Saturday, May 23, 2009
My friend Keighly sharing her testimony during a choir concert
What's your testimony? When did you become a Christian? How did meeting Jesus change your life?
If you've been a Christian any length of time, you've been asked these questions. Camp counselor applications, church membership classes, Christian school admission interviews -- at some point you will be asked to share the story of how you came to faith. For those who grew up in the church, this can be a difficult task. On the one hand, being raised in a Christian family means that you were supposed to be a good kid growing up -- stay out of trouble, say 'no' to drugs, wait for marriage, etc. On the other hand, evangelical culture promotes the expectation that every Christian should have a dramatic and tear-jerking testimony of how God turned their life around, transforming them from sinner to saint.
Hannah Notess (writer, editor and Milton Fellow at SPU) has a book coming out this summer called Jesus Girls: True Tales of Growing up Female and Evangelical - a collection of personal essays from women whose stories don't fit the typical before & after mold of Christian testimonies. I got to hear Hannah speak on this topic at SPU earlier this week and came away with plenty to think about. Her main criticism of the current evangelical definition of 'testimony' is that it is a tragically narrow genre to use for telling our spiritual stories. The plot is prescribed and predictable, like an episode of What Not To Wear, except that instead of meeting Stacy & Clinton in New York City, you met Jesus at summer camp. Now you've dumped your old clothes in the trash and always look fabulous. That might be your spiritual story. If it is, by all means, tell it. But if it's not... if all the bad stuff isn't pre-Jesus... or maybe all the good stuff hasn't been post-Jesus... if your story can't be told in the language of epiphanies and light-bulb moments... don't be afraid to tell it anyway.
The mantra is true, we do all have a testimony - in the sense that each one of us who claims Jesus Christ as Lord and Savior can testify to the work of God in our lives and in the world. But it doesn't have to have the plot of an after-school special, or follow a pre-set formula. It is nothing more or less than the truth about who we are, who God is, and where we have been together.