I don’t know about you, but I don’t like most testimonies. You know, the kind that have a BC and an AD.

No, it is not the testimonies themselves, but the burden of what a testimony must bear. There has to be a former way of life before Christ (BC) and what you have become after Christ (AD). The burden is that in order to have a “great” testimony, pressure is placed upon you to present yourself in a nice and polished way that says, “Look what God has done with me: Can you believe it? You can be like me too.”

To me, testimonies are more valid (not to mention more believable and inspiring) when the “finished product” (the AD) is never really finished at all, but still broken. I don’t like the shallow “now and then” of the Christian testimony format.

How about you?


C Michael Patton
C Michael Patton

C. Michael Patton is the primary contributor to the Parchment and Pen/Credo House Blog. He has been in ministry for nearly twenty years as a pastor, author, speaker, and blogger. Th.M. Dallas Theological Seminary (2001), president of Credo House Ministries and Credo Courses, author of Now that I'm a Christian (Crossway, 2014) Increase My Faith (Credo House, 2011), and The Theology Program (Reclaiming the Mind Ministries, 2001-2006), host of Theology Unplugged, and primary blogger here at Parchment and Pen. But, most importantly, husband to a beautiful wife and father to four awesome children. Michael is available for speaking engagements. He can be contacted at [email protected]

    21 replies to "Short Blog: Thoughts on Testimonies"

    • Jason S. Kong

      Yeah, my life has largely remained the same prior to and after Christ, except for the last few years of my life. Agreed.

    • Crystal

      Yes, I used to think that in order to share an “AD” testimony, I had to confess to God delivering me from one of the sins that are taboo in church (gross immorality, drunkenness, habitual cussing).
      Then I started to notice that the people who impact my life the most are those who share struggles with lethargy, selfish habits, difficulty trusting God, etc, etc. Their testimonies of how God speaks to them, grows them, and helps them are what spur me on to be more for my Lord. Stories of a dramatic conversions and completely altered lifestyle can be inspiring, but they have limited value for the believer trying to learn to walk closer with God.

    • mbaker

      I agree there seems to be almost an obligation nowadays for Christians to ‘prove’ how instantaneously God turned their lives around to make Christianity more believable. As if we need to do that. I used to wonder why it didn’t happen to me that way, and wonder even if I were really saved because it didn’t. For me, my circumstances didn’t change so much as my thinking about them did, and that a little at a time. And admittedly sometimes it felt like pulling teeth without novicane!

      I think we really need to stop making our testimonies so about much a salesmanship pitch for Christianity, because it makes people think Christ is just somehow going to instantly wave a magic wand over anyone who converts and solve all their problems by instantly fulfilling all their heart’s desires. If that doesn’t work for them, as advertised, they get disillusioned with Christianity.

      I think it is so more encouraging, at least for me, and in the long run more effective, to just be real about our own struggles. I can’t say I don’t have them any more , but I can honestly point out to others that having the comfort of Christ makes all the difference in giving me hope for a better tomorrow.

    • I think we do people a great disservice by putting forth or seeming to put forth the idea of come to Christ and all your problems will be solved. While I have known people who God has instantaneously changed in some area, more often God changes us slowly over time. And if we paint a false picture of instant success in the Christian life we set people up for discouragement when it does not happen that way.

    • DT

      Just finished reading “John Newton: From Disgrace to Amazing Grace.” While Newton’s testimony certainly has a powerful BC to AD aspect to it (hard to do much better than slave trader to pastor and then mentor of William Wilberforce), I found it interesting that Newton’s awakening to the gospel led to several years of struggle – it took awhile to make a clean break with his past. When Newton shared his testimony it seems to have been less about “look who you can become” and more about “don’t lose hope – God saved even me.” I found myself drawn to Newton and inspired by his humility and dependence on Christ.

    • Rick Shott

      My major problem with such ‘testimonies’ is that they amount to a glorification of sin. I think the best example of a testimony, although it is really, really long is the Augustine’s Confessions. Even while describing sin he is contrite and not boastful, which is refreshing compared to what passes for a testimony today. Here is the quick test of a testimony did you hear more about sin or God? THe popular ones I hear often fail that test miserably.

      Rick

    • John From Down Under

      As a post-charismatic I have grown weary (better make that ‘exhausted’) of testimonies. The more sordid the past, the ‘greater’ the testimony.

      I attend an inner-city outreach type church where we have many people with addictions and other dysfunctions, so I am accustomed to ‘dramatic’ testimonies.

      Last time a guy like that testified in our church, I told some folks to ‘spare a thought for the geek’. What I meant was that the geeky, law-abiding citizen guy who never harmed a fly (by worldly standards), is as much hell-bound and in need of a savior as the guy who strangled his grandmother! If such a ‘geek’ who doesn’t know Christ hears such ‘dramatic’ testimonies, he may be tempted to think, “they obviously needed Jesus because their life was a mess and needed fixing, but do I really need Jesus if my life is so ‘normal?”

      The other issue I have with testimonies is that you can never test their veracity because you rely on the person’s own account of events which may be an over-dramatized version of the truth, or certain aspects of their story may be over-emphasized. No one can be clear on the accuracy of the details and you feel morally obliged almost to accept it in good faith. Inevitably, there is a subjectivity factor on how the person interprets their experience and what it ‘meant to them’

    • phil_style

      The testifiyer always seems to be under a lot of pressure to dramatise the BC/AD distinction.

      For most people change is life is rather slow, predictable and pedestrain.. like maturation. The re-telling of this process into a 5 minute binary dark/light narrative seems to be an attempt to add the miraculous to a proceess (sanctification) that is more about self-discipline and learning as it is about a sudden supernatural blasting.

      I think the Thomasine experience is more common than the Pauline one. Yet every “testimony”seems to use language akin to the damascus road.

    • kwilson

      The extension of this is the “church lobby”. In the church lobby all are expected to model the new, self so that all may marvel at it. This requires an ongoing, unreal, post-conversion game face. Any deviation from the expected model and the reality of your salvation is quietly considered. Sounds too extreme? Look carefully around many church lobbies after the Sunday service. It is a sad commentary and it is the antithesis of the encouraging Christian growth.

    • J.R.

      Nice post Michael

      I find most testimonies to be somewhat over the top. It’s easy to praise God when your life is moving in a positive direction. But with the misery, pain, doubt, and questions of prayer I’ve endured this past year…when the lights go dim and the curtain draws closed and there’s no one left asking how you’re getting along…when fellowship has moved beyond your pain in search of new topics and you can still praise the Lord above for the hope which sustains you in your darkest hours that’s my testimony; growing in maturity through suffering. Praising God when there’s nothing left to praise, resting completely upon His grace and the hope which sustains us.

    • hmkjr

      I believe it’s important for a testimony to include the point at which the person recognizes that they have transgressed against a Holy God, repented and put their trust in Christ. Without that, it’s typically a “Jesus fixed my life and He can fix yours too” kind of testimony. I don’t mean to at all diminish what Christ has done in anyone’s life (He did something like that for me BEFORE He saved me), but I think people can be drawn to Christ for the wrong reason (and possibly fall away when they don’t get their best life now) and not hear the saving message of the gospel when presented with an “experience” only testimony. You can’t interpret “experience”, you can only interpret scripture.

      Having said all that, yes, I agree with you – I don’t care for the “now and then” testimonies, even though the first part of my testimony is in fact a “now and then”. But I also no realize that I was NOT saved at the point God delivered me from what was going through. It wasn’t until later that the reading of God’s word convicted me and He saved me.

      Just my thoughts.

    • Geoff K

      Testimonies to me show me the freedom through a new understanding of who God is and what He has done to give us joy freedom and hope. Before Christ I only had myself to trust in. After Christ, I had God to trust in and seek out help and love and power over my weaknesses. It seems to me that most testimonies show that God has renewed their minds and given them a new nature that is being worked out. Testimonies are not used in my opinion to say that we have been perfected and there are no more problems. I love listening to other peoples testimonies and I love the work that God is doing and has done in them. It is encouraging and edifying to me. I wholly disagree with the negative attitude toward the testimonies that people have of what God has done for them. The BC and AD testimonies are precious in my opinion.

    • hmkjr

      I’ve been thinking about what I said – “I don’t care for the ‘now and then’ testimonies” – and I would like to retract that. That’s not true. How can I say I don’t care for the “now and then”? Isn’t that what God does? Makes all things new? We become new creatures in Christ? Not everyone has a testimony like this (my wife for example, is a PK with no such testimony), but for those that do, it’s precious. My only concern (from experience) is when I hear these testimonies presented to unbelievers and the gospel is not presented along with the testimony – the hearer gets the “Jesus can fix your life” gospel and that’s not why He died…is it? Just thinking out loud…

    • JRoach

      When I was born again on January 16, 1983 I can honestly say that my life was CHANGED. I had a peace and joy that I had never experienced and I had to tell others what Jesus is all about. I soon realized that the world does not always rejoice with you on your new found life in Christ but it has never deterred me from telling people how the Holy Spirit made me a new creation. I did give my testimony as to how God changed my life a few weeks after my conversion. My theology was wanting but that is being enlarged everyday.

    • wm tanksley

      I agree that BC/AD isn’t the correct point to be making. The scary thing is that it’s what most sermons seem to say now, though — that Christ came to give us a better life, or a more purpose-driven one, or a more theologically correct one.

      The Bible says to be ready wirh an answer to anyone who asks you the reason for the hope within you. But that hope isn’t because we’ve been changed; that hope is because God gave Christ’s resurrection as a sign that we are changed. Surely Paul would have been in despair when he declared that “the good I would do, I do not!”, unless he also was entirely assured that Christ’s resurrection truly happened, and that it was the great sign to confirm salvation to those who believe in Him.

      Testimonies aren’t useless, and sermons about improving your life aren’t useless, but their purpose should be to point out all our need for salvation, not to explain the steps we would take to correct the problem if we were sinless.

      (OTOH, I like one preacher’s explanation for preaching life-improvement sermons — he wanted to preach to warn people of the mistakes they were making so that he wouldn’t have to spend quite so much time counseling people with broken lives. Good idea, good point, full of compassion. That pastor also preached the gospel in every sermon, so he was not only compassionate to his potential counselees, he was compassionate to the unsaved.)

      -Wm

    • Greg Smith

      I do not wish to take anything away from those who give posative or
      negative testimonies. As Christians our testimonies should be that we
      trust Christ no matter what! When it seems we are doing well, then we
      stumbe into sin and do hate our flesh, (O wretched man that I am!).
      And come to realize we are helpless w/out Christ, and need to keep
      coming to the Cross emptyhanded; for what can we bring? And what
      follows “O wretched man that I am” ; who will deliver me from this
      body of death? I thank God, through Jesus Christ our Lord. That is my
      hope, that is your hope, that is the hope of every believer!
      God Bless You All.

    • Mike

      I think the real testimony is that life as a disciple is not exactly desirable in many respects. We find ourselves to be far worse sinners as we go along. Why would I endure all that being a believer entails when there are just so many things I could avoid.
      It’s not our life we are thankful for, it’s that He gave us His life that we can be with Him in total joy forever.

    • steve

      So you guys would look down on Paul’s testimony before Agrippa?

    • Moara

      As someone who became a Christian before she can remember, it bothers me that a testimony is assumed to be a story of BC to AD because I don’t have a BC that I can remember. It makes me feel like I don’t have a “real” testimony, which I know is blatantly false.
      I’ve yet to figure out a “soundbite” sized story about my relationship with Christ that can be used to present the gospel.

    • wm tanksley

      steve, I wouldn’t look down on it, no. I think that’s a very good point! But looking at Paul’s testimony, he told the truth about his background, but the purpose wasn’t to impress Agrippa with his personal life change; it was to testify that the repentance for forgiveness of sins that he experienced was available to everyone through Christ’s death and resurrection. And the main sign he offered wasn’t his life change; it was the fulfillment of the prophecies, in which he knew Agrippa believed, as well as the events of Christ’s life, of which he knew Agrippa had heard reports.

      Paul certainly could have told his testimony and explained how he of all people was changed from a terrible sinner to a holy man; but he didn’t. And later on, when writing, he emphasized how sinful he still was.

    • Bible Study

      My life is basically the same, except in terms of having God with me now, as it was before salvation. I changed for a while, living by all those rules. Now I realize Christ saved me all by himself, I don’t need to try and help him. He will change me if and when he wants. That is up to him. One thing has changed, I no longer judge according to the flesh. I used to laugh at some people when they said they were Christians because of the way they lived. Now that I have spiritual understanding, I no longer do that. I basically let them judge themselves. I know who they are now based on what they say about salvation and the bible, not by how holy they live in the flesh.

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