The Trouble With Testimonies

Testimonies are a beloved institution in the evangelical world. Normally they seem to find their place in evangelistic meetings in the form of exciting conversion stories. Testimonies of God's goodness in the Christian life often find their place in small groups. Some people even want to fill church services with multiple testimonies.

Now, testimonies can also be troublesome things. There's nothing wrong with testimonies per se, but it's what we do with them that can cause the trouble with testimonies. And usually that trouble comes through an overemphasis on testimonies (like when we demand them in every church meeting, or fill Bible-study groups with them). So here are four types of trouble that come from an overemphasis on testimonies.

  1. Overemphasis on testimonies can lead to an overemphasis on us - it becomes about what's happened to me, rather than what Christ has done.
  2. Overemphasis on testimonies can lead to low expectations - when we try to keep up a constant supply of testimonies from the same people over and over again, inevitably the testimonies get vaguer and vaguer, and that can mean that our expectations of who God is and what He can do can end up getting vaguer and vaguer too.
  3. Overemphasis on testimonies can lead to a feelings-based faith - emphasis on how we feel about what God's doing now, rather than resting in Christ's finished work no matter what's going on around us now. This is incredibly dangerous!
  4. Overemphasis on testimonies leads to under-emphasis on the Word - The Word doesn't tell us to fill our meetings with testimonies, rather we're to fill our meetings with God's Word. We read the Word, preach the Word, sing the Word, and see and taste the Word in the sacraments. If we fill our meetings with testimonies, then there will be much less time available for the reading and preaching of the Word. That matters, because both faith and sanctification come by hearing the Word (Rom. 10:17; John 17:17), not by testimonies. And when testimonies are of more interest and excitement to us than the gospel Word of Christ crucified, then that's a huge problem!
Let me just leave you with this excerpt from Tullian Tchividjian:
Think about the last testimony you heard from a Christian, where the newly (or not so newly) converted shared at length about his or her life of debauchery only to sneak in a quick shout-out at the end to good old G-O-D for making the transformation possible. In many cases, these testimonies are fueled by new-convert zeal and should be applauded. But sometimes I wonder if the reason we love these stories is because they appeal to our inner narcissism and do-it-yourself-ism. (Tullian Tchividjian, Glorious Ruin, p.110)