This is going to be a short post because I’m pretty exhausted from a very good day spent in the sun.I’ve been toying with a thought lately about our testimonies, our stories about what we were like and involved in before we came to Christ. In fact, it’s what I think I’m going to preach on Sunday night, something about the goodness of ordinary lives . . . That’s getting ahead of myself.
I hear a lot (mostly from church camps and in youth groups, to be fair) of what I’m going to term “desperation conversion” stories. I have no doubt you know what I’m talking about: Johnny Doe who smoked seven cigarettes at a time and then sliced his arm open to pour the alcohol directly into his body while he staggered from the bed of one immoral person to the other. (This is not to make light of legitimate sin and destruction that Christ very much rescues people from. Christ indeed pulls people out of deep trouble. This is addressing what that becomes like for the rest of us in light of how those stories are shared.) I wonder sometimes about what it means when these conversion stories are presented one after the other, which is common at church camp, revivals, or anywhere where people tend to want God to show up so bad that sometimes they forget He was already there, just maybe not in the way they wanted Him to be. Because when these kind of testimonies are presented as huge testaments to the work of Christ, it leaves the rest of us, the “ordinary” folk, if you will, wondering what then there is for us. We don’t have “good” stories. I asked about Jesus in the shopping trolly in Target. Other friends were simply raised in church too; and, around their younger years, asked on their own. We’re average people with average conversion stories. Then there are people not even brought up in church that I know, who simply came to faith without much devastation in their lives before then. I think we can sometimes begin to feel that we’re not watching testimonies, but watching people try to one-up each other in terms of how awful their lives used to be before Jesus. Someone opens with drinking in secret and we close with abuse. They use a lot of language that draws on crisis-driven spirituality: my life fell apart, I realized then I needed Jesus. Quite frankly, I don’t find this funny but incredibly serious, because I think it communicates a misunderstanding of what the Gospel is. The Gospel is for everyone, so it has to be presumed that there are not going to be people in that group who suffer devastations as a means of realizing their need for salvation. In fact, I would argue against a popular belief that seems to be in a lot of Southern Baptist youth group circles that the Gospel is about jettisoning us into Heaven out of Hell. It is that, in horrendously inaccurate theological understanding, but what is more than that is the most beautiful. The Gospel is less to do with what we were saved from individually and more to do with what we were justified into collectively. It’s about the after, it’s about the life lived walking with Jesus, not the previous life we spent walking away from Him. (I wrote about this previously much more extensively.) When all we have, frankly, when all we present to get a rise out of people, are testimonies ironically glorifying our depravity and not life stories reflecting on our newfound humanity (that is, true humanity through the humanity of Christ), we are left with poorly constructed sand castles waiting for the tide to wash over and leave them in ruins. This is not to exclude the meaningful importance that a testimony can have, but it is to put the question to us about how honest we are when we present it and where do we draw our excitement: from what God has done or what man will applaud us for seeming to overcome. We all did not have fascinating lives before Christ, but we now all have fascinating lives because of Him. I think there’s something to be said for focusing on the story we all share in, while still appreciating the stories we have come from. After all, when we cross from the darkness of the life before into the light after, the latter is always so much more beautiful. You’re gonna love tomorrow. We all are.