Christ (1 Pet. 2:2); they must be “spiritually begotten” of God, be born of Christ, thus becoming his sons and daughters. (Mosiah 5:7.)

    The first birth takes place when spirits pass from their pre-existent first estate into mortality; the second birth or birth “into the kingdom of heaven” takes places when mortal men are born again and become alive to the things of the Spirit and of righteousness. The elements of water, blood, and Spirit are present in both births. (Moses 6:59-60.) The second birth begins when men are baptized in water by a legal administrator; it is completed when they actually receive the companionship of the Holy Ghost, becoming new creatures by the cleansing power of that member of the Godhead.

    Mere compliance with the formality of the ordinance of baptism does not mean that a person has been born again. No one can be born again without baptism, but the immersion in water and the laying on of hands to confer the Holy Ghost do not of themselves guarantee that a person has been or will be born again. The new birth takes place only for those who actually enjoy the gift or companionship of the Holy Ghost, only for those who are fully converted, who have given themselves without restraint to the Lord. Thus Alma addressed himself to his “brethren of the church,” and pointedly asked them if they had “spiritually been born of God,” received the Lord’s image in their countenances, and had the “mighty change” in their hearts which always attends the birth of the Spirit. (Alma 5:14,31.)

    Those members of the Church who have actually been born again are in a blessed and favored state. They have attained their position, not merely by joining the Church, but through faith (1 John 5:1), righteousness (1 John 2:29), love (1 John 4:7), and overcoming the world. (1 John 5:4.) “Whosoever is born of God doth not continue in sin; for the Spirit of God remaineth in him; and he cannot continue to sin, because he is born of God having received that holy Spirit of promise.” (Inspired Version, 1 John 3:9.) Mormon Doctrine, p. 100-101

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  17. Paul on January 24, 2011 at 11:00 AM

    BiV, I think you’re right in the OP that it’s all about what we mean by the terms. And, as often happens in the church, our meanings of these terms are somewhat fluid and (in practice anyway) not as precise as we’d like to be.

    In fact we know that for many the conversion process is a long one. And for some it has multiple layers. As a young person in the gospel I had a rather simple testimony that was not (yet) influenced with academics or apparent mysteries. I knew what I knew and I didn’t know what I didn’t know.

    As i grew older, I knew more of what I didn’t know and had to continue to seek spiritual confirmation along the way. (Your daughters, of course, might find themselves on that path one day, too.)

    Whether that spiritual confirmation is being born again, being sanctified or becoming converted is less clear to me than the experience I’ve had on my path — that I have repeated spiritual experiences that serve as sign posts on my path to testimony and understanding.

    #5 Firetag: Pickle Tempura — sounds awful, but it is a great image of my own experience — developmental testimony fired by moments of spiritual confirmation.

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  18. Stephen Marsh on January 24, 2011 at 3:37 PM

    I’m going to cheat (and you can spot the source of what I’m cribbing from).

    You are either Sanctified or not. If you are not sanctified, you are not. If you are, then you are. Therefore it is always a sudden event.

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  19. Thomas on January 24, 2011 at 10:50 PM

    A young, enthusiastic religion, out to scoop up the low-hanging enthusiasm-inclined fruit, will play up instantaneous “born-again” conversion experiences.

    An older, institutional, stable religion, having reached a critical denominational mass, will place more emphasis on long-term, quiet, gradual conversion. Which helps create a place at the table for the descendants of the original visionaries, a good number of which never seem to catch their fathers’ fire.

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  20. Douglas on January 25, 2011 at 1:21 AM

    Life is too short. ONION RINGS and Mozarella sticks when available…

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  21. M Eyink on May 6, 2013 at 12:54 PM

    For me my spiritual rebirth was the beginning. Being born again – was what it was – it doesn’t take long to come out of the womb – some have a more difficult time than others. It was from this point that I had been born spiritually – I now had to re learn everything because it seems that what I was taught was no longer applicable at this point. So like an infant I had to learn how to walk again – that is how I like to think of it. As for the spiritual rebirth – I believe that it came at the time that I finally let go of my want to control my own life and destiny and finally realized that control was just an illusion and it was something that I never had and I began listening to the spirit who wanted to guide me in the direction to be with my heavenly father again!! I am now so excited to all the possibilities there are for my future and for the future of my family. it has given me a great new purpose in life and being a former addict that has struggled with addiction my whole life – it was the only way to break the chains that binded me to this earth and allowed me to be free. I wouldn’t change my past for a minute – because it got me to where I am today and I hope to teach others or help others that may have been in similar situations that I have.

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