I do not want to be misconstrued as being one who thinks personal testimonies of faith, of life change, are without value. Such is absolutely not the case. They are of great encouragement. That being said, for quite a while, I have had questions about the apologetic and evangelical value of proclamations of a ‘changed life’ as being a primary validation for the truth of the Gospel.
Lot’s of groups, organizations, religions, ideologies, and therapeutic methodologies can make valid claims to being able to change one’s life for the better. Yusef Islam, the artist formally know as Cat Stevens, apparently has found peace in Islam. Many find relief from the pain of living by following the teachings of the Buddha. Tom Cruise and others have apparently found meaning and have experienced a ‘changed life’ due to their involvement with the success oriented faith of Scientology. Others can point to the ill-defined ‘higher power’ spoken of in Alcoholics Anonymous as helping them overcome their bondage to alcohol. Interesting that atheists, if I recall correctly, have much lower divorce rates than theists, than professing Christians, at least in America. As stated in an earlier post, I think Mormons put most to shame in terms of outward morality and expressing family values. Involvement in the arts, in science to further knowledge, in humanitarian activities brings meaning the lives of many.
In the final analysis, what we are talking about, at times, is subjective experience in seeking to validate a belief system. It all points inwards to the self, and I have to take your word for it that your subjective experience in your belief system would be normative for me if I believe as you do. Too, many of these testimonies speak more to therapeutic fixes to emotional and psychological problems than to an addressing of that sin problem. And that is fine and even necessary when encouraging another Christian, but I have heard these testimonies of ‘life change” given to non-Christians. What that may lead to is a desire to become a Christian in order to fix one’s relational problems and help with one’s emotional burdens, but what one may not find is a conviction of sin in those verbal transactions. I am speaking from first-hand experience, both inside of church and in elsewhere.
Going off on a minor tangent, I remember seeing videos of cardboard testimonies from various churches wherein people come on stage while inspirational music is being played in the background . Each one holds up a cardboard sign with a brief description of a problem, something wrong, something tragic, in their lives and then flip it over with a description of resolution or a finding of peace in regards to that tragedy. Following is a sampling of some of the testimonies encountered in some cardboard testimonies.
One read “$$$ Bondage To Pornography.” It read “Freedom through obedience” on the other. Another read “God Robber” on one side and “God led giver” on the other side. “Christian men seemed weak” read another with “Now I am one” on the other side. “Painful childhood memories” read side A of one sign, “God healed those memories” read side B. Many signs read of broken marriages on one side, and reconciliation on the other. “Shy, introverted, and fearful” read on side, “pastor for 18 years” read the other. The pastor who held up the sign said the flip side was due to commitment to ‘the process.’ One sign read “Poor self-esteem” on the A side, and “He makes all things beautiful” on the B side. Many others signs were quite poignant, speaking of profound heart-wrenching pain on one side and God’s merciful intervention on the other side, speaking of, for one example, the loss of a child through suicide on one side, and God’s healing grace on the other. I cannot help but be moved by such displays of suffering and grace.
Understand without any ambiguity whatsoever that I take nothing away from the heart’s desire behind these testimonies, that I acknowledge that God is good to His children. I completely affirm that the sovereign triune God, creator of all, causes all things to be for the good of those who love Him and are called according to His purpose. He can heal marriages, heal sickness, heal depression, and He loves His people. What disturbs me, however, is the remarkable paucity of cardboard testimonies that read on one side “I am a wretched sinner deserving the wrath of God” with the other side reading “I am saved by Christ alone by faith alone by grace alone” The question is this: what exactly is the problem the Cross is to fix that cannot be fixed by other means? Parenthetically, one may truthfully and Biblically assert that becoming a Christian may cause you more problems than you had before.
What kind of sign would the apostle Paul hold up? “I was a self-righteous man who supported killing Christians and persecuted the church” might one side read. The other side might read “God sovereignly snatched me from Hell and redeemed me that I may be clothed in Christ’s righteousness. I will be persecuted and undergo great trial for the Gospel and then will be killed because of it” Couldn’t fit all that on a cardboard sign, though.
Somebody tell me what kind of sign the apostle Peter might hold up.
Maybe I am putting too fine a point on things; maybe I am just a crusty old curmudgeon, but when I read accounts of the Gospel being proclaimed in the text of the Bible, I find the apostles and evangelists pointing away from themselves to the empty tomb of Christ. They point to something in time and history, they point to something….falsifiable. If the bones of Christ are ever discovered, our faith falls down and I look elsewhere. As the apostle Paul affirms, if Christ has not been raised, our faith is in vain and we are to be the most pitied of all men.