This was the most difficult chapter for me to nail down what Niebuhr was trying to communicate. Carson reports that, since this is the only view he does not critique, some believe this is his view. There’s nothing articulated to this end; it’s just what some think. Each particular aspect seems clear, but they don’t seem to fit into a cohesive whole together. He does note that conversionists are much like dualists, except for the fact that they have a more hopeful view of culture.
This view is based on three theological convictions. First, God created the world as a prologue for redemption. It is good in and of itself. The next conviction is that sin has twisted or corrupted creation, but it is still essentially good. Finally, anything can happen in history because God is sovereign and eternal life is a quality of life now, not just eternity hereafter.
His biblical text is John’s gospel where the flesh/spirit dualism is broken down in light of the incarnation. The Word came, not to condemn the world, but to save it. While creation is essentially good, it has become “self-contradictory” and rejects life that God offers it. It is twisted and corrupt, but God wants to bring an eternal life to it. In fact, the eschatological future is made the eschatological present in John, according to Niebuhr (Carson 26). Niebuhr does recognize that John is not fully conversionist because there is clear particularism within the universalism that is also so prevalent.
This actually doesn’t seem too far from Luther’s view (dualist) – until we get to the historical examples. As this view distances itself from the dualist perspective it gets more confusing – at least for me.