July 30, 2014

Ein Wenig Gott Geschichte (A Little God Story)

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One staple of evangelical church life is the “testimony.” I recall many, many gatherings when I as a pastor or worship leader would stand before a group and ask, “Who has something they’d like to share tonight? What has God been doing in your life lately?”

We’d encourage people to share insights they had gained in their Bible reading, answers to prayer that they had perceived in recent days, lessons they had learned which helped them grow and make changes in their lives, or occurrences that they attributed to God’s active presence or providence for which they wanted to give thanks.

“Let the redeemed of the Lord say so!” we would exclaim, quoting Psalm 107.

Oh give thanks to the Lord, for He is good,
For His lovingkindness is everlasting.
Let the redeemed of the Lord say so,
Whom He has redeemed from the hand of the adversary
And gathered from the lands,
From the east and from the west,
From the north and from the south.

- Psalm 107:1-3, NASB

In my view, giving testimony is one of the delightful traditions of evangelicalism. At the same time, it can also be one of its troublesome practices.

Those of us who believe in a living God, a reigning Christ, and an outpoured Spirit have no problem acknowledging that there is divine activity in our world. When we read the New Testament, especially the narrative of the church in the Book of Acts and the more personal sections of the epistles, we meet people who talk about dealing with a God who acts in the midst of his people and in the affairs of life. The Kingdom continues to break into this world, and there are “thin places” where earth and heaven intersect.

Churches in the revivalist tradition make most use of the practice of giving testimony. Evangelicals, especially those who lean toward the pentecostal/charismatic/”third wave” end of the spectrum, are taught from the beginning to try and identify “what God is doing in your life,” and to talk with others about that as a means of “witnessing” to the reality of God’s presence, salvation, and love.

Problems arise, in my opinion, with three aspects of this:

  • Interpretation
  • Expectation
  • Inclusion

We all know that there are various ways to look at any particular incident or experience in life, but those in an evangelical atmosphere tend to grant God the benefit of the doubt when giving credit for anything they consider unusually helpful to their lives. The results vary, and at times, interpretations of divine activity can be, frankly, silly.

The traditional example is the person who has a deadline to meet and prays that God will provide a parking place right in front of the building where he needs to be. And, what do you know? One opens up at just the right place and just the right time! Well, OK. But I wouldn’t tell the part about the eighty year old lady in the car behind you who was hoping that spot might open up for her too.

Another interpretive problem is that, as Martin Luther was wont to say, God is famous for hiding from us. And, even when he does reveal himself, it is often in “hidden” ways that offend human expectations, indeed, in ways which can shake us to the core. A common theme over the years here at Internet Monk is that people have found evangelicalism wanting because it doesn’t always allow room for God to act like this — and therefore, they find little resonance with their own lives and experiences. For many churches, testimony is not about the journey, but only about significant (mostly positive) turning points. We want to hear the “victory” stories and little else.

Mystery, nuance, ambiguity, paradox, and anything which remains stubbornly unresolved — these are not the components of the usual evangelical “word of witness.” Testimony, as often given, can in fact serve to suck the mystery out of life, even while claiming to provide a revelation into the workings of the Almighty.

megaphoneThat leads to the problem of expectations. I’ve been in many meetings where no one had a testimony that day. Awkward. Despite the best efforts of the leader to whip up enthusiasm and get people to turn a magnifying glass on their lives to uncover some trace of recent divine activity, the congregation remained silent.

There is a pressure that builds up in this kind of system, a pressure to perform, to come up with a story, to compare my experience with the experience of others and judge myself and them accordingly. When I can’t or don’t speak a word of testimony, it can lead to a nagging sense of guilt and failure. When others around me are popping up with lots of stories, and I’m drawing blanks, it can lead to deep self-doubt.

Why can’t I be a Christian like that? Why doesn’t God speak to me or answer my prayers like that? What’s wrong with me?

The God to which we testify is rarely “the God of the mundane,” to use Matthew B. Redmond’s excellent phrase. And if that is who he is, it is certainly not very exciting to talk about God in that way. So we rarely do.

Our testimony patterns can easily lead us to have certain expectations of God. I’ve noticed over the years that God seems to act certain ways in one church, while behaving differently in the assembly down the street. One congregation honors answers to prayers and watches for them constantly. And gets them. And speaks of them. Another church emphasizes sharing what people are learning from the Bible, and their testimonies revolve around the illuminating work of the Spirit. Yet another congregation is all about missions and evangelism, and their God is active in their encounters with others. I guess that could signify that God deigns to meet us where we are, but on the other hand, there often seems to be a circle we place around the divine activity, limiting what he does to matters familiar to us. God rarely surprises and shows up in totally unexpected ways (despite our language to the contrary).

Finally, though this point overlaps somewhat with what I’ve already said, the culture of testimony can lead to a problem of inclusion. Simply put, we don’t seem to have room for anyone without a story; that is, a certain kind of story.

Tony Campolo began his book, The Kingdom of God is a Party, with an illustration designed to make the eyebrow-raising point that God is often where we least expect him. He found himself in a cafe in Hawaii in the middle of the night, next to a group of prostitutes. He overheard them saying that the next day would be a birthday for one of them. So, with his usual enthusiasm, Campolo spoke to the cafe staff and they arranged to throw a birthday party for her the next night at 3:30 am. They had a wonderful party and it ended with Campolo saying a prayer for the “working girls.” When the owner leaned over the counter and asked him what church he was from, Campolo said, “I belong to a church that throws birthday parties for whores at 3:30 in the morning!”

A lot of folks love that story (I know I do), and it probably makes others wince. I have an idea that most evangelical church members would be OK with it — because it was Tony Campolo who had the experience and not one of us or our pastor!

More importantly, with regard to inclusion, we certainly don’t want to hear from the whore herself in church, unless she has gotten all cleaned up and comes to us with a soul-thrilling tale of transformation. Nor does the person with chronic illness or pain who is barely getting by each day have a story we want to hear. Don’t talk to us if you’re gay, especially if you’re wrestling with accepting that this may be who you are, not just what you do.

In short, don’t think that “testimony time” around here looks like the psalms, where we bring the full spectrum of life’s experiences into the sanctuary. We just want the “hallelujah!” parts.

* * *

5171842-car-trouble-with-clipping-pathHaving said all of that, I still think there is an important place for the public giving of thanks to God for his loving actions in our lives.

I thought maybe I would tell you a little “God story” today. It happened just this weekend.

Gail and I packed up and headed for Chicago on Friday. Our youngest son was due to graduate from college. The baccalaureate would be held downtown at the impressive Fourth Presbyterian Church on Friday evening, followed by the commencement ceremony Saturday morning at North Park. We’d had some work done on our larger vehicle so it would be ready to take us to enjoy the ceremonies and then retrieve our son’s belongings.

The only glitch on the way was a long back-up on the interstate because of an accident. Or so I thought.

When we pulled into our usual stopping place where we stretch our legs, use the bathroom, and grab a bite to eat before tackling the Chicago traffic, we heard a loud, obnoxious sound coming from under the engine compartment of the car. Being a guy, I had my wife open the hood so I could look under it and pretend like I might be able to figure something out. It was coming from the area where our mechanic had done some work.

We called him immediately and even let him listen over the phone. He posited that it was probably related to the air conditioning, and it was possible that there was a simple temporary fix. That meant I had to find a reliable shop where someone could look at it. Fast. It was about 4:30 pm. I googled local auto repair and found some listings for shops that were approved by the Better Business Bureau. Choosing one that was nearby, I called and the mechanic encouraged me to bring the car in.

It turned out to be just the kind of auto repair shop I like. It was an obviously well-run independent operation, and the mechanic (one of the owners) explained everything carefully and clearly as we bent over the car’s engine. He even printed out a picture of the damaged part and diagrammed what was happening and what someone could do to fix it temporarily so that we could be on our way. Unfortunately, he was closing up shop. However, he did recommend a larger garage down the street that was open until 7:00 pm. He knew the service manager personally and was sure he would take care of us. He called him, explained the problem and asked if he could help us. Soon we were on our way.

The service manager met us, asked for my keys, and then drove the car into a bay and put it on the lift himself. We waited as he examined the problem and determined what he could do. It turned out to be bad news. The part was so damaged it would have to be replaced. He invited us into his office and explained everything, then looked up the parts and said he could do the work the next day. He was very kind and helpful.

We needed to make decisions. Could we make it to the baccalaureate? Should we just stay near here and go into the city the next day for graduation? Or should we keep our original plan, get to the city somehow and stay with family? Either way we would need to rent a car.

The service manager said he would call the car rental company for us, which he did, explaining our situation. They were getting ready to close, so he offered to take us himself in his truck. As we climbed in, we were making small talk and he mentioned that he has family who lives near us. After hearing a few more details, a light dawned on me. I knew this guy! I had met him before. In fact, I had been the hospice chaplain for a member of his family, and he and I had talked at her house several years before. He was a man of strong faith, a leader in his church, and we had discussed some of the spiritual needs in the family.

Here we were, many miles from home, directed to this man by a stranger late on a Friday afternoon, and it turned out to be someone with whom I had had previous dealings! I had helped him with some family needs a few years before. Now he was in a position to help us!

Help us he did. Long story short, we missed the baccalaureate, but made it to Chicago, had a good night’s sleep, and were able to go to the graduation without further incident. Afterwards, we headed toward home, transferred our son’s goods back to our car, settled up at the shop, said good-bye to our helpful friend, and hit the road.

I couldn’t help but think that God had taken care of us. We discovered our car trouble just in time, in a safe place, without incident. We found just the right shop to diagnose the problem. The mechanic directed us to the right garage to fix the problem — and it turned out to be someone I had met personally, a person of faith and kindness, a man who went the extra mile to make sure our needs were met.

I won’t deny that there are other possible explanations as to why this all worked out so well. But I’m here today to say “thank you” to our heavenly Father for his providential guidance and care. Of course, we are also grateful to the ones who exercised neighborly love, showing kindness and hospitality to “strangers” (or so they thought!). We may all have been guided by another Hand.

By the way, the repairs turned out to be fairly costly, but that’s OK.

I guess my need for God’s provision never ends.

And so the story continues…

Comments

  1. Steve Newell says:

    How does the “testimony” work for those who were baptized as an infant, was raised in the Faith, and continues to growth and lives a “quiet life” in the faith. For those who don’t have a “dynamic story” to tell can feel like “second class citizens” in many circles.

    • And there seems to be no recognition for the virtue of the quiet life when the highly acclaimed Super Testimony people (I’m thinking of the Mike Warnke types) end up crashing and burning so spectacularly. For some reason, the nearly unending succession of rags to riches (in Christ) to rags stories doesn’t dampen the fever for the sensational.

      • Headless Unicorn Guy says:

        Mike Warnke-style Super Testimonies let the Church Ladies taste the Forbidden Fruit of Vice and Porn while remaining Moral and Respectable. The vicarious thrill of JUICY JUICY JUICY which is Taboo to the Respectable.

        • The Mike Warnke story of a good example of how attempting to meet expectations in a testimony can go bad. I can imagine how he started off, with a modest telling of his misled youth before receiving Christ and the gratification he got as he told his story. Then his story grew, as did the amount of gratification he received, until his testimony became that of (how did it go?) a former Satanist with waist-long hair and foot-long fingernails. I can see how the drama loving Evangelical church can create a Mike Warnke.

          • Headless Unicorn Guy says:

            And remember how Cornerstone exposed Warnke as A COMPLETE FRAUD.

            (It wasn’t just “a former Satanist with waist-long hair and foot-long fingernails”, Art. It was One of the Illuminati of the Vast Satanic Conspiracy controlling ALL the Government, Media, Schools, and Secular Reality for the Devil, privy to the Speshul Sekrit Knowledge (Occult Gnosis in Greek) of What Was REALLY Going On.)

    • Right. This is problematic.

      Remember, though, there’s more to it than the salvation testimony. It’s the ongoing “personal relationship with Christ” that I’m highlighting here.

  2. DaisyFlower says:

    If we’re talking about testimony in how did we come to accept Christ as Savior, my story isn’t that thrilling. I accepted Christ while under the age of ten and lived life as a goody-goody. I never lived a life of crime or abused drugs. I did well in school, didn’t disobey teachers and made straight As.

    I have noticed that a lot of Christians on Christian TV frequently either talk about people they know who got saved, or in relating their own story, say when prior to accepting Christ as Savior they (or their friend) were drug addicts, alcoholics, gang members, or what have you.

    I hardly ever hear any one say they had a normal, relatively pain-or abuse- free, middle class childhood.

    The end result of the constant stream of “addict or prostitute finds Christ” salvation testimony stories makes it sound like Christ is not for middle class, financially stable, educated, or people living uneventful, law abiding lives types.

    • Robert F says:

      I don’t know much about testimony, never having given one. But I do know that the danger of Christians who are normal, middle-class, financially stable, educated people living uneventful, law abiding lives is that they often think that everybody should be like them, that every Christian should be like them. I’m not saying that you believe that, but there are many who do, and such a belief is the sin of which the Pharisee were guilty.

      • Headless Unicorn Guy says:

        Again, discounting the Little Way of St Therese.

        Just as Damascus Road Lightning Bolts and gradual catechism can both be valid conversion experiences (at least my church acknowledges both as valid), so spectacular turnarounds and law-abiding background character lives can both be testimonies. And both have their own versions of “I Thank Thee, LORD, That I Am Nothing Like…” corruption.

      • DaisyFlower says:

        Robert F – I’m not one of them, no.

        Actually, people like me are under assault from the preachers who believe all middle class Christians should leave the burbs and go live in a hut in Africa. We’re not really saved or Christian if were not “Missional” or “Radical.”

        Also, as I thought my post indicated, people like me, who live quiet, hum drum lives are made to feel bad or not Christianity enough because we didn’t triumph over a history of poverty, drug addiction, or being a gangster.

        Apparently there is nothing special or commendable in Christianity these days about having lived a clean lifestyle from a young age.

        • Headless Unicorn Guy says:

          Apparently there is nothing special or commendable in Christianity these days about having lived a clean lifestyle from a young age.

          Can’t make a Reality Show “about having lived a clean lifestyle from a young age.” Maybe Misterorgers could pull it off, but he’s about the only one.

      • DaisyFlower says:

        Also, I think people who used to be drug addicts, prostitutes, etc, and become a Christian later in life, are glamorized by Christian culture (especially on Christian television shows), or if not them personally, their type of conversion experience is glamorized.

        Middle class, stable, law-abiding people need the Gospel too, not just the homeless, the drug addicts, or violent gang members.

        • Headless Unicorn Guy says:

          Also, I think people who used to be drug addicts, prostitutes, etc, and become a Christian later in life, are glamorized by Christian culture (especially on Christian television shows)…

          “Just like on Secular(TM) Media, Except CHRISTIAN(TM)!”

          And it also provides a “Porn fix for the Pious” — “JUICY! JUICY! JUICY!”

          Middle class, stable, law-abiding people need the Gospel too, not just the homeless, the drug addicts, or violent gang members.

          Again, they are Celebrities (“JUICY! JUICY! JUICY!”) and the rest of us are all Nobodies.

    • J.A. Bortell says:

      Although one might argue that dramatic testimonies are more powerful or that they more greatly display the power/goodness/glory of God than mundane testimonies (such as mine), I think our separation of these two “types” in the first place might be the result of a deeper problem. As J.P. Moreland writes in his book Love Your God With All Your Mind, “Today, the gospel seems to be preached as a means of addressing ‘felt needs’ ” (You have drug problem? Come to Christ. You have depression? Come. You need contentment? Come.). That creates a problem when people grow up normal and middle-class and don’t seem to have a need for drastic changes, such as those expressed in dramatic testimonies. The gospel should rather be preached/shared on the grounds that it is true and reasonable to believe, regardless if I “feel” like I need it or not. I think that is a much more powerful gospel than the dramatically-change-your-life one. More can be said about it all, for sure.

    • Headless Unicorn Guy says:

      I have noticed that a lot of Christians on Christian TV frequently either talk about people they know who got saved, or in relating their own story, say when prior to accepting Christ as Savior they (or their friend) were drug addicts, alcoholics, gang members, or what have you.

      JUICY spectacle. Just like how Jerry Springer et al goes after the Nuts-and-Sluts angle.

      (As someone active in various fannish subcultures, you get exactly the same angle in all media coverage — “LAUGH AT THE FREAK SHOW!” pitched to all the Al Bundys sitting in their trailer parks. There are freaks out there who are even bigger Losers than you!)

      The end result of the constant stream of “addict or prostitute finds Christ” salvation testimony stories makes it sound like Christ is not for middle class, financially stable, educated, or people living uneventful, law abiding lives types.

      Completely missing “the little way” of St Therese of Lisieux, about finding God and holiness in everyday routine. Somebody has to manifest Christ for all us background characters.

      • Christiane says:

        “I couldn’t help but think that God had taken care of us.”

        when people are attuned to detect the sacred through giving thanks for the small things,
        they ‘know’ through their sacred sense when a more obvious intervention has occurred . . .

        among ‘co-incidences’ are the interventions that go unrecognized as such by most of us who take things for granted unless we’ve been ‘aware’ for a very long time that we WERE being ‘cared for’ :)

  3. But the one who prophesies speaks to people for their strengthening, encouragement, and consolation. 4 The one who speaks in a tongue builds himself up, but the one who prophesies builds up the church.

    My sneakin’ suspicion is that “testimony” has replaced “prophesy”. Perhaps that has happened because prophesy has been so abused and misunderstood.

    T

    • Headless Unicorn Guy says:

      “Prophecy” has come to mean fortunetelling and precognition (seeing the future).

      When it doesn’t mean Pin-the-Tail-on-The-Antichrist (thank you Hal Lindsay…)

  4. Thank you CM for your insight. Also glad that you made it to the graduation. It’s so beautiful how God works our lives into community in very surprising ways.

    T

  5. Not a big fan of public testimonies, either.

    But when they are done I wish there’d be more folks with “uneventful” lives speaking as to how the Lord keeps them in faith. How they have rock solid assurance in the Word, and how the sacraments are employed by God to give us that assurance…totally apart from anything that we do, say, feel, or think.

    Us Lutherans don’t have to feel saved, to know that we are saved. That’s why I are one.

    Thanks.

    • Headless Unicorn Guy says:

      Because those of us with uneventful lives get overwhelmed by the Spectacular Juicy Testimonies and the expectation of Even More Spectacular JUICY Testimony.

      • DaisyFlower says:

        There ain’t nothing juicy or scandalous about my testimony. Or my life.

        But if you believe the Bible, everyone, including people with boring lives are sinners and need to accept Christ as Savior too, but you hardly hear the Gospel discussed like this, at least not in the hours and hours of Christian TV I have viewed.

        According to the portrait Christian TV programming presents, only crack addicts, alcoholics, gang members, and adulterers need Jesus as Savior. The rest of us (or our types of sins) are apparently unoffensive enough to God that we don’t need a Savior.

        • Headless Unicorn Guy says:

          According to the portrait Christian TV programming presents, only crack addicts, alcoholics, gang members, and adulterers need Jesus as Savior.

          Sounds “Just like Reality Show material, Except CHRISTIAN(TM)!”

          (Think I’m onto something with that; “crack addicts, alcoholics, gangbangers, and sexual kink types” have been a staple of Reality Shows ever since Jerry Springer; this might be another example of “Of the world but not in it.”)

  6. Sam: I know. It’s all wrong. By rights we shouldn’t even be here. But we are. It’s like in the great stories, Mr. Frodo. The ones that really mattered. Full of darkness and danger, they were. And sometimes you didn’t want to know the end. Because how could the end be happy? How could the world go back to the way it was when so much bad had happened? But in the end, it’s only a passing thing, this shadow. Even darkness must pass. A new day will come. And when the sun shines it will shine out the clearer.
    Those were the stories that stayed with you. That meant something, even if you were too small to understand why. But I think, Mr. Frodo, I do understand. I know now. Folk in those stories had lots of chances of turning back, only they didn’t. They kept going. Because they were holding on to something.

    Frodo: What are we holding onto, Sam?

    Sam: That there’s some good in this world, Mr. Frodo… and it’s worth fighting for.”

    • Love it.

      • Headless Unicorn Guy says:

        There’s a story behind doing that scene in the movie. There was apparently a back-and-forth as to whether to include Sam’s speech in the script. One of the complaints was “It sounds too much like George Dubya Bush.” Finally they decided to leave it in the script because “That’s Sam Gamgee. He’s as blue-collar as they come. That’s the way he speaks. That’s what he’d say.”

  7. People always want to hear my testimony of meeting the Living God. I have THAT kind.

    I remind them that my husband, who grew up loving Jesus and growing in the love of Jesus, has the testimony you want your kids to have. He would never stand up in Church and talk because he just walks with Jesus.

  8. Thank you for this blog post today, plus thank you to all who commented. I wish there were a “like” button, as many of the comments are very encouraging today.

  9. Headless Unicorn Guy says:

    First off, CM, great illo at the top. Could be used for Witnessing as well as Testimony.

    Another interpretive problem is that, as Martin Luther was wont to say, God is famous for hiding from us. And, even when he does reveal himself, it is often in “hidden” ways that offend human expectations, indeed, in ways which can shake us to the core.

    In other words, God tends to prefer the indirect method. Which if you’re a direct-method type (like me) can drive you nuts. And a lot of Evangelicalism is committed to the direct method and expects God to play along.

    When I can’t or don’t speak a word of testimony, it can lead to a nagging sense of guilt and failure. When others around me are popping up with lots of stories, and I’m drawing blanks, it can lead to deep self-doubt.

    How do you know all these glib testimony types are not also drawing blanks and just covering for it by making up testimonies? When the pressure is on to Give Your Testimony, you learn to lie and/or exaggerate as a survival tool. It’s not only chickens who peck the Defective to death in the barnyard.

    The God to which we testify is rarely “the God of the mundane,” to use Matthew B. Redmond’s excellent phrase. And if that is who he is, it is certainly not very exciting to talk about God in that way. So we rarely do.

    And even without One-Upmanship coming into play (in the form of More Spectacular Testimony Than Thou), things tend to select for Miracle-a-Minute, Unicorns-farting-Rainbows stories. Those of us living ordinary lives need not apply. (I believe this angle has been covered many times here at IMonk.)

    Finally, though this point overlaps somewhat with what I’ve already said, the culture of testimony can lead to a problem of inclusion. Simply put, we don’t seem to have room for anyone without a story; that is, a certain kind of story.

    Until all the stories sound alike and you end up with a Party Line repeated over and over. On the individual level, Evangelical milieus tend towards pressure for conformity.

    And conformity in testimony can shake down into a predictable God. The original IMonk had an essay about “MAO Inhibitors”, how a church environment can strip the Mystery, Awe, and Otherness from God and leave only ho-hum. (This may have application to the Unicorns-farting-Rainbows school of spectacular testimonies — making up for the lack of Mystery/Awe/Otherness with artificial spectacle?)

    More importantly, with regard to inclusion, we certainly don’t want to hear from the whore herself in church, unless she has gotten all cleaned up and comes to us with a soul-thrilling tale of transformation.

    With a lot of JUICY details about her pre-transformation life to give us Righteous a vicarious taste of the Forbidden. And only once, after which she’d better be on the travelling Testimony circuit instead of saticking around to contaminate our church. There is a reason spectacular “Porn for the Pious” testimonies were associated with travelling evangelists.

    I couldn’t help but think that God had taken care of us. We discovered our car trouble just in time, in a safe place, without incident. We found just the right shop to diagnose the problem. The mechanic directed us to the right garage to fix the problem — and it turned out to be someone I had met personally, a person of faith and kindness, a man who went the extra mile to make sure our needs were met.

    And done in a fairly-mundane way — no Angel Encounters, no spectacular miracles, more like an ambiguous being-in-the-right-place-at-the-right-time and rolling a few saving throws in a row. Kind of like the way the writers on My LIttle Pony: Friendship is Magic do when the local god-figure (Princess Celestia) arranges to steer the right pony into the right place at the right time.

  10. I don’t have any stunning testimonies either.

    If I have to pick one thing God is doing with me, you lot are grace in my life :-)

    Oh, and I’m being Haunted By Carmelites, but that’s a different thing. I needed to buy a birthday card for my nephew recently, and no sooner had I remembered to put that on the list, then the post arrived with a selection of cards from a Missionary Society of St. Therese – including a very nice birthday card, suitable for the age and occasion. When the Little Flower puts her mind to it… ;-)

    • Christiane says:

      :)

      I love St. Therese . . . thanks for sharing that story, Martha.

    • Like Martha and Daisy, my miracles tend to be of the homely type, and I also have been a Christian my entire life. But when we bother to see God’s Hand in car troubles and solutions, in a check arriving for exactly the amount of the unexpected and unbudgeted bill, in jobs found, and in those in our lives who love us, they can add up to as much of a miracle as anyone’s being blinded on the Appalachian Trail on the way to Damascus, Virginia!

      • Headless Unicorn Guy says:

        Like Martha and Daisy, my miracles tend to be of the homely type…

        Your phrasing “of the homely type” brought up two hits on my mental search engine:

        Rivendell’s description in The Hobbit: “The Last Homely House” before The Misty Mountains.

        And a Chesterton essay (from one of his non-fiction books) regarding Roman paganism. How the Romans had two sets of gods — the Roman State Religion (the Greco-Roman Olympian pantheon everyone remembers), and a parallel native Roman folk religion (seen in the movie Gladiator) consisting of manes (spirits of family ancestors) and lares (homely spirits of home and hearth). Lares such as Janus of the entry doorway and Vesta of the cooking fire.

  11. Being one of those “living miracle” types doesn’t actually make it much easier to make it through testimony time. To even explain how you got to the part you are testifying about sounds like spiritual boasting of a terrible degree, because things that were just facts of life to you come off as tragic to people who haven’t survived them. Then, people want you to make stuff up about why God did this that way, as if you knew! And unlike the quiet guy in the back, you have people pushing you into it by name.

    • And then there’s that “what happens after the miracle” part that you wrote about last year.

      No doubt, this can be encouraging, but it can also turn deadly.

      • Headless Unicorn Guy says:

        Which is why I keep being reminded of Judaism’s attitude of “Live Your Life”.

  12. Robert F says:

    Never mind testimonies, how about public confessions before the assembled people of God on the steps of the church and public performance of penance before a penitent is permitted back into fellowship after serious post-baptismal sin, the way it was done in the early church in the first few centuries?

    • Headless Unicorn Guy says:

      And which was replaced by Private Confession after those first few centuries because of the danger of over-the-top shame, gossip, and public embarrassment. To the point that nobody would make public confession until they were on their deathbed and about to slip into Final Coma.

      Said Public Confession and Public Penance were revived full-honk by both American Tent-Revival types and the Communists (the latter under the name “Enlightened Self-Criticism before The People”, honed to a fine art by Comrade Stalin and Chairman Mao’s Red Guard).

  13. Robert F says:

    God’s greatest miracles in our lives involve the quiet changing of our human hearts; such quiet acts of power in the midst of the most ordinary events do not lend themselves to dramatic re-tellings, but they are more miraculous than the deliverance of Israel from Egypt or the raising of Lazarus, or the creation of the world itself.

    • This is one of the reasons I love reading or chanting the Psalms each Sunday as a congregation. If we take what we are saying to heart, we will be giving voice to our experiences and feelings in a comprehensive way throughout the year in a way we never could if we simply relied on our own perceptions of what is happening in our lives.

      It is the liturgical equivalent of “giving testimony.”

  14. Mike,

    I’d like to add a category to the “eventful” and “uneventful” testimonies – the “in spite of” testimony.

    Take mine, for instance. Quite eventful, but what I was saved into is the wild part. I was converted to Christianity through the radio ministry of Harold Camping back in the 90′s during his first failed end of the world prediction fiasco. False prophesy, false teaching, terrible legalism, self-righteousness, phariseeism, a church split. I could go on. Then when I left there, another church with legalism and authoritarian leadership. I have experienced bad treatment, neglect and abuse with some awful stories of how “Christians” and “churches” acted toward fellow believers. It took four churches a total of two years to even baptize me. Uh, “bible-believing” ones to boot.

    Are we any more ready to hear those types of testimonies? I’m not sure.

    • Headless Unicorn Guy says:

      All I can say is with a post-Altar Call Testimony like that, you will NEVER need to watch soap opera again.

      Though you may get some mileage by giving it, then revealing that was AFTER.

      Are we any more ready to hear those types of testimonies? I’m not sure.

      If you don’t mind getting turned into a pile of rocks. Such testimonies do NOT scratch itchy ears.

  15. I think the influences for these types of testimonies are both cultural and ecclesiological.

    Cultural, because the Western stereotype has built on positivism and triumphalism. Most reality TV feeds on a public thirst to overcome obstacles of any kind, be it weight loss, recovery from illness or otherwise. We thirst for victorious stories, happy endings and heroism, even if we make God the involuntary hero (attributing anything ‘positive’ that happens in our lives to his direct intervention). We want to hear how things ‘worked out’ not how they failed. This is so embedded in our culture that the church has become an extension of it through high octane story telling.

    Sometimes this isn’t so bad, but the problem is that it’s not how life pans out day-to-day and in our thirst for ‘great’ stories we marginalise those who (as mentioned above) lead ordinary lives and ‘can’t get it together’.

    Ecclesiological, because we are seeing Finney’s vestiges having gained interdenominational penetration.

    (JohnFromDownUnder)

    • Headless Unicorn Guy says:

      Ecclesiological, because we are seeing Finney’s vestiges having gained interdenominational penetration.

      “Finney” as in “the guy who invented The Sinner’s Prayer(TM) and The Altar Call(TM)”?

      (JohnFromDownUnder)

      Where beer flows and men chunder?

      • Touché, THAT Finney :(

        Beer flows down under indeed but nothing like the Czech Republic ;)

  16. I recall reading Malcolm Muggeridge’s autobiography. He said one of the big reasons he left evangelicalism was their fascination with testimonies. The more lurid, the better. He later joined the RCC.

  17. This is an example from a church we attended a while ago.

    It was an inner city church run by “volunteer pastors” and ministering to those on the fringe by way of weekly “food van” outreach where some of the fed ones would be picked up and brought to church on Sunday.

    2/3 of the congregation were people with “serious problems” be it, addictions of all sorts, mental illness, recovering alcoholics, released from prison etc.

    As far as testimonies go, there were in abundance but the one that really stood out was a guy who killed his sexually abusive father at age 9, went to juvie, prison and when released he got into alcohol, then heroine and plenty of violence that ended him back in prison.

    When he came to Christ, his conversion was very dramatic with all the “wow factor” elements.

    The volunteer pastors placed so much weight on his testimony that they wanted to take him on a national church tour to tell his story in any church that would have him. Trouble was that a guy with such a past had a lot of baggage that he didn’t offload on conversion. I’ll skip the details but the one that stands out was that in his AA meetings he met a prostitute who also turned to Christ later and they hooked up, lived together and had a child but wanted to stay unmarried (we suspected so they could continue receiving special welfare benefits).

    Yet this little “detail” didn’t seem to phase the “volunteer pastors” who wanted to parade him like a circus act around the country so people would be “blessed” hearing “how Jesus changes lives”.

    One of the unfortunate parts was that he gave his testimony in the presence of some unbelievers who would be brought to church “by a friend”. In my mind I was thinking “what if the unbeliever who listens to all of this happens to be a law abiding geek who doesn’t even break the speed limit, or generally someone who has led an ordinary life without such dramas. He/she would be thinking; “well he had to ‘follow Jesus’ because his life was full of problems and he clearly needed it, but my life is nothing like that, what do I need Jesus for?’ ”

    So in addition to what the good chaplain has already said, this practice tends to isolate the need for Christ only to those who have gritty details in their past which is a distortion of the gospel.

    (John)

    • Headless Unicorn Guy says:

      As far as testimonies go, there were in abundance but the one that really stood out was a guy who killed his sexually abusive father at age 9, went to juvie, prison and when released he got into alcohol, then heroin and plenty of violence that ended him back in prison.

      When he came to Christ, his conversion was very dramatic with all the “wow factor” elements.

      I think we have a winner in the “Juicy Testimony — Can You Top This?” contest. Note that he got fast-tracked onto the Christianese Reality Show Star speaking circuit.

      One of the unfortunate parts was that he gave his testimony in the presence of some unbelievers who would be brought to church “by a friend”. In my mind I was thinking “what if the unbeliever who listens to all of this happens to be a law abiding geek who doesn’t even break the speed limit, or generally someone who has led an ordinary life without such dramas. He/she would be thinking; “well he had to ‘follow Jesus’ because his life was full of problems and he clearly needed it, but my life is nothing like that, what do I need Jesus for?’ ”

      “By a Friend(TM).” A friend who became his friend specifically and solely to get him to the church to Get Him Saved(TM) by hearing this guy on Testimony Night(TM)?

      I know the drill. Happened in so many words at Cal Poly Campus Crusade the time Billy Graham came to Anaheim Stadium.

  18. dumb ox says:

    I can’t count how many times I showed up at a bible study or devotion with my bible and didn’t open it once, because all that was presented was someone’s testimony: “I was like this”, “I did this”, I changed and became…”.

    • Headless Unicorn Guy says:

      I used to have a book titled “The Seven Deadly Virtues” about the ways Evangelicals can go sour. One example in it (I think it was in the introductory chapter) described a Travelling Evangelist (and ex-gangbanger) Testimony that went like this:

      “I was raised in a world of booze and dope and sex, and Boy Was It Fun! Then I Accepted Christ and have never had anything Fun happen to me ever again! But I tell you all this so you won’t make the same Fun-filled mistakes!”

      Said it came across as Getting Saved(TM) interrupted a really exciting life and made it all dull.

    • Not sure how many I-Monks are current or former members of the Armed Services in any western country…..for the record, I was a US Army officer [in the first wave of females integrated after the WACS were disbanded] during the height of the cold war….after Vietnam and before Panama and Bosnia round one.

      The connection is the need for soldiers to share there experiences as well, called “war stories” no matter what the setting. And, like Ox’s point about not opening the Bible, the whole meeting becomes stories that ALWAYS start out with….”No $HIT, there I was and……”

      Maybe humans just like to tell there worst stories, whether about sin or war…..which are sort of the same thing!!!

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