Wednesday, July 20, 2005

We need to tell more dirty stories

Scot McKnight thinks Christians need to quit trying to tell too many clean stories:

By "clean" I mean that Christians often want to tell conversion stories that are clean: I was a sinner and then I found Jesus and now I'm squeaky clean. This kind of story happens sometimes -- and I know lots of people like this. So this is one kind of story.

But there is another kind of story that is far more normal than the "clean stories" suggest. The fact is that many if not most Christians struggle, especially until they line up into the ruts and routines of middle age (and then some are still struggling). If struggling is far more common than we often hear, why don't we tell more of those stories. Will it, as some have suggested, create a bad model and steer the struggling into thinking that their struggles are OK or that they can sin and it is OK?

I'm afraid I'm one of those who've fallen into the "ruts and routines of middle age," but I think Scot is right. These days I'm so overwhelmed with the blessings of God's grace--giving me purpose and hope and joy--that it's easy to forget who very much I struggled as a young man, and how much those around me are still struggling today.

Scot's been devoting a lot of blog space recently to conversion (here and here and here and here and here). The idea of clean and messy certainly describes that process. When, for example, was I converted? At my infant baptism? Confirmation at age 11? My baptism by immersion at age 18? Leaving an increasingly apostate denomination at 25? Beginning to live a life somewhat resembling Christian discipleship in my early 30s?

As a minister, the temptation is strong to pick one of those events and say that's my point of conversion. But I won't. There's no value in speculating on if I had died at a certain point whether I would have gone to heaven or hell. I'm inclined to believe most if not all the events of my life have been elements of my conversion, from my parent's commitment to rear me as a Christian as best they understood that path through my own efforts to live as befits my calling. I wish my story were cleaner, but it's not. In a very real sense, I'm still being converted--not from lost to saved, but more and more into the image of Jesus Christ. Praise him.


Blogger Gaddabout said...

Great point! I'm like you. I like to say I was saved at age 7, but God began to powerfully transform me at age 19. I know that's some weak theology, but I don't know how else to explain it. Maybe there's a Baptist around here who can explain to me how it "didn't take" until I was 19. I still don't get that.

I like honest testimonies. Danny Daniels explains he can't tell repeat the salvation prayer he first uttered -- too many cuss words. I think he's probably exaggerating, but I can definitely relate to his testimony.

On the other hand, I have real issues with people who think they have to "beef up" their testimony -- invent drug addictions, sexual relations, literal satan worship -- because drama is a good selling technique. There are plenty of unbelievers out there who aren't living demonstrably evil lives who need to hear the truth of a simple yet equally powerful testimony.

5:54 PM, July 20, 2005  
Blogger Dan Edelen said...

Here's my testimony:

I was a good kid who always did what his parents asked, never did drugs, never drank a drop of alcohol (not counting communion wine, of course), never slept around, got straight A's in school and was well-liked by people my age. And then I came to Christ at age 14.

I was told by a woman at an Assembly of God church that I had the worst testimony she'd ever heard. My reply to her was that I guess God's not interested in saving people who haven't completely torched their lives. She didn't respond to that.

But to the point, I am not liking this sudden trend to lower everything that is Christian. "Grittiness" does not help me at all. I think each of us is painfully aware of our own foibles and I know that I don't get a whole lot of satisfaction from knowing that everyone else is struggling, too. God help us if no one out there is overcoming! Whatever happened to being "more than conquerors" or being "transformed from one degree of glory to another"? This maudlin emotion that we seem to be obsessed with is not going to make anyone say, "Well, I feel much better that I'm not the only Christian out there snorting cocaine and sleeping around," they're going to say, "What is wrong with the Church today that everyone is stuck in first gear and never gets anywhere?"

Yes, everyone has feet of clay, but not everyone is mired in that clay. I used to know Christians who lived triumphantly. Perhaps there was a skeleton in their closet--or maybe this generation of Christians just isn't living out the Faith with the same depth of devotion. That we always want to assume the former and never consider the latter absolutely bugs me to no end.

9:25 PM, July 20, 2005  
Blogger Bethany Jo said...

Thanks for sharing this.

I think our journey is just that...a journey. There's a definite beginning...we're born...but as followers of Christ, I'm no so sure that it would be appropriate to say there's an end. Following Christ never stops, not even when our bodies die.

And like any other journey there are twists and turns along the way. I can't tell you how many times I've taken the wrong path or fallen down...but somehow, our amazing Savior has brought me back.

My testimony...well it's all over the place. I was baptized, confirmed, accepted Jesus, got so angry with Jesus I wanted nothing to do with Him, came back, left, came back...Now I'm here to stay, but have my ups, downs, all arounds just like anyone else. Praise to the Father that He is so amazing He stuck with me.

I think that's what people need to hear. That no matter where we are at, or where we've been, God was right there with us. In the heights of the mountains and in the depths of our wretched valleys.

Let's face it...Honesty, is definitely the best policy. We all struggle, we all sin and we are all forgiven and loved. Gosh, God is so good.

10:58 AM, July 21, 2005  
Blogger Milton Stanley said...

Good points, Matt. I know what you mean about beefing up testimonies. There are a few former high-profile types of fell from their positions of authority when their own beefing came to light. You know, if we really look at the darkness of our own hearts our honest testimonies are dramatic enough. Peace.

12:03 PM, July 21, 2005  
Blogger Milton Stanley said...

I cherish your testimony, Dan, and I hope and pray it's very close to the ones my sons tell one day. Peace.

12:05 PM, July 21, 2005  
Blogger Milton Stanley said...

God is so good indeed, Bethany Jo. Thanks for sharing your testimony, and praise him that you're back with God on good footing. Peace.

12:06 PM, July 21, 2005  

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