Alan Jacobs in defense of testimony sharing

Alan Jacobs in defense of testimony sharing

We should never presume that our exercise of memoria is perfect, nor that the patterns it reveals predict our future with perfect accuracy.

[…] In one of his sermons D. L. Moody proclaimed,

You ask me to explain regeneration. I cannot do it. But one thing I know—that I have been regenerated. All the infidels and skeptics could not make me feel differently. I feel a different man than I did twenty-one years ago last March, when God gave me a new heart. I have not sworn since that night, and I have no desire to swear. I delight to labor for God, and all the influences of the world cannot convince me that I am not a different man.

I have no doubt that God did indeed make Moody “a different man” than he had been before—indeed, gave him new life. But it is almost impossible for the even moderately critical reader not to be dubious about this account. Perhaps you no longer swear, Mr. Moody, but are you humble? Are you perfectly compassionate and loving? And anyway, if I were to drop this brick on your toe, might you not suddenly rediscover the “desire to swear”? I find myself suspecting, not Moody’s regeneration itself, but his belief in its completeness and his assumption that its moral effect is permanent and irreversible. […]

It’s this kind of Christian “testimony”—the airbrushed past and the sugarcoated future—that causes Christian “testimonies” to set people’s teeth on edge. …

[…But] the remedy to the problem of presumptuous or otherwise deficient testimony is not to stop bearing personal witness, but rather to refine and develop our understanding of what such witness should be.

In this light it can be seen that the formulaic “testimonies” of evangelical and fundamentalist Christianity … [however] An impoverished form of it, to be sure—primarily because it is inflexible in shape and confined chiefly to testimonies of conversion rather than testimonies of imitation and vocation—[remains] a valuable form nonetheless, because it preserves in some fashion the idea of storytelling as the passing along of wise counsel.

from “What Narrative Theology Forgot,” First Things (Aug, 2003)

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