Understanding how we experience the new birth
April 4, 2006
Spritual Birthline by Stephen E. Smallman. Crossway Books. 2006. 171 pages. $12.99.
Who has the time to read a book about the doctrine of regeneration? I hope to convince you that you should make time to read Stephen E. Smallman’s recently published Spritual Birthline: Understanding How We Experience the New Birth. Having served in pastoral ministry for forty years, Smallman writes with a passion for the church to understand how it is that God makes saints out of sinners.
Smallman uses a diagram that compares spiritual birth with physical birth. A baby experiences a progression of events from conception, through pregnancy, to labor and delivery. In like manner, spiritual birth involves more steps that just the actual experience we call “conversion”. What was happening to your soul during this process of becoming a Christian? Part one of Birthline provides a wonderful answer and explanation to these questions.
Use the word “regeneration” and you probably will get blank stares. However, use the phrase “born again’, and the language barrier begins to be cracked. But what does “born again” mean? Smallman writes:
“In American popular culture, as well as in many other places, the phrase born again is known even though people usually have no idea what it means. Even in a churched culture, it is used without much real understanding.”
Focusing on Jesus’ encounter with Nicodemus (John 3:1-8), Smallman shows that the emphasis of the passage is not about the human role in salvation – “Jesus was not describing what we must do, but what must happen to us. …God acts in the human soul where there was no life and begets life.”
And it is a good thing that the Holy Spirit breathed this new life into us, for without the miracle of being “born from above,” we would have remained enemies of God. The Apostle Paul said, “None is righteous, no, not one. No one understands, no one seeks for God.” (Romans 3:11-12). The hymn-writer echoes that sentiment in the verse:
“I sought the Lord, and afterward I knew
He moved my soul to seek Him, seeking me;
It was not I that found, O Savior true;
No, I was found of Thee.”
How do we apply this truth in our ministry? Again, in comparing spiritual birth to physical birth, Smallman likens the task of evangelism to that of midwifery. A midwife comes alongside a woman in labor and gives assistance in the delivery of the baby. Smallman says, “We are not called to be salesmen for Jesus, trying to close the ‘deal’ no matter what it takes; we are called to be midwives, available and ready to help with the birth.” Along these lines, the chapter titled, “How the Children of Christian Families Come to Faith” is worth the price of the book alone.
Spiritual Birthline is not a long book, but it really packs a lot of thought-provoking theology into the pages. I think it would make a great tool for study among church leadership. (Scott Lamb is one of the founding pastors of Providence Baptist Church, St. Louis, and is a regular book reviewer for The Pathway. To respond to this review or to read about other books, visit www.wisdomofthepages.com)