Monday, September 7, 2009

Monday’s Ministry Musing: How Important IS a Testimony?

This may be one of those articles that I look back on 10 years (or 10 days) from now and regret.  I think I may be flirting with the idea of tipping over a sacred cow of modern evangelicalism.  I’ll show you my cards up front…I’m not sure a personal testimony is really as important as we make it out to be. 

With every church interview I have ever been a part of this question is inevitable…”would you please share your testimony”.  Granted, it’s a good question.  You want to know that the person you are considering for membership, leadership, or whatever is actually a believer.  The motivation behind the question is a good one.  However, I do not think it is the right question. 

Have you read anything in the New Testament where a person was asked to share their testimony? 

I will grant the fact that Paul shares his story of coming to Christ.  So does John in 1 John 1.  In fact there are many places in Scripture that are personal stories of the work of God in the life of a believer.  My point is not to say that personal stories or “testimonies” are not valuable.  They are immensely valuable.  My point is that personal testimonies are not an accurate criteria for judging a person’s salvation nor is it definitive in proclaiming the truthfulness of the claims of Christ. 

hairclub A personal testimony really is not an accurate barometer as to a person’s relationship with Christ.  Consider the early Gnostics.  They had amazing testimonies.  Think about the Colossian heresy.  They went on and on about the visions and experiences with God that they had.  Surely, you have known people with phenomenal “testimonies” that later forsook the gospel and rejected Christ.  Despite what some evangelism material will tell you a personal testimony (by itself) has no authority.  You can be an unbeliever and have a great story to tell of how you came to a Jesus of your own making.

And honestly, not having a clear testimony is not really all that accurate in telling that a person is not a believer.  Ask Jonathan Edwards of his personal testimony and he’d probably stutter to tell you.  John Bunyan would probably give you several dates.  Do you think Peter would give you the day when he was called by the lake, was it when he professed Christ, or was it at some other point on his journey with Jesus?  There are many people that do not have a S.P.O.T. (Specific Time or Place) that strongly profess Christ. 

I have a challenge for you Bible/church history buffs.  Find me times in Scripture or in the first 300 years of Christianity when someone’s story of coming to Jesus was a determining factor in admitting them into membership or participating in the Lord’s Supper?  I am not saying that you will not find anything.  I am simply saying it will not be a pervasive theme like it is in our day where subjective experience reigns over objective truth.  What you see in the New Testament and the early church is a profession of belief in the claims of Jesus Christ…not a story. 

There is one last sacred cow—maybe THE sacred cow—that needs to teeter.  Your testimony is not really all that definitive in sharing the gospel.  Oprah has a testimony.  Heretical “Christian” groups have testimonies.  A Muslim would have a testimony.  This will sound like heresy…Jesus is not the only thing that can change your life.  A homeless man that inherits a million dollars will have his life changed.  An alcoholic that stops drinking will have his life changed.  A woman whose family leaves her will have a significant life change.  Many things can change your life. 

Your testimony does not prove the truthfulness of the claims of Christ.  Yes, it is true that nobody can argue with your personal testimony.  That’s the problem.  You can’t argue with it because it is subjective.  The claims of Christ are objective truths.  This type of witnessing just leaves the door wide open for the, “well that’s good for you…but as for me…I believe”.  People need to be confronted with the claims of Jesus—not your story. 

In summary, I am not against personal testimonies.  I just think they are not nearly as important as we make them out to be.  They are not all that helpful in witnessing and they aren’t the final answer in determining salvation.  Feel free to disagree and argue your case.  I’m willing to listen.  If you agree with me I have a question for you.  What are testimonies useful for?


  1. I believe a testimonies greatest use is to encourage and to bring joy to those who love hearing about what God has done in your life. That being said it has little used for someone who doesnt know Jesus because if your telling someone who doesnt see it the way you do they will be like "ok why should I care?". It seems as If testimonies are best used for people who are already believers and like I said even then its greatest use is encouragement and to bring joy to another, I personally love hearing about what God has done in another's life.

  2. I agree and disagree. You're right - my testimony is not central.

    However, it is important. Paul's testimony was relayed 3 times in the book of Acts. We have 4 gospels which give testimony to the life and work of Jesus.

    Testimony's are important, not b/c they confirm or deny our membership in Christ, but b/c we are a narrative people who are invited into a Triune narrative of redemption. 85% of the Bible is story/narrative - not logical proposition.

    It is not that logical proposition is bad, it's just that people learn so much better, and remember so much clearers when they learn something IN A STORY (i.e. testimony).

    My story/testimony may not be determinative for salvation. But being able to tell my story is a really effective testimony to the world (I say this in disagreement w/ Ryan-O), and a really encouraging word to my brothers and sisters in the church.

    Story is central...a story of the God of Israel revealed in a cruciform messiah. My story within that story is a wonderful story to tell and we should not shy away from it.



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